Here are a few plein air sketches from this past weekend in Maastricht. I lived there for a few months last year and you can see all the sketches from the period here.
This is the lightweight, and dirt cheap method I use for traveling with wet oil paintings on panel. I find the specifically designed wet-painting carriers add too much weight, especially if you have 20 or more freshly painted panels to pack, plus no one in Europe makes them for panels cut in centimeters. Like my cigar-box, it’s not my idea, and I can’t remember where I learned it.
You’ll need a wine cork, a knife or x-acto blade, masking or sellotape, and two or more panels of the same size. (Sometimes finding a wine cork isn’t as easy as it sounds. In Myanmar for example it took us forever to find decent wine, luckily there is a German producing some great stuff in the hills north of Inle lake).
First, I cut the cork into slices about the width of a toothpick, then cut those into halves (if I don’t have a lot of cork, slicing into quarters will work too). I put those into the corners of one wet panel, then put a second panel on top, with the two wet paintings facing each other. If the panels are flexible or I’m worried they’ll get pushed together, I’ll put another small piece of cork in the middle of the paintings – trying to make sure it wont ruin something important. Cork works great as it’s soft enough to not damage the board, but hard enough to keep the panels separate. Metal objects (coins or metal washers) can leave an indent in the panel.
I then tape the corners of the panels together as tightly as possible so the cork doesn’t slide around. If I have an odd number of boards, three can be taped together as the last group.
Obviously for this system I need multiple boards of the same size. I also have to repaint the corners after the cork is removed, but there shouldn’t be anything important painted in the corners anyways.
At any rate it’s a cheap and easy way to move around with wet paintings without adding weight to your set-up.
After three weeks of painting in Norway and Sweden, I was pretty exhausted in my last stop of Stockholm.
As a plein air painter I often feel guilty if I see a great subject for a painting and then don’t paint it for whatever reason. With the 19 hour days they have in Scandinavian in the summer it is very difficult to paint the whole time though, so one ends up feeling guilty a lot.
After struggling with the majesty of the Norwegian fjords, the Swedish countryside around the Siljan Lake in Dalarna county was pretty easy painting. The parts of Sweden I saw in the past ten days were all exceedingly picturesque. Small farms and lots of very pretty lakes and fields.
Two things plein air painters use a lot are a backpack and a good jacket. I personally get very attached to my few possessions, and I like it when they last a long time.
The backpacks and messenger bags I’ve been using over the years have fallen apart pretty quickly, so after the last one went I decided to spend a bit more for a brand recommended on reddit’s ‘buy-it-for-life’ subreddit. I went with the Small Flight Pack from Reload Bags in Philadelphia. They are expensive, but as someone who also creates hand-made works of art to be sold at a premium, I don’t mind paying for quality.
It’s a beautiful bag to look at. By far the nicest one I’ve ever used. If anyone out there uses a Partagás cigar box for their palette as I do, the box fits perfectly in the outside pocket. One side pocket works great for my brushes, held at the top by a strap for a yoga mat. The other side pocket holds my medium and turpentine bottles, as well as pencils and palette knives. I like having it all open and easy to reach when it’s hung from my easel. A metal tripod easel can also be held with the strap from the side with the bottles if I’m hiking.
Overall it’s a great bag so far. My only complaint is the inside pocket could be a bit bigger. It will barely hold my small moleskin sketchbook. I assume it’s for a cellphone?
Next I need to make a wet-painting holder to put inside. Something with foam – cheap and simple. I saw Marc Hanson had a clever looking one he posted to Facebook earlier this year.
Fourteen years ago I bought a Patagonia jacket in New York. I’ve worn it pretty much every day in the Spring and Fall ever since. It’s been a fantastic jacket for traveling as it breaths beautifully when it’s hot out, but keeps me really warm when it cools down, and I’ve slept comfortably in it on a few occasions. Once in India we had to take a night train in a windowless third class compartment through the desert in Northern Rajasthan at night. I slept like a baby in the wind and cold while my painting companions were freezing.
Patagonia Jackets also have a lifetime guarantee. This year when I went into a store and asked about getting the worn collar replaced they said they no longer had that material but they would give me the full 1999 retail value of my jacket off of anything in the store. Pretty good deal.
It’s a company that takes it’s commitment to environmental issues seriously, and I try to support that when I can.
This is an idea I’ve wanted to try for a while. Everyone knows that 150 years ago, painters had all the image-making gigs. Today those have all gone to photographers, but one thought I’ve often had at outdoor weddings is that it would be a great occasion for a plein air painter. They can be very picturesque events. Also, since often a great deal of effort goes into making memories of the event for the couple, what better way than non-fugitive paints on oil-primed linen which will last a thousand years while decorating their decedents’ walls?
I’m sure this has been done before, but at a couple of friends’ wedding this weekend I tried batting out some small sketches. It was interesting trying to set up and predict where everything would happen. Also, many of the situations are fleeting and the artist has to work fast (or tell people to pose).
I only got a couple of sketches done, but it was a fun experiment nonetheless. Plus it was the first time I’ve painted in a suit and tie.
These are some of my plein air sketches from the past week in Telemark, Norway.
I’ll admit I struggled a bit with the landscapes this trip. I’ve discussed before the technical problems of using sight-size for big views on small panels, but the problem here is also that the big Norwegian vistas don’t translate well on a small format to begin with.
Also, during the few days I was there, I drove a lot. Twice I spent six hours straight driving, then walking, then driving, while scouting for views. I say this a lot, but going somewhere to paint with too many painting choices can be worse that painting in a location where you have to squeeze the paintings out of meager subject matter. It is so stunningly picturesque in western and central Norway that I would find a view, then think “there might be something better just up the road”, then drive on. The problem I had in Norway is that I did always find something better up the road, so I would keep driving.
There is also the ‘dolphins jumping at sunset’ problem. Some views are too pretty to render well in paint. The Norwegian mountains in June have stunning snow covered peaks, beautiful blue fjords, cute-as-a-button barns and old wooden houses, the tail end of the fruit trees in blossom, clear blue skies with white puffy clouds, and lambs, lambs everywhere. The English call them ‘chocolate box paintings’, as the views would look like the paintings done to decorate the ubiquitous Swiss chocolate boxes.
It got me wondering though, why does such beauty not work in paintings? It should be something desirable, people fly and drive long distances to see these views. Also, ostensibly there is some genetic desire in people to feel pleasure looking at good weather, good land, fertile trees, and delicious little animals. They’ve done studies which show that, in fact, people do have this genetic disposition towards landscapes very similar to these. Yet putting it all in would make the work saccharine. They say advertising has made people distrust beauty. I was wondering if the first Swiss chocolate companies to put these landscapes on their boxes found them too sweet (and maybe that was the point). Why is too much beauty a problem in art? Is it because of the excess? As the Greeks said, ‘all things in moderation’. Is it because one aspect of the work of the poet should be to show people beauty where they wouldn’t normally see it? Is painting the beauty of Norwegian mountain scenes in June just too easy?
The mechanics of working in situations where one is overcome by the beauty of the location is interesting. I have always agreed with Friedrich Nietzsche that the greatest art is a merger of Dionysian and Apollonian elements. Strong emotion directed and controlled by logic and reason. Harold Speed expressed it better for painters when he wrote “how can the draughtsman, who does not know how to draw accurately the cold, commonplace view of an object, hope to give expression to the subtle differences presented by the same thing seen under the excitement of strong feeling?” Painting in a place as stunningly beautiful as the mountains of Norway in June requires a great deal of control, patience, and thought. More than I feel I came up with on this trip. I hope to go back next year with more time and bigger canvases.
Here are some sketches from the end of May in Tuscany.
It’s been very cold and wet in Southern Europe. I painted inside by the fire a lot.
This last one is a sketch of a couple of friends’ ten-week-old baby.
It’s an interesting publication; their focus is on presenting images of the artist’s work, with articles written by the artists themselves.
Here are some of my small sketches from this week in Carmel, California. I am participating in the Carmel Art Festival, a plein air painting contest.
I first studied landscape painting at the University of California at Santa Cruz an hour north of here, and I’ve been painting in the area for the last 25 years.
I’ve always felt that growing up in California and being surrounded by the natural beauty of this state is what made me want to become a landscape painter in the first place. It’s always a pleasure coming back.