It’s always a bit of a chore to travel with my guerilla art studio no matter how compact: fold-out Winsor & Newton easel, brushes in one of those bamboo rolls made for the purpose, Ziploc of oil paint tubes, paper palette and lastly, thinner tin. The particular type I’ve been using is basically spill-proof if you keep the rim clean, and having flown with it many times (undercarriage) it has only leaked once, a tiny bit—I keep it in a large freezer bag just in case. Still, I really wanted to get out to paint again and a trip to the
I suppose that over time I’ve become a bit more confident with my plein-air abilities, though I know how much there is to improve on. This helped because stopping at the Hermit’s Rest vantage point to paint meant spectators. Thankfully, we were there early on a Tuesday, before the busloads of tourists showed up, but still folks would walk by and make nice comments or ask a question or two. One fellow took a photo of me working. Funny to think I may end up in some stranger’s holiday photo album someday!
Where I finally situated myself to paint was problematic because we hadn’t arrived early enough to catch early morning light. You often see dawn or dusk in paintings simply because these are the times with the most dramatic light and shadow. Noon is death for most compositions as things flatten out—you have to really work at composing a picture in noonday light. I had a self-imposed time-limit of 2 hours for my painting simply because we were detouring a total of about 9 hours to see the Canyon and do this painting and we had to get back to
Had I shown up earlier, however, cloud cover would not have broken yet on that morning and I would’ve had a gray, dull piece. So the two hours I painted were as good as I would get for this day. In fact, as I started putting my kit away it began sprinkling and within half an hour or so monsoon rains began pouring down. Still, I had the last of the directional light, and had to make the best of it.
Early on, my better half cautiously commented that the colors in the background were shifting to green a little. She was cautious because sometimes I’m way too far into a piece to backtrack, and she knew time was limited. Being partially color-blind, this sometimes happens. I was frustrated to hear it (another reason for the caution), and looked at my palette to see what I was possibly mixing that could have caused it. I couldn’t figure it out. Then I remembered that my thinner tin had been shaken up the entire drive out and I hadn’t given it time to settle in an upright position. All the gunk at the bottom was mixed in and it was impossible to dip my brush and get clean thinner, it was mud-colored. I wiped my brush, dipped it in thinner and ran it across my rag. I showed it to her and asked if the slurry was tinted green. Indeed, it was. Great. Well, it was early enough that disaster was averted. There was little to do with the thinner—she tried to filter it a little while I worked, which helped, but in the end I proceeded to do the rest of the piece with absolutely minimal solvent, basically pure paint to canvas. This can be difficult because it doesn’t slip as easily as you might want. But it worked out alright in the end.
While some liberties were taken, this photo also really tweaked the colors in the distance.
I must’ve looked for all the world like some rockstar painter since said better half would also come around to tip a water bottle to my mouth as I worked, and even held an umbrella over my head when it started getting hot. I am truly spoiled.
It was nice having her around, though. She asked lots of questions about plein-air work and how other painters handle the issues involved with painting outdoors and I was happy to chat away the two hours. That there was so much to talk about even after so many years together just shows that the depths of painting are impossible to plumb. Or that we don’t talk technique very often…but I do think it is the former reason.
12x16" oils on canvas, 2 hours
Just shy of two hours later, I was done. Back home, I applied the barest of washes to haze out the deep background and to warm up the nearest portion, but she couldn’t even tell, which was sort of the point—I didn’t want to detract from the alla prima paint application. There was some talk about whether I would bring the piece home and turn it into a much tighter painting, but I was content to let all the brushiness stand.