• Abigail Muncy

Plein Air Painting in One of My Favorite Places


The little cove by the boat launch at Burke Lake in its full summer glory on July 2.

I painted at one of my favorite spots Friday morning, a little point that juts out into Burke Lake at Burke Lake Park (a map showing it is at the bottom of this post). It was the start of the July 4th holiday weekend, and my friend and I arrived early, when only a few cars were parked by the children's play area and miniature golf course.


We walked along the trail to a little point where I've painted several times before. I first discovered it a couple of summers ago. That day, some of my teenage children met friends to play mini-golf, and I took my little Guerilla Painter Thumb Box and supplies and wandered along the walking trail not sure what I'd find to paint.


I ended up at a little point from which you can see the boat launch and a pretty little cove busy with duck and goose traffic beside it. It was summer, and I fell in love with the laughter of children and the knocking sounds of oars and boats that echoed across the lake. My spot was quiet and I could sit on a bench and quickly sketch the dock until my children were finished with their game.

My painting of the boathouse and dock at Burke Lake from across the cove painted in the summer of 2019.

I've gone back a few times. This March I took a friend here to study the area as it was beginning to wake up a few days after the start of spring. I used my kraft paper sketchbook to capture a few studies using browns and grays mixed from primary colors. Below you can see my setup that day, and the same place all greened up for the holiday weekend.

Grays, browns and russets with just a hint of green on March 25 of this year.

The same spot on Friday looking lush. For reference, you can see the same limbs in the water.

Yesterday, instead of my usual oils, I decided to take my watercolors and sketching tools to get some much-needed practice with that medium. I love to sketch and paint loose watercolors in sketchbooks, but never feel I have the time, so it seemed like both a change from packing up all my heavy oil painting equipment and an opportunity to practice with watercolor.


While we were setting up, a group of campers was lining up to do some canoeing, and we could hear adult voices commanding wiggly kids to line up and pay attention. It was humid and muddy from a huge storm the night before, but the rain had cooled Northern Virginia, so the temperature was pleasant. Because of the conditions, mist rose from the water all morning; something I'll try to capture in pieces I'm working on this week. A steady stream of little boys arrived at the point to fish with their fathers taking up spots around us. Normally I get questions and comments from passers-by, but these sportsmen were very focused, or tried to be.

My setup. I'm using a sketchboard created by artist Tansy Hargan as a lap desk. I'm sitting almost in the water to get an unabstructed view through the tree branches.

I've never painted wildlife, but a large male goose kept walking up to me and ambling around hoping for some tidbits, followed by a few friends. I managed to fill a sketchbook page with gesture drawings of him and his companions before they swam away. He returned later and I did a little watercolor of him.

Gesture drawings of geese in my sketchbook.

I had to work fast, so I dipped my brush into indigo hurridly thinking it was black. I like the results,

Around noon, as we packed up, more and more fishermen arrived. In the distance I could hear the tooting of a kiddie train beginning service. The ice cream parlor appeared to be open and the parking lot was now much fuller. It looked like a busy afternoon at the park with lots of families getting ready to celebrate this post-Covid July 4th weekend, and, undoubtedly, many half-eaten children's sandwiches tossed to the geese eagerly awaiting them.

A group of ducks heading across the lake.

My model. He didn't receive the bread he was hoping for, but he has been immoratalized in art.

The red circle indicates where I painted facing SSW toward the cove.