Tag Archives: plein air

I’m back!

A month of painting on location equals a lot of new work!

Lots of plein air paintings!
Look at all the pretty paintings!

You know what the biggest surprise was from my time away? How much I enjoy painting outside.

To be honest, I haven’t done a lot of plein air painting because I just always thought it couldn’t help but be a pain. First of all, you have to lug around a lot of stuff. The weather can be brutal. And what if you forget something important, like paper? What if it’s windy out? What if there’s bugs?

But it was either paint outdoors or don’t paint at all on this trip and we planned to be gone for a whole month, too long to go without pastels. So I decided to make an effort because art is important, dammit.

I prepared as well as I could by fitting everything into one big backpack and trying it out once or twice before we left to make sure I had everything. I also did some research on southwest color palettes so that I’d have the right pastels for the job. I cut up a lot of paper to take with me, with different textures and tones to keep my flittery fluttery mind engaged. I ran into one snag at the beginning when I discovered the foam core boards I’d brought to work on were too small, but I clipped two of them together and it was fine.

The only day it was too windy to paint was while we were traveling through New Mexico on day four. It’s pretty scary pulling a trailer in winds gusting to 70 mph. After an hour of that we were only too happy to find a place to wait out the weather. We ended up sitting in a gas station parking lot in Vaughn for seven hours. I doodled semi trailers in my sketchbook and Steve and I took turns watching the cover over the gas pumps to see if it would break loose and go flying off across the prairie.

After that we had non-stop beautiful weather right up until we headed north again. We put off visiting Taos on the way home because camping in the snow is just not a viable option at our age. Most of the time, though, I was up bright and early and working in my pajamas, coffee in hand. It was lovely.

As for bugs, I saw exactly one while I was painting, and that was a bombardier beetle at Las Cienagas National Preservation area. He came perilously close to running into my foot, aimed his butt at me for about five seconds while I held my breath, and then went on his way. Everyone’s a critic.

So now that I’m back I’ve decided to get out there and do more painting outdoors because who doesn’t have as much fun as they can? No one, that’s who. I have to say I like the look of my landscapes much better when they’re done on location than from photos in the studio. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more. It’s going to be awesome.

I’ve posted the best of my southwest USA plein air efforts on eBay this week, so be sure and check them out, a new painting every day at 9pm for the next week or so, and then it’s back to local landscapes, but with a new (for me) outdoor twist. If you see me out there, be sure to stop and say hello!

Don’t I look relaxed? It was a gooooood vacation.
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plein air pastel set up

You never know what kind of fauna you’ll meet in the woods

I promised myself to do more plein air painting this summer and so last weekend I brought along my backpack full of pastels when I went walking in the woods with my dogs.

I really like going out into the Manistee National Forest. You can see deer and chipmunks, porcupines and ‘possums. There are tons of birds calling. Sometimes I whistle back to try to lure them in closer so I can identify them. I take pictures of everything that catches my eye. Bees buzzing on the roadside flowers, the way the sky angles down to crack open the tree line, a 2-track wiggling around a corner. It’s peaceful, relaxing, meditative. The perfect start to a weekend.

I drove to a nearby intersection in the woods just off south Walhalla Road, spritzed myself and the dogs liberally with bug spray (it’s never not deerfly season), and traipsed down the path. All too soon I heard the telltale whine of a small engine and quickly led the dogs to one side. We watched as a dirt bike zipped past us. “Haha, that was close,” I thought.

A bit later, I heard the sound of a dirt bike again. We stepped off the two-track but this time there were two bikes instead of one. I couldn’t tell whether or not either was the same person as before but I decided that probably the first one had met up with the second one and they were out exploring the woods together. Kind of sweet, really. One of them even waved at us.

Within ten minutes they were back, going the other way, only now there were three of them! Hmm. It was getting kind of busy out in the woods. I considered going back the car and calling off my plein air practice day. Were dirt bike riders more aggressive in groups?

I kept on, though, determined to get a painting day in. A couple more times I thought there were bikers coming but it turned out to be just the echoes of their engines as they criss-crossed the trails all around us. We waited in the tall grass, listening to what sounded like a veritable hornets’ nest fading away in the distance.

Eventually, I found a spot to set up. It was beautiful, the morning sun dappling the ground, kissing the ferns and foliage all around. A perfect place to paint.

I tied up the dogs far enough off the path to keep them out of harm’s way and unpacked my kit. Where to start? I picked a scene with sun coming through the trees and lighting up the forest floor and began to do a black and white thumbnail sketch. Then I taped a piece of paper to my foam board and began blocking in my painting.

Roger and Daisy, my faithful plein air painting companions.

Within ten minutes I heard the now all too familiar buzz of approaching bike engines. Skipping to one side, I counted riders as they zoomed past. One, three, seven, eight! Where were they all coming from? Was there a spawning ground around here?

Increasingly nervous, I quickly finished my first study, stopping and listening every few minutes, in case I needed to move off the path again. For the next study, I lost my meditative groove completely, went right past the preliminaries, and dove straight into the painting. Another group of riders whipped by, leaving clouds of dust and two-stroke exhaust in their wake.

I decided to pack up and get out during a lull. Should I try to make it to a main road and walk back to my car from there? Except it would add another mile or two to my hike and all I really wanted to do now was go home where it was quiet and have a cup of coffee. I shortened the leashes and we quick-marched back the way we’d come.

I saw three more sets of bikes before I got to the car, one with a go Pro camera on his/her helmet. I wonder if I’ll make the final cut?

In hindsight, I should have been painting dirt bikes all along, of course, since that’s what was the most plentiful thing out there, but it was my first time. I was nervous about drawing their attention, so to speak.

At least I managed to get a picture. Here’s Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus out in the wilds of Fountain, Michigan. Ride on, you magnificent brute, ride on.

dirt bike in the woods

Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus

Oh, and here are the two studies I managed during my Saturday morning paint out. The art life is full of adventure, isn’t it? Who knew?

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 1

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 2


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