Thursday, February 8, 2007

Winter Painting

Winter painting presents sometimes insurmountable challenges. As you might expect, cold is Number One. Hunting and camping stores sell items that make being outdoors in winter more bearable. I bought a pair of "glomits," those mittens with the ends that hinge back to expose your fingers so you can manipulate small devices such as shotgun triggers and paintbrushes. Although mine have little magnets to keep the ends from flopping around, I inevitably smear them through both palette and canvas. And my fingers still get cold.

Winter gear is an aspect of outdoor painting that deserves thought and consideration to ensure a pleasant experience. Just like my warm weather painting gear, I refine my winter gear constantly. I'm confident I'll get more comfortable, and soon I'll be out there with the die-hards. Maybe you've seen the pictures of Emile Gruppé painting on a snowy Vermont road in the January deep-freeze, his easel loaded with a canvas bigger than I'd ever attempt, even in summertime. He was the epitome of the painting outdoorsman.

I have the perfect solution to painting in winter, one that does not ask the plein air painter to humble himself and paint from photographs. It's painting with a window view. I'm lucky that my island home has good views of interesting scenes: Friar's Bay with a view toward Eastport, Maine; the big field below the house, full of brambles naked of leaves but so colorful in the winter; and the groves of old sugar maples and birches that edge our yard. I can find something to paint from any window.

Painting in the warmth of the living room may sound like cheating. I'm safe from the windchill, which is below zero at the moment. I can even drink hot chocolate as I paint. But cheating or not, what I put down on canvas is exactly what I'd put down if I were outside and struggling to keep my "glomits" out of the paint. I'm seeing the same light, the same color, the same values.

Of course, there's something to be said for actually painting outside in the winter. When you do come indoors, that cup of hot chocolate never tasted better!

The above painting, "Birches & Shadows" (5x7, oil on panel), was painted from the inside looking out. I still think of it as a plein air piece. (As always, you can click on the small image to get a bigger version.)

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