Posted by: janamatusz | February 17, 2014

Plein air in winter!

Really. Is it possible? Painting en plein air in extremely cold, even sub-zero weather? In ACRYLICS? Don’t the paints freeze? I headed up to Acadia again, for a couple weeks on the Schoodic Peninsula, to try it out. The answer is, YES. It is possible. And YES, the paints freeze!

It has been a hard winter. In Maine this February the temperatures were often in the single digits, with wind chills below zero F. It never got above 32 degrees while I was there.

painting gear on-site

painting gear on-site

When I tried my first painting, my washes froze immediately, (rather like the freezing rain on my windshield driving up). There were little flakes of frozen ice chipping off the board and in my brush, which was annoying. Worst of all, when I retreated to my car to warm up, propping my painting on the passenger side, I discovered as I warmed up that my painting had MELTED, running down the panel into a puddle on the floor mat. Well, I went back out, repainted and continued, but I’d learned some good lessons.

There are many good tips on the internet for painting in cold weather. Standing on a board or rug, to help keep your feet warm, for example. Or wearing a woolen mitten, which allows you to poke a brush end through to your hand, so you have brush control without exposing your fingers to the cold. For keeping oneself warm, layers are definitely the answer — four hats is not too many — and it is also a good idea to have a timer with you to remind you to take a break and stomp around a bit to warm up. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re immersed in a painting!

To these I can add two more tips for acrylic painters: first, I took a thermos of hot water for my water cup and replaced the water often. This helped keep my brush soft and flexible, and even helped warm up the paint I was working with. (It turns out that since the paints freeze, I could work with the paint from previous layers. So it felt a bit like oil painting!) Second, I kept a Snuggle-Safe microwave pet disk http://www.amazon.com/Snuggle-Safe-Pet-Microwave-Heating/dp/B00008AJH9 at the bottom of my painting bag, which kept one palette warm while I worked with the other. When the paint I was working with got too cold and tacky, I switched off and used the other palette.

I also made sure to keep my paintings perfectly horizontal when they were done now that I knew they would thaw first, then dry!!   🙂

I found that I worked with the paint more thickly in the cold, and that my painting could have some interesting textures from the freezing and thawing.

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So is it worth it to brave the cold and work en plein air in the winter? I think so. I truly believe there is nothing like the freshness and authenticity of working directly from nature, from direct observation. This is true in winter too. The unique light and colors of winter are worth the discomfort. (Yes, I can and do paint in the car too, but views are limited to places where one can park.)

plein air in snow

plein air in snow

I managed to do a number of paintings, and of course, some figure drawing in Bar Harbor.

paintings from Schoodic

paintings from Schoodic

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Part of the immense joy of being in Maine in winter was seeing a place I knew well in another season, other attire. It was blissfully peaceful and quiet. In the snow were tracks of all kinds, the hard evidence of unseen but ever-present life. And the winter light and colors, when the sun was strong, were wonderful. Yes, it could go all colorless in a moment if the clouds turned everything grey and milky. But those intense blue shadows on snow were worth the trip.

Here are some photos from my wintery residence:

frozen cove

fleeting colors

ice

ice

schoodic path in snow

schoodic path in snow

schoodic blue sky

schoodic blue sky

icicles

icicles

setting sun in grey sky

setting sun in grey sky

icy waters

icy waters

shadow bands

shadow bands

view of cadillac

view of cadillac

I love it here.

I love it here.

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