(Too) Close Encounters: a Plein Air Painting Misadventure

A case of mistaken identity added some unexpected excitement to Daniel Marshall's recent plein air painting trip.

plein air painting
“East Texas Beauties” (watercolor on paper, 13 x 18 in.)

“I travel a lot,” says watercolor artist Daniel Marshall. “Workshops, demos, plein air painting events, and tattoo jobs keep me on the road two weeks out of every month. I owe thanks for this particular adventure to tattoo clients who flew me to Tyler, Texas, where I also snuck in some plein air painting.

“As this was my first trip to the area, I was grateful for the warnings about the “locals” — fire ants. Usually, snakes present my greatest worry when I’m painting outdoors, but by the time I hit the ground in Texas, the prospect of meeting these tiny powerhouses of pain terrified me.

plein air painting
“Queen of the Pine Curtain” (watercolor on paper, 10 x 13 in.)

“My first day out to paint, I came across a farm with a pair of 100-year-old barns, and found myself drawn to the unique shapes and fantastic shadows. Although the farm was located on a heavily traveled road, I found a safe spot, with good composition options across the street. After a check for the infamous fire ants, I got to work.

“I had such a great experience and there was still so much to explore at the site that I went back the next morning. This time, I ventured across the street from my previous day’s vantage point, now without even a fleeting thought to the menaces I’d been warned about, and wound up standing directly on top of a giant ant hill. Of course, it wasn’t until I was midway through my first wash and felt a strange sensation on my thigh that I realized what I’d done. I looked down to see my feet and legs covered in ants. My worst nightmare had come true! I started jumping around, swatting frantically at my shoes and pants, before realizing it was too late; they were already inside my jeans. In a panic, I stripped to my unmentionables on the side of the busy road.

plein air painting
“The Negotiation” (watercolor on paper, 10 x 15 in.)

“About this time, I began to wonder why the fire ants weren’t stinging me. On closer inspection, I discovered that they were, in fact — you guessed it— just regular ants. In my defense, everything is bigger in Texas. I’ve been chased by cows, had paintings graced by bird droppings, and enjoyed countless other mis-adventures. I feel like Benny Hill music follows me everywhere I go; it certainly could have accompanied my “ants in my pants dance” in Tyler, Texas.”

Daniel Marshall lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife, Madoka, and French bulldog, Mogu. He works in his own studio gallery and private tattoo space, Atelier 71.

This article originally appeared in the April-May issue of PleinAir Magazine.


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