I was reflecting on what I learned while plein air painting and about the challenges of the changing weather and dark clouds moving in on a perfectly sunlit scene. I live on the coast of Maine. It was winter when I first started to paint outdoors. We have typical new England winters here, with snow and ice and freezing temperatures. I didn’t think it made any difference what the season was, I would just have different subject matter. In the early days I went out to paint once a week with a friend. That way we were committed to go out to paint even if the weather looked questionable. We would pick a variety of locations and meet each week to hike to wherever we thought the best view was. Since we started plein air painting in early winter, we just put on our warmest clothing and headed out. We didn’t think too much about the cold, mostly we thought about locations.
The first time we ran into a problem was when my painting companion climbed to the top of a tower to get the best view over the marshes and ended up with hypothermia at the end of the day. I was perfectly fine down on the ground as I was protected from the cold winds by dunes. Little did I know that she was up at the freezing in the wind. Lesson learned; cold wind all day can be a problem that you don’t notice while you are painting.
We went out faithfully once a week to paint. My paintings were horrible ! We would talk to each other about this constantly. Why was the paint all coming off the painting back on to my brush? It wasn’t sticking to the canvas. Why did I have all these situations where I could not get the paint to behave in a normal manner? I couldn’t get a sharp edge. The light reflecting off the snow was blinding me and when I got back home and looked at the painting I had painted it all in the wrong colors. There were other painters who painted outdoors and their paintings looked just fine. Why did mine look so bad ?
A couple of things were happening. We were both experienced artists. We worked with a variety of art materials that we used indoors. All my previous experience painting with oils was in a studio. I painted from life. I drew from life. I sketched from life. I painted with watercolors and acrylics alla prima but they dry in a few minutes . Oil paint does not dry in a few minutes. And oil paint at 20 degrees on a winter day does not dry at all. I was experiencing a double learning curve. I was painting with oils wet into wet and I was doing it outdoors in the middle of winter. I had the wrong brushes, wrong solvent and difficult substrate. I didn’t have a clue that they were wrong. And I didn’t have anyone to ask. The studio instructor I talked to was knowledgeable and could help me with suggestions for my subject matter but he had no idea how my tools and materials were behaving. When he painted outdoors it was on a nice summer day.
To be continued….
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