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How to improve your art skills

One of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. Many artists explore a subject in a series of paintings of the same subject. Van Gogh did at least twelve paintings of sunflowers.

I’m often asked, “How do I get better at my art?”  Hummmm….well, I have several suggestions.  They aren’t anything new but maybe they’re new to you.  In no particular order.

Make a LOT of art!  Studies have shown that students who create a lot of art eventually get better, especially compared to those who seek to create one perfect painting or poem or story or pot.  Like almost anything else, the more you do, the better you get.  This is the time to explore.  Try new things, new styles, new subjects, new mediums.  Just make a whole lot of it. Don’t worry if it’s any good yet.  Just do it.  The old adage that practice makes perfect applies here. While you are testing new things, your mind will begin to make connections and build on what you have done before.

Make it easy.  Make it easy to make art.  Do you have to clear the children’s homework from the dining table?  Drag out all your equipment and easel every time you want to paint? Find a space where you can keep your materials at hand.  Set up a corner in the bedroom to work.  Use a portable screen if the clutter annoys you.  Keep a sketchbook next to your TV chair.  Or in your purse or pocket.  I’ve often drawn mini-sketches while waiting for dinner or in the theater.  If your materials are nearby, you’ll be more likely to use them.

Don’t worry if it’s any good.  So many people worry about if their work is any good.  Stop that right now!  Refer to the first suggestion.  Just do it.  Do a lot of it.  ALL artists make some really bad paintings.  That’s Okay!  That is what preliminary work is for.  Try it out.  Maybe it will be brilliant. Maybe it won’t.  But you will have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Copy other artists.  Yes, I recommend studying other artists, your favorites perhaps.  Go to the museums or the library or even review their work online.  What do you like about their work?  What don’t you like?  Try making a few copies in the style of the artist. How does that feel to you?  Does it feel natural or awkward?  Look at what attracts you most.  Their subject matter?  Style?  Brushwork?  But do NOT EVER try to pass off someone else’s work as your own.  That is dishonest and plagerism. You won’t feel comfortable about it and you’ll be found out eventually.

Do a series.  A series is a group of artwork of, perhaps, the same subject or style or theme.  This helps you to dig deeper.  Find out what attracts you to this subject.  Van Gogh painted twelve sunflower paintings.  I’ll bet that he got better at them towards the end.  Monet painted thirty haystacks, 250 waterlillies, and over thirty of the Rouen Cathedral. Different angles, different times of day. 

My concluding advice is just keep at it.  Don’t let anyone discourage you. Only you know what you are learning.  If you have tried it before, try it again.  You’re in a different place and time.  Perhaps you have more skills and knowledge now.  Just keep moving forward. Good luck!

The Cultural Center, Part II – The New Library Is Open!

The new Thyen Clark Cultural Center is now open to the public.

Finally, the new library is open at the cultural center.  And, boy, is it magnificent!  Better than anything I could have imagined, even when I was working on the project!

As mentioned earlier, this is a joint project combining the Jasper-Dubois County Public Library and the Jasper Arts Department (excluding the performing arts center).  I posted photos of the new galleries earlier.  I’ll add the classrooms, studio spaces, and the black box theater later.

Cultural Center front, east wing holding the library.

Today’s photos feature the new library.  After nearly two decades of planning, votes, fundraising, the doors were open this week.  I took my granddaughter for our first visit afterschool on Tuesday.  Then went back alone for a more thorough visit on Wednesday.

This is the beautiful atrium which separates the arts side from the library. It has a full catering kitchen for special events and will seat 150 at table. I think this will become very popular for families looking to get out of the house in the winter with the kids…once we’re allowed to get together again.

In speaking with the library director, she said that people have commented on all the new books.  She’s replied, they haven’t added any new volumes; the old library was just that over-crowded.  Now it has plenty of room for technology, including a maker space, a teen zone, genealogy room,  lots of quiet nooks and meeting spaces.  Plus…the books books books. It even has an outdoor balcony for those who like some fresh air while they read.

For now, the entire Cultural Center is open six days a week with plans to expand to seven days a week sometime later.  If you come for a visit, don’t forget to save time to visit the nearby Schaeffer Barn, the old school house, the mill and the train depot, all set along the scenic Patoka River in downtown Jasper.  Admission is free.

The view from the library entrance from the atrium.
Lots of current magazines and newspapers to read and plenty of reading nooks for everybody.
One of many work spaces for patrons. Most of the tables have charger stations, too.
The beautiful wall art by Romy and Clare Designs. The upper level holds offices, the genealogy room and an outdoor patio/balcony.
One of the little reading nooks in the children’s section. Each has its own reading light, too. Of course, I had to try one out.
A view of the children’s section with child-sized furniture, shelves and family-friendly activities.
Another inviting lounge area. The teen zone and maker space are in the glass-walled areas behind. Recorded books and digital media and music to the rear right.
The money shot from the balcony area. Such a beautiful design for all.
Parking at the rear of the center shows our neighbors, Schaeffer barn and a one-room school house which was recently moved in. To the rear of that is the famous Riverwalk. And across the street from the center is the Jasper Train Depot and the old restored mill. This will be a great place to bring kids for field trips.

Uh, oh!

Sorry, folks, I’ve been asked to put a hold on the sneak preview of the new Cultural Center. They’re not quite ready to roll everything out. But be assured, that I’ll post more about the whole shebang later when they are. Probably a few weeks. Anyway, for those of you who caught the sneak preview, keep that in mind. It’s still an awesome new arts venture in Jasper.

Thanks for your kind comments and patience.

Living in the boonies: the downside

I have often posted my favorite things about living in a rural area.  Although I tend to focus on the positive, living in the country is not for everyone. 

A little background.  My husband and I were living in the northern climes where we were faced with nine months of winter and three months of mosquitoes.  Fighting three and a half million people to work every day.  And leaving for work in the dark and returning home in the dark.  So after many long discussions, we decided to pack it all in and move to southern Indiana.  A milder, four-season climate and definitely away from the rat race. 

This was not a sudden relocation but was accomplished with much planning and research.  Like driving up and down the Ohio River valley, checking out small towns here and there.  We finally settled on our area when we drove into town and realized that it looked prosperous, neat and clean, and there were no boarded up buildings on the main square.

But these are some of the things you need to keep in mind if you are considering moving to a rural area.  It isn’t perfect and there are challenges.

Utilities

I remember asking my grandmother one time what was the greatest modern convenience she had seen in her lifetime.  She didn’t hesitate at all but said, running water!  Carrying water up the hill for a large family was a never-ending task.  So one of the things you need to consider is what is the water source?

We were very fortunate that city water had just been installed along the road where we live about three months before we bought the place.  Will you have city water?  A well or cisterns?  Or will you have to haul water in a big tank on the back of your truck?  (You might get tired of that in a hurry.)

Also under utilities comes electricity.  We’re fortunate to have a rural electric co-op and they’re very diligent about getting out to fix downed powerlines, no matter the weather or time of day. 

Internet, telephone, TV.  No cable out this far but we do have satellite internet and TV.  Can’t really do streaming, though, so there are tradeoffs. 

How will you heat your home?  No natural gas lines out here.  We have propane for the furnace, water heater, and stove.  An alternate wood furnace, the beast in the basement, which provides toasty “free” heat.  Not counting all the labor that goes into it. 

Solar panels would work, too, but they’re probably not on our horizon.  And it’s not consistently windy enough for a wind generator. 

Schools

We didn’t have children at the time we moved but if you have kids, that would be a consideration.   How far to the schools?  Reputation, etc.  Fortunately the schools around here are pretty good but you’re probably not going to get that new class in Japanese that you might want for your kids. And sports are always big everywhere, it seems.

Isolation

Do you enjoy your own company or do you require a lot of contacts with your neighbors?  Frankly, I’m really happy that I can sit outside and not see another house.  But I know they’re there.  Neighbors pull together and you will generally get to know your neighbors for a wide radius. But they’re usually not in your business either.

Shopping

Well, it’s twenty-five miles to the nearest good grocery store, in a couple of directions.  On rural roads, that’s twenty-five miles in twenty-five minutes.  I remember living in the city when it used to take me twenty minutes to go two miles due to traffic.  Of course, there’s the local dollar store for bread, milk, eggs and other items that you may have run out of.  You learn to do better planning when you make the long trek.  And nearly everyone has a deep freezer, too.

Shopping for other items – clothes, household, garden stuff – ensures that you plan better and bundle several errands together.  For even bigger things – malls, department stores, book shops – we go to the city.  That’s about fifty miles in one direction and about seventy-five in another.  Again, you make a day of it.  And you don’t buy as much.

And, of course, you can buy nearly anything over the internet these days and it will be delivered right to your door.  Even an international airport is only about ninety minutes away.

Services

Most services are available out here that you would find in a more urban area and the suppliers are used to the further distances.  One of my particular favorites is the local and regional library system.  If they don’t have it, they’ll get it for you. 

Medical

This is very important to some people.  We are fortunate to have some great doctors and a hospital only a half hour away.  It should be noted, however, that emergency care may be more difficult.  Twice I’ve had to drive with my lights flashing to meet with an ambulance.  They could have found our place but we were just saving time by meeting them.  And there are always the bigger cities for more specialized care.

Security

Frankly, most rural people I know have some kind of personal protection, probably firearms. (It may take a long time for an official to show up if you call.)  This could be for racoons in the sweet corn, coyotes stalking the hens, or one time, a couple of feral hogs that were particularly unpleasant.  A story for another time.

Coyote with pear. Taken in back orchard in summer. About 40 feet from the house.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things.  But I’ve had a tendency to paint a rosy picture of living in the country and that may be a little overblown for some.  It suits me fine but this isn’t the life for everyone.  There’s a lot of work involved in keeping up the garden and property. On the other hand, we can do it at our own pace and inclination.  Please feel free to ask any questions you may have about living in a rural area and I’ll try to answer.

Keeping an art journal

Last year I talked about taking a sketchbook with you wherever you go.  (September 2019) But today I’d like to elaborate on that a little. 

A day at the lake. Loved the fall colors which were more brilliant than I could capture. Many of the boats are readied for winter but there was still a fair amount of traffic on the lake for a beautiful fall day. This is the elongate sketchbook, about 5 x 7, opened to 5 x 14, perfect for landscapes.

This week the temperatures were up in the 80s here in southern Indiana.  My husband and I decided to take the day off (heh heh) and go to the lake.  We took breakfast sandwiches.  He fished while I painted.  Later, as we were waiting for the paint to dry, I showed him some of my other sketches over the years.

This particular book is an elongated one, perfect for landscapes.  I’ve captured scenes from vacations and travels in many places over the years.  He asked if I would ever consider selling the book. After a little thought, I replied, no. It has too many memories. 

One word of advice.  Date your sketch and make a note of where it was done.  Our memories get fuzzy over time and this really helps.

Gare de Lyon. One often has plenty of time to wait in airports and train stations, but this was one of the more beautiful ones that I have been in. What you can’t see are the jillions of people milling about, on their way here and there.

The primary difference between a sketchbook and an art journal (in my mind) is that the journal may have much more extensive writing, like a diary, along with sketches, and even things that have been glued inside.  One of mine has the label for a special chocolate shop in Paris.  I will visit that if I ever go there again.  And I sure would not have remembered exactly where it was.  Tickets, photos, postcards…even pressed flowers have all ended up in my art journals.

This is a view of Avignon taken from the hill where the Palais des Papes is. I later used this in a large watercolor painting.

You may wish to keep a running commentary in your various journals.  But one thing that I’ve found really enjoyable is to create a dedicated book for a special trip or event. 

A museum visit in Paris. I wanted to remember the general layout of these paintings and they didn’t allow photographs. So, I made sketches. AND…recorded the artists’ names.

One of my favorites is a bicycle tour I took through Provence a number of years ago.  The journal wasn’t very large, only about 5 x 7, but was easy to slip into a purse or my bike pack.  And it really turned out to be more of a diary with sketches than a sketchbook.  But it has been so fun to pull it out every once in awhile just to read about my trip and think about where I was when I made the sketches. 

I loved this small marble bust of a boy with a wreath in his hair. Sketched at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. You have to get used to people leaning over your shoulder when sketching in a crowd, but really, most people are very polite and may not even notice you at all.

I know we are all feeling the angst of staying at home these days, but do you have any ideas for an art journal?  Maybe a gardening one or something dedicated to the holidays?  What do you see out of your window?  Activities at the park?  Let your imagination roam. 

Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim. It was truly a memorable exhibit, but again, no photographs. I completed several sketches under the watchful eyes of the security guards.

There are a number of books about art journaling which might give you a few ideas. Here is one of my favorites by Danny Gregory. He has actually written several books on the subject. Check them out here.

An Illustrated Journey: Inspiration from the Private Art Journals of Traveling Artists, Illustrators, and Designers.

Pumpkins! Pumpkins! Pumpkins!

Ever since our visit to the pumpkin patch a few weeks ago, I have been obsessed with painting pumpkins.  Well, this has gone on long before that visit, but there is just something about the shapes and colors, the many varieties of these humble squashes that appeals to me.

Pumpkin Head – final painting, oil on linen, 29.25 x 36, Kit Miracle, Halloween theme, telling a story

The first pumpkins that I painted were several years ago in a large painting of my granddaughter and son carving pumpkins.  I posted the “how to” of that painting here.  Pumpkin Head presented many challenges.  When my granddaughter wanted a happy face, my son replied, “No, they’re born as pumpkins but they die as scary jack o’ lanterns.”  A bit macabre sense of humor, I’d say.

Fall still life set up.
Little Turk. Love the shape and warty bumps on these pumpkins.
Big orange pumpkin with sunflowers.

Since then, I’ve painted little white ones and little orange ones, and pumpkin buddies.  Pumpkins with flowers and leaves.  And some larger pumpkins.  I know it’s not “high art”, whatever that is. But it amused me this autumn.  But I think I’m done.  They’ve sold well in my Etsy shop and some local shops.  I guess that I’m not the only person who loves pumpkins.

Little White. I did two of these and they both sold instantly. Guess white pumpkins are popular this year.
Two Pumpkins. This is one of the older paintings of these little friends.
Pumpkin friends. The small squash is actually more yellow than orange but this is the way it turned out.

Back to prepping canvases for the larger series. 

Or…maybe something else.

Fall decorations on the farm. My husband’s old 1952 Allis-Chalmers tractor all gussied up for the studio sale a few years ago. He even washed it! And this was his idea entirely.

Sunday Breakfast, Blueberry Pancakes! Yummm!

Sunday breakfast with blueberry pancake, oven-cooked bacon, and fresh oranges.

Normally I stick with a light breakfast – fruit and yogurt, fruit smoothie, oatmeal, etc.  But on Sundays we go a bit overboard.  My husband loves to cook big breakfasts.  Sometimes I even get to put in an order.  So today I asked for his out-of-this-world blueberry pancakes.  They are so good.  One is enough for a normal person but you could eat two if you really want to get stuffed.

He uses fresh blueberries which really makes them special.  And cooks them one at a time on the ancient griddle he inherited from his father.  Probably at least eighty years old and seasoned just right.  Yes, I’ve got another griddle, and yes, this takes a lot of time, but it’s his show so this is what he does.

Blueberry pancake on the ancient family griddle.

My husband insists on real maple syrup but I’m a product of my childhood and like the cheap stuff made with all those things we’re not supposed to eat these days.  Left over pancakes are frozen on a cookie sheet and then put in a bag for future breakfasts.  The recipe below makes about fifteen large pancakes.

By the way, for you bacon lovers out there, if you’re not cooking your bacon in the oven, you are really missing the show.  Perfect every time and not greasy at all.

Here’s the recipe (adapted from Pete’s Scratch Pancakes.)

Ingredients:

                2 cups flour

                3 tablespoons sugar

                ½ teaspoon salt

                1 tablespoon baking powder

                2 eggs, beaten separately before adding

                ¼ cup melted butter

                1 ¾ cup milk

                1 teaspoon vanilla

                couple of generous shakes cinnamon

                1 cup blueberries

Directions

Mix the dry items first.

Combine the eggs and melted butter to the milk and slowly stir into the flour mixture.

Add the vanilla, cinnamon and berries.

Heat the griddle to325 F or the pan to medium high let sit at least 10 minutes while heating the griddle or pan.

Oven bacon

                Preheat oven to about 380.

                Arrange bacon strips on rack on cookie sheet with sides. (otherwise the grease will run all over the place. )

                Cook until desired crispiness. 

                When you’re done, there will be a lot of grease in the pan.  You can either carefully pour this off into a container or put it in the fridge to harden, then scrape it off.

What’s on the Bookshelf? Artists’ Biographies

I don’t write too many book reviews on this blog but that’s mostly because I read A LOT!  Two or three books a week, and have several going at the same time.  I write tons of reviews for Amazon, probably in excess of 1,000 and that is NOT everything that I read or use either. 

But I thought I’d share with you my thoughts about some artist biographies that I’ve read recently.  These are not art books but actual biographies or autobiographies.  Some I liked; some not so much.  I have eclectic tastes.

Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator, the Definitive Edition

The first one that I would highly recommend is Norman Rockwell’s autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator.  He actually recorded his thoughts on a Dictaphone in 1960  and then it was pulled together by his son Tom.  It is an enjoyable read.  Rockwell is so humorous and self-deprecating.  I always love to see how people became who they eventually became and this is a great book which follows Rockwell’s life from beginning to end.  There are many illustrations and drawings in this tome but that is not the main focus.  It’s a huge book at 500+ pages printed on thick paper.  Best not to fall asleep in bed with it as you could get hurt if it falls on you.

Carl Larsson: The Autobiography of Sweden’s Most Beloved Artist

Another favorite painter of mine is the Swedish painting Carl Larsson.  I fell in love with his work when I first encountered his beautifully illustrated books over forty years ago.  This autobiography is well-translated making it immensely easy to read.  Another artist who came up from difficult circumstances to become a national treasure.  The book is illustrated with many of his original sketches.

Edward Hopper in Vermont by Bonnie Toucher Clause

Edward Hopper in Vermont by Bonnie Toucher Clause.  I am a big Hopper fan.  Generally I love the feeling of the lonely soul which he seems to be able to impart in many of his paintings.  But he is also known for his landscapes and street scenes.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book.  The author basically focuses on a small series of watercolor paintings that Hopper did during his time in Vermont.  (I should mention here that many artists escaped the city during the 20s, 30s, and 40s, if not permanently, then at least for the summers.)  Frankly, the book reads like a senior thesis.  Not necessarily my favorite.  It does have some black and white illustrations.

The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee.  I enjoyed reading this book very much as the author writes about four pairs of artists who were contemporaries.  Matisse and Picasso.  Manet and Degas.  Pollock and de Kooning.  Freud and Bacon.  Although I was familiar with all of these artists, some more than others, the author delves deeply into their influences, jealousies, rivalries, and the times in which they were making art.  Frankly there were a few artists that I didn’t really like so much after I read this book but, hey, that is why we read, isn’t it?

Rosa Bonheur by Anna Klumpke

Rosa Bonheur  by Anna Klumpke, The Artist’s [auto] Biography.  I have always been an admirer or Rosa Bonheur’s paintings, particularly some of her large animal paintings.  But, well, this book is a bit dull.  Typically, it follow’s Bonheur’s early life and how she got into painting.  Then entered her companion Anna Klumpke who writes a good deal about Bonheur’s life.  Supposedly it was nearly dictated to her, or Anna had a photographic memory for what Rosa relayed to her. Overall, written in very stilted and flowery language, it takes perseverance to get through the entire book.

Finally, I’m going to recommend two videos/movies about a couple of my favorite artists.

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

The first one is David Hockney: A Bigger Picture.  I first saw this film on TV and then purchased the DVD.  I’m a huge Hockney fan.  No, I don’t paint anything like him but I’ve always admired how he keeps reinventing himself.  He doesn’t seem afraid to follow whatever rabbit trail he is on, from his early California paintings to several years experimenting with  copier prints.   In this film biography, Hockney returns to England and gets caught up in loads of plein air paintings, including one on a grand scale (the size of a warehouse wall) which he donated to the British National Gallery.  The film is worth watching several times just to hear Hockney’s thought processes, his humor and his own challenges. 

At Eternity’s Gate. Final years of Vincent Van Gogh.

Finally, if you haven’t seen Willem Defoe’s portrayal of Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate you have really missed something. I’m sure your local library will have a copy or you can probably catch it on one of the on-demand channels.  The film depicts Van Gogh’s final years in Provence, his time with Gaugin, and the influence of his brother Theo.  So beautifully shot, you will want to watch it more than once.

So, if you’re interested in learning more about your favorite artists, these are a few biographies that I would like to recommend.  Please check out an earlier post where I had other recommendations. 

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.

Plein air painting in watercolor – tips and tricks, part II

Plein air at Patoka Lake.

It’s a great time to get outside and do a little plein air painting as the season turns from spring to summer here in the Northern hemisphere.  It’s also a great way to socialize while keeping socially distant in this challenging time.  Not to mention getting some fresh air and just enjoying the great outdoors.

In my last post, I discussed some of the background of plein air painting and some general tips.  Today I’m going to elaborate on how to do plein air painting in watercolor.

This is my old Stanrite watercolor easel. The legs are adjustable and it will collapse to a pretty small package. The top tilts which is handy for watercolor since most painting is done horizontally. And it has two adjustable clips to secure your board. I’m not sure if this is made any more but grab one if you see it. This one is at least twenty years old and has proven to be very sturdy and reliable. Stanrite No 5, Watercolor

Plein air painting equipment can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish to make it.  I tend to lean toward simple and light weight.  Instead of using a French easel (which I find heavy and cumbersome), I like to use an aluminum watercolor easel (by Stanright).  The easel has legs which expand to various heights and a top section which tilts to many angles.  The top also has two clips for securing my watercolor board.

My favorite watercolor paper is d’Arches 140 pound cold press.  For ease of transport, I cut the 22 x 30 inch sheets into quarters and attach them to a luan board which is a little larger.  I find trying to paint outdoors on full size sheets of paper to be awkward but that is just my preference.  Since the smaller paper is only about 11 x 15, it can easily be attached to the board by painter’s tape or clips and does not need to be stretched to prevent buckling.

Plein air watercolor equipment that I keep in my bag. See the list in the body of the post.

I usually keep a bag packed with items just for watercolor painting.  I find this helps speed up the process of packing when I’m ready to get out of the house.  The bag I use is a multi-pocket computer bag which I bought for $5 at a resale shop.  It has a nice shoulder strap which is very comfortable and plenty of zippered compartments. I removed the extra padding.

The used computer bag that I use as a plein air bag for watercolor. I love the many zippered pockets and the comfortable, adjustable strap. I paid $5 for this at a resale shop. Then removed the foam padding.

A very big help to me is that I have color-coded index cards for each type of plein air painting that I do.  This helps to remind me what I need to take just in case I have removed something from my bag.

My list of items to take in my watercolor bag are:

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Watercolor travel palette (Mijello)

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and collapsible  cup

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)

Band-aids

 

Even with my list, I have forgotten items before.  Once I forgot my collapsible water cup so I cut a spare water bottle in half.  The bug spray will be really welcome if the mosquitoes or flies find you.

Various layers of clothing might be warranted if the weather is likely to change, as is a poncho, etc.  I always keep a travel blanket in the car which I have found handy to wrap up in on particularly windy or chilly days.  The bungees can be attached to your bag and easel to prevent it from flying away, or used to secure your umbrella to your chair for shade.

I usually use a small sketchbook to make thumbnail sketches but sometimes I’ll paint in a watercolor notebook.  It’s important to be flexible and not get bummed out if you forget something.  I have a friend who paints with sticks (and the results are amazing).

Depending upon where I’m painting, I might even take my Square-card reader…just in case a passerby decides that they must have that painting right then and there.  Be prepared, I always say.

All in all, the whole kit – bag, easel, chair, etc., weighs about twenty pounds or less.  Although I’ll throw some things into the car, I don’t always  lug everything out.  For instance, a rock, bench, log or wall might be the perfect seat so I can leave the chair.  Maybe it’s too windy for an umbrella so that stays in the car, too.  But I do like to have these things with me, just in case.

I have even been able to organize all my equipment into a couple of panniers for my bicycle.  Then I can really tool around without even looking for a place to park.

Bike with panniers and equipment for plein air painting. I don’t do much of this anymore but I put thousands of miles on my bikes. With the distraction of cell phone usage now, it’s a little too scary to bike regular roads.

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/mijello-fusion-air-tight-watercolor-palettes

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/faber-castell-clic-and-go-cups-brushes

I can’t find the Stanrite No.5 Watercolor easel anywhere but there are some other makes available.  I would opt for the light-weight aluminum over the wood.  You might also be able to find a used one on Ebay.