Here are a few plein air landscape paintings from the last couple of autumns and winters. I often paint small plein air sketches that don’t end up being part of a large enough group to merit a blog post, so I figured I’d put them all in this one. Most are from around Zagreb, but a few are from recent trips to Bordeaux and London.
Mirogoj. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Nativity Play, Zagreb. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Some of these are unfinished, including the two below where I was driven away by the pouring rain in Bordeaux.
Horses on the Monument aux Girondins. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Porte Saint-Éloy, Bordeaux. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Bordeaux Sunset. 17 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
White Garden, The Rookery, Streatham. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Battersea Park Pagoda. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Billboard in the Rain, Zagreb. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
― A. Wainwright
Last year I wrote about the problems I was having painting outside in the Austrian Alps in February due to inadequate winter gear. This post is about some of the solutions I found after researching and purchasing kit this year. The listed price on some of this stuff is pretty high but buying in spring and summer, using sites like Steep and Cheap or Ebay, and finding an online store that I’m pretty sure had listed the wrong prices (they’ve since fixed them) allowed me to pick up most items for a fraction of the normal cost. And some items are just well worth the money.
My goal getting this kit was to be able to work outside all year without feeling any discomfort, despite the fact that I get cold really easily. I’m really happy with my current setup. It also breaths well so I can trudge around in the snow looking for my view without getting too hot. Furthermore, merino and down both regulate temperature rather than just insulating so I find I don’t have to change in and out of layers as the sun and/or wind comes and goes.
The Belay Jacket. A belay jacket is used by alpinists when they have to stop and wait around while climbing mountains. The advantages for plein air painters are threefold. First, the design of the sleeves is to allow for unrestricted movement while climbing (called articulated sleeves). This means that when painting you wont fight your sleeve. The second plus is that they are incredibly lightweight as they are usually stuffed into a stuff-sack and carried up the mountain. They use high-loft down or modern synthetic insulation (you can read about down and synthetic down jackets here) and this, combined with the articulated sleeves, means you really can’t feel the jacket at all when you’re holding your arm up. A normal winter jacket or parka will often have a noticeable pull. The real-world result is that I haven’t had my usual sore shoulder for a few days when I switched to a jacket this year. It’s not that big of a deal, but it is something to consider for anyone looking to pick up a dedicated winter plein air coat. The third thing about belay jackets is that they are very warm so you don’t need many layers to stay warm (though most decent winter jackets do fine here). I picked up a Jottnar Fjorm from a newish company based in England and I’m very happy with it. It’s warm, light, and the sleeves allow for unrestricted movement. It comes in blue or black, which work better for plein air painting in the sun as a brightly colored jacket can reflect its color back onto the painting and make it difficult to gage hues. Mountain Hardware, Rab, Arcteryx, Patagonia, and other mountaineering-gear companies all make belay jackets or parkas. For cottage companies, PHD in England and Feathered Friends, Montbell, and Nunatak in the US are also making belay and expedition jackets and parkas. There are both down and synthetic versions. I went with down for the weight to warmth ratio. The synthetic ones will keep you warm even if they get wet, which seems to me to be more of an issue if your life depends on it high up on a mountain. For people in really cold and wet winter climates, Crux in England makes two models of lightweight down jacket with a waterproof eVent shell.
Mid-layer Sweaters. I’m not a fan of fleece, so I bought a couple of ‘technical’ merino sweaters of different fabric weights that I switch depending on the temperature. They’re not stiff like some of the heavy sweaters I wore in the past to make up for my jackets never being warm enough. My favorite is a Bergans of Norway merino wool sweater that was reasonably priced and has a half-zipper to regulate the temperature better. It also comes with thumb-holes in case I ever need to do whatever it is you need thumb-holes for.
Merino Base Layers. I had a hard time finding expedition weight pure merino base layers in stores in continental Europe. They really love their plastic over here. As I mentioned last time, synthetic base layers are more designed for very active use, where wicking away sweat is important. For standing still the best thing I’ve found is a heavy weight merino base layer. This year I’m using 260 weight (gsm) leggings from Icebreaker and a 340 weight Deep Winter Base Layer top from Rapha, an English cycling gear company. The Rapha base layer is pricey but if you consider it’s also a balaclava and neck gaiter, as well as being a very high-quality piece of kit, it’s pretty reasonable. I’m very happy with mine. It’s one of the only things I paid full retail price for and I feel it was well worth it. Minus33 makes heavier duty baselayers (400 gsm), but we can’t get their stuff over here. Woolpro is a cottage company making merino gear in the US. Some companies (Kora and Jottnar being two) have started making base layers out of yak wool, which is supposed to be warmer than merino for the same weight.
Size difference between Harkila Inuit pac boots and normal winter boots.
Pac Boots. I’ve always gotten by with cheap hiking boots with hand warmers stuffed in the toes. Other painters use normal insulated winter boots with their car mats or a piece of foam under their feet as most of the cold comes from touching the freezing ground. I wanted something that I could work outside for hours in without carrying extra gear so I picked up a pair of real pac boots based on Stapleton Kearns‘ recommendation of The Cabelas Trans-Alaskan III Pac Boots. Since we don’t have Cabelas in Europe I bought the similar-looking Harkila Inuits for the around the same price. They’re comically large boots, and online images don’t really show how big they are. You can’t drive while wearing them, so for scouting with a car one still needs a smaller winter boot to use the pedals safely. Like all pac boots, they’re actually two boots in one as there is an inner wool insert that your foot goes into, then that goes into the larger boot. They also have two insoles below the insert and my feet are kept about 4 inches (10 cm) off the ground. Despite the large size, the boots are actually very light and manageable for walking as the insoles are foam and the sole of the boot appears to be hollow, perhaps to insulate better. The important part is that I can stand for hours on snow and ice in complete comfort.
Primaloft/Coreloft pants. A number of companies make insulated pants, again mainly for belaying mountaineers. The difference between these and insulated ski pants is that they lack the Goretex or other durable waterproofing. Since I don’t expect any serious crashes while plein air painting I figured I could skip the heavy-duty shell and just get the insulation. I bought a pair of Arcteryx’s Atom pants made from their proprietary Coreloft insulation and it really feels like some sort of futuristic fabric. When you move the pants feel slightly cool on your legs so you don’t get warm, but when you stand still they really insulate well. They don’t swish when you walk like ski-pants and they look pretty discrete for working in them in the city. They were also significantly cheaper in Europe than the US for some reason.
Flannel-lined pants. I bought a couple of pairs of flannel-lined pants and can’t believe I’ve suffered through European winters for 25 years without them. Besides being incredibly warm, they’re so comfy. It’s like wearing pajamas all day. I live in these now. I have a pair of Pranas and Craghoppers, the Pranas are much nicer as the lining is pure cotton and doesn’t cling to your legs. The Craghoppers are warmer as the synthetic material use doesn’t breathe as well. The Pranas cost twice as much. That said, for painting outside in the snow, I prefer the Coreloft pants as the side zipper makes it easier to switch from car-friendly shoes to pac boots.
Primaloft hats. The hood on the Jottnar jacket is very warm but I prefer wearing a hat so I can keep my peripheral vision. Outdoor Research, Montane, and Millet all make radar-style hats out of Primaloft (probably other companies too). I have the Millet one and insulates well, is water-resistant, and still breaths. I also think I look very French in it, which is always a good thing when painting outside.
Coreloft gloves for the non-painting hand. I was so impressed with my Primaloft and Coreloft gear that I picked up a pair of Coreloft gloves from Arcteryx. These things suck. They’re not especially warm, and the dexterity in them is terrible. I was trying them on in my studio after they arrived and got paint on them, otherwise I would have sent them back. I was thinking of trying to get the fingers resewn to get some dexterity out of them but, as of now, it’s the only purchase I regret.
Custom-made down Hibbard mitten from Luke’s Ultralight.
Custom-made Down Hibbard Mitten. In the past I’ve used a wool scarf sewn into a thumbless-mitten-shape to keep my painting hand warm. The design is called a Hibbard mitten after Aldro Hibbard who painted a lot outside in the New England winters. This year I got one made by Luke’s Ultralight, an ultralight-focused custom clothing company based in Ohio. It works great. It’s very warm and weighs only half an ounce (15g) so you barely feel it on your hand. I should mention that with any Hibbard mitten I don’t wear it the whole time. I prefer to keep my hand exposed to handle the brush better, when it gets cold I put the mitten on until it warms up enough to take it off again.
Darn Tough Socks. For comfort, fit and warmth, these are really better than any other brand I’ve found. They come with a lifetime guarantee too.
Here are a couple of larger studio landscapes done from smaller plein air studies done on site in central Tuscany in September. I realize I haven’t posted anything in a while as I’ve been working on these larger studio paintings and they take a long time. I have three more on the easel and I’ll try to update the post as I finish them.
Castelmuzio. 120 x 150 cm, oil on linen.
Scrofiano. 90 x 110 cm, oil on linen.
Update: Here are a couple more, I’ll keep posting them here as they come off the easel. Some are heading for the Grenning Gallery this summer, one is off to Constantine Lindsay in London.
A quick post on calibrating color for photographing paintings. I wrote a longer post in 2014 on photographing paintings with a DLSR using a Colorchecker Passport, Adobe DNG profiles and Adobe Lightroom. That system has worked well for me for the last couple of years, but recently I wanted to use Phase One’s Capture One Pro as I find it to be superior to Lightroom for my needs. The problem I previously had with Capture One was that it doesn’t use the DNG profiles that the Colorchecker Passport software creates.
The only solutions I had found for making ICC profiles were very expensive. The oft-recommended PictoColor InCamera is a ten-year-old plug-in that sells for $200. You then have to find a copy of Photoshop 5.0 to use it with as it’s still 32-bit. There are a couple of other solutions that cost even more.
Enter CoCa, the freeware ICC Color Camera Calibrator. The software works with a number of physical color reference cards. One inexpensive one that I picked up ($30 plus shipping) is the IT 8.7 Calibration Target from Wolf Faust at coloraid.de. It’s the C1 order number on his website (it says it’s for cameras, not scanners) and the package comes with the printed target as well as a CD with the reference files.
The IT 8.7 target from Coloraid.de.
The CoCa webpage has instructions for the software but to sum it up briefly: You first photograph the calibration target under your lighting set-up, then crop it and save it as a TIFF file in your camera’s software. Next, select the image in CoCa, then select the target type and the reference file from the Coloraid CD (R131007.txt). Finally, save the ICC profile in the proper folder so your software can use it (for Capture One it is explained here). You can then apply it to your paintings in whatever software you’re using. For Capture One it gets applied via the Base Characteristics box under the Color tab.
CoCa should work with the Colorchecker Passport too, though I haven’t tried it.
For those using OSX, you can run CoCa through Wine though the process is somewhat complex and requires that you’re either handy with command line interface of Terminal or, like me, reasonably good at following instructions and copying and pasting.
A few people I’ve discussed color calibration with have balked about the high prices for calibration gear. In my opinion, this works out to be a good solution for a bit of time and $35 ($40 in the US).
Below are a couple of images of a painting of mine for comparison:
CoCa with a Coloraid IT 8.7 target and Capture One Pro.
Colorchecker Passport with Adobe DNG and Lightroom.
I have some paintings on display at the Florence Academy of Art‘s New Jersey campus. They’re having an open studio today in their new space in the MANA Contemporary art center. If anyone is in the neighborhood, be sure to pop over. The teaching staff is excellent at the FAA’s new space, and it looks like a very promising endeavor for the school.
Sinalunga from the Valley Below. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
These plein air paintings are actually from a few weeks back, but I never got around to posting them. I was working in the area around Montisi (east of Siena), and looking for views that would work as larger compositions for studio paintings to be done over the winter.
As I’ve discussed before on this blog, the Holy Grail of landscape painting is a view where the foreground, middle-ground, and background compose well and I spend a great deal of time every year driving and walking in search of such a view. An obvious question would be ‘why not just invent it from parts of views taken elsewhere?’ The answer for me is that, in part, my training makes it difficult. I was trained with the more ‘Impressionist’ methodology of sight-size, which requires the subject to be in front of the artist (as opposed to a ‘construction’ based painting system). In part though, it’s also a component of my philosophy on painting of taking a more humble and reverent approach to viewing the natural world. Furthermore, there is a historic precedence as seen in the work of a great number of plein air painters, and Henry Fuseli said it best: “Selection is the invention of the landscape painter”.
It means a lot of driving though.
Castelmuzio #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Castelmuzio #2. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Castelmuzio #3. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
I’ll often do a number of paintings of the same view when I do finally find one that will work on a larger canvas. This is in addition to a number of pencil sketches to figure out the balance and composition of the final piece.
One of my favorite ‘tricks’ to finding good views in central Italy is to look for the cemetery. They tend to be placed just the right distance from the town, usually with a very good view on the town, and they have parking and shade to work under.
Scrofiano. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Tuscan Sunset. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Overall I was quite happy with this short excursion and I think I can make at least three larger studio pieces from a few days worth of scouting.
Honey Seller in the Market, Hallein. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
A few plein air paintings from earlier in the month in Salzburg and Hallein. These are part of a continuing series of paintings I’m doing in the area for an exhibition in Hallein. The show was supposed to be coming up fast, but I’ve pushed it back a year to next October, so I can try to get four seasons worth of work into it.
Schöndorferplatz, Hallein. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
I really enjoy painting in the valley west of Hallein as well, (even though it’s Germany and I’m supposed to be working on an Austrian show).
Church in Oberau (Germany). 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
I painted a lot in Salzburg again. I tend to focus on smaller areas as walking a lot to scout can take up too much time for these short trips. In this case I was in the Mirabell Gardens for a couple of days.
Mirabell Gardens #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Mirabell Gardens #2. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Statues in the Mirabell Gardens. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Street Musician, Salzburg. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
This last one is unfinished as I didn’t calculate the shadow of the bell tower blocking out my light for an hour. It was my last morning there so I didn’t get a chance to go back this trip.
Carriages in Salzburg (unfinished). 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Red Umbrella, Marconi Beach. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.
These are some of the small plein air paintings from last week on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. We stayed with the excellent landscape painter Joseph McGurl and his wife, and he showed us the good spots for landscape painting.
Lifeguard Station, Marconi Beach. 14 x 11 in., oil on linen.
Cranberry Bog. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.
Side of a Cranberry Bog. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.
Quissett Harbor. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.
Fisherman’s Beach, Quissett Harbor. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.
Surf Drive Beach in Falmouth. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.
Painting at Sunset. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.
For the last stop of our two month trip to America, I taught a couple of three day plein air workshops in Boston for Leo Mancini-Hresko’s Waltham Studios. Boston is gorgeous. Probably the most beautiful large city in the US. I had been there 25 years ago for a couple of days, but didn’t remember it being so picturesque.
I didn’t have time to paint any cityscapes, unfortunately, but here are the unfinished demonstration pieces from the plein air classes. I painted the same view twice as it worked technically for the points I was making during the demo.
Below are some of my paintings from the last week in mid-coast Maine.
Osier Dr, Broad Cove, Maine. 11 x 14 in.
Fishing, Friendship. 12 x 8 in.
Boatyard, Round Pond. 11 x 14 in.
Parking Lot, Round Pond. 8 x 12 in.
Road to the Town Landing, Friendship.
Sailboat, Rockport. 12 x 8 in.
Grey Day on the 32. 8 x 12 in.
It was my first time painting in Maine and I have to say it’s one of the best places I’ve ever painted. The weather has been great, sunny but cool most of the time, the people are incredibly friendly and knowledgable about plein air painting, and there is a great wealth of stunningly picturesque places to work.