Category Archives: plein air painting

Plein air painting – oil and acrylics, tips and tricks Part III

Plein air painting on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Duck on a Rock is the name of the formation. It was very, very windy that morning so I had to secure the easel.

My last post about plein air painting addressed how to do watercolors.  In this final post, I will address how to do oils and / or acrylics.

There are many similarities with painting plein air in oil or acrylics. Same supports – panels or canvasses, same (similar) brushes, same easel, etc.  The biggest difference is that oils take a long time to dry and use some volatile chemicals, such as, mineral spirits.  Acrylics are painted with water and dry in less than fifteen minutes.  This makes a big difference if you are transporting the canvasses.  Oil painting will smear and get everywhere, whereas, acrylic paintings will dry quickly and be ready to transport within minutes.

Although I painted in oils for over a decade, now I do plein air painting almost exclusively in acrylics.  Mostly for the ease of transport and quick drying times.

This is a typical French easel. It is a wooden carry box and easel all together. These have been around for over 100 years. There is also another smaller French easel called a half-easel. Both weigh quite a bit and, in my opinion, not too comfortable to lug around.

As always, my main concern in plein air painting is weight and ease of transport.  There are many wonderful easels but the most common is the French easel which has been around for over 100 years.  There is also the half-box easel and new aluminum easels which help a bit with the weight.  Another option is the pochade box, either homemade or purchased.  It seems everyone is trying to get smaller and smaller.  I have a pochade box which is a beautiful piece of art furniture, but not really practical for my needs.  I never want to get it messed up!

This is a beautiful little pochade box, similar to the one that I have. It is so exquisitely made that I hate to get it dirty. One needs to use a camera tripod to attach to the bottom as it doesn’t come with legs. However, you can just set it on a table or bench to use. The one that I have will hold a canvas up to 16 x 20 but that is not very practical for this size.

As usual, my main concerns are with weight and portability.  I use another light weight aluminum easel (Stanrite 100) this one with spikes which fold out, but the whole thing collapses to about 25 inches.  That I carry in the same homemade carrier as my watercolor easel.  And another backpack devoted to acrylic (oil) painting.  For some reason, Stanrite quit making these easels but I expect that is mostly because they last so long.  You can probably find them on Ebay or one of the resale sites.

The typical gear that I take with me for acrylic painting. Backpack, selection of brushes and paints. portable travel palette, sketch book, panels and canvasses, gloves, water. Not shown would be a container for water. For oil paint, there would be two containers of mineral spirits and a portable oil paint palette.

Many of the items that I carry with me are the same, but some are devoted to acrylic painting.  Paints, types of brushes, larger water jar, rags, etc.  For oils that would be oil paints, brushes, and two jars of mineral spirits (one for cleaning brushes and one clean).  Backpacks are cheap so just keep one packed for each of the type of work you wish to do.  I have made separate lists for each type of plein air art activities that I do to remind myself what to take.

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Acrylic travel palette (Mijello)

Or…oil travel palette

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and cup

Or Mineral spirits (two jars)

Spray bottle

Pencils/pens

Sketch book

Tape / clips

Multi-tool / pliers

Paper towels / cloth rags

Sponge

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Hat

Camera / cell phone

Apron

Scissors / knife

Snacks

Business cards

Some folding green stuff (money)

Bandaids

 

My backpack will hold canvasses or panels up to 11 x 14 inches.  Larger canvasses will have to be hand carried or strapped onto your pack.  When I travel, I will keep a plastic bin to contain all my canvasses.

These are the reminder cards that I keep in my kits. They remind me of what I need to take. I’ve used these kinds of cards for many things, vacations, camping, etc.

Most of the other equipment is the same as listed in my previous post about watercolor painting.  Bug spray is a must to ward off mosquitoes or biting flies.  I once had a guy who was hauling manure and (I think) deliberately let some out near where I was painting.  Bungees help to anchor your easel or attach an umbrella.  Very disappointing to return to your easel only to discover it face down in the weeds.  Oh, well, such is the life of the artist.

And, yes, it is OK to tweak your painting when you return to your studio. Yes, there are some purists who think that is awful, but, hey, it’s your art and you can do what you like!

The main thing is to relax, enjoy yourself and have fun. It’s not a competition; it’s an adventure.

This is what can happen when you don’t anchor your easel on a windy day.

Using my beautiful little pochade box.

On a bluff overlooking the White River in Loogootee, Indiana.

Back to the River

It’s still too early to do much planting although I have onions, snow peas, lettuce and kale growing. The garden is tilled but we have to wait another couple of weeks before planting the whole thing.  We’ve done some trimming and tidying of the flowerbeds.  The spring flowering shrubs are next.

Plein air painting along the Blue River in Southern Indiana. As you can see, my easel is actually sitting in the water. What we artists won’t do for our work!

Monday was beautiful and balmy.  A perfect day to return to the Blue River for some more adventures.  This time my husband brought his fishing gear and I brought my painting kit.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  A week since our last visit but I noticed changes.  The redbuds are waning and the dogwoods are coming out.

Blue River, plein air painting. Acrylic, 11 x 14. That spring green will only last for a few weeks.

Bridge over the Blue River. Watercolor / pen and ink. Kit Miracle Created from photos taken on our previous visit last week.

As you can see, I had to set my easel in the water to get the view that I wanted.  I nearly tipped in myself but this is the price an artist pays for the adventure of plein air painting.  My husband got his line wet but not much luck until right at the end when he caught a nice bass.  (He returned it to the river, of course.)

Fishing on the Blue River. My husband actually caught a nice bass but he released it. We peeled off our sweatshirts as the temps warmed up quickly. Spring is here!

Another wandering drive on the way home took us past a little greenhouse.  Of course we stopped.  Although we have some tomatoes and peppers started, I had to buy a few more.  Hey, it’s that time of year.  All you gardeners understand what I mean.  (BTW, I was the only one at the greenhouse wearing a mask!) Later in the week the mice in the greenhouse started nibbling the plants.  Dirty rottens!  I wouldn’t have thought they would like nightshade plants but now I know they do.

So, that’s pretty much my week.  Finished the plein air painting in the studio and did a watercolor/pen and ink of the bridge over the Blue.  Some gardening.  Reading.  Oh, and cleaning the attic of my studio but that’s another story.

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, Jasper, Indiana

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

Although I do a fair amount of plein air painting, I don’t do too many competitions.  Today I participated in a local event which is always fun.  I’m familiar with the area so it’s always a challenge to find new and interesting things to paint.  Yesterday I scouted out a few locations. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing but seek to highlight a vista that might make people see their own space in a new way.

Alley view, initial scene, very early in the morning.

So this morning found me sitting in an alley. I was drawn to this blue garage and the alternating light and shadows as I looked up the alley.  It was very peaceful on a Saturday morning at daybreak.

Alley View, 1st step. Using a red-toned canvas, I painted in the basic shadows and main shapes.

Alley View, second level. Here you can see more added colors. This is the point in a painting that everything looks like a real mess. But I’ve learned to just keep pressing on and it will come together.

As you can see, I started with a red-toned canvas, 16 x 20.  First I blocked in the main shapes and the darks.  Then I started to lay in the markers for the greens.  The last colors to go in were the lightest colors – whites, off whites, and the sky.  I don’t always work in this order but usually.

Alley View after two hours. Notice how the shadows have changed. Usually 2 – 3 hours is the most time I have for a plein air painting.

Despite the heat and humidity, my acrylic paints kept drying out quickly.  I didn’t bring a retarder with me so I kept having to spray the paint and add layer after layer.

But I enjoyed the peace of the scene.  A few dog walkers, a couple of interested passersby, the occasional bunny rabbit, and inevitably, the Saturday morning lawn mowers all created the peaceful atmosphere.

I might review the painting later to see if I need to tighten it up, but actually, I like the feel of a warm summer morning. How about you?

Alley View, Plein Air Painting, final, 16 x 20, acrylic, Kit Miracle. This shows the final view of the scene. I might tweak it sometime later after I live with it for awhile, but so far, I’m satisfied.

10 states, 4,435 miles, four national parks, 16 days

Duck on a Rock, Grand Canyon, plein air sketch, 12 x 16 Kit Miracle

Part I

Ten states (plus three of them twice).  Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, and back through Illinois and Indiana.  Lots of different terrain and climates.

4,435 miles.  Not really too bad.

4 National Parks – Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches.  Plus, you can’t be in the area without stopping at Roswell to see the alien museum.  It’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.  Even their streetlights are painted like aliens.

16 days – we left a day early and returned a day early.

Whew!

Earlier this month we drove down to Texas to pick up our granddaughter for the summer.  Then we went of a big adventure.

I like to keep a journal of my travels with notes and musings, small sketches, mileage, and even sometimes the label from that chocolate shop in Paris which I never can remember.  These travel journals are always fun to revisit later, long after my memories have faded and gotten fuzzy.  They instantly transport me back to the place and time, allowing me to experience the trip all over again.  They’re, of course, nothing so monumental as the Lewis and Clark journals, but they work for me.

Sun breaking through the clouds over Arkansas, sketch, Kit Miracle

After months of planning and preparation, making reservations at the big stops (didn’t realize it was the Grand Canyon’s 100th anniversary until afterwards), we lit out on June 2nd, a day earlier than planned.  We were concerned about the flooding in the Midwest and decided to skirt along the Mississippi to Arkansas and then take the southwestern route to Texas.

Flooded Arkansas River in Little Rock, sketch Kit Miracle

Fortunately, the only flooding we saw on the way out was the Arkansas River in Little Rock but that didn’t affect the drive.

Driving west on 87, sketch, Kit Miracle

After we picked up the granddaughter, we headed west through the Texas hill country (beautiful), to the flatter and dryer areas of west Texas.  Just a delight to be on the road again, away from the daily maintenance of the homestead.

Longhorns resting in shade (from memory), sketch, Kit Miracle

Abandoned House, Texas sketch, Kit Miracle

We negotiated miles of roadwork through the oil fields of west Texas and New Mexico to land at our first national park, Carlsbad Caverns.  My husband and granddaughter had never been in a cave, and even though I have, this was a truly fascinating experience.  The vistas outside were gorgeous, and inside the cave was even more so.  We elected to take the elevator down (700+ feet) rather than walk.  The National Park Service has done such a wonderful job of making this site accessible and interesting.  We took a self-guided tour of the great room which still took an hour and a half. Although many other areas remained to be viewed, that was enough for us.  We didn’t stay for the bat exodus at sundown  either.  Just too tired and road-weary and ready for a meal and bed.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

Carlsbad is probably typical of any town in the oil field area with lots of traffic, overpriced rooms, and not much scenery.  As we were waiting at a restaurant for dinner, we spoke with a lady who was a local who said it was always this way during boom times.  People renting a room in their homes for $1200 or more.  And getting it.

Sample sketchbook – journal with alien streetlight, sketch, Kit Miracle

Our stop the next morning heading north was Roswell, NM.  You have to stop if you’re in the area as it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere.  We visited the alien museum built in a former movie house.  It was pretty much as I expected.  A mix of history, facts and lots of speculation.  (I hesitate to use the term cheesy but you get the idea.)  Of course, had to buy the T-shirts and trinkets as I don’t expect to get down this way again.  The whole town has gone alien nuts; even the streetlamps are painted as aliens.  The annual UFO festival this year is July 5-7, 2019.  I expect it will be a sight.

Butte, New Mexico, sketch, Kit Miracle

We continued on down the road towards Gallup where we spent the night.  My granddaughter’s major requirement for a hotel was a pool (she’s nine).  After a quick stop in the morning at Walmart, we stocked up on food for our stay at the Grand Canyon.

The further west we drove, the more interesting the landscape became with the big mountain in Flagstaff calling us (Humphrey’s Peak).  It still had snow on the top.  After a roadside picnic lunch (sure got tired of fast food in a hurry), we headed north to the east entrance of the GC National Park.  I’d been there before but the others had not so I couldn’t wait to introduce them to “my” canyon.

We drove through sparsely populated reservation territories.  Some beautiful scenery but appeared to be struggling.

Finally, we arrived at the East entrance of the Grand Canyon. I want to insert here that every park employee that I have met has been terrific.  They’ve always been so polite and helpful.  This is true for every park we have visited.  And I also want to emphasize that our National Parks are one of the greatest assets the American people have.  People from all over the world travel to see our lands and it makes me just want to bust with pride.

Duck on Rock, Grand Canyon, sketch, Kit Miracle

Duck on Rock, Grand Canyon, sketch, Kit Miracle

My granddaughter and I got up early and went out plein air painting.  Well, I painted and she checked out the rocks and vegetation.  The first day was very windy, but after that, it eased up.  My husband was really affected by altitude sickness but we all had a great time.

Next week I’ll post Part II of the remainder of the trip, parks and scenery

Hopi House, Grand Canyon Village, sketch, Kit Miracle

Trees at Alton, Indiana, on the Ohio River

Trees at Alton, Indiana, on the Ohio River. Plein air, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Yesterday I drove up to Indianapolis to drop off a couple of paintings at the Indiana Plein Art Painters Association annual member exhibit.  I haven’t entered this before, mostly because of the three hour drive.  But the day was a beautiful fall day, starting off with some fog in low-lying areas. The fall colors were breathtaking.  For those of you who think Indiana is represented by flat cornfields, nothing could be further from the truth.  The southern part consists of beautiful hills, rivers, and streams covered mostly by deciduous forests.  This time of year, the landscape is a panorama of golds and reds.  It was just a glorious day for a drive.

One of the two paintings I entered is Trees at Alton, Indiana, on the Ohio River.  I just painted this back in late September.  As you can see, the tall trees on the left are just beginning to show some color.  Alton is a tiny little collection of houses and has been flooded many times over the years. But the people who live here are passionate about living on the Ohio River so they always come back.  There is something mesmerizing about the big river with its barges and other river traffic.  I can just sit and watch the river for hours.

This scene is pretty classic.  Just some trees, a path leading into the picture, a river and some hills.  A very peaceful vista.

If you’re interested in seeing the whole exhibit, it is at the Hoosier Salon Gallery in Carmel, just north of Indianapolis.  The exhibit runs from November 10th  through  December 14th.  The reception is Saturday,, November 10th 5-9 pm.  There are many beautiful paintings of all parts of Indiana and most of the work is for sale. Take a gander at this exhibit and visit lovely downtown Carmel with its many arty and eclectic shops and eateries.  A great time for some holiday shopping.

Painting close to home

Garden in August, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Visiting new places is always fun and inspiring for artists, but many of the best paintings have been made close to home.  One of my favorites is one that Renoir painted of Monet in his garden.  It’s just a homey painting of a backyard with other houses in the distance.

Renoir painting of Monet in garden

Today I decided paint a scene that I see every day from my breakfast table. It is of my garden this month with the tall sunflowers and multi-color zinnias and other flowers.  The rest of the garden is still producing but is beginning to look a little straggly this time of year.  We’re still getting plenty of tomatoes, eggplants, beans, and peppers.  But it’s the flowers that I really love. The birds and butterflies love them, too.

Garden in August. The sunflowers and zinnias are in full bloom. The vegies are still producing heavily. Lots of tomatoes, eggplants, beans and peppers.

I got out early to take advantage of the cool morning and the shade.  The canvas is primed with a beige color and painted black on the border.

Garden in August, step 1. Here I have generally covered most of the canvas. Notice that I’ve edited the trees in the background to provide more interest.

The first step as usual for me is to lay in the general composition and the dark colors.  As you can see, I did some editing, removing the line of trees in the background and just including a few big trees.  I also squashed things together a bit for the composition.

Garden in August, step 2. More blocking in plus I’ve added the sky and most of the foreground.

Next I laid in more darks and some brighter greens as well as the sky.  I wanted a rosy early morning sky….so I made one.

Actually the most difficult part was painting the flowers.  It is so hard to get them bright without being gaudy.  I ended up painting a light wash of pale green over some of them to tone down their brightness.

The entire painting took about three hours minus some time for a phone call to a friend while I was waiting for paint to dry. The point here is that you don’t have to travel a great distance to find something worthy to paint.  A good subject might be just outside your window.

Winning Plein Air Painting

Here I am with my first place winning plein air painting at the Jasper Arts competition this past week. It’s the top painting of the new bridge at the Parklands. The bottom painting is of a dead tree.

Here I am posing with my winning plein air painting this past weekend.  It was of the new bridge at the Parklands in Jasper, Indiana.  What a nice surprise!  I guess it was worth enduring the extreme heat and humidity that day.

Also, there is an update on my exhibit at Oakland City University.  It was supposed to open this past Monday but that has been pushed back to Monday, August 13th.  The end date has also been pushed back to Friday, September 28th.  The reception and gallery talk is still scheduled for Sunday, September 9th from 2 to 5 p.m.  Hope some of you can make it out. I’d be embarrassed if no one shows up.  ;-/

Plein air painting on a lovely spring day

I went plein air painting with my friend Bill Whorrall this week up in beautiful Martin County, Indiana.  There is just a small window between the dreariest of winter and the veredant summer.  This time of year the landscape sports so many different shades of greens, as well as the beautiful red-bud, dogwood and other spring flowers. I wanted to capture the scene before it was gone.

Plein air painting in Martin County, Indiana. The Overlook in Shoals.

This day we painted at The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana.  The scenery is gorgeous any time of year but especially now with the freshly tilled fields.  The river you see there is the White River which can sometimes be pretty angry.  Now you can see it as the peaceful water highway it once was.

The painting is acrylic on hardwood which has been gessoed and sanded.  I chose the longer format as it seemed to fit the landscape.

I only had a couple of hours to get most of the painting down before the sun had moved.  A few final tweaks were done in the studio.  Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all of my photos for the day so this is the only one available from my Facebook page.

Yes, the painting is for sale on my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.

The Overlook in Shoals, Indiana. Martin County. Acrylic on wood panel,12 x 24, Kit Miracle, Spring landscape.

A Week of Painting

A question that I often receive is, “Are you still painting?”  This puzzles me.  Do we ask musicians if they still make music?  Or writers if they still write?

The answer is, Yes, I paint nearly every day for several hours.  This is what I do.  I can’t seem to help myself.  I often do some inside work or gardening in the early part of the day, then head out to the studio and paint. And paint. And paint.

These are three paintings that I completed last week.

Chinese Bridge at Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30, Kit Miracle

This large one is acrylic on canvas 24 x 30 inches. The scene is from the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  As it’s only a few hours away, my husband and I like to visit for a quick trip.  The gardens are beautiful in nearly any season.  The scene depicted here is from the Chinese garden area.  I was attracted to the bridge, of course, but also the back lighting.  It has some echoes of Monet but is pure American impressionism.

Windy Day at the Lake, acrylic on canvas board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

The next painting is called Windy Day at the Lake.  I painted this en plein air on Friday. My husband and I went over to the Lake (Patoka); him to fish, me to paint.  We found a nice sheltered  area and had a wonderful morning at the lake.  The acrylic sketch is 12 x 16 on canvas board.

Japanese Bridge at Missouri Botanical Gardens, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

The final painting that I completed last week is of the bridge in the Japanese area of the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis.  I was attracted to the early autumn colors, the shape of the bridge, and the reflections in the lake.  Painted in acrylic on canvas, it has the edges painted black so it wouldn’t necessarily need a frame but could be hung as is.  It just gives such a feeling of peace.

So, as an artist, this is what I do.

Plein air painting, Brooks Bridge, Martin County, Indiana

Plein air painting of Brooks Bridge, oil on canvas board, Kit Miracle

I went plein air painting with my friend Bill Whorrall on Monday.  It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm December day with temps in the 60s.  However, the wind was brisk which posed some problems later.

Brooks Bridge across the East Fork of the White River in Martin County, Indiana

Bill lives in Martin County, Indiana which is lovely and boasts a variety of terrains – rivers, stone ledges, hills, woods.  We decided to paint this one lane bridge, Brooks Bridge, which spans the East Fork of the White River south of Shoals.  We had spotted this location before but the ground was too wet to drive on.

While we were painting, we saw about four vehicles, including a four wheeler; probably the farmer checking us out.  (It’s hunting season and there are lots of poachers.)  I just waved and he drove back.  The sparse traffic is probably why the bridge is only one lane.  Yeah, impossible for you city people to believe but they still exist.

Bill was working on some ink drawings that he created with sticks and twigs as drawing instruments.  You can see the results here.  Really neat.

Plein air painting along the East Fork of the White River south of Shoals. My friend Bill Whorrall is drawing with ink and sticks.

Painting half done

I decided to use a canvas panel toned with yellow paint.  It was pretty bright but where it shows through, it seems to add some magic.  I like it anyway.

Plein air painting of Brooks Bridge. The wind nearly took my easel right after I took this photo!

The only real problem was that the wind picked up throughout the morning.  A strong gust nearly knocked my easel into the river!

I tweaked the final painting in my studio, darkening the details and adding highlights.  It’s sometimes difficult to really see and judge colors and contrasts in the bright sunlight.  What do you think?

Yeah, it’s for sale at my Etsy shop.