Plein Air Painting in Rain

Plein air landscape painting in heavy persistent rain in Plyos, Russia.

Painting in the rain in Plyos, Russia.

There are some inspiring natural effects which take place in weather which is not really suited to plein air painting. I wrote earlier in the year about painting in snow, rain is another such condition. For cityscapes and roads especially, painting while it is raining can offer reflections in the wet pavement which make for some wonderful designs and unusual compositions.

Plein air landscape painting of Broad Street in Charleston SC.

After the Rain, Broad Street, Charleston. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of the Fin-de-Siècle Museum in Brussels.

The Fin-de-Siècle Museum in the Rain. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

There are, however, difficulties with using oil paint in heavy or persistent rain. First, when the painting surface is covered with a sheet of water it can be difficult to get the colors to stick. Then poorly mulled paints can bleed with the water. Next, heavier drops of water can hit the delicate paint layers, leaving small craters in the color or washing away the paint altogether. And finally, with enough perseverance, one discovers that the the old adage ‘oil and water don’t mix’ is only partly true: Oil paint will eventually mix with the water to form a thick emulsion which can be difficult to control.

The obvious solution to this is to keep water off the surface, either by painting somewhere with shelter or to carrying one’s shelter to the spot. A top-hinged trunk door can work very well for painters with one on their car (thanks Roy), as shown in this photo of my set-up under the trunk of a car on the Hardangerfjord:

Using the trunk door of a car as a plein air painting shelter.

Using a trunk door as a portable painting shelter in Norway.

Recently I built a small, lightweight rain-bonnet which attaches to my easel above the panel. As I wanted something that would fit in my backpack the set-up is quite small. It works fine in normal vertical rain, but isn’t all that successful with the horizontal and upward-directed rain that you get in places like Ireland. Once I’ve tweaked it to better functionality I’ll try to get them out to the public.

Plastic cover for landscape painting in the rain.

Rain bonnet for plein air painting in rain.

Another option is an umbrella. I have an Easyl umbrella from Artwork Essentials, which is made from opaque cloth and designed for blocking sunlight, not rain. The problem with an opaque or dark umbrella in the rain is that it blocks what little light is filtering down from above. This can be especially problematic when painting in cities or forests where much of the ambient light is already blocked from the sides. A better solution would be a white umbrella like the ones made by Best Brella. While I have no personal experience with their products, I’ve seen painters with other clip-on white umbrellas and they let in adequate light for keying values properly.

Photo of a plein air painting umbrella blocking too much light.

Dark umbrellas block too much light in overcast conditions.

A serious problem with painting in heavy rain is that it can absolutely ruin materials. For brushes, the thickness of the emulsion and water sinking into the wood handle can expand the metal ferrule which, in turn, causes hairs to come out and destroys the form of the head. When working outside in dry weather I can get away with washing my brushes once a week if I use them everyday. When painting in heavy rain I find I need to get the paint and water out of the brush at the end of every day, and even then some don’t make it.

I haven’t had problems with wet panels warping, but I have seen water soak the linen and cause it to shrink. This can lead to bending of the stretcher bars as seen in Leo Mancini-Hresko‘s photo below. The solution would be heavier stretcher bars with a crossbar, and/or restretching the canvas after the painting is finished.

Photo of a warped canvas due to shrinking linen from painting in the rain.

Warped stretcher bars due to the linen shrinking while drying.

As for rain clothes, there are better sites to peruse for gear. I’m personally a fan of Gore-Tex Paclite as it’s cheaper than, and doesn’t breath as well as, the fancier alpinist/backpacker stuff. I find that clothes that don’t breath well are better for us stationary landscape painters, yet some venting is better so it doesn’t feel suffocating or clammy. I have an old Patagonia Paclite jacket that I’ve used for a number of years if I know it’s going to rain. I wash it and reapply Grangers waterproofing once or twice a year.

I’ve experimented recently with a lightweight Helium II from Outdoor Research and one of the new Derzimax jackets from Bergans of Norway. Neither was particularly impressive, the Helium packs small and weighs little, but it wets out quickly and feels clammy. The Derzimax jacket keeps me dry, breaths well (which can feel cold when stationary), dries quickly, but weighs four times as much as the Helium, and twice as much as my Patagonia. As always, blue is probably the best color for a painting jacket as it will reflect a cool tone back onto the canvas if the sun comes out.

Painting in freezing rain can be a problem as one needs all the warmth of insulating layers, with a waterproof shell on top. In the past I found the only way to do this was with the aforementioned layers or a very heavy parka, both of which are constricting and heavy, and annoying to paint in. This year I picked up a lightweight Crux eVent down jacket from Up and Under in Cardiff (great UK gear store), which should be both warm and waterproof for painting in winter rain. I let you know how it works out. eVent is suppose to have problems if it gets dirt or grease on it, and I assume the same would go for oil paint, but it was the only lightweight, articulated-shouldered, one-jacket solution I could find.

Plein air painting in the rain on Curracloe Beach, Wexford.

Painting in the rain on Curracloe Beach in Ireland.

For rain pants I use a Berghaus Paclite shell that can be found pretty inexpensively on

Testing the waterproofness of Meindl and La Sportiva shoes and boots.

Bathtub test: Meindls (bottom) didn’t let water in after hours, La Sportivas (top) leaked like sieves.

It took me forever to find actual waterproof shoes that were light enough to travel with. While I love the grippy soles of La Sportiva approach shoes and trailrunners (red Frixion soles), their Gore-Tex iterations are a trainwreck . When wearing them my socks will get wet after crossing a lawn covered with dew. I’ve had good luck with Meindl boots so I’ve been using their X-SO 30 shoes with Gore-Tex Surround and, combined with waterproof gaiters, they keep my feet dry for hours in the rain. The downside to Meindl is they can be hard to find, expensive, and they look like they were designed by a 1980s glam rock group. On the plus side they’re still made in Germany and last for years.

Photo of a custom-made cuben fiber backpack for plein air painting.

Custom cuben fiber backpack for painting equipment.

For keeping my gear dry, I had a Cuben Fiber (now Dyneema Composites Fabric) backpack made by an artisan in Florence. My main interest at the time was actually to keep medium and turpentine from getting out of the backpack, should something leak. But the Cuben Fiber is completely waterproof, so my paintings and brushes are protected once they get back into the bag. I was a bit concerned about how Cuben Fiber would react with the medium and especially with the turpentine, but it’s worked great so far. I’ve used it daily for six months with turpentine and medium on the inside and outside of the bag there are no ill effects. It wipes off easily too.

If anyone has other thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

England and Wales

Plein air painting of a painter in the Woodford valley in Wiltshire.

Hazel Morgan painting the Woodford valley. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Here are some images of plein air landscape paintings from this month in England and Wales. I was teaching a weekend plein air workshop in London for LARA, and then a week-long course in Wales for the Welsh Academy of Art. In the interim I painted with my old friend Hazel Morgan in the countryside around Salisbury.

Plein air painting of cows in Lower Woodford.

Woodford Cows. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of fields in Wiltshire.

Late Afternoon by the Avon. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

One thing I love about painting in the UK is how many talented plein air painters there are to meet up, talk shop, and paint with. While in Wiltshire (and Dorset) I had a couple of painting afternoons with Charles Church and Oliver Akers Douglas.

Plein air painting of a painter on the cliffs in Dorset.

Charles Church painting cliffs in Dorset. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Durdle Door in Dorset.

The Durdle Door, 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

plein air painting of barley fields above Tisbury in Wiltshire.

Barley fields above Tisbury. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I intend to write a blog post about techniques for painting in the rain, and hoped to test new gear in the UK. Unfortunately we had very little rain, and blue skies for much of the time. I’ll have to wait for the Italian autumn to try my new set-up.

Plein air painting of sheep in Wales.

Sheep on a Welsh Hillside. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of children playing under a tree.

Children playing under a tree. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Narrowboats on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal

Narrowboats. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Tretower in Wales.

Tretower Morning. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Painting studies of a Patterdale and Whippet

Patterdale and Whippet studies. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Painting of cows in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales.

Brecon Beacons cows. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Lastly, here a couple of paintings from my weekend in London. I painted with Roy Connelly and scouted extensively for views with both Roy and Julian Merrow-Smith.

Plein air painting of the Prince Albert Bridge in London.

Prince Albert Bridge, 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Cleopatra's Needle in London.

Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Lowcountry Plein Air Paintings Part 2

Plein air painting of morning light on the North Santee Delta.

Morning Light, North Santee Delta. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

Here is the second batch of my South Carolinian Lowcountry landscape paintings. These were all painted on a plantation in the North Santee River Delta about an hour north of Charleston.

Plein air painting of a road in a marsh in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Road in the Marsh. 43 x 35 in., oil on linen.

While the weather was good most of the time, the biting flies made working impossible anywhere except out on the dykes in the marshes. And there I had a lot of alligators watching while I painted. It was also pretty windy, so I was using a 4×4 as a windblock for some of the larger pieces (and as an alligator block too as I don’t trust large wild animals, even if the locals all said it was safe).

Plein air painting of rice trunks in the North Santee River delta.

Rice Trunks. 31 x 39 inches., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of birdhouses.

Swallow Boxes. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

For the above painting I used a new rain-bonnet I made for my carbon fiber easel. When I have a second I wanted to do a blog post on plein air painting in pouring rain.

Plastic cover for landscape painting in the rain.

Rain bonnet for plein air painting in rain.

Plein air painting of an overcast day on Minim Creek, North Santee Delta.

Gray Day, Minim Creek. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of sunset on Minim Creek.

Minim Creek Sunset. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of twilight in the North Santee River delta.

Twilight, Rochelle. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

These are all for my exhibition opening this Friday at Ann Long Fine Art in Charleston.

Lowcountry Plein Air Paintings Part 1

Plein air painting of dawn in a Marsh in the Lowcountry, South Carolina.

Dawn on the Marsh. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

Here are the paintings from my second week of painting in South Carolina. These are also for my show with Ann Long Fine Art in Charleston on the 27th of May.

The paintings were done en plein air on a farm an hour south of Charleston on the Toogoodoo Creek, outside the town of Hollywood, SC. I didn’t leave the farm for a week as I find I can get much more work done if I’m not scouting over great distances. When I start driving and looking for views I find way too much to paint, and can never settle on something.

Plein air painting of a creek off of the Toogoodoo.

Creek Study. 14 x 11 in., oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of mist rising on a farm in South Carolina.

Mist, Ashe Farm. 8 x 12 in,. oil on linen.

Plein air painting of dawn on the Toogoodoo Creek.

Toogoodoo Dawn. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

The Lowcountry is flat and either marsh or live oak and pine forests. The get a ton of water here so the oaks get massive and are really beautiful subjects for paintings.

Large painting of an abandoned oak alley in South Carolina.

The Old Oak Alley. 31 x 39 in., oil on linen.

I worked on larger plein air pieces as I had a fair amount of time on location. The weather was also wonderfully stable for most of the trip.

Plein air landscape painting of large oak trees on a farm in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

The Cathedral. 35 x 43 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of large oak trees.

Study for The Cathedral. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of a large oak tree.

Large Oak Study. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of Elliot's Point on the Toogoodoo.

From Elliot’s Point. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of burning stumps on a farm.

Burning Stumps. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of burning stumps on a farm.

Burning Stumps #2. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of afternoon shadows on a lowcountry creek in South Carolina.

Afternoon Shadows. 35 x 43 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of twilight on the Toogoodoo Creek, Hollywood, South Carolina.

Toogoodoo Twilight. 21 x 27 in., oil on linen.

Charleston, South Carolina Paintings

Plein air painting of Queen Street in Charleston, SC.

Queen Street, Sunday Morning. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of morning sun from the Battery in Charleston, SC

Morning Light from the Battery. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

I’m currently in Charleston, South Carolina painting for my exhibition on the 27th at Ann Long Fine Art. Here are some of the paintings from the first week.

Plein air landscape painting of Broad Street in Charleston SC.

After the Rain, Broad Street. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the US. The food is great and the people are all very friendly. It’s a great place to visit and to paint.

Plein air landscape painting of White Point Gardens in Charleston, SC.

White Point Gardens. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of Broad Street, Charleston SC.

Broad Street. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

Many of the streets down where I’m working run close to east to west. Combined with the position of the sun this time of year, the north-facing shadows barely change length for the greater part of the day. Which means I have much longer to work on any north-facing subject.

Plein air painting of a garden in Charleston, SC

Garden in Charleston. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of a sidewalk in Charleston SC.

Sidewalk, Meeting Street. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of Longitude Lane in Charleston, SC.

Longitude Lane. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

The weather has been great, very Californian with the cool breeze and warm sun. It has been windy though so many of my paintings are on smaller linen-on-panel boards.

Oil painting of Tina taking a break in the afternoon.

Afternoon Break. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of the evening light in Charleston, SC.

Evening Light. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of the palm trees on Church Street in Charleston, SC.

Church Street Palms. 12 x 8 in., oil on linen.

I have some larger work still in progress and I’ll update when they’re finished. I’m off to the countryside this morning to paint more of the Lowcountry.

Carthage, North Carolina Workshop

I was teaching a workshop with Oak Hollow Studios in Carthage, North Carolina this week. The class went well, and the weather cooperated, thankfully. Spring workshops can always be a bit risky.

Here are a few of the paintings I did during my free time:

Plein air painting of a canoe by a pond in Carthage, NC

Canoe, Backlit. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of a backlit canoe in Carthage, NC.

Canoe Backlit #2. 11 x 14 in., oil on linen.

It was very, very green. March and April are months I often skip working outside as the bright greens of Spring can be a bit much. Small vignettes can work well though. And sometimes it’s just fun to really hit those acid greens.

Plein air painting of chickens.

Carmen’s Chickens #1. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of chickens in Carthage, NC.

Carmen’s Chickens #2. 8 x 11 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of a father fishing with his son on a pond.

Paul Fishing with Nat. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Plein air painting of a porch at night.

Porch Nocturne. 8 x 12 in., oil on linen.

Californian Plein Air Paintings

Plein air painting of sycamore and lupine in Toro State Park, Salinas.

Sycamore and Lupine, Toro State Park. 11 x 14 in, oil on linen.

Here are some recent paintings from the Central Coast of California. I’ve been painting regularly in the area since I first started plein air landscape painting in the early 1990s while studying art at UCSC. I say this every year but it’s always great to come back.

It’s the tail end of an El Niño year, which sometimes results in spectacular wildflower blooms, but unfortunately there wasn’t much of a show this Spring. So we painted a lot on the beaches.

Plein air oil painting of watercolorists on a beach in Marina, California Central Coast.

Watercoloring, Marina Dunes State Beach. 8 x 12 in, oil on linen.

Plein air painting of the dunes at Carmel Beach.

Carmel Beach. 8 x 12 in, oil on linen.

Plein air painting of a patio in Carmel Valley, CA

Patio. 8 x 12 in, oil on linen.

I spent a week down in Big Sur doing a large commissioned landscape as well.

Plein air landscape of the Big Sur Coast.

The Temple, Big Sur. 35 x 43 in, oil on linen.

It was difficult doing a painting that large on site as the wind really picks up around midday. You can see the working situation on the last day in the short time lapse video below:

I was wearing really grippy approach shoes which helped a lot. It was about a ten foot drop off the rock where I was painting and it can be difficult to concentrate on painting and not slipping. I’ve switched to approach shoes in general for landscape painting as I find I’m often working or scouting in spots where slipping is a real risk. Here I was wearing La Sportiva TX2s which are a great minimalist/onebag/ultralight shoe with a very sticky grip.

Here are a couple of smaller pieces from the same spot.

Plein air painting of the Big Sur coast in the evening light.

The Temple, Big Sur, Evening Light. 8 x 12 in, oil on linen.

Plein air landscape painting of the Big Sur Coast.

The Temple, Big Sur, Midday Light. 11 x 14 in, oil on linen.

Time Lapse of a Studio Landscape

Here is a short, two minute, time lapse video of a large studio landscape I painted over the last couple of weeks. After buying a ton of winter gear for plein air snowscapes we’ve had a really warm, snow-free winter, and I’ve had colds and flu for two months and been stuck inside the whole time. On the bright side, I did manage to get a lot of studio work finished.

This painting was enlarged from a plein air sketch I originally did on Diaz Beach at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa two years ago. I also did a number of drawings to design the composition and I had photographs that I used for information in the areas which my sketch didn’t cover. Even though I had thought out the composition that I wanted with drawings, as you can see in the video I often make changes after I get started as it is easier to see what works and what doesn’t on the large canvas.

I’ve added some annotations in the video to explain some of my decisions while working and I explain some compositional rules. I feel it’s important to reiterate that, while I believe it’s important to understand rules in painting, often the paintings that we remember -the ones that really stay with us for a long time- are precisely the ones which break those rules.

That said, the compositional error of having major elements all the same size is something I do feel hurts a lot of paintings, some of mine included. It is something artists should be aware of.

Landscape painting in oils of Diaz Beach at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa by Marc Dalessio

Diaz Beach, the Cape of Good Hope. 120 x 150 cm, oil on linen.

Odds and Ends

Plein air painting of fallen tree stumps on Sljeme above Zagreb, Croatia.

Fallen Trees, Sljeme. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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.

Plein air painting of Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb.

Mirogoj. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air nocturne of a nativity play in Zagreb, Croatia.

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.

Plein air painting of the horses on the Monument aux Girondins in Bordeaux.

Horses on the Monument aux Girondins. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Porte Saint-Éloy in Bordeaux.

Porte Saint-Éloy, Bordeaux. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape painting of a sunset in Bordeaux, France.

Bordeaux Sunset. 17 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the White Garden in the Rookery in Streatham.

White Garden, The Rookery, Streatham. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the pagoda in Battersea Park, London.

Battersea Park Pagoda. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a Calzedonia advertisement in the rain in Zagreb.

Billboard in the Rain, Zagreb. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The above ‘Billboard painting’ was an homage to Telemaco Signorini’s painting of Leith in the Modern Gallery of the Pitti Palace. It’s always been one of my favorite paintings by him.

Plein air painting of the park near Zvijezda, Zagreb.

The Park at Zvijezda. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Sunday coffee in Samobor, Croatia.

Sunday Coffee in Samobor. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the road into Samobor, Croatia.

The Road into Samobor. 25 x 28 cm, oil on panel.

Winter Gear for Plein Air Painting Part II

Winter clothes for plein air landscape painting.

My 2016 winter kit.

“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.
Image showing the size difference between Harkila Inuit pac-boots and normal insulated winter boots.

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.

    Down Hibbard Mitten for plein air painting in extreme cold.

    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.