Il Meteo (.it)

Knowing what the weather will do is always very important for the plein air painter, so I thought I would throw out a quick plug for my favorite meteorology website: Il meteo.

I don’t know where they get their data from, but it has worked great for me in Italy, Croatia, Holland, Ireland and California over the past few years. I check it always before deciding what and where to paint.
il meteo weather forecasting

They say little children who lie grow up to be meteorologists, but twice I’ve won bets when fellow painters didn’t believe my weather prediction source could be so accurate.

It can be set to various languages, and clicking on the times on the left will give an hour by hour prediction, which can be very useful.

I’d be curious what other websites artists use as well.

Paintings from a Weekend in Maastricht

Here are a few plein air paintings 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.

Painting (schilderij) of the Vrouweplein in Maastricht

The End of Saturday’s Shopping, Onze Lieve Vrouweplein, Maastricht. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

My gallerist once asked me why I often paint fishermen. The fact is they stand still for a very long time. I asked this gentleman if I could paint him before I started.

Painting of the Stadspark in Maastricht

Fisherman in the Stadspark, Maastricht. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Sunday mornings are always a great time to paint in cities. There is never anyone around.

Painting of the Boschstraat, Maastricht.

Sunday Morning on the Boschstraat. 35 x 25 cm, oil on linen.

It’s a very painting-friendly city to work in. The Dutch are polite and complimentary but leave you your space. This sketch was from the very crowded market. I set up next to a pole so as to stay out of people’s path.

Plein air landscape of a herring stand in Maastricht.

Nieuwe Haring (unfinished). 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Traveling with Wet Paintings Using a Wine Cork

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.
traveling with wet paintings

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).

traveling with wet oil paintings

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.

cork with paintings
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.

Stockholm Sketches

Oil painting of Slälagårdsgatan street in Stockholm

Slälagårdsgatan, Stockholm. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

After three weeks of painting in Norway and Sweden, I was pretty exhausted in my last stop of Stockholm.

Sunday Fishermen with the City Hall, Stockholm

Sunday Fishermen with the City Hall, Stockholm. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Painting of the Stortorget, Stockholm

The Stortorget. 30 x 20 cm, oil on linen.

Oil painting of a cafe on the Riddarholmen, Stockholm, Sweden

Cafe on the Riddarholmen. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

En Plein Air on Lake Siljan, Dalarna County, Sweden

Plein air landscape painting of a Sawmill near Laknäs, Sweden.

Sawmill, Laknäs. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Plein air landscape painting of the parking lot at the Tällberg Forum

The Parking Lot at the Tällberg Forum. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of the Church at Rättvik.

The Church at Rättvik. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

I was staying in a cabin in the village of Tällberg with my student Louis Ryan. We were shown around a bit by the local talent Anders Ståhl, and the weather was beautiful for much of the time.

Plein air landscape painting of a field above Lake Siljan, Dalarna, Sweden.

Above Lake Siljan. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Oil painting of the bell tower in Mora, Sweden.

The Bell Tower at Mora. 30 x 20 cm, oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of Birch Trees on the Banks of Lake Siljan, Sweden.

Birch Trees on the Banks of Lake Siljan. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.


Plein air landscape painting of Preparing the Maypole for midsummer in Sweden.

Preparing the Maypole. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Landscape painting of the June Gloom, Tällberg.

June Gloom, Tällberg. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of the Last Light in Rättvik.

Last Light, Rättvik. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.


Backpacks and Jackets

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.

plein air landscape painting in Telemark, Norway.

My set-up in Telemark, Norway

Reload Bags.

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.

Reload bag for plein air landscape painting.

My cigar box in the outside pocket.

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.

Plein air landscape painting in Telemark, Norway.

Another plein air location in Norway.

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.

Patagonia Jackets.

Plein air painting in a Patagonia jacket in London.

Painting in the rain in London.

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.

Plein air landscape painting in a Patagonia jacket, Big Sur, California.

Painting in the sun and wind in Big Sur, California.

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.

The Wedding Painter

Oil painting of a wedding ceremony in Sweden.

Wedding Sketch #1 (The Ceremony). 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

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?

Oil painting of a wedding in Sweden.

Wedding Sketch #2 (Afternoon Coffee). 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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.

The Wedding Painter

The Wedding Painter.

Telemark Sketches

These are some of my plein air sketches from the past week in Telemark, Norway.

plein air sketch of a dog by a cabin in Telemark, Norway

Mikki at the Cabin. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Oil painting of Sailboats in Bergen, Norway

Sailboats, Bergen. 30 x 20 cm, oil on linen.

Oil landscape painting of a River Scene in Telemark, Norway.

River Scene, Telemark. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Oil painting of Hardanger Fjord, Norway

Hardanger Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

Oil painting of Hardanger Fjord, Norway.

Hardanger Sketch #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Oil painting of the mountains in Telemark.

Melting Snow and Ice, Telemark. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

landscape painting of a farm in telemark, norway

Farm at Nyland. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Landscape painting of a farm near Vinje, Norway

Farm at Vinje, Backlit. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

Oil painting of a Farm in Vinje, Norway

Farm at Vinje, Overcast. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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. Clearly we find it pleasurable to be in good weather, looking at fertile land, tall healthy trees, clean water, and delicious little animals. They’ve done studies which show that people have a genetic predilection towards landscapes very similar to these. Yet putting it all in a painting 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?

Oil painting of a cabin in Telemark

Cabin, Telemark. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.

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.

Rainy May in Tuscany

Here are some sketches from the end of May in Tuscany.

Oil painting of a farmhouse in Tuscany

La Torricella #1. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Oil painting of Tina with a glass of wine in Tuscany

A Glass of Wine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

It’s been very cold and wet in Southern Europe. I painted inside by the fire a lot.

Sketch of a farmhouse in Tuscany.

La Torricella #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Oil painting of a fireplace in Tuscany.

Fireplace Sketch #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

This last one is a sketch of a couple of friends’ ten-week-old baby.

Oil painting of a newborn child.

Moss Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Post-Modern Times

Post Modern Times.
While I was back in the States last week I picked up a copy of the Post-Modern Times. There is a short article about me as well as a number of other contemporary realist painters.

It’s an interesting publication; their focus is on presenting images of the artist’s work, with articles written by the artists themselves.

For anyone interested, their website is here, and you can order digital or print versions of the magazine here.