"I love the architecture of old Europe, with all the buildings hundreds of years old," said Pearl Ziegenhagen of Clements last week.
"My favorite places are quaint, off-the-beaten-track places — kind of like Clements. It's too hard to paint in a city, with traffic all around you and people walking by."
Former farm wife Ziegenhagen made her first trip abroad to paint in 1989, when artist friends went on a trip to England.
"I was a fairly young widow, and every couple of years I'd go on another trip," she said. "I was born in Springfield and never expected to travel, so I've been very fortunate to do what I've done."
In the past quarter-century, Ziegenhagen has sketched, photographed, and painted in Norway, Sweeden, Russia, South Africa, Greece, and four times in Italy.
When she is painting on site in other countries, the natives "love to come over and look over your shoulder," Ziegenhagen laughed. "When you put some color in, they're always so impressed. In Europe, I think they appreciate the arts more than we do here."
Ziegenhagen's interest in art started when she was a high school student in Springfield.
"I took an art correspondence course in high school, then I married a Clements farm boy and had a family," she said. "There wasn't much time for art after that."
Eventually Ziegenhagen was able to take a class in watercolor, and her old interest came roaring back.
Ziegenhagen's most recent art excursion was to eastern Europe, to Croatia, site of centuries of battling by Serbians and Muslims.
"A lot of places were devastated by the wars, but I think the people are trying to get along now because they want the tourists to keep coming," said Ziegenhagen. "Croatia is a vacation spot in Europe, sort of like Italy."
One of Ziegenhagen's favorite paintings was of an apartment building near her hotel. Almost 2,000 years ago, it was originally part of the Roman emperor's palace.
The two week excursions take up to 25 artists at a time.
"We find a location, spend a few hours there, then move on," Ziegenhagen said.
With so little time in each location, Ziegenhagen says she "basically tries to get a sketch on the (watercolor paper), then I finish them when I get home."
The sketch done on location might only be a few squiggles drawn with a fine-point waterproof marker.
For colors, Ziegenhagen uses both her memory and photos she shoots on location.
However, the photos are only a jumping off point —- the art of drawing is in part the art of selection.
"When I get to a new location, I always have to walk around a bit and look around. Sometimes you can look in every direction and find something to paint, there's so much."
Page 2 of 2 - Although she paints in acrylics also, she limits herself on the trips to watercolor, since the materials are so much easier to carry around.
"I need to fit everything into one suitcase," she explains.
Half the fun of going on group tours is seeing how all the different artists respond to each location in his or her own way. Some painters might try to squeeze an entire landscape onto a canvas, while others might spend the whole time trying to capture the look of one leaf.
Ziegenhagen's art recently has been influenced by a trip to France, where she saw caveman art tens of thousands of years old.
"That has inspired me to do some abstractions based on the cave art," said Ziegenhagen. "They've been very popular; I've sold many of them."
When she returns from her trips abroad, Ziegenhagen takes out her sketched watercolor paper and recreates what she saw.
She paints in the most common of places — her kitchen table of her house in Clements.
"When company comes over I have to put away all my paintings," she laughed.