Packing Tips for Plein Air Painting

Ready to find the ultimate landscape to paint? Going on a trip and need to pack your art supplies? Taking a plein air class this summer? Preparing your watercolor painting materials ahead of time will give you a jump start on your day the next time that perfect day promises ideal weather for plein air painting. This is how I pack for a day trip so that I have all my essentials in one convenient place and can just grab my backpack and go.

Keep in mind you will have to trek on foot from your car to your destination, so packing efficiently and as light as possible is going to be your goal. Minimally you will need a backpack and I will explain how everything you need can fit inside a standard size school type backpack.

I purchased an inexpensive school back pack for under $15. at a Target and was able to fit everything I needed into it. My backpack measured 20″ high x 13″ wide and when packed fully, approximately 12″ deep. When I went to the store I brought along my Arches 12″ x 16″ watercolor block to see how it would fit inside the backpack. The backpack had a ruck sak style opening at the top which is a feature I like because it allows for a wider opening to fit my palette, container of paints, brushes and my water bottle.

Here is my essential list of materials that I carry when I paint outdoors. (Below is a photo illustration of my materials with captions.)

  • 12″ x 16″ Arches Watercolor Block
  • A container that holds the following: Approximately 12 tubes of watercolor paint, 8 brushes, eraser, 2 pencils and a pencil sharper. I also fold several sheets of paper towels and line the container with it.
  • A 14″ x 10″rectangular plastic palette with lid.
  • A 48 oz. Nalgene water bottle. (This may seem bigger, because the water is not just for drinking).
  • A small 8 0z. plastic cup for brush washing.
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Tubes of Paint, Brushes and Pencil Supplies

This plastic container on the left is a 5″ x 13″ pencil container which I like because of its rectangular shape. You can find these in all sorts of shapes and sizes at arts and crafts or office supply stores. Notice that I have applied Velcro tabs on my brushes, eraser and pencil sharpener. This keeps everything tidy and allows me to find them quickly. Also, when painting outdoors you sometimes have to deal with wind and things topple about easily, so having my essential tools stable helps my painting go smoothly. My paints still topple around inside the container, and I am working on a solution for that in the future. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

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Watercolor Palette

On the right is my watercolor palette and tray. It has a cover that you can turn over and use as an additional tray to mix paints. When I pack it, I also put it inside a plastic bag to prevent leakage. The blue sketchpad on top of the tray is an extra pad I use for sketching.

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Watercolor Paper

I like to use this particular brand of watercolor paper. It is called a watercolor “block” because the sheets of paper are sealed alongside the four edges with a removable gum arabic adhesive. It also provides stability when painting outdoors. The sheets of paper won’t blow away because it is already secured and the hard cardboard backing is great to balance on my lap or surface that I am painting on. ( I often sit on rocks, ledges and tree stumps when I paint outside).

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Loose Sheets of Artwork

I also have piles of paintings that I can store inside the cover of the watercolor block when I pack my bag. The watercolor block protects my loose sheets of paper from bends and tears.

 

Wala! Here is your fully stocked backpack. Once you have created this pack, I suggest you don’t unpack it. Keep it handy so the next outing you take, you know you will have everything you need to get your trip started at a moment’s notice. Each time you use your pack, you will refine it by adding and subtracting your most essential supplies.

Here are a few extra items I like to pack:

  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Masking tape
  • Small spray bottle
  • Exacto knife or blade
  • A few extra sheets of paper towel
  • Cell phone and battery charger for backup
  • And oh, yeah, don’t forget your afternoon snack of choice:

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Happy painting!

 

 

 

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Cold Thoughts

Last year, I taught four six-week watercolor classes at Shelburne Craft School, worked full-time at Gardener’s Supply Company and did three art events. Two were weekend shows in Vermont. The Chaffe Art Centers Annual Art in the Park in Rutland and a Fall art and crafts show in Woodstock. My last art endeavor in 2016 was my installation of paintings and hand painted fiber scarves with the Vermont Holiday Shop which is run as an arts and crafts cooperative. We work and sell each other’s goods to offset costs. It’s a great way to work as we all strive to all commit to do our part with staffing the shop. The result is a store that is filled with the most creative mix of hard and soft goods from pottery to herbal salves, to gourmet sauces and wearable fine art fashions! Our shop was bursting with entrepreneurial gusto.

To infuse my painting with new skills,  I took a great class with Instructor Joel Popadics in August which rejuvenated my plein air landscape painting. For one intensive week, we spent full days painting outdoors at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vt., Mount Philo, in Charlotte, Vt., Shelburne Museum and The Shelburne Boathouse. Joel is a master watercolorist and it was a rewarding week of very specific painting instruction that he demonstrated right before our eyes! I knew I was going to learn a lot from him and I cherished every minute of my time painting with a great group of painters who came from Vermont and out of state to participate. I took away some new color mixing formulas that I learned from him and have begun incorporating them in my paintings. Learning time-honored painting from artists who dedicate their lives to painting is invaluable and serves to inspire me as I strengthen my own teaching. My next goal is to take a class with Vermont artist, Susan Abbott. I met her many years ago at a women’s business workshop for artists in Montpelier, VT and received excellent advise on how to conduct my own art career.

Looking back at 2016, I laugh at my impulsivity. It’s both my downfall and at times my artistic strength. What does that mean? Well, a lot. Perhaps a longer blog entry is on the horizon: ” Impulsivity and the Artist, Does It Make a Good Combination?” One instructor I had explained that the balance of the logical mind and the creative mind is like walking a tightrope:you need both. I know that when I use my impulsive mind, my interest is elevated, however, at some point, it’s not always the complete recipe to get the desired intention. A few strategic logical assumptions may be resurrected for that balance. Perhaps a ratio of intention and impulsive reaction may be a good way to explain the creative painting process to students?

Lastly, I want to end this entry with four paintings I submitted to what I call my annual National Parks Project. Three years ago I began applying to specific parks for a coveted one month artist residency inside a national park. It’s like playing the lottery because they receive hundreds of applications (you apply directly to the park of choice) and they have, at best, 4 slots in a given year and each slot is typically reserved for a different artistic discipline, such as writer, musician, painter and photographer. This year I am applying to Glacier National Park (GNP) and Zion National Park (ZNP). I am researching a few more, some of the parks are not compatible with what I do and some are so one needs to read each parks criteria before applying.

Here are three images I used for my GNP application. They were painted last year from a trip I took to Utah:

My goal moving forward is to continue in 2017 with a determined effort to understand the world through art and as actress Meryl Streep recently stated at her recent controversial Golden Globes speech, “As my friend, the dearly departed Princess Leia said to me, take your broken heart and make it into art.”

Summer Watercolor Class

The sun was out so I eagerly set up my watercolor station outside on my deck where I have a small bistro table with an umbella. Typically, I paint in my windowless basement which is every bit as unglamorous as it sounds but once I settle in and set my Pandora station to my latest jazz and pop tunes, I quickly forget where I am and get into painting. So the chance to get an afternoon of painting in on the deck outside seemed ripe with promise.  Not so I’m afraid. Wind and bad glare from the sun had this basement painter quite distracted. Paper blowing all over, paint drying too fast and my table and umbrella swaying in the wind shortened my day but blustery weather not withstanding, I did finish my painting.

Last week was the first of several classes that I am teaching this summer and I started the class with an introduction to negative space painting using the spring forest as inspiration. We primarily are using monochromatic and analogous colors starting with  yellow, blues and greens and later adding opposite colors red and purple for details. We are painting the background first and leaving rough vertical areas of white paper where the trees will eventually be painted. By building layers of yellow, green and blue foliage we will begin to create our forest as we build layer upon layer.

Students can look at the steps that I created below. Feel free to comment or start a painting dialogue with this blog if you wish. I will answer your questions here or in my private email. Whichever you prefer.

Here are the step by step details:

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What Happens With Paint

In January of this year I began a six week watercolor class at Shelburne Craft School on Thursday evenings from 6p.m. to  8p.m. Classes will continue throughout the spring and summer months so check my website for times and dates or click on the following link: http://theshelburnecraftschool.org/news/projects/watercolor-skills-simplified/

The first class starts with asking each student to share a story about themselves and their painting background. I love this part of the class because it is where I get my first impressions of each student. Listening carefully I can begin to see how I can help each one get the most out of our six weeks. Some have never painted before and look forward to learning how to master the paintbrush with new ideas, some students enjoy painting after a long day at work. My class is prepared for everyone to learn. Class size is small and I use a mix of class demonstrations with group and individual instruction as needed. Everyone is encouraged to do lots of painting at home so I often give homework and we do a group critique the following week. In class, we work with photographs and diagrams that are designed to feature a specific technique that we work on that day. Here is a sample: Shelburne Barn Lesson Plan Winter 2016

Watercolor painting seems to appeal and awaken something in us. Maybe its the loose watery transparency of the medium which is like looking at the calming effects of water itself? Or the way transparency itself lets us take a layered look. I like these qualities of watercolor and strive to bring the special painting characteristics of watercolor into my classes so students can understand how to control the fluid nature of the medium.

As much as possible, I use Vermont images because I think our state has an abundant amount of environmental beauty. This is what drives me to paint and I enjoy developing my lesson plans around our buildings and landscapes, the flora and fauna that grows in our deep woods and our running brooks and lakes that reflect wonder. Learning to observe, composing our thoughts and attempting to bring light to our vision, is the challenge of an artist and I can’t think of a better platform for subject matter than our local landscapes.

Below is a sample of my current work called Backyard Stream Series:

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Teaching Happens in Odd Ways Sometimes

Teaching art through watercolor has been an area of focus that I have used to develop my instruction. My formal education in art taught me fundamental skills in color theory, drawing from the figure, and two- and three- dimensional designs through painting, printmaking and photography. I learned to teach by being around great teachers in very creative settings. One of those places was at Camp Common Ground, in Vermont. Working in a recreational environment at the CCG summer camp is where I met art instructors Jeneane Lunn and Kate Hartley. They are masterful artists. Jeneane, at the time, taught pastels outdoors, and Kate taught watercolor. Both teachers had a deep well of knowledge and ability and I tried to absorb as much as possible from these skilled veteran teachers. At the time, I worked in the camp’s office, and my job was to organize the scheduling and connect with teachers to see that they had what they needed to run their classes. I had to order art supplies, get easels and tables out of storage and set them up for students, and generally be a liaison for teachers and students. At times, we did not have a lot of amenities, but we did not lack in passion and enthusiasm for the arts.

 

After working at this summer camp, I realized that I needed to be doing my own art more often. The four weeks a year that I spent working at camp amongst professional artists, musicians, dancers and inspired performers was simply just not enough. I rented a cheap art studio in Burlington to paint, Took art lessons from artists that I admired, and just kept painting. I started selling my paintings and hand painted silk scarves at local art fairs and farmers markets. It was a great way to meet customers who were interested in my work, and connect with other artists to share ideas, stories, and all the work that goes into being a working artist. At various times over the past ten years I have been a market vendor at The Burlington Art Market, The Stowe Farmers Market, Spruce Peak Resort Farmers Market and The Waitsfield Farmers Market.

Vermont is a tourist destination. And I have always enjoyed feeling like an ambassador, of sorts, welcoming people from all over the world who vacation here. This remains one of my most enjoyable aspects of being a visual artist at the art fairs and markets that I sell at. Engaging with the public, sharing stories, learning about people are all fascinating to me.

Here are a few photos of my booth at the markets over the years.

 

Spring into Summer

Finisihing up teaching twelve weeks of watercolor classes this past spring and summer had me ready to unwind. And unwind I did. (More about teaching in my next post, where I’ll explore how a recent class of students were all highly motivated to crack the mysteries of watercolor painting.) In addition to teaching at a small local craft school in Vermont (Shelburne Craft School), I also work as a custom picture framer during the day, at ACMoore.

So lining up my week felt great. My son would water my tomato and pepper plants, feed the cat and tend the homestead. Leaving lush, green, cool Vermont in July was a first. It is pure bliss in the summer, as fleeting a moment as can be. And, speaking as a painter, if you like the vibe of the color green…. There is simply no better place to be.

I haven’t had a vacation in years, and this one, as it turned out, was going to be one for the history books! Albeit a short vacation, in one week, I visited with my beloved sister and boyfriend in Sandy, Utah, and went to a very special wedding in Meredith, Colorado, that was high up in the hills, where the Frying Pan River flows, and narrow dirt roads lead right up to the bluest skies a person can imagine. Yup, it was a Colorado Rocky Mountain High, and the wedding was filled with family and old friends. The ride from Utah to Colorado was stunning! I sketched in the front passenger seat, as my husband drove us in our painter’s studio on wheels, through the geologically-formed, panoramic eye candy, inciting me to work at a prestissimo pace, which explains the staccato strokes in several of the pieces.

One of the many rock formations that I saw driving east from SLC, Ut to Basalt, CO.
One of the many rock formations that I saw driving east from SLC, Ut to Basalt, CO.

I used Derwent watercolor pencils and graphite drawing pencils to sketch in a 6″ x 9″ moleskin type book. It allowed me to work fast as we whizzed down mostly straight and sometimes undulating highways at 80mph, the legal limit in that wide-open stretch of the country. The West grasps at your heart, with its expansive skies and textured spaces of tumbleweed, brush and wind-shaped trees. Billowy clouds, much like ones we have here in Vermont, hang over the rocky horizons, and reveal the sometimes complex dances of the winds aloft, as they create, sculpt and move the clouds in the way that winds will do. The scenery is so open and vast that it allows you time to capture shapes and forms, and commit them to paper, even as we moved at a quick pace.

I have been asked how I work so fast in a car, and the only way I can describe it is that I memorize the most dominant shape and quickly draw that. Then I establish the scale, and finish my foreground and background after that. It’s a bit formulaic, but it allows me to capture a lot of information in a short amount of time.  I now have several dozen drawings, which I will use as references, as I work on larger pieces this coming fall and winter, when the winds are blowing and snowing around my studio. These sketches will remind me, and will draw me back into, all the beauty that teems in that part of the world, as I attempt to reconstruct the most beautiful and compelling scenes that my eyes were blessed to see.

Here is a link to a short You Tube picture video I created on my IPhone along the way:

Theater on the Street

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I’ve had a wide variety of work experience before I started pursuing my painting career which didn’t begin until I moved to Vermont in 1992. While a young graduate, I wanted a more immediate result with my work, as well as paying my rent. The somber life of a painter was not for me, at least not yet. I needed to get out and move around. An introvert by nature, photographing people in NYC as they made their way to work each day was an area of interest to me and forced me to understand myself and set some goals as to what kind of job I should be working towards. The camera felt like power. A little power in a big city never hurt anyone. So I began working for a local community newspaper where I could use my photography to help tell peoples stories. I got paid per photo as a freelance. If the major dailies liked our stories, they would give me call and buy my photos. The Dailey News and the now extinct Newsday would do this and they paid a little better at $75.00 per photo plus the Dailey News would throw a few rolls of  film in when I delivered the shots.

SONY DSCI took a staff position with a small community newspaper called Greenline for The Saint Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation (St. Nicks for short). St Nicks offered an interesting and diverse array of programs in addition to the monthly paper.  It serviced a designated area in this section of Brooklyn with programs helping low income renters become home owners, helping small business grow in its industrial sections and acted as a kind of downtown chamber for small retail businesses, like mom and pop kind of shops that sprinkled the avenues. It was a mix of industrial, small business and dense residential pockets of ethnic neighborhoods. Italian, African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the immediate areas with Polish and Hasidic in outer reaches. Oh yeah, the artists. Lots of artists who lived in some very interesting industrial spaces.  Artists were getting squeezed out of the lower east side of Manhatten and coming over the Williamsburg bridge. Rent was cheap and the spaces were huge. The artists were living in industrial places that were desolate and remote from subways so I think no one minded. But things may have changed since I last was there, I’m sure.

My work at St. Nicks was like being part of a bigger picture and I think that was good for me. I worked with wonderful people and an organization that helped to empower people in so many ways take control and navigate for themselves within a large metropolis. The small neighborhoods of NYC are so rich with character, I found all this enticing to photograph so I continued to photograph in the streets on my way to and from work on my daily subway rides.

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Freelancing was fun but still wasn’t enough to pay the bills. So I worked in several commercial printing houses where I became a custom color printer. We had to work fast and color correct by eyesight using filters by Kodak. I printed lots of advertising related materials for use in the advertising industry and larger prints that were used for subways, taxi cabs and bus stop shelters. I learned to print in two ways, additive and subtractive. From negatives which were mostly made from 4″ x 5″ slides or on cibachrome paper which was made direct from the slide.

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NYC is the center of the ad world and just about any and all available space has something hanging up. The streets are in and of itself art, theater and music.

These two pictures shown below that I took on the subway express the weekday and weekend moods of living in NYC. The woman holding the pole after a long days work versus the Sunday afternoon relaxed feeling that you see as children play around the subway pole.

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Artist Career Path