A Day in the Life of … Mary Garrish

On Plein Air Painting > Welcome to our new “Day in the Life of …” series for Plein Air Today, in which we feature one of today’s master artists who are willing to share a play-by-play of what it’s like to be a professional artist.

So what’s it like to be a pro artist who lives and works from an RV? Mary Garrish takes us a day-in-the-life plein air painting tour to find out.

Today we’re going on a tour with Mary Garrish (see her PaintTube.TV “6 Elements of Design” workshop).

Plein Air Painting: A Day in the Life of an Artist in an RV

by Mary Garrish

Traveling in an RV is a wonderful and unique experience for a plein air painter. If you are going to camp, you are naturally going to pick the prettiest parts of the country to visit. On this particular trip, my husband and I had left our RV in storage in Palm Springs, California. Since we live in Florida, it takes a long time to cross country and we prefer short trips of around three weeks. We have been making our way around the country over the last few years, and plan to spend two to three years on our loop home.

On this trip, when we picked up the camper in Palm Springs, we camped near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. After a few days, the heat was pretty bad, so we crossed the state to the Monterey Peninsula. So it is in Monterey that we will begin “a day in the life.”

Plein air painter with RV

7:00 am
My husband and I usually get up around dawn and have a campfire (if allowed), drink our coffee, and read our email. Often, the places we camp are beautiful in themselves and lend some nice sites for plein air painting. This campground happened to have a nice flowing creek with great light first thing in the morning.

plein air painting at a campsite
plein air painting at a campsite
sketching outdoor landscapes

8:00 am
I have walked around and picked the scene I want to paint. I usually do a number of thumbnail sketches to nail down my design. After I have an idea of a motif from pencil sketches, then I will often do a value sketch with gray markers. I want to make sure that I have a dominant light and shadow pattern. This scene is dominant light.

The more planning I do prior to painting, the more success I have.

As the light is changing quickly, I decide to do a quick gouache study to capture color notes.

9:30 am
Now it is time to explore the magical coastline. Heading south about twenty minutes in Monterey, we pull off the side of road for this incredible coastal view:

California coast

California coast, black and white

Luckily it is a gray day, so I don’t have to worry about the light changing. It will be a tonal painting. After a hike around to find my site, I start my thumbnail sketches.

Creating thumbnail sketches on the California coast

Creating thumbnail sketches on the California coast

After two hours of painting, I’m done. I still have a lot of energy left, so I turn the easel around and start a new painting. There is no lack of painting opportunities in this one location. When the weather is right and there are no bugs, there is nothing better for the soul than doing plein air painting.

3:00 pm
By now, I’m ready to call it a day. I pack up my gear and we drive down the coast to scout out tomorrow’s location. Arriving at Garrapata State Park, I hike around this amazing area and find my painting spot for the next day. This of course will be dependent on the light, however regardless of fog or sun, I think it will be a great location.

5:00 pm
Back at the campground, we start cocktail hour with a glass of wine. We cook a quick meal and my husband makes a campfire. There are some very interesting tree shapes around, so I pull out my sketch pad and my favorite Pentel pen and do some quick sketches.

As the light starts to fade, I might pull out my iPad and look at some art. I especially might view some of the great California impressionists to help with inspiration.

plein air painting sketches

Plein air painter Mary Garrish

We make a plan for the next day and start all over again!


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– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.

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