Jeff Evans' Lake Erie art

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Evans works in oil, watercolor and gouache.

Meet Jeff A. Evans, an architect who paints Lake Erie and other Cleveland scenes “plein air,” working outside in the landscape. He can capture a scene in about two hours, or the time it takes for the light to change.

Plein air was common before photography, of course. But it became an art form in the 19th century by the French Impressionists.

For Evans, 49, of Rocky River, the practice means he packs his easel, seat and art supplies in his bike basket and cycles around town, looking for a scene to paint. He has scores of paintings stacked in his attic studio: the coasts of California and Florida, a marina in the Bahamas, the homes of Charleston, the Browns.

Evans grew up in Chardon, pretending to sail with his brother, in an old boat in the backyard. He earned degrees from Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland  worked for years in Washington D.C. and about 2 1/2 years ago moved to Rocky River.

You can see his work, which runs from $175 for a small watercolor or gouache piece to $450 for a large, at

Here’s what he has to say about painting, the water and photography.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Do you consider painting your hobby?

I’m an architect, but painting is my passion. I’ve studied with some pretty noted artists. If you’re an artist, it’s in you. You have to do it. I burn the candle at both ends. I work a couple hours at night and I try to paint one day on the weekend. I like to use daylight.

Why paint outside, “plein air?”

A photograph is itself its own interpretation. It’s flatter. I like to paint freely, without planning. I like to capture the moment. It’s a great way for the public to find out about art. You can see people out and about painting. It’s more interactive with the audience.

This fall, I competed in the 14th annual Ohio Plein Air competition, where 50 artists had three days to paint anywhere in Cuyahoga County. (He placed third.)

You paint the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. What else do you like to paint?

The subject isn’t as important as that I feel a connection. The lake is tricky. Some people paint scenes that are just water and horizon. I like to capture the water and its environment together. For me it’s much more about the design, the composition. I like how it takes on the colors of the time of day, the light, the season. There are days when it kind of looks like mud. And then there are others, with greens, blues, the reflections of the sun. Huntington Beach is a good spot. I got permission to go to the Clifton Club in Lakewood. It’s a pretty spectacular beach.

For the plein air competition, all my work had the Terminal Tower in it. That’s my city.

What do use to paint?

I use watercolor, oil and gouache, which is water based. I’ve done paintings when it’s borderline freezing, and then the gouache turns to slush. It’s easier when it’s warmer. I like watercolors; it’s beautiful when the colors blend together.

I’m a fast painter. From my training as an architect, I have a strong sense of drawing and design. I can simplify those big shapes. I was at Emerald Necklace Marina, and there was a guy sitting next to me fishing. He was like, darn!