Preparing to Paint in the Field

Avoiding Plein Air Disasters

Preparation for a painting excursion in the field is essential to having a successful experience. The list of things to remember includes painting gear as well as personal items like clothing and water. Different seasons will dictate a different set of items for the latter. Probably the best thing to do, and something that has saved my bacon out in the field on more than one occasion, is a good check list that you can mark off before leaving the studio. Believe me, this information is coming to you via my own plein air disasters in the past. The old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” is so true here; the check list is the result of much mental anguish over leaving something important behind.

Let’s face it, we’re artists, not always the most organized folks. We get excited at the possibility of finding the perfect spot to paint and, due to the adrenalin rush and excitement of the moment, often leave something vital back in the studio. I can hear it now- “Come on, let’s get out there while the light is good. Stuff that backpack, hop in the 4 runner, head ‘em up, move ‘em out!” Sound familiar? Well, maybe I’m a little over the top, but you get the idea! Over the years, I have left everything from brushes, palette, white paint and even a canvas back in the studio in my zeal to get out and paint. It’s really bad too — you get all set up, the scene is great and duh, no palette knives!

I once had to paint on the back of the palette because my panels didn’t make their way into my back pack. It’s always a disaster when it happens to you, but an amusing situation when it happens to a painting buddy! One time I was painting up in a canyon with a friend, who has a thick European accent; we were hiking up a large hill with granite ledges. My buddy went on up ahead and set up near a rock face that took a while to reach. About ten minutes into my painting I heard, “Maestro Hughes, I hate to bother you, but I forgot my paint.” We both started cracking up! I shared with him the necessary paint and then we were back at it again until later, when he ran out of cobalt blue!

Might I suggest an easier route for those who would rather paint than develop plein air war stories. First of all, sit down for a brainstorming session with yourself and think of all the gear you will need, both painting and personal. You might even divide these into seasons for the personal items. The list should contain necessary items for painting and also items that are specific for your own situation, like medications or a particular hat you like or your favorite walking stick. A typical list could go something like this: white paint, colors, brushes, thinner, extra thinner bottle, panels, palette box, tripod shoes (when working in sand or snow), tissues or paper towels, back pack, hiking stick, bear mace, hat, jacket, poncho, first aid kit, flashlight (if I’m hiking in the mountains and might get stuck on the trail after dark), water bottle, water purifier, sun screen, bug dope, camera, sketch book, palette knives, medium, pencil, fly rod (that’s what I’m talkin’ about!), wind breaker, fleece, snacks, cash, snake bite kit, map, compass, GPS device, etc. You can see the list can get quite long.

After you have done all the brainstorming and gotten your list put into some sort of meaningful order then you can get on your word processor and lay down a grid that has everything listed on the left hand column and a series of boxes across the sheet that are set up into vertical rows which represent a particular date out in the field. From then on it’s just a matter of dating it at the top of the page and checking off each item you need on that particular day. Now that you are ready to venture out, soon I will cover how to choose a subject to paint. Until then, enjoy those trips into the field. Until next time, John

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