October 29, 2012

pestiferous perils of plein air painting

 If you are a plein air painter, you are all too familiar with the adverse challenges that accompany it.  In the south, I have encountered ticks, flies and mosquitos by the droves; as well as curious cattle, horses, goats, deer and snakes of all persuasions, not to mention the sudden and unwelcome thunderstorm. In the northern states there are elk, wolves and bears. Then there are... people. People who scare the daylights out of you with their car horns, or shout out goofy comments as they pass by. And that is just in the rural areas. In the cities, there are the panhandlers who are certain you prefer talking to painting...well, you get the picture. Let's just say the Constant Distractions and Interruptions require much stopping and starting (and fortitude) to complete a painting.

And just when you are certain you have heard and seen it all, along comes Italy...where the locals leisurely saunter by and offer to be your model.  uh yes, you read that correctly. Can't say that has ever happened in the states. Here is but a sampling of the adversities we bravely endured and I know what you are thinking... plein air painting is not for sissies, not for the faint of heart, and you are so right.

And I haven't even begun to touch on the challenges we endured with the food, 
all those lackluster views, 
and what about that atrocious weather?...

October 25, 2012

Ravello Laundry

(In the distance, you can see the scene that caught my eye)

As the scents of basil waft up from the gardens below,
busloads of tourists pass by us all day. 
Many request a photograph, 
or point to the painting
 and offer a "thumbs up" or a smile;
 Kindness requires no language, and knows no barriers.

The church bells chime throughout the day, 
reminding us to
 s t o p 
wherever we are, whatever we are doing,
and be mindful and ever grateful
 in this moment. 

"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life"
Anna Akhmatova

October 22, 2012

Italy 101

So, to arrive at the Amalfi coast, my most efficient route required that I travel from Kentucky to Nashville, Nashville to Atlanta, Atlanta to Paris, Paris to Naples, Naples to the coast (what day is it?) But somewhere along the way that double shot of expresso kicks in, and suddenly you wake up and smell the lemons! Yes, the roads do consist of many hairpin turns along the cliffs in and around the lemon groves and vineyards, but then take a look at what is just around the bend...

Your first impression is that the colors are so intense, they look...well; they look fake. Fake as in photoshopped. Over the top. Ridiculously, excessively, outrageously VIVID. And everywhere you go, you see paintings that scream high chroma, and appear far too garish, too bright, just too much because... can you guess? The artists painted the truth of what they felt and saw. So that is the challenge in painting in a location like this, because our eyes need a little neutral, a little grey, a little atmosphere to break up and balance out the brilliant and bright. Every detail just can't be the "star"... Who knew, right?

Meanwhile, let's cut to the chase and call it what it is here-- crazy beautiful. CB for short. Which begs the question-- do the people who live here, who see these surroundings every single day; do they even notice the CB after awhile? That would be a resounding yes. They see it. They grow it, drink it, live it, breathe it. You hear it in their laughter, and see it woven into their life's work. And they are exceedingly gracious and proud to share it with you. All CB all the time. And in the days to come, I in turn, will share it with you...

"Of life's two chief prizes,
I found the first in a loving heart
and the second in a laborer's hand." 
Khalil Gibran

October 18, 2012

l'arte del viaggio

"To know what to leave out and what to put in;
just where and just how, ah,
THAT is to have been educated in the knowledge of simplicity."
Frank Lloyd Wright

The art of travel depends on packing  l i g h t .  Just the basics. Sounds so easy, and yet, traveling with the right mix of art supplies feels anything but simple. For those interested, here is my 5-star list:

The lightest palette I have found is part of thJames Coulter easel system. The "mini" is perfect for travel because, when closed, it is the length and width of an average laptop and only a couple of inches deep, so bags designed for laptops offer perfect protection and cushion. Weighing in at only 2 lbs, you can keep it light by throwing in 9 x 12 pack of Grey Matters paper palette for mixing paint (instead of glass or plexi-glass).

The Slik tripod that holds the palette (also sold by James Coulter) weighs next to nothing and comes in its own carrying bag with handle, easily fits into an average carry-on when flying. (For more info: click here)

 Artists pigments, formerly known as paint -- A limited palette means less weight and could include a warm and cool each of red, yellow, blue, plus white and black. For example, lemon yellow, cad yellow med, cad red light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, prussian blue, titanium white and chromatic black. Here is but one of many ways to transport them when flying:

Wrap them in bubble wrap and they fit nicely in a lightweight sandwich container (I think it is made by Glad or Ziplock) that packs in checked luggage. I then slip that container into a ziplock bag and include the MSDS (material safety and data sheet) from the manufacturer's website as well as the numbers for TSA (866-289-9673) and the Hazardous Materials Research Center (800-467-4922) to avoid having them mistakenly confiscated by airport security as a hazardous material. Artist grade colors are not hazardous/ have a flash point at or above 450 degrees, but it is imperative that you never pack solvents as they are combustible/flammable (buy them when you get to your location).

 I have found that small camera bags and lens bags make excellent carriers for so many things like camera and phone rechargers, and look how perfectly this small Holbein brush washer fits in the lens bag below. The bag prevents the hinges from getting hung on something in your backpack and spilling your OMS onto everything. It works well for plein air painting close to home, or when you travel by car.
 And below is a smaller, lighter alternative for longer trips. It is the tiny The Guerilla Painter Mighty Might brush washer, only 2 inches high! Brilliant! Again when flying, this is to be packed empty and filled upon arrival. Same rule for solvents that enhance drying and viscosity.

 brushes - My current favorite brushes are made by Silver Bristlon. All sizes, but expecially 6-8-10-12. Also pack a palette knife or two (in checked luggage only) and pliers for stubborn lids.

 canvas - when flying, what could be better than linen on super lightweight multi-media board? You can choose the type of linen mounted on them and a dozen stack up to be only about an inch thick. (Wind River Arts sells them) I also have a large roll of claussens linen that I cut into custom sizes (like squares). When I am ready to paint, I will tape them to the back of a larger Raymar canvas board (or gatorboard, hardboard, even a clipboard will do). Once dry, they can be stacked between wax paper sheets, or rolled in a tube for return travel. I pre-cut them before I leave and assemble a dozen or so between foamboard with rubber bands to keep them flat (as you see in the photo below, along with the multi-media boards in the Panel Paks that come in every size).

In the lightweight wooden Panel Pak holder, two wet canvases face each other. (But, utilizing every single inch of space, you can use the small space between those dry canvases to initially pack a dozen or so pieces of cut linen.) Once you return home, the painted linen can be mounted to a sturdy surface, but that is for another post.

And inside my Slik tripod bag I stuff small ziplocks holding grocery-store trashbags that offer extra cushion. A dozen or so sheets of Viva can be rolled around the legs - also providing cushion,  and both are especially helpful upon arrival because you will be ready to paint, instead of out shopping for paper towels and trash bags. Maximizing even more packing space, you can see how I packed the 9x12 area inside the palette with six 6x8 multimedia board canvases, trash bags, hand wipes, and the handy EASyL wooden drying racks to be used in the hotel room to hold wet panels (sold by Artwork Essentials). All these are thin, so I can still fold the sides over and close the palette:

 And probably the best tip I can offer is that you find a backpack that fits YOU, with comfortable shoulder, sternum and waist straps. I have also discovered that you can buy an inexpensive anti-fatigue foam mat at the hardware store, cut it to the size of the palette (or your backpack length and width) and slip it into your bag between the palette and your back. It serves two purposes by offering extra cushion for the palette during travel; and a cushioned place to stand on concrete/cobblestone surfaces when painting. (When I repack it at the end of the day, I slip it into a kitchen-sized trash bag so it doesn't get the bag dirty or dusty). Below, in the photo of the open bag, you can see it (grey) packed between the wooden palette on the right and the dozen linen canvases in foamboard to its left. 

Another handy tip is to wrap duct tape (I use the kind that is easy to remove) around an expired plastic card so you don't have to take the whole roll. The tape can be used for a myriad of emergencies.
Still awake? Okay these are the basics. Throw a sketchbook, camera, hat, sunscreen, masking tape (for taping linen panels) and a bottle of water into the backpack, and you have a very portable system. Hopefully you will find some of these ideas helpful as you plan your next painting adventure.
  "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,
we must carry it with us or we find it not."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

October 14, 2012



5 years ago this month I began writing this blog.
 Over 5 hundred paintings later
I am thinking...
What better way to celebrate the number 5
 than to plan a painting trip to a country
that is known for its 5-star 
food, lodging, and scenery;
a country that eloquently celebrates the 5 senses
 in all-things-art;
and one that 
says it all
in only 5 letters?

~ I t a l y ~

And perhaps painting 5 cities along the coast
 could be 5 times the fun, if only (panic!) I knew what to pack.
How about 5 colors that mix to make all the rest?
Red, yellow, blue, black and white should do!
But the biggest question of all... how
How to efficiently, simply, concisely pack only the lightest-weight basics? 
Well that, my friends, is the art and science of travel.
Next post I will share the results of my ongoing research into this subject -
and offer 5 travel tips that you can use whether painting in your neighborhood or one far away,
~ high 5's all around!~

"Whenever you go somewhere
 that speaks to your soul, 
you are going home to yourself."
Martha Beck

October 10, 2012

colors and shapes

12 x 12, oil on canvas
 I am drawn to the collage of abstract shapes these buildings create, and find myself wondering why, since ancient times, people have been willing to risk life and limb to build their homes on rocky, treacherous cliffs. Was it the lure of the sea? (or Homer's sirens?)

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do
 than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines, 
sail away from the safe harbor. 
Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover." 
Mark Twain

October 6, 2012

patterns and light

12 x 12, oil on canvas
Shifting gears and subjects again...I was drawn to the puzzle pieces of this scene created by light and shadows.

"I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless,
 as it extends into the world around us, 
it goes an equal distance into the world within."
 Lillian Smith

October 1, 2012

the mane mark

16x20, oil on canvas

"We all get to make one unforgettable mark. 
And every day, with every word, we get to decide: 
Do we mar the world, or mark the world? 
Why in the world disdain the small?
 It's always the smallest strokes that add up to the greatest masterpieces...
That card you signed and sealed and put in the mail, 
the way you smiled and nodded to the white-crowned woman bent over the still-green bananas, 
the way you dug around in the dirt and left that seed
 or that gift of the knees and that prayer whispered for a stranger
 or that glass of water you handed to someone and winked because you just knew - 
-You've got to remember: 
we don't know when and how we are leaving the greatest marks on the world.
  It all matters."
Ann Voskamp

This painting will be part of the October 12th auction for "Bids, Boots, BBG -The Mane Event"with proceeds benefitting New Beginnings' Therapeutic Riding -- where the riding programs and their volunteers provide daily "marks" of encouragement, hope and sheer delight to many.
For more information click here.