Recent Plein Air Paintings (Ireland, Croatia, and Italy)

Plein air painting of Colclough Walled Gardens near Tintern Abbey, Ireland.

Colclough Walled Gardens #1. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I’ve been moving around a lot and haven’t been posting much, so here are paintings from the last three months. The first few are from the AITO plein air painting festival in Wexford, Ireland. It’s always a great to be back in Wexford and they always find us great spots to paint. I focused on gardens this trip as subjects to enlarge in the future.

Most of these were already posted on my Instagram feed.

Plein air painting of Colclough Walled Gardens near Tintern Abbey, Ireland.

Colclough Walled Gardens #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Walled Gardens at Woodstock Arboretum near Inistioge, Ireland.

Walled Garden, Woodstock Arboretum. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Curracloe Beach, Wexford.

Curracloe Beach Painters in the Rain. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

I left the next three in Ireland for the exhibition and didn’t have a chance to photograph them properly, but here they are in the field:

Plein air painting of Irish cows.

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

Plein air painting of boats at Passage East, Ireland.

Boats at Passage East. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the bank holiday weekend in Wexford, Ireland.

Bank Holiday Weekend in Wexford. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

These next few are from a weekend in Zadar, Croatia where we went for a friend’s wedding:

Plein air painting of the Riva in Zadar, Croatia.

Morning on the Riva, Zadar. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of a cafe in Zadar, Croatia.

Cafe in Zadar. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Riva in Zadar, Croatia.

Zadar, the Riva. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

And finally, the paintings below are from the last couple months in Italy. I have a lot of studio work and commissions on the burner, so I haven’t been painting outside all that much.

Plein air painting of a garden scene above Florence, Italy.

Lunch in the Garden, Vicchio di Rimaggio. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of Jory Glazner painting near Vicchio di Rimaggio.

Jory Glazner painting behind the Villa Schneiderf. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of an afternoon at Vicchio di Rimaggio.

Afternoon Tea, Vicchio di Rimaggio. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air landscape painting of the Grand Canal in Venice.

Grand Canal sketch. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Plein air painting of the Grand Canal from the Accademia in Venice, Italy.

Grand Canal from the Accademia. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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 Amazon.co.uk.

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.