Plein Air Magazine publishes my story!

Plein Air Magazine picked up my story “Plein Air Goes Underground” about painting in Onondaga Cave during Steelville Arts Council Plein Air.

I am thrilled the premier trade magazine for plein air painting shared my story with their readers.

Read all about it in Plein Air Magazine.

Photo & painting by Veronica Brown

Photo & painting by Veronica Brown


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Plein Air Goes Underground

Extreme painting in Missouri’s Onondaga Cave during recent Steelville Arts Council Plein Air
by Marcia Willman

Onondaga Cave photo by Veronica Brown

The Twins, Onondaga Cave, photo by Veronica Brown

Eighteen artists descended over 150 feet underground into a geologic wonderland of towering stalagmites, dripping stalactites, intricate draperies, and active flowstones in Onondaga Cave. Many regional artists participating in Steelville Arts Council Plein Air 2015 have toured one of the 5,550 caves found in Missouri, but none before had spent six hours beneath the earth on an extreme plein air adventure. Described by many of the artists as “surreal” and by Henryk Ptasiewicz as “an overwhelming privilege of painting a sacred space, like a cathedral,” Onondaga Cave is one of Missouri’s most spectacular natural wonders.

Onondaga painting by Nyle Gordon, Rock of Ages Room, Purchase Award.

“Underworld” by Nyle Gordon, Rock of Ages Room, Purchase Award.


For Nyle Gordon it was unlike any prior experience, surpassing extreme painting in Mineral Point, Wisconsin in February. Gordon reflected “it was like being in outer space with no straight lines, no reference points, making it necessary to rely on drawing skills and color and value relationships to define space.”


Manda Sofia’s first impression was a feeling of autonomy, of being completely alone in the darkness of a magical space until the deep silence was broken by artists’ conversations echoing softly from afar.


Spencer Meagher painting Onondaga Cave, photo by Ellen Bowles

Spencer Meagher painting, the Queen’s Canopy, photo by Ellen Bowles

Spencer Meagher thought painting in a cave unappealing at first glance, but quickly recognized a rare opportunity once underground. The lack of harshness made the cave a difficult subject and it took Meagher a while to get his bearings. Without realizing he was looking into a stream, he later discovered some shapes were reflections rather than fluid and flowing formations.

"Underground Nocturne" by Spencer Meagher, painting of the Queen's Canopy, Honorable Mention, SOLD.

“Underground Nocturne” by Spencer Meagher, Honorable Mention, SOLD.


Queen's Canopy, Onondaga Cave photo by Veronica Brown

Queen’s Canopy, Onondaga Cave photo by Veronica Brown

At first blush, the experience harkens to nocturnes, without the bugs and wind, but with challenges intrinsic to a subject formed of water flowing through darkness. These novel challenges leveled the playing field between novice and professional artist and resulted in more abstract paintings than typical of other venues.

Onondaga Cave by Bryan Shaner, SOLD.

“Onondaga” by Bryan Shaner, SOLD.

The dramatic cave formations were well-lit creating strong contrasts between shape and shadow but the ambient light was less than expected and some nocturne lights proved insufficient for color mixing. What appeared to be artists pumping up their colors was an inability to see local color on palette and canvas. Nathan Jones mixed dark colors only to find out later, in the light of day, they were quite bright. Bryan Shaner contended with the deception of darkness and “the multiple layers of formations which made it difficult to distinguish near from far.”



Onondaga Cave’s Lily Pad Room photo by Veronica Brown

And those drips . . . like rain falling from millions of stalactites and soda straws overhead, forming speleothems as artists painted and leaving unexpected designs on canvas and paper, created abundant challenges especially for the watercolor artist. Onondaga is an active cave continuously building formations by water filtering from above ground. An early morning thunderstorm was evident as cave drips grew in number and the naturally high humidity intensified until one could see one’s breath by mid-day in the constant 57°F.


Veronica Brown "en plein air" in the Lily Pad Room, Onondaga Cave

Veronica Brown “en plein air” in the Lily Pad Room, Onondaga Cave

Painting in a cave had not been on Veronica Brown‘s bucket list, but after spending the day in Onondaga  cave, she believes it should have been.


Queen's Canopy painting by Joyce Hartmann, Second Place Award, SOLD

“Onondaga Queen” by Joyce Hartmann, Second Place Award, SOLD.

Joyce Hartmann summed up the experience for all artists when she shared that never in her 81 years, most of these years spent painting, has she ever participated in such an awesome event. Hartmann wrapped up by saying “plein air takes you places!”

Onondaga Lily Pads painting by Veronica Brown, photo by Rosemary Gruver

“Onondaga Lily Pad Room” by Veronica Brown, Available. Photo by Rosemary Gruver.

Because the resulting paintings were unique and portrayed magnificent subjects of interest to area patrons, many sold quickly. For this and all the planning that went into making such an awe-inspiring event occur, the artists are immensely grateful. From the volunteers of the Steelville Arts Council, especially Nancy Jeffers, who dreamt of artists painting in Onondaga Cave and doggedly pursued arrangements, to volunteers of Onondaga Friends Association and their president, Lorian Moore who carried the dream forward, to the manager of Onondaga Cave, Maria Potter, who rallied the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, gaining permission for the privilege of painting in the belly of the earth.

“Hail to the Queen” by Marcia Willman, Honorable Mention, SOLD.

A special thanks to Veronica Brown for her beautiful photos of Onondaga Cave formations.
Click here to see more of Veronica’s cave photos.

To view  all paintings from the Onondaga Cave expedition, visit Steelville Arts Council Plein Air.

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2015 Plein Air Adventure

I spent 11 days in late April through early May at the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival in Augusta, MO. Over 100 plein air artists competed daily, sometimes twice daily for cash purchase awards for the selected daily painting. Last year was my first foray into regional plein air events where I met and became friends with dozens of artists from across the midwest. It is like old, home-week meeting up with artist friends at the various events throughout the season.

Patrick Saunders, Spencer (down the hill) & Marcia paint the big tent, Noboleis Vineyard.

Patrick Saunders, Spencer Meagher (down the hill) & Marcia paint the big tent at Noboleis Vineyard.

Noboleis Quick Paint 2015

Noboleis Quick Paint 2015

It’s more fun when you paint with a buddy!

Patrick Saunders won oodles of awards at Augusta including Best of Show. He is an amazing oil painter poised for the big league. He welcomed my basic questions when I was desperate. He gave me composition and perspective tips when I was having trouble looking down from a hill on a barn in the woods. We also share a past connection to punk music which is another bond unto itself!

I had the good fortune to meet Spencer Meagher at the 2014 Augusta Plein Air Festival the night he won the purchase prize at the two-hour quick paint at Noboleis Vineyard. He won the purchase prize at Noboleis again this year! He is a fabulous watercolor artist who was willing to share his expert advice as we painted together almost daily around Augusta. As a result, my watercolor paintings en plein air are steadily improving. I appreciate Spencer’s friendship and coaching!

I finished the event with a cadre of seven decent paintings and only a handful for the circle file. My odds are improving with the new plein air season.

To my surprise, I took third place in watercolors at the final awards ceremony in Augusta (Spencer took first). It certainly helps to learn from the best!

Third Place Watercolors Augusta Plein Air Festival


My Booth – Augusta Plein Air Festival

Even better than winning an award, I sold three paintings!

with LuAnne Straatmann, Straatmann Feed Co.

with LuAnne Straatmann, Straatmann Feed Company, New Melle, MO

Please check out the “Paintings – Plein Air” tab to view my latest paintings from the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival.

Next week is the Penn Valley Conservancy Plein Air Fest here in Kansas City. Some of the plein air gang from around the midwest will be coming to town for the event, including Spencer. I can’t wait for the fun (and hopefully more mentoring) to begin. I know I will learn and grow with each new painting. For this and all my plein air friends, I am extremely grateful!

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Fun in planning

I love preparing for Wine & Watercolors because I get to make-up or discover a painting design for each new session.

We’ve had some spring teaser weather in March and I can hardly wait for the redbuds and dogwoods to bloom in my backyard. This thought jogged my memory of one of the first watercolors I painted. It was from live branches of flowering redbuds and dogwoods.

The painting hangs framed on my wall to this day . . .

circa 1997

Dogwoods & Redbuds             5″ x 7″             April 1997

I had no idea what I was doing but beginning attempts at a new venture are often surprisingly fresh and compelling. It tickles me to see the bottom dogwood blossom barely made it onto my painting back in 1997. To this day, I struggle with getting my entire design on the page.

Alas, I did a fine job of dry brush technique on the branches. Surely this was beginners luck!

I’ve heard from a few folks who joined Wine & Watercolors that they framed their painting from the session. Hanging original art in our homes adds beauty to our surroundings and is inspiring!

My early painting of redbuds and dogwoods inspired the design for our April Wine & Watercolors. We typically work on 9″ x 12″ paper during a session, so I adapted the design to this larger format.

From an original design by Marcia Willman

“Eager for Spring”        12″ x 9″         2015

Because the drawing is a bit more complicated than we normally do, I’ve devised a way for folks to get a feel for the design without spending the whole session drawing. The design isn’t pre-printed on the paper and we won’t simply trace it because the paper is good quality, heavy, 140# watercolor paper.

You will have to sign up for Wine & Watercolors in April to find out how we will complete the painting in two hours (sometimes we run over a little bit). Hopefully you will arrive home with a painting you want to frame and hang.

I promise you will savor the time spent painting even if you don’t favor your results sufficiently to frame. But don’t take it from me, listen to Tina Beer, who joined a March session and reserved in advance for April, “We had the best time ever. Can’t wait until the next one to do it again!!!”

There is very limited seating at Wine & Watercolors. You will receive a lot of attention and individual coaching, but sessions fill quickly.

Click the link to Wine & Watercolors to learn more and sign up for a session. Do it today!


L to R, Aimee DeSett, Tina Beer, Heather Wiechman, Maria Kessell, Patrica Thomas (not pictured),                            March 14, 2015


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March Madness

I discovered a wonderful watercolor design by Charles Evans, a British watercolorist. I was convinced it was perfect for Wine & Watercolors when Charles mentions, as he tries to draw a straight horizon line, that he could do better with a bit of red wine! The design seemed simple enough to share with novice watercolorists so I set about preparing the demo painting for our March Wine & Watercolors sessions. Seven attempts later to render the cumulous clouds, I felt defeated. And I must admit, a touch mad. How could something so seemingly simple be so utterly difficult? It was certainly a humbling experience and one that is shared by all artists, novice and experienced, time and again.

February 21st Wine & Watercolors session. (L to R) Joe Waters, Nancy Waters, Lorraine Elmore, Leanna Barclay, Sean Waters, Lynn Pickerel.

February 21st Wine & Watercolors session.
(L to R) Joe Waters, Nancy Waters, Lorraine Elmore, Leanna Barclay, Sean Waters, Lynn Pickerel.

After a good night’s rest, I watched my new plein air watercolor video by Andy Evansen, a watercolorist from Minnesota. It’s one of the best watercolor tutorials ever. Andy is a fabulous teacher, providing a step-by-step view into his process from composition to color mixing.
I was inspired to take the Evans design and add an Evansen plein air inspired sky. Voila!
At long last, I had my demo for the March sessions of Wine & Watercolors.

Preparing for the March sessions of Wine & Watercolors.Preparing the March demo painting . . .

The beauty of watercolors is the surprise that comes with wet washes. A watercolor painting may look like a lost cause until the paint dries and the final details are added. Who would believe the above start could possibly result in the following completed painting?

Sunset Stroll

Sunset Stroll

You can create your own version of “Sunset Stroll” by joining Wine & Watercolors in March.
We’ve had a lot of success stories with folks in previous sessions. You’ll learn a lot and have a blast. The thrill is that no two paintings will turn out exactly alike. Heck, I couldn’t duplicate the above painting if my life depended on it.

But you don’t have to take it from me. Marisabel Nicoletti hasn’t missed a month since we started in November when she commented: “I had a wonderful time learning to do watercolor for the first time! . . . I am looking forward to see you in another class soon!”

I’m looking forward to the March sessions, too. I hope you will join us and find out for yourself.
Click here to make a reservation.

February 22nd session at Wine & Watercolors. (L to R) Meg Bode, Cindy Whitson, Norberto Nicoletti, Marisabel Nicoletti

February 22nd session at Wine & Watercolors.
(L to R) Meg Bode, Cindy Whitson, Norberto Nicoletti, Marisabel Nicoletti

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Welcome to my blog!

It’s a joy introducing watercolors to new audiences at Wine & Watercolors. So much more than a paint-by-number experience, players have a blast painting while learning watercolor techniques. The resulting paintings have been absolutely fabulous!

Wine & Watercolors 1-25-15  (L to R): Cindy Whitson, Karen Whitson, Pat Sorensen, Trudy Hoffman, and Marisabel Nicoletti.

Wine & Watercolors 1-25-15
(L to R): Cindy Whitson, Karen Whitson, Pat Sorensen, Trudy Hoffman, and Marisabel Nicoletti.

Listen to what others are saying about Wine & Watercolors:

“I attended the wine and watercolors class in November. Unlike other sip and paint classes I have attended, the instructor was very knowledgeable and really went out of her way to help each person leave with a better understanding of the medium. I’d highly recommend this class to people looking to learn about watercolor. Novices and artists alike will feel comfortable.”  Darcy Goeken

“I thoroughly enjoyed the first class. Marcia is a gifted artist and instructor.” Carina Miguez

“I had a wonderful time learning to do watercolor for the first time! . . . I am looking forward to see you in another class soon!” Marisabel Nicoletti

Please join my mailing list and be the first to hear about the next Wine & Watercolors event . . .

Wine & Watercolors 11-1-14 (L to R): Marisabel Nicoletti, Valeria Asher, Kelly, Carina Miguez, Darcy Goeken

Wine & Watercolors 11-1-14
(L to R): Marisabel Nicoletti, Valeria Asher, Kelly, Carina Miguez, Darcy Goeken


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