Plein air watercolor -
“Mekong Family Shrine,” by David E. Dallison, Vietnam, 2014, watercolor, 12 x 15 in.

Over the past 25 years, Illinois artist David E. Dallison ( has taken his portable, plein air watercolor equipment to more than 35 countries, sometimes ignoring travel warnings and political unrest. He is now being a bit more cautious since he is traveling with his young family. Here’s how he works with watercolors in distant locations.

David E. Dallison painting in Northern Vietnam

“These paintings tell the story of my travels and are a celebration of this earth and the places, events, and people that particularly inspire me,” says Dallison. “I plan the trips by doing a lot of research, Google searches, and conversations to identify the places where I have the greatest chance of being inspired and telling an engaging story. But no matter how much planning I do, I have to remain open to unexpected challenges and opportunities. I also have to pack with the expectation that I won’t find professional watercolor paints, brushes, and papers when I get to some countries.”

When Dallison was young and single, he was willing to travel to almost any interesting location. In between painting trips he also works as a professional musician. Now that he is older and makes extended two-month trips with his wife and two children, the artist searches for foreign villages and cities where he will be close to great painting subjects and where his family will be safe and happy exploring the local culture.

Related Article > Capturing That Perfect Moment in Watercolor

Before airlines imposed restrictions, Dallison used to take a flat portfolio of papers and a backpack filled with paints and brushes on planes with him. Now he has to put watercolor papers in a strong cardboard tube he can check with his luggage. “I roll up 300lb paper on the outside of the tube and thinner 150lb paper inside the roll,” the artist explains. “When I get to my destination, I soak the papers in a bathtub and stretch them so they will go back to being flat. Then I usually tear the paper into quarter sheets for painting. I secure them in my aluminum easel and use the backpack as a seat or a taboret, depending on whether I need to paint standing or sitting.

Plein air watercolor -
“Savory Souk,” by David E. Dallison, Morocco, 2017, watercolor, 5 x 7 in.

“My priority is always to paint scenes I love without concern for my comfort. I stand or sit in precarious positions if that’s the best way to paint the best views. I may have to buy a beach umbrella to block the harsh sunlight and heat, and I might have to strap the umbrella to my leg to keep it from blowing over in a strong wind.”

Dallison first does a light pencil drawing of his subject on the watercolor paper, then starts off painting with a palette of about 14 colors manufactured by Holbein, Old Holland, Winsor & Newton, and Daniel Smith. “I might take some special colors to a country like Morocco where I expect to find a wide range of bright, intense colors that might be difficult to mix from my standard selection of pigments,” the artist says.

More Plein Air Watercolor Paintings by David E. Dallison:

“Bougainvillea Majesty,” by David E. Dallison, Morocco, 2017, watercolor, 22 x 30 in.

Dallison displays these travel-related paintings in the gallery he maintains in his Waukegan, Illinois, home, and he also presents them in his booth in various outdoor festivals “I’ve been fortunate to be juried into and won some of the top fairs in the U.S. A. where the emphasis is placed on original fine art, and I have developed a following among collectors who attend those fairs,” says the artist. “I’ve also participated in the Telluride Plein Air Festival, where I won the quick draw and an award that earned me an automatic invitation to the next year’s event. I plan to apply to other plein air events, but I have to make sure that the time and effort involved in participating is manageable in terms of my family and professional commitments.”

Plein air watercolor -
“Mekong Family Shrine,” by David E. Dallison, Vietnam, 2014, watercolor, 12 x 15 in.
“Afternoon Sparkle,” by David E. Dallison, Vietnam, 2014, watercolor, 12 x 15 in.

Several filmmakers have documented Dallison working on location in Vietnam, India, and other foreign locations. He uses these to help explain where and how he has used watercolors to document the lives of hard-working citizens and the beautiful locations. His video titled “Abroad Strokes” won the 2016 Jersey City International TV and Film Festival for shorts.

Plein air watercolor -
“Sunrise and Fire,” by David E. Dallison, Vietnam, 2014, watercolor, 12 x 15 in.


  1. My wife received a small picture of yours for Mother’s Day. It is a canal scene in Venice. However, we cannot figure out the large grey area in the lower right corner. My wife thinks the painting is unfinished, and the grey area would have been 2 people seated in a boat with reflection below. I think something may have spilled on that area. The rest of the painting is so lovely and detailed that it has us puzzled. Please let us know. Thanks.


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