Up here in rural Maine we have 5 seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter and mud season. We have one extra short season that overlaps late winter and early spring. All the rural areas of the New England states share this season to varying degrees.
I notice if we have a few weeks of warm days with freezing nights we have a nice long mud season. These same weather conditions are also perfect for the maple syrup producers. The sap starts running during the warm days and slows when the temperature drops below freezing over night.
This is a great time of year for plein air painting. We have the best of both worlds, bright snowy landscape and temperatures above 32 degrees that feel absolutely tropical after the minus zero temperatures from a few weeks back. Spring weather makes New Englanders act crazy. This week I painted without gloves, a jacket and a hat. If I had been thinking clearly I would have worn my hat. I got my first sunburn of the season surrounded by huge piles of melting snow while standing in large puddles of water in 50 degree sunshine.
I’m spending a lot of time in my studio these days. I have a pile of paintings that need to be finished and delivered and a new show coming up at the beginning of April. I’m organizing my spring/ summer/ fall plein air events and workshops and and planning my summer schedule. I’m trying to slow down the departure of winter. I’m trying to stretch mud season? I really want to wear my bean boots for another month? Right now it is snowing. Its covering the field out back, and turning the exposed bits of grass white. At the same time the snow on the roof is melting, the puddles and mud in the yard are liquid and the pavement on the street is wet. Its OK with me.
You are invited to “Local Color 2015 ” the first exhibit of the 2015 season at Bayview Gallery. Friday, April 10th 5-7 pm. 58 Maine Street, Brunswick, ME. I’d love to see your smiling face !
Winter kisses Spring? Where did that come from? It must of floated in from some remote spot in the woods where you can hear the river gurgling underneath the ice.
These next few weeks will be the best days for painting winter scenes. The temperature is moderating, its above 20 degrees in the day and the sun is warming everything up. Of course my first concern is where do I need to go to paint the snowy spots before they melt? Its like taking a giant land thermometer and thinking what warms up first? Of course anything out in the open and facing south will melt first. The northern side of the hills and deeply shaded woods will hold the snow a bit longer.
If I want to be in the marshes before they melt and all look muddy and brown I might have to put them at the top of my list. Some of my best marsh paintings were painted during snow storms when it was very cold and not necessarily the happiest time for oil paint to behave nicely. Sometimes to capture that picture and wonderful mood I have to just ignore the weather and deal with whatever it delivers.
For the most extreme weather I carry a thermos of very hot tea. Hot tea works wonders after painting for hours in tough weather. The added benefit of painting in crisp cold air is your mind feels super sharp and like it is washed clean of all the hum drum of modern life. It totally blasts out cabin fever or any cobwebs in the corners of your mind. I think I’d be quite happy to spend a winter painting in the remote areas of Yellow Stone National Park. I’m very happy painting along the sparsely populated seacoast of Maine in the winter. It’s often just me, big empty spaces, a lot of big open quiet spaces, flocks of birds, some fishermen here and there and a dog walker passing by once in a while. Its nature at its best.
NEW PAINTING CLASS/WORKSHOP ~ If you would like to get out to paint soon let me know. I’ll be starting a spring class – 6 sessions. On Thursday afternoons, 1-4pm We will be outdoors weather permitting. Send me a note if you are interested. I’ll post dates soon as the weather is warming up.
I wasn’t really thinking of summer this week . I was just looking through some of my plein air studies from last year. I’m looking at all my sky studies and noticing all the different kinds of weather I’ve painted. After I gathered these studies all together in one place I notice a wide variety of moods and seasons. These studies are really interesting to see in one large group.
I find after all these years of painting from life I have stored away in my brain all the many scenes and places I’ve traveled to paint. This makes a difference when I am painting a large painting of one of these awesome locations. This past fall I went back to paint in the studio for the first time in over 10 years. Since 2004 I have painted exclusively outdoors. After 10 years of totally painting en plein air I wanted to see if I could get a perspective on what I had gained from all that exposure. I certainly change my approach, style, colors, technique and brush work as I develop as a painter, but I also wanted to see if there anything else I might notice.
Wow. What a surprise. I found that I have this ability to really focus and get down to the matter at hand. Its very interesting to watch how I paint still life, portraits and figures. I size up a situation and work very fast getting in the important elements. I treat everything as if it is a landscape. I look at shapes and forms first. And I organize it all so that I’m seeing those big shapes and values in a sequence that gels in my mind. In 3 seconds I can see what I want to paint and I can see the arrangement of shapes and how I want to put on the canvas. Its as if it flies out of the atmosphere into my pen as I sketch it into my sketch book. Somehow I think this is the result of painting a few thousand studies in plein air. It feels organic. And even though I really like my new figure group and I totally enjoy the experimentation with new materials in the studio, I still find that my favorite place on earth is a place that has no walls, fresh air and the open sky above my head.
When I am out painting pictures on location I often get a hint of something big when I’m working. I can be forced to work small as its getting dark or a storm is coming or I’m traveling and have to reach a destination by a certain time. When I have time limitations like this I just pull out a small or tiny canvas and paint really fast. Often I paint a series of them back to back, recording the light as it changes.
I love doing this as its like having painted postcards from a trip. I like that they are loosely painted. This is the mood I’m feeling while immersed in this spot and I’m painting the things that strike me most noticeably at that moment.
We are now in the middle of winter here in Maine. This year it feels like we are actually living in the tundra ! Its been snowing almost three times a week for the past several weeks and when its not snowing the temperatures plunge below zero. I’m deep at work painting everyday in the studio. I’m painting something big from all these tiny paintings that surround me. I’ll share a few of the big ones with you and you can see how much I took from the studies and how much I added from my memory of the place.
Don’t worry I’m still escaping outside to paint in the snow. The open sky is still the favorite roof over my head at any chosen moment. I should have been born a cowboy or a sheep herder living in one of those tiny wagons, sleeping out in the big open spaces under the stars. Or maybe I was one and that’s why I want to paint outdoors so much !
There is nothing like painting snow. It is magical, beautiful and sublime. When I am on location deciding where to set up my easel the first thing I always notice is the temperature and the direction of the wind. If it is a calm day it makes it easier to choose where I set up. If its windy I always paint near my car or behind my car. It makes a big difference to be protected from the wind when the temperatures are in the teens or lower. Twenty degrees seems to be the tipping point where the paints start to behave differently. When it is above 20 degrees my oil paints are normal. Below 20 degrees they start to get stiff and I add more medium to get them to flow. I also get different effects with the paint when its colder.
I love the mood of a snowy landscape. The air is fresh and cold. The light reflecting off the snow is intense. It is brilliant and blinding. It can be difficult to judge the color of paint when you are out in the middle of a bright snowy field. I wear my broad brimmed hat on sunny days. If I can, set up in the shade to paint. It makes it easier to see.
When we’ve had a lot of snow the most difficult thing is finding a place to park my car. Often the parking lots and pull offs that are easily available in the warmer months are not plowed. My favorite locations aren’t often available during the winter. I often find new spots in urban and village areas that are usually plowed.
In the past 3 weeks a large area of New England received up to 80″ of snow. It is more difficult to find plowed areas with a view. Everybody is just focused on keeping the streets clear. The piles of snow on the edges of parking lots are now over a story high. Might just be time to get out the snow shoes and the toboggan and hike in a bit.
If you’d like to take a fun painting class, I have a new class starting in March. “COLOR & BRUSHWORK” ~ Level: Beginner to Intermediate Fee : $180 6 classes March 5th – April 9th. Class Description here.
Sometimes a quick painting is the perfect thing to do, especially when there are days when the tasks are piled high. Since I am a full-time painter I have to schedule a certain amount of time for taking care of the business side of life. There are always tasks to complete; my website, blog, social media, marketing and more. This takes away a chunk of time from my painting schedule. Before the internet things moved at a slower pace. I have to be very organized. I have to choose where I put my time and energy. I’ve decided to paint at least 5 paintings a week and get outside as much as possible this winter. On some days I don’t get a chance to get out to paint until after two pm. There is always something to keep me in the office or studio.
I’ve solved the problem with a simple solution. I allow myself to go out and paint local scenes at the drop of a hat. As soon as I do a certain amount of tasks, I’m heading out the door. My car studio is always packed and ready to go. A few weeks ago I began painting on a variety of surfaces. This week I’m working on fine portrait linen and oil primed panels.
This afternoon I got into my car and drove around town for about four minutes until I saw a spot where the sun was hitting a cluster of objects and lighting them up on one side. The houses on Market street in North Berwick looked perfect in the late slanting sunlight. A whole row of those classic white New England homes with barns were being lit by the bright beams of light.
I set up my easel and painted a quick sketch in 20 minutes. Then the sun was down behind the hill. It was perfect. The temperature dropped 10 degrees as the sun disappeared below the horizon. I packed up and headed back to the studio, happy and satisfied.