Thoughts on Plein Air painting, the weather and good gear.

I consider myself a hardy person. After all I am the incident commander for West Elk Mountain Rescue and we go out in the wilderness areas and national forests in Gunnison county looking for lost persons all year around. I dress appropriately and have great all-season outer wear. I also walk my dog every day of the year, no matter what the weather. (My neighbors tease me about dog walking in the dark on 10° winter mornings.) I am usually prepared.

Today was almost no different as far as me being prepared for the weather. I went to join the group of PAAC painters in Montrose, CO. Myself and my faithful companion, Tova, met with several other painters at Baldridge Park along the Uncompahgre River. I set up my plein air kit and it seemed like it was going to be a lovely day. Warm, sunny, calm. Tova even took a dip in the river and spread out near me for a sun bath. Seemed a perfect Plein Air painting day.

HAH! About 1 1/2 hours into it, someone flipped the wind switch. At first it was just a few gusts but after about 20 minutes, dust started pelting me and my easel blew over a couple times despite the anchoring.  My backpack with stuff in it blew over. My little table was lifted up a bit, but I caught it in time. I had taken my heavy Carhardt jacket off and it was blowing off, too. When a wall of dust launched itself at me and embedded about a pound of gravel into my wet painting, I packed stuff up and called it a day. I noticed a few others were doing the same as we were all spread around the park.

My wet oil painting was not prepared for the weather. Tova wasn’t too happy about it either, she kept nose punching me and heading towards the path to leave and then looking back at me like I was crazy. I think I left in just in time. By the time we made it home to Paonia, it was grappling (snow pellets or soft hail) with about 40 mph winds.

Dust storm in Montrose, CO

Dust storm in Montrose, CO

Very windy!

Very windy!

I was really concentrating on my painting and somehow the weather didn’t bother me until the dust turned to sand and started to interfere with the actual painting. Call me nuts, but I think it added some interest to the painting. When I got home, I just had to clean up a few spots and knock off a clump of something (dust, leaf and dog fur-ball most likely). Plus add a few touches without overworking it. I also got a good photo of the location, pre-cyclone.

What was really great about the day was that I felt really confident about what I was going to paint, the process I was going to take and the confidence I felt about it all. This was the first time I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed & awed by everything and its beauty around me. I was able to pick out a specific scene and define its boundaries, look for the centers of interest, lay out the composition, values, focus and colors without much difficulty. I also was able to work pretty quickly having done a separate sketch, charcoal layout on the canvas board, under-painting, blocking in and laying down of colors, etc. in that short time.

"Baldridge Park Eddy" plein air oil 8" x 10"

“Baldridge Park Eddy” plein air oil 8″ x 10″

This little plein air painting gives me lots of information about the light, the feel and the energy of the location. Combined with the photo, I feel I could do a larger piece if I wanted in the future. It was a good day. Its not my best work, but its getting much better!

I learned a lot about my set-up, too. I need a good easel and palette. It seems like good equipment is important, even though I have a nice set-up, I think I want something more hard-core. I always have a hard time deciding to get good gear with anything. After I suffer a while, then something trips a switch in me and I make the plunge into good gear. True for me with hiking, riding, gardening; pretty much everything. I think I may spring for a Strada with tripod kit. Now to sell some paintings to pay for it………!

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