April 14 2015 07:11 PM

The painter garners worldwide attention and endorsements for her vivid watercolors of the great outdoors

Keiko Tanabe
Photo by Renato Tanabe

One particular standout of Art of the Park: 100 Years of Art in Balboa Park, and exhibition opening Friday, April 17, at the Marston House Museum & Gardens is a watercolor of the Marston House itself. While much smaller than some of the other paintings in the show, it's a surprisingly vivid depiction of one of those perfect days in the park. 

"Balboa Park is one of my favorite places to paint," says local plein air artist Keiko Tanabe, calling from a hotel room in Kyoto, Japan, where she's teaching an art class. "Of course, before this exhibition, you had to be juried in and you had to be selected so I don't know how many entries they received, but luckily one of my pieces was selected."

Whether it was in the park or down by the pier, locals may have noticed Tanabe around town. Plein air painters certainly aren't as common as they used to be. Still, Tanabe has accrued quite a lot of admirers. She has more than 85,000 fans on Facebook, published six books and been exhibited all over the world. Most recently, art material company Winsor & Newton named Tanabe to an already short list of "brand ambassadors," essentially the art equivalent of landing an endorsement deal. 

"Well, basically I don't really have to do anything special because I already used their products for my paintings," Tanabe says. "They want to film me, so they will come to my studio in San Diego and shoot some video for some short films."

Not bad for someone who says she only picked up painting as a whimsical escape. 

"When I moved to San Diego, I wasn't even painting," she says. "I had a different job in international marketing. I used to paint when I was little, so I gradually started doing it again whenever I had free time. It was about 10 years ago when I decided to quit my job because I liked painting so much and I wanted to make it a career. I wasn't sure if it would work, but I wanted to give it a try. I never planned my life this way, really. It's a big surprise."

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