How I lost 50 (yeah, fifty) pounds through plein air painting! (Part 1)

I've been a painter now for at least twenty five years, though at some point I just quit counting and kept painting.  

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I've painted in oils for most of those years, spending a lot of time outdoors painting in the open air, from life...plein air painting.  At first it was a bit intimidating, but I quickly grew to love it.  Any excuse to be outside was happiness for me, and painting from life really did pay off in the long run.  Over the years, I've had some great opportunities to paint alongside some really wonderful painters, and learn and grow through those experiences.  I've told many friends about the years we lived in San Diego back in the late 90s - 2000 and I was a part of the San Diego Watercolor Society.  Within a short time of the Navy locating us to San Diego I met a new artist friend, the delightful Jane LaFazio who suggested I  join the SDWS, as they had great opportunities for monthly demos and workshops, and weekly paint-outs. I was hooked. I had used the medium a little bit prior to that, but I was still a novice at it.  But here was a chance to learn and grow, life was good...but it got even better when I started attending the paint-outs.  The weather was so awesome, you truly could paint outside almost every day of the year without it being too hot or too cold.  This was my kind of place.  But it gets better.  Back in those years, there were many older members, men who were in their mid-late 80s at that time...who had worked for "Mr. Disney" in their younger years.  Some of them had worked on the "Dumbo" and "Bambi" animated classics, and they shared the most amazing stories about their time working at those studios! A couple of them led the Wednesday paint-outs, and I was a regular fan. We'd paint from 9am until noon, bring a sack-lunch and break for a critique of all the works while we ate our lunch. Usually the same couple of fellows led the critiques, which were so helpful to me. We had about 20-25 people who might show up at any one time, so it was a lot to take in, but it opened my eyes about what constituted "good art". I learned that it didn't all have to look alike! We didn't all have to be the same, but there were common elements to a 'good' painting. After I had been attending well over a year, the group leader asked me if I'd lead the critique that day. (gulp! I was shaking in my shoes, but told myself that if HE thought I could do it, then I certainly would!).  I had learned so many thoughtful considerations over that time. What a difference that time made in my life!

 

 Autumn Color, 6"x6", available

Autumn Color, 6"x6", available

So here's where the story jumps around a little bit.  When it was time for us to leave San Diego three years after we got there (the Navy was transferring my hubby back to the East coast), I hated to go, but I knew I'd find the next part of my art journey once we arrived in Virginia Beach, VA.  A mentor at the time had strongly suggested that if i wanted to be a "serious artist", that I should only paint in oil paintings...so in a nutshell, that's what I did.  I had been taking classes in watercolor, oils, and clay/pottery.  I knew that my first love was painting, so I dropped the pottery after some initial exploration.  And I put aside my watercolors, pastels, and other media to solely focus on oil painting for the next eighteen years (wow, has it been that long?!).  Well, five years ago I had this irresistible urge to break out the watercolors again. I hadn't touched them in a long time, so I was very tentative at first. 

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But within a very short time, I got my feeling for that 'depth of color' back and LOVED watercolors again. Or actually discovered that I had never stopped loving them, I had just put them aside for far too long, and now it was time to bring them out - even if just for my own entertainment. That was 2013, the year I re-introduced myself to watercolors again.  

 

I had been through some major health concerns, including cancer and a few surgeries during the last eight years, and it took a physical toll on me. I had always been athletic and fit, but this just wore me down....and I began to put on weight like nobody's business, creeping up about five pounds every year. I was pretty close to miserable, and uncomfortable., because this stuff wouldn't budge and it continued to further affect my health.  And like so many others, I did honestly try to change my eating habits. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, weightwatchers, I tried all of these.   Meanwhile, on the painting front, I continued to take my watercolors out into the field to paint on location. I had always painted in oils plein air....but I just didn't feel like carrying all that gear along any more - even though I had pared down my gear to the minimal necessities.  

 

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Around this time my mom had been going through her own health problems - with high blood sugar. Scared her mightily, so she followed her doctors advice and really cleaned up her diet by cutting out sugar, and everything that turns to sugar (ie, all starches). When she did that she began to lose weight. Like me, she's not a big person, but a small boned person carrying too much weight on the frame ends up with pain in all their joints. Like mother, like daughter.  

Last April 2017, I was selected to be the first Artist-in-Residence at the Manassas Battlefield National Park. I decided since I was there for two weeks living in the Ranger's quarters by myself, I'd try to eat the way mom was eating. Cut out the sugars and everything that turns into sugar. Previously I could never lose more than three pounds and I'd bounce right back up.  I had brought all my oil painting gear with me as well as my watercolor gear for the two weeks that I was there to paint.  I used to live there about twenty years ago and I had always wanted to go back and paint the bluebells when they were in bloom along Bull Run. But young children and a busy life prevented me from getting back there until the art residency. So everything was falling into place.....except my health at that point.  I was quite familiar with the park from when we lived there long ago.  I had a horse back then and would ride all over those grounds, as well as hike with my family back in those days. I could hardly wait to get back to some of those incredible views!! After my orientation with the rangers, I set out to paint on one of my favorite lookouts, which meant I had to hike way up a hill with my backpack of oil painting gear. Even though my easel is lightweight, and I've got everything pared down to a minimum....that is still somewhat of a heavy load for a person carrying too much weight on her frame (without the pack!).  I got to the top of the hill, exhausted....but painted anyways. The following day and the rest of the time there....I decided I would be painting in watercolors in my sketchbook. I'd gather more material, hike further to all those places that I wanted to see. I wouldn't miss a thing.  I really loved my new relationship with watercolors.  And right there.....I decided I was going to drop about 35-40 pounds of pack load/painting gear. Pfft!!! you say? "That's not fair, I've been misled", you're probably thinking.  "I thought you were going to tell me how you actually lost real weight from your body".  No, it's late tonight, so I'll continue my story later this week. That's where the rubber meets the road. I knew I had to make a change that would actually work, drop some weight and keep it off. I was twenty pounds overweight, and every part of me was really feeling it - everything hurt!  In my next post I'll tell you how far I've come, perhaps it might help you if this is something you're struggling with.