Since I began working in plein air several years ago, most locations I have painted have been near enough that I only had to pack my gear in the GMC and drive to my destination. Even when I head for northeast Mississippi from Louisiana, it’s not a big deal, as long as I remember to bring something to protect my wet paintings from ruining the interior of the vehicle. So when one of our Paintin’ Posse (we finally have a name) suggested a painting trip to Lake Gaston on the North Carolina/Virginia border, I only hesitated a few minutes before committing to flying there on Memorial Day weekend.
Packing for travel is one thing, but packing for both painting and vacation is something else. I researched online, asked my art colleagues how they managed, and tried to minimize what I put in my two suitcases. I have several easels for outdoor painting. I tried each and finally decided on the Soltek. The tubes of oil were carefully placed in the paint boxes I saved (I’m a box hoarder) and the number of brushes limited. The Best Brella took some room, but I knew I would need it at some point. Since we were going to a lake house I took a very limited wardrobe that included the hat I always wear when painting outdoors. It all fit and came in under the weight limit. Just learning to pack to paint was huge.
The house was situated on an inlet of the lake. The weather was perfect every day except the day we left. We were able to paint several different areas and even took a trip to a winery. Our host family provided us with refrigerators full of food and beverages, prepared several meals for us, and
took us on boat tours around the lake.
I quickly acclimated myself to the artists’ retreat concept. I began five paintings, scrubbed one away, and pushed myself to paint more quickly in order to keep the light.
Now that I have learned to pack and paint, I think I am ready to head for new places, like Tuscany and Provence. After I finish the five paintings (and quite a few others) I have in my “to be completed” stack.
One of my painting friends said that plein air painting during spring was not as interesting as during the autumn season. Everything is green. That’s the problem with some landscapes. There is just too much green. Spring has a range of palest yellow to a medium range accented with colorful flowers. The richness of summer foliage can be almost blinding, especially in the dazzling sun. Autumn’s green is rich and more varied, touched with reds and ochres. Here in South Louisiana, green is part of the landscape year round, even during winter.
An artist commented that he counted over twenty different hues of green in the prairie landscape of North Mississippi where I grew up. Really? Was that all he could count?
I started painting outdoors about fifteen years ago after working almost exclusively from photographs. I took a workshop with Allayne Stevens through our local art guild. Not only was it my first plein air adventure, I was using oil, with which I had little experience. I was amazed how differently I saw colors in life as opposed to photos. It was challenging to figure out how to make them.
Green is one of my favorite colors, but it is frustrating trying to make the correct hue and value for all of the different ones out there. There must be hundreds of different tube colors of green. I collected quite a few from workshop instructors’ supply lists as well as from reading what other artists use. I try to limit the number of colors on my palette, not only to keep the amount of paint I carry to a minimum, but to achieve a more harmonious composition. I am still struggling to achieve the green I perceive. I love bright colors and have a difficult time neutralizing them. Or maybe that will just be my thing…brilliant greens, and lots of them.
Since I have not been able to get together with my friends to paint during the week, I decided to do a little plein air painting on my own one afternoon after school. There is a fabulous green-gold colored tree across from the school that is just begging to be painted, and once again I could stand on the sidewalk and work.
I parked across the street. The crossing guard stopped the three lanes of traffic so I could make it safely across the street. Then I realized I left my canvas in the car, so back across I went. At least I got some exercise. There was a shady area to set my easel. After making a sketch, I began to paint
One never knows what will happen outside or who one will meet. The cross-country team from the high school ran by, and the coach followed on his bike. It turns out we were former colleagues, so we had a nice chat. When the cross-country runners passed on their way back they complimented my work. A student walking home from school stopped and showed me her art portfolio. The after-school detention group even spoke. I packed up before the traffic became too heavy to cross the street.
My painting was just a quick start. I may never complete it. Being outside on a perfect October day with cobalt skies and cadmium yellow wildflowers swaying in the field just for the fun of it may be the best reason of all to paint.