Mar 20, 2012

Deserted Yet Stoic

Deserted Yet Stoic
Oil on linen on art board • 8" x 10"
Available. To inquire,
contact the Clague Studio
Often on a chilly winter day, I'll be working in the comfort of my warm studio, with a giant mug of freshly-brewed Starbucks® within reach, enjoying soothing music and painting a still life under light that will stay consistent all day, when I'll think of artists like Richard Schmid, Clyde Aspevig, Scott Christensen, Michael Godfrey and Daniel Gerhartz.* I'll wonder if any of them are outside at that moment, braving the cold in the noble pursuit of capturing something beautiful from life at the expense of their own comfort. And I'll think, "Wow, I am such a wimp!" This winter, I strove to be a less wimpy painter and managed to embark on several plein air excursions.

My final plein air this winter was Deserted Yet Stoic, shown above. About five to six inches of snow had accumulated the evening before, and it was still snowing intermittently the next day. My girlfriend, Andrea Orr, joined me in painting this abandoned barn, which stood open like a cavern to the elements. The temperature was below 30º, and snow was blowing nearly horizontally, creating mini snowdrifts against each pile of paint on my palette! While in the field, I focused on painting the values and temperatures I knew my camera wouldn't be able to capture, but worked from photographs later to finish up.

Deserted Yet Stoic (Detail)
While studying Gerhartz's book Not Far From Home,
Andrea noticed he had splattered paint in one piece to
create the illusion of falling snow. I decided to give it a try.
I thinned my paint with linseed oil until it would spray in
tiny droplets when I used my finger to gently pull back and
release the hairs of my brush. I used a Rosemary & Co.
mongoose hair brush, which has the "spring" I needed. The key
is, don't overdo techniques like this or they can look "gimmicky."
The act of painting, even when done indoors in a comfortable environment, can be highly frustrating. The pressure of getting accurate drawing, values, edges, temperatures and color while maintaining loose brushwork, while worrying whether people will like the piece, while wondering if it will sell, can sometimes be overwhelming. Add to the mix frigid digits; frozen, clumpy paint; constantly changing sunlight and any other hindrance that plein airing can bring, and you'll end up with a remarkably unbearable experience… but only if you let it be so. An attitude of discouragement is devastating to the painting process, but a good attitude and strong fortitude are greatly beneficial. Also, there is no reason to invite additional frustrations into the painting process. Analyze what things annoy you and develop systems to prevent those annoyances. Below are several tips (many of which Andrea has discovered) that help make cold-weather painting bearable:

• Dress appropriately (too obvious?). Wear long underwear, wool socks (two pairs if necessary), good waterproof boots and protection over the ears, nose and mouth. Wear gloves that allow sufficient dexterity to set up your easel, squeeze out paint, etc. Try fingerless gloves that have mitten "hoods."

• When you start painting, remove your glove from your painting hand and quickly place your hand inside a wool sock. Then poke the handle of your brush through the wool sock. Now you can have the precise control over your brush that is only possible with bare fingers, while still keeping your hand nice and warm.

• Use chemical hand warmers. They are relatively cheap and easy-to-find and can be placed inside your gloves, boots, hat, painting sock, etc. to keep warm. Activate the warmers before you feel like you need them, since they can take 15 minutes or so to heat up.

• Use linseed oil to keep your paints from becoming too stiff in the cold.

• Invest in a plein air umbrella to shield you, your canvas and your palette from sun and precipitation.

• Every few minutes, take a short break to jog around your easel to increase blood flow.

• Paint with an artist friend that keeps your spirits high. I usually plein air with Andrea, and she always does just that!

• Visit Starbucks® afterward to warm up and to reward yourself for sticking it out.

• The most important factor: God desires to help His children accomplish what He calls them to do. Don't forget that He is just a prayer away!


*These are all artists who paint stunning winter landscapes (among other subjects)… from life!

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