Marrying her passion for painting with architecture has recently made watercolorist and illustrator Diane Laird $300 richer.

Marrying her passion for painting with architecture has recently made watercolorist and illustrator Diane Laird $300 richer.

Laird, 50, of Middletown, was awarded the prize money on March 2 for winning the professional category with her painting "The Green, Dover, Delaware" in the "National Arts Program: Delaware State Employee Exhibition and Contest II," a competition sponsored by the Delaware Division of the Arts in partnership with the National Arts Program.

Twenty-one awards were announced in five categories: professional, intermediate, amateur, teen (ages 13 through 18), and youth (12 and under), culminating in one "best in show." Sixteen cash prizes totaling $2,400 were awarded.

Laird, the state coordinator for Downtown Delaware (a revitalization program of the Delaware Economic Development Office), spoke with the Middletown Transcript about her signature painting style, the inspiration behind "The Green, Dover, Delaware" — a piece depicting the historic park The Green located in Dover — and more.

Q What attracted you to creating "The Green, Dover, Delaware?"
A I was part of the first ever "Dover Days Plein Air Paint Out" in May 2012 and actually, while I was painting in Dover, a dolman came up and introduced himself and said he owned a building [depicted in the center of "The Green, Dover, Delaware"] on The Green and would like to commission me to paint it. And that's really why I painted that scene.

Q What were your thoughts when you discovered you placed first in the professional category?
A I was very excited and quite surprised because my work is realistic; it's not photographic. It depends on what the jury is looking for, but very often they slant towards more abstract subject matter. I wouldn't consider my work abstract at all. You generally know what you're looking at pretty clearly. With my work, that's the point of it: to know what you're looking at. I paint things that are recognizable.

Q How did you develop your style of meshing ink with watercolors?
A Over the past couple of years I've really been praying for a signature style, something that would be very recognizable and somebody could say, "Yep, that's Diane Laird's work." It evolved over a little bit of time. I was trying to do just watercolors. And during a different plein air event in Chestertown, Maryland, there was one painting where I decided to take a marker and do the line-drawing and paint over it. It was quick. It was fun. And it really took me back to my roots, which is architectural perspective drawing. In my design career for 15 years, I very often provided architectural renderings for architects and designers. They were very exacting and very accurate and I was trying very consciously to move away from such analytical and straightforward, perfectionist kind of work. But in architectural drawing you really need to do that. I was purposely trying to do that in my hobby of art, and what I found is blending the two is really how my signature style was derived.

Q What's next for you?
A I'll be doing the fourth annual "Paint the Town" in Chestertown at the end of April and then I'll be doing the second annual Dover Days Plein Air Paint Out in the first week of May. Those are back-to-back. And I [recently] found out about "Paint Old New Castle," which is around May 18, so I may try to do that. But it's hard with a full-time job.