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New Landscapes

Written By Peter Watson
Cover Art by


The intentions of a painter and an environmentalist are pretty similar. Both aim to preserve the landscapes they love.

Editors’ Note

Topics: Art, Environment

What I’ve Learned This Year About Art, Advocacy, And My Own Environment.

Over the seasons, like a lot of people, agitation over the virus and the lockdowns made me want to embark on some ambitious project. Everyone’s quarantine pet project is different. For some people it’s baking, watching old movies, making a career change, or just trying to survive. Just be glad mine wasn’t a mixtape. It was Paintings for the Planet, a non-for-profit website where I sell prints, mugs, and greeting cards featuring my paintings of natural scenery to raise funds for environmental organizations. 

The idea came to me because I realized the intentions of a painter and an environmentalist are pretty similar. Both aim to preserve the landscapes they love. Their branches are different but their roots burrow through common ground: a vision for a peaceful relationship between humans and the forests, mountains, and rivers that sustain them. (They’re also both prone to self-righteous moralizing, but let’s overlook that one.)

A shelf full of Peter Watsons paintings that he sells on paintingsfortheplanet.com

A Big Challenge

As an amateur artist and college student with very little grasp of technical composition, sales, or social media marketing, starting this endeavor was an uphill battle. But I had a neurotic determination and would force it to work if I had to. First, I had to find the right materials, printing company, e-commerce platform, charities, postal service, and attitude. I’ll spare the bureaucratic details but it was a tiring, months-long preparation process.

And when I thought I was dotting every i and crossing every t, it turned out I was accidentally dotting my t’s and crossing my i’s and my other 24 letters were imploding. Every step forward came with two steps back and I was always discovering some new flaw in my plan, whether it was a typo in a bank routing number or a glitch that made all the text on my website invisible or an achingly awkward phone call with a customer support agent from a ceramics customization company. I dreaded accusations of eco-hypocrisy so I started making all my boxes out of upcycled consumer packaging. This development sounds chic until you picture me, eyes bloodshot, feverishly dissecting an empty Cheez-It box with an X-Acto Knife at three in the morning.

A painting by Peter Watson: "Greenhouse" (Acrylic on Canvas)
“Greenhouse” (Acrylic on Canvas)

After a breaking point I realized I had to just launch the website before it was perfect, because it would never be perfect. I could either work out the hiccups as the business grew, or I could let the hiccups consume me and never advance. I just wanted to share my art with other people in a way that could help other people. It was a broad goal, but it was the narrow things that were blocking me from reaching it.

So I launched it, starting out with four prints then adding about two dozen more products over the course of three months. 

How It Changed Me

Peter Watson painting a lake scene

I practiced and got better at painting. Yes, I watched Bob Ross videos, but also about a million other YouTube tutorials about blending, lighting, and the uses for different brushes. In school I admired (and envied) my friend Anshul for being able to craft beautiful things in her art classes. I never thought I had the discipline to do it myself. I still find it challenging, but now I enjoy the calculation a landscape painting demands. It feels like a reconnection with the arts and crafts we love to do as kids, but with the patience that comes with being a few years older.

A Throwback!

And I started seeing things. I’ve lived in my hometown for 20 years but I never understood it until now. I was a recluse growing up and mostly saw these streets through school bus windows and closed screen doors. But now I go for walks in the nature trails here for painting inspiration, and I make a trip to the post office twice or thrice a week. I walk past the gray and white houses, the Dunkin’ Donuts, the masked and unmasked pedestrians. I see the shadows of branches on the forest floor. The reflections of clouds on lakes. The way we never really see landscapes for what they are — we only make impressions of what we think they look like and fill in the distant details subconsciously. 

landscape paintings from paintings from the planet. Created by Peter Watson

And when I was sending out some packages one day, I saw an old lady thanking a post office worker for his service. I saw more children riding bikes than ever before. I saw pools of rain, blades of grass, and leaves starting to creep up the wooden frame of the gazebo across from the town hall. I saw an evening fog that made the whole world look like watercolors.

“Forest Bridge,” Acrylic on Canvas.

People I hadn’t talked to in years placed orders and sent messages and spread the word about what I was doing. My favorite teachers from high school, my relatives, close friends and faraway ones, and complete strangers all contributed to support the conservation of New York’s natural resources. Their generosity was like a glistening woodland waterfall that never stopped cascading.  A rude voice in my mind says that they all contributed out of pity, that I was only even doing this project for clout, and that my impact was too small to ever matter. But I don’t let those thoughts linger. I’m proud of what I’m doing and I encourage you to think about what calling you have, or could hone, to find your own spark! 

Maybe you can even turn it into a cloying, self-congratulatory thinkpiece.

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