Sharon Littig set up her easel at 8:30 a.m. yesterday on Annapolis City Dock knowing she had until 3 p.m. to complete two paintings that would be displayed that evening.
She had never worked under such a tight deadline, and she feared she would look foolish.
The Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association had invited Littig and 20 other artists to its event, Paint Annapolis.
The association's name is French for open air, meaning the artists paint outdoors. This event was inspired by a similar attraction on Santa Catalina, an island off California, Littig said.
As one of the Annapolis event's planners, Littig had helped select the participants, but she said that only increased the pressure on her to perform.
Most of the others were professionals, elders in the artistic communities of Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington and beyond.
One of those experienced artists, Joanette Egeli of Annapolis, was also at the dock, painting her granddaughter as the 4-year-old fed ducks.
Littig had gone to art school and practiced the craft for 17 years, but she wasn't a full-time painter. For security and a steady paycheck, she teaches art at South River High School in Edgewater.
Her first painting was of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 63-foot skipjack and the 50-foot pleasure boat beside it.
She used a trick for drawing the boats that her teacher, Steve Griffin, had taught her - the tops of boats are figure-eights with the lines of the hull curving down into the water.
It was important to quickly catch the impression created by the morning light before it changed. So immediately after sketching outlines, she mixed up a light mustard color and with short strokes brushed in the sky. The trees appeared green-blue, and in the water's reflections, she saw shades of yellow, blue, purple and gray.
Passers-by stopped and questioned the artists. Despite the deadline, Littig answered them with her schoolteacher's patience and asked for advice. When they said they weren't painters, she politely reminded them that everyone could see.
As often as she looked for it, she didn't get any usable advice until about 9:30 a.m. when Egeli gave her granddaughter a break and peeked over Littig's shoulder.
"Advice?" Littig asked.
"The water is always darker than land," Egeli said.
Littig shaded her eyes and looked out from the ships to their reflections in the water. The sun had risen higher in the sky and grown in intensity, changing the colors captured by the water's rippled surface.
Still, Egeli was right. The paint was too bright.
Littig cleaned her brush in the now murky rinsing jar. She dried it on a paper towel, then mixed blue and red and some white on her palette until the color was right.
On the canvas, she brushed across the water with long strokes, working down from the horizon.
She stepped back when she had finished and looked from the water to her work. She said the darker colors had helped. The painting looked more believable and real.
She only needed to add the skipjack's mast and rigging now, and it was only 10 a.m., leaving her plenty of time to complete her second painting as well as a third.
Her paintings and those of the other Paint Annapolis participants will be on display through Oct. 25 in Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.