Monday, December 9, 2013

Plein Crazy - outdoor painting in sub-freezing weather

An icy Mustang Creek
This week's weather brought freezing rain, temps in the 20s, power outages, and the sound of large tree limbs snapping and falling all over town. Plein air anyone? Crazy I know but I was eager to get out and paint even with the thermometer reading 21ºF.

Saturday was your typical winter day, with nothing but drab gray skies and very little color in the landscape since everything was covered in ice. My location of choice was the same creek at the end of our street that I have painted many times before. But this time I wanted to set up near some falls that I had recently stumbled upon. Funny that I had no idea that this beautiful setting was just a few yards up the creek from where I usually hang out, obscured by evergreen trees around the bend. 

Appropriately dressed in insulated hiking boots and a heavy coat, I walked about 100 yards from where I parked through crunchy prairie grass to the falls, carefully stepping on surfaces that had ice-free patches on them and working my way down the bank. I admit that I nearly fell several times, but thank you God, I didn't. At this point I still felt warm from head to toe, encouraged that I could really do this. I had everything set up and ready to go until I realized that I had left my paints at home. Here's where I remind you to always go over a checklist before you leave. I always seem to forget something. Anyway, I took a chance that no human with half his mind would be out here in this weather so I left everything set up, as-is, and drove back home to get my oils... hoping that my gear would still be there when I returned... and thinking to myself how odd this abandoned easel might look to someone if they did just happen to come along. Ten minutes later I was back and ready to go, none worse for the wear.

The one good thing about plein air painting with overcast winter skies is that you don't have to worry about light and shadow changes, for the most part. This can be a bad thing if you don't force yourself to work as quickly as you would normally work. But trust me, the cold weather is more than enough incentive to work fast. About halfway through the session you realize that you are really, really cold and begin to go into a hurry-up offense mode, slapping paint on the canvas like an ape at the zoo.

The worst part about these conditions, other than nearly slipping on the ice-covered limestone, is keeping your hands warm without hindering your style. At first I went with the tried-and-true blue disposable gloves - hoping that I could complete something before it became too unbearable. I realized that they wouldn't be ideal, but figured I could fight through it. I eventually ended up putting on my thick thermal gloves which now match every other bit of paint-dabbed clothing I own. Not easy to manipulate, especially if using a palette knife, but I managed.

#134 Icy Creek - 14x11 oil on canvas panel
In spite of the sunless conditions I had lots of high and low value to work with since there was a large limestone boulder jutting out from the bank casting dark shadows on the water below. And the falls themselves had some bright whites to contrast with the rock behind them. 

All-in-all, this was a great experience and I recommend that every outdoor artist should try it at least once. This is the type of outing that makes plein air so much more interesting than studio work. Each painting has a story behind it that can only be conceived organically - in the elements themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for visiting my blog. Your comments are appreciated.