Winter Plein Air Painting

Merry Christmas! Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I usually start off these blog posts by mentioning how busy I’ve been and this one will be no exception. I have been working on applications for an MFA in Creative Writing. All my free time efforts have been going to that and so my art and this blog have unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

This year I promised I would have no grading to do over the holiday break. Somehow I managed to keep that promise. Which means I have been able to dedicate time to things I enjoy. Like reading. I’ve got so much reading to do. The last few years I’ve been steadily increasing the number of books I read, but I’m not going to reach my goal this year. Don Delillo’s Underworld absorbed too much of my time.

And since I’ve had some free time, I went outside for my first true winter plein air experience.

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Though we got hit with some back to back snowstorms a month or so ago, we’ve had little snow since, so the we wound up with quite a brown Christmas. Last year we got the opposite. We had a mini blizzard on Christmas day.

Snow is the main draw of winter plein air and without it I had to turn to the second best thing. Ice. It’s been cold enough for that at least.

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I drove a couple towns over to Durham and did some reminiscing as I went through the UNH campus. They’ve added some large buildings since I graduated, but it still feels like home. I parked at Durham Landing and walked along the Oyster River until I found a spot that intrigued me. I was very excited. The view offered rocks, ice, and flowing water. I’m thinking of doing quite a few studies of that spot as the winter progresses. When the snow comes, I’m sure it will be beautiful. Maybe one of my New Year’s resolutions should be to turn those studies into a larger painting. Man I should’ve jumped on the Michael’s Black Friday deal and bought the 5 foot canvas for $33. 

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I wanted to try a new palette because my last few plein air paintings have felt too consistent. Maybe that’s not the right word. Basically, I want to try to vary my color. 

I dug through a box of my unused paints (ones that my mom gave me or came free with orders from Dick Blick) and found some interesting options. I settled on: Sap Green, Transparent Oxide-Red Lake, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Old Holland Yellow Light, Permalba White, Torrit Grey, and Ivory Black. Using the Yellow Light as my white, my hope was that everything would be a little dulled down since it is an off-white color. Then at the end I could come in with the Permalba White and make the lights pop. I especially wanted to try this strategy on the snow. 

But I waited too long and the Permalba White froze and wouldn’t come out of its tube. Which is fine, but definitely disappointing. I learned a few things from this session that I will carry forward to the next. Like: bring a lighter so that you can warm up the ends of the paints and get the caps off easily. Had to use my teeth. Which is something my dentist dad probably doesn’t want to hear. Also, getting carcinogens anywhere near my permeable membranes is not usually on my to do list. 

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The block in stage was quite enjoyable. Time has flown by and I definitely missed painting. I even talked to myself as I worked, getting hyped for my decisions. That’s not weird. Promise. But as the day went, I got colder and colder. It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun and I was in the shade. My feet and toes got the worst of it. The rest of my body was fine. Even with both gloves and mittens on, my fingers turned red. The problem is that the palette hand simply stays in one position the entire time and the painting hand needs to be mostly free for mobility. 

Some hand and toe warmers will fix those issues I think. And if not, well we’ll see how much I paint outdoors this winter and if it warrants getting some nice winter boots. I’m planning on doing a lot of hiking this winter as well, so perhaps boots would be a good investment. 

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Though I didn’t include the bridge in this study, I’m planning on adding it in the next. With the bridge in view, I believe the shadows and light will make more sense.

I’m thinking each study will examine different perspectives of this view and also try different palettes. Then I can use them to rough in a large canvas before bringing it on location. 

I’ve been searching for videos that go over plein air painting rivers, but have found few resources. If anyone has some suggestions, please send them my way!

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I was listening to Steve Atkinson talk about plein air painting yesterday and he said that honest painters will admit they fail all the time. It’s part of the learning process. I’m not saying this study was a complete failure, but it sure did challenge me on many levels. Looking at the painting now, I can see that I lost the organization of my values. Everything seems to be all mushed together and there’s little separation between the different planes of the picture. Definitely something to keep in mind next time. That said, I believe this study reads the best from afar. So go ahead and take a few steps back from the screen. Does it come together? Is it easier to understand the relationships of the shapes? If not, I think the on-site photo does a good job of distancing the painting. 

I’m considering it a decent success and I’m excited to go back and do another.

See you next time!

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2 thoughts on “Winter Plein Air Painting

  1. I really like it. It’s abstract but makes sense. Boots are a good idea! I learnt a lot about how materials react to weather working en plein air in Iceland in Winter and Pakistan in Spring.

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