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Painting While Driving

Drawing and painting landscapes in a moving car is a challenge and quite fun. 
Snow,Rocks & Trees Watercolor Sketchbook
The view is right there in front of you for a few seconds then… zip its gone !
When I drove from the Maine coast into the White mountains of New Hampshire the other day I encountered a variety of weather along the way. It was raining along the seacoast. I settled into the passenger seat and organized my materials.
My carefully chosen weapons for the battle… an ink pen, mechanical pencil and 98 pound multimedia sketchbook paper.
Sturdy Pines Watercolor Sketchbook

I have a method for sketching from a moving vehicle. I stare hard at the subject, remember what I saw and sketch very fast. Its an excellent memory exercise.


I placed my sketchbook on my lap, unpacked my small watercolor set and my lightning-fast Niji water brush. This water brush is the best thing for fast painting in tight quarters. 
Snowy fields Watercolor Sketchbook
It helps when you need to mix colors rapidly. You just squeeze water through the brush tip to clean it. You don’t need a jar of water handy to clean the brush, which could be a problem in a bumpy car ride on uneven road surfaces.

The weather was fierce. It rained, sleeted and ice froze across the windshield as we drove north. The heat turned up high melted the ice off the windshield. The higher we climbed into the mountains of New Hampshire the colder and icier it got.
Boreal Forest Watercolor Sketchbook
When we crossed the high ridge of mountains in the middle of the state and started driving down into the valley toward Vermont and the Connecticut River the freezing rain turned to rain.
It was 10 degrees warmer in the river valley.
The White River Watercolor Sketchbook
The White River meets the Connecticut River at White River Junction, Vermont. After the big floods Vermont had last August the White River has a number of sand bars and a newly shaped river bed.

Road into the Mountains Watercolor Sketchbook

The precipitation stopped completely in Vermont. Low clouds were tearing across the mountain tops and sky holes made it brighter. 

It was easy to sketch the view. I just kept looking and moving my hand at the same time. Painting in colors was more difficult. I could only get one good look at the colors of a specific location, then in seconds it was gone.
Snowy Rocks and Pines Watercolor Sketchbook
There was more snow in Vermont than any where else we drove through, especially on the high ridges.
It was a blue, violet and slate gray day. The trees were dark mauve and deep blue against the distant snow fields.

Whaleback Mountain Watercolor Sketchbook
Everything was looking very dramatic.

 
The dark bottomed clouds and dark trees made the snow look whiter than ever. The snow covered ground was the brightest spot in the landscape.
The Tree line Watercolor Sketchbook
Winter is the best time to paint out doors. The contrast and shapes are wonderful!
Each open area that was edged with trees has a different look and feeling.

Snowy Ledges Watercolor Sketchbook
A mundane location that you would never look at in the summertime all of the sudden has dramatic shapes and colors. 

Farms & Snow Fields Watercolor Sketchbook
In hilly and mountainous areas the white snow covered fields created a patchwork of pines and hardwoods.
In this winter wonderland a simple red brick building became a warm spot of color in the cool white and blue landscape.

Road on the Ridge Watercolor Sketchbook
As the afternoon moved toward sunset the dark violet blue mountains were a deep cool contrast against the nearby green pine forest.
It reminded me that it doesn’t have to be a sunny day to be beautiful. 
The Connecticut River at Hanover Watercolor Sketchbook
Days like this have a peaceful quiet mood and subtle rich colors that are very satisfying to see. 
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Spring Thaw

Winter is coming to an end! I know there are a lot of folks out there that are happy about this. As the snow drifts melt I have more space to park my car but it also is rapidly changing the landscape. 
At the Rachel Carson Cutts Island trail head on Kittery Point there is more pavement showing along the road but the woods are still thigh deep in snow.

 Chauncey Creek was almost covered in ice a week ago. The creek is tidal so the tides and saltwater move ice out faster than on fresh water lakes and ponds. 

I set up my easel with water views to my left, right and straight ahead. 

The ice has disappeared from the middle of the creek and is melting along the shore and in coves.  Large cakes of it were scattered around. 
 I did a number of sketches in ink and pencil to help me decide what I might paint.  

There was so much great material to choose from and the tide was rising.

The light was changing.

A thin haze of clouds streaked across the sky.

I decided to paint a cove in the creek with slabs of ice scattered around. 

The light started to get bright and hazy with indistinct shadows as I started my block in.

Recently, I’ve been approaching my plein air paintings with a direct method of paint application. I don’t do any underpainting, and I premix my color groups so I can paint faster. 

As the sunlight dimmed a thin sheet of ice formed on the surface of the creek.

The sunlight was now gone but I kept to my original idea. I decided to change the foreground on my small panel(10 x12).  


I wanted to included more slabs and cakes of ice in the cove and shore area. 

This is the view of my easel looking down from the snow drift behind me. 


I really picked up speed as the light dimmed and it got colder!

Marcus kindly documented today’s painting trip. He came along on this late winter jaunt to do some sketching. 


I’m going for a wrap on this one. I ‘ll put the finishing touches on it in the studio.

Or use it for a larger studio piece!

I’m looking forward to spring but… I’ll really miss these great snow scenes. Snow makes the landscape so beautiful and interesting !

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The Moody Blues

Snow, fresh arctic air and that misty blue mood of the marshes called to me on Monday.  I couldn’t resist . I headed out, with the car studio packed for action.

Here on the seacoast we have a lot of snow! I couldn’t find a place to park in any of my  favorite places…8 ft drifts blocked the view.
Finally on a quiet, dead end road near the harbor I parked in the road.

It was cloudy, the tide was going out and the muted blues, reds, ochers and greens were beginning to show in the late afternoon light.   
I set up behind my car.  The afternoon was warm. It was above freezing!  What a rare occurance.

I really love sketching with charcoal! Its so different from my cool gray markers.
I spent some time really looking at my subject…
Painting outside is not like work, even though it requires complete concentration it feels like fun.
I painted my sketch in a thin burnt sienna on a primed panel.

The colors of the landscape were soft and muted.

The sky was shifting to subtle shades of golden yellow. 

I started to block in the color notes.

The light began to drop and that blue tint moved in.

I like painting near my car, all my gear is there so when I need something I can just reach for it…there’s my tool/paint box open next to me.

Here I’m adding more color notes and building the mood of the place. The ducks and geese honk and quack as they settle in for the night on the marsh . 

Not many people are out here on this late winter day, in the summer this place is a favorite spot for a an evening walk.  

The sun is gone.  A deep blue cast settles over the marsh.

I clean up my paints as my hazard lights light up the dusk.

Across the marsh all the little house lights begin to glow. Another perfect subject for a painting!  I’ll do that on another day…

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Snow & Ice on Great Bay

A partially sunny afternoon with temperatures in the 20’s made it a nice day to paint on Great Bay.  This is a 6,000 acre salt water bay and one of my favorite places to paint along the seacoast.
It is one of the largest estuaries on the Atlantic Coast and at 10 miles inland is one of the most recessed. It is an amazing place.
I’m setting aside a day each week meeting up with a few friends to paint. This is a change for me. I often paint alone, wandering from spot to spot.  I usually paint out of the back of my car if possible. 

This takes a little more planning and I like the new locations, perspectives and painting gear I am exposed to by painting with others. Todd Bonita and I painted together this day.

I was using my 8×10 light weight set up. I wanted everything to fit into one medium sized back pack as we were walking in a short distance to our location. This is Judson’s 8×10 pochade box. 

Todd is trying out new equipment.  This is his half size French easel. He carries his paints, brushes and medium in a small wooden box.

A brand new addition that he was testing this day was a Richeson French Mistress;  an expanding palette that triples your mixing space. Or you can also use it like a table top and park brushes and small gear on it….

True to the nature of experimenting I did my sketch with a different medium than the ink or cool gray markers I usually use. This day I used charcoal pencil. I noticed that Phillip Koch does plein air sketches in charcoal so I thought I’d try it for a change.
Todd was testing an expandable view finder that he could adjust to the ratio of the exact size of panel he was using. 

I keyed in my painting and blocked in my darks and masses in the approximate chroma, value and temperature I decided on. 

 I am using a limited palette of titanium white, cadmium lemon, cadmium red, french ultramarine and burnt sienna for my sketch.

I set up facing toward the sun so my panel would cast a shadow on my palette and keep my panel and paints in the same lighting conditions. 

Its hard enough painting with all that snow bouncing the light all around so I didn’t want to add direct sunlight to the mix. Here’s the 8×10 sketch, oil on canvas panel. Todd kept working away till dusk.
I’ve got a new paint I’m going to try – underpainting white. Todd was using it and it was setting up really fast, even in the cold temperatures.
Of course the best colors showed up as the sun went down and each phase only lasted for about 3 minutes. 
Next week we are thinking of setting up and painting a pile of (5×7’s and 6×8’s) 10 min sketches to capture the color changes as they occur.  This should be fun and doable with enough premixed colors waiting to be used….stay posted !
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Snow, Salt & Plein Air

I headed over to Cape Neddick last week to paint the ice on the river before it all melted. Its tidal so its dramatically different as the tide rises and falls.

Here is where I set up along the road. I am looking east down the river toward a small harbor, the open ocean is just beyond. It was a beautiful day.

My friend Heather lives in the neighborhood. She took this picture of me doing a small sketch looking west up the river with the sun dropping lower in the sky.

Here is the river and its collar of ice as it heads up into the woods. It is so difficult to paint facing into the sun but I wanted to do it as I know there are only a few days left before these spring like temperatures melt all that great ice.

I am really concentrating here trying not to let the glare off the snow blind me. It was so brilliant that sometime I could barely see my pallette or painting. When a cloud floated by I’d try to see if I was getting my color relationships to read.

Here’s the sketch I did in the field. I have’t worked on it in the studio. I’m thinking I might use as a reference for a larger painting.

Cape Neddick is right next to Ogunquit so I went over to the Marginal Way next to see what was cooking.

The snow on the rocks was gorgeous. There was big surf crashing as the sun dropped down behind the trees. I was running out of light so I did a quick sketch . The temps were dropping fast and the wind was picking up.





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Snow Painting Gear

At dawn in Sugar Hill, NH. , at 6:30 AM its -4 and I’m up checking the weather conditions for the day.

I paint out doors year round in New England. I live on the coast of Maine where I often have to deal with wind off the water so that figures into my clothing plan . For snow painting in the mountains it was pretty clear cut. I brought almost everything I had for high tech clothes and a few tried and true favorites .


Here is our group of painters each with their choice of cold weather garb. Boots are the most important piece of clothing. They need to be good for at least -100 and a -145 rating- this means you won’t get cold feet while standing still for hours. Painters on this outing who did not have the right boots (-45 didn’t work) got cold standing on snow. One painter put foot warmers in her boots and that kept her warm. Most of us had these monster boots and did not get cold feet . Cabelas and Sorrel makes boots like this that work. They are called Pac boots and are fine for dog sledding across Alaska.

Here is an example of a very cheerful painter whom you can barely recognize due the amount of clothing they are wearing! She is wearing a wool hat, neck combo specifically made for this trip. Many painters were wearing down parkas on this trip . Others were wearing wool jackets with insulated overalls. Two hats layered were not unusual.

What I used for this trip … I wore a layer of cotton against my skin, (sometimes I wear silk) then a cotton turtle neck, a thin down vest, a thick wool sweater,a wind proof polar tech vest, a polar teck neck gator, a polar tech head band , a polar tech hat , a down parka and topping it all a wind proof shell. On the bottom I wore cotton sweat pants, polar tech pants over them and wind proof polar tech pants on the top layer. I have down pants but wanted layers in case I got too over heated. On my hands I wore fingerless wool gloves. I was very toasty – had to take off my hat and paint in the shade when the sun was out.

This trio of painters are wearing down and 2 of them are wearing 2 hats . You can see they don’t look cold.

The camoflage unit on this painter was duck hunting gear. He knew it would work for painting if it worked for sitting in a duck blind for hours. It was totally insulated. Everyone was very puffy and needed to pull off layers when we went indoors.

Here is what indoors looked like…cozy and warm, the world we entered after a day of painting!

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The White Mountain Painters


Snow painting is for the hale and hearty. It is a totally rewarding experience. The right equipment to keep you warm and comfortable in these cold temperatures is important.


Snow clouds moved in across the White Mountains in the late afternoon to bring a sprinkling of the white stuff at dawn.

The Sunset Hill Inn where we were “camped” is an old historic inn with a great off the beaten track location. It was perfect as a snow camp base.

During the day the clouds would come in and drag across the mountain peaks leaving a layer of white . They left a visible snow line.


It was snowing fairly steadily so I painted this sketch under the roof of the large porch on the back of the inn.

Nancy and Susan concentrated on their paintings as the temperatures dropped and the air grew damp.


Dennis and Will went for the total New Hampshire winter plein air experience in falling snow. They had favorite spots where they painted out in the open meadow.