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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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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:

Artists like to dissect things

Well, we are a month into 2015 and I am fulfilling my first goal of the new year, which is to start my first blog to explain my process as an artist, record important events and influential people. I must admit I’m a bit nervous but I will get over it.  Nervous, because I think of some of the blogs that I admire that are written so well. The artists’ experiences flow through the text which can become quite elegant within a simple format like a blog. I’ve learned from artists through their blogs, and the best ones are honest experiences that have a descriptive simplicity, as if the bloggers are simply writing to themselves in a journal.

Communication is key to an artist’s success. We need to develop ourselves through the written form as well as the paint brush. So Day 1 is today. I will discover my voice, explain what puts the fire in my belly to wake up every day and be an artist who carves out a written path. I will post my artwork and photos along the way and any trials and tribulations that dust up. Artists like to dissect things, they like to get into the minutia. This is one of the ways I will continue my process as an artist. There may be some old and new dust to kick up along the way.