A quick guide to enjoyable outdoor painting
With proper preparation your first outdoor painting session will be an enjoyable experience. The following is how I approach my outdoor painting. I hope it will be useful to you should you want to give it a try. I will use acrylic media in my example, but the same ideas work for other media.
MindsetYou’re bringing too much stuff, your canvas is too big and do you really need all those brushes? Claude Monet worked on his outdoor paintings an hour a day for a month. You’re not Monet and you’re not going to be doing that. You’ll be lucky to do two small paintings in a three hour session.
EaselStore bought outdoor painting easels are a real pain. They’re cheap, flimsy and poorly constructed. Mine is always in need of serious repair. Instead, find a garden bench, sit down and lay a small board across your lap.
CanvasWithout looking, I can see your selected canvas is way too big. Scale back to something 5” x 7” or 8” x 6”. You can go to something larger later if you find that you enjoy painting outdoors, but for now it’s important to work quickly. If you only have a larger canvas or pad, divide it into sections and make several smaller paintings on it.
It’s a good idea to put a base layer on your canvas at home ahead of time. Waiting for your base layer to dry while on site takes too long. Siena is a pretty good choice for most landscape painters, but most any color will work. The base layer should be textured and sloppy; otherwise it defeats its purpose of providing filler and visual interest.
BrushesThree brushes should do just fine. And they need to be big. Small brushes will get you too caught up in detail and you’ll never finish. You’ll need a fan brush, a flat chisel brush and a soft round brush. You can sneak a detail brush into your kit, but only if you promise not to use it until the last 15 minutes of a painting. The detail brush is the single biggest cause of frustration and unfinished paintings.
PaintsI only use 5 colors; primary red, primary yellow, dark blue, white & black. You’ll be able to create any color you need from these. The inability to consistently mix the same color is a plus as it will give nice variations in effect across your canvas.
I price my paintings at $25.
Most artists I know have a secret second passion besides art – (shhhhhh!) collecting Art Supplies! For me, it manifests when new brands of colored pencils are released, or when a fellow CO artist recommends a brand of paper I haven’t tried. (An artist I admire does most of her work on Fabriano Artistico White Hot-Pressed 300 lb Watercolor Paper. I bought 5 full sheets of it. Have you looked at how expensive it is?) (I’ve used it a couple of times and it’s really great for colored pencil.) Or when a particularly attractive sale wafts past.
Because I buy most of my supplies on-line, my email box is bombarded with ads for Big Deals! Clearance! Back-To-School Bargains! Of course, I always read them – I mean, art supplies! I’ve been pretty good at resisting. For the time being. I am planning a field trip to Daniel Smith when the virus eases up.
But I’ve got a ton of supplies already and am struggling to organize them. Let’s start with Paper.
Mostly I get paper in pads, but none of them are the same size. I’ve got pads as small as 6X8 and as large as full sheets of watercolor paper! The perfect solution would be shelves that would accommodate the largest but allow storage of smaller pads of paper. It would be nice to organize them by Brand: Stonehenge, Pastelmat, Bristol, Newsprint, Drafting Film. Or by color: Black Stonehenge/Bristol, Mi-Tientes colored paper for Pastels, Toned paper for drawing. I could also organize it by Purpose – what the surface was designed to support: pastels, Ink, watercolors, colored pencils, graphite pencil, charcoal or Conte crayon.
You begin to see the problem.
Moving on to pencils. There are a lot of companies manufacturing colored pencils now. After the big craze of Adult Coloring books (don’t knock them until you’ve tried them – very therapeutic, coloring) companies upped their production and the versions of pencils. There are basically three ‘grades’ of pencils. First are the kind you buy for kids in grade school. These include Crayola pencils and Jolly-Good Xtra Big pencils specifically designed for smaller hands. Not much pigment, hard leads, not sure why kids would like them. Oh, well. Then come Student-Grade pencils. Most manufacturers make some version of these. More pigment, better color saturation. They are much less expensive than the third category of pencils – Artist Grade. I counted 45 different choices at Dick Blick’s web site last time I visited it.
I have at least 10 of those different Artist Grade Pencil sets. They come boxed in lovely flat boxes (usually metal, sometimes cardboard) The number of pencils ranges from 150 to 10. Of course, none of the containers are the same size – that would make storing them too easy. And don’t forget the pencils you can buy one at a time from open stock. Don’t get me started. No handy dandy containers there – oh no. What to do? I’ve tried several solutions – none of them quite works as well as I’d like them to. Empty jars, empty soup cans (washed out!), zippered pencil pouches, expandable notebook-like things designed to hold pencils or brushes, wooden drawers that hold up to 25 pencils in each drawer. These stack neatly. But I have close to 800 pencils. I’d have stackable drawers everywhere!
Of course, there are all those accessories you need. The tabletop easel. The three dozen different erasers (including an electric one I haven’t located in months). Bottles of ink; pens for that ink; fine tip markers; wide tip markers; blending tools; embossing tools; scraping tools – I’ve got way too much stuff! And I use it all! Rolls of artists tape. Drawing boards (I prefer Gatorboard brand). Mat board – cut and uncut. AARRGGHHH!
If I had unlimited funds, I’d get a stack of drawers/shelves for my various papers. I’d have shelves fitted with spaces for plastic holders and put all my dark greens of one brand in one holder, Cerulean blues in another – I’d have a set for each manufacturer’s pencils, plus a separate one for my watercolor pencils (3 sets of these). I’d have little drawers for various erasers and pens. There’d be attractive spots for my pencil sharpeners – hand-held, battery operated, plug in, crank types. Oh it would be wonderful.
If I had money. And space. You see, a proper artist should have (or so I’ve been told, and I very much am a Proper Artist) a Studio! I have a portable Kitchen Island from Crate and Barrel that I inherited when I bought my house and my Kitchen Table. Sigh. ‘Tis a puzzlement.
Regardless of your medium, you should be organized. I keep telling myself that. And portable, if possible. Watercolorists have brushes, paper, tubes of paint, palettes, containers for water. Oil and Acryllic painters have the same, plus solvents for washing/cleaning bushes, rags to wipe brushes, canvasses or canvass board, cradled boards, slabs of wood, pencils and chalk for sketching on the canvas, gesso or something like it for prepping the canvas, fixatives – and on and on and on. Aprons and easels and paints! Oh, My!
Next time I’ll tell you my current solution for organized storage of my (last count) 8,964, 211 ARTicles of supplies currently occupying – or possibly overtaking – my house. Now, back to sorting pencils.
Is it Van Goh or Van Goff? Or, possibly, Van Goch, where the ‘ch’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in loch – a kind of guttural, Scottish sound. According to Grammarphobia, this last one is the closest to the Dutch pronunciation. However you say his name, Vincent Van Gogh was one of a kind.
Once, when I was in New York City on business and had a few free hours, I walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I wanted to see the Exhibit on 15th, 16th, and 17th century armor. I figured I could manage that in a couple of hours. I never made it to see the armor; instead, I bought a ticket to see a special exhibit of Van Gogh paintings from the final months of his life, the months he spent in a hospital in Arles, France in addition to those final months he spent at the Yellow House in Auvers. It was an amazing exhibition and very vivid in my mind all the years later. Especially interesting were the self-portraits. The colors, sometimes strange, vivid, and the poses almost identical. There were maybe 100 of his 800 or 900 paintings in the
museum, all of them exceptional. To think that this self-taught artist completed that many paintings, not to mention drawings, watercolors, and even an etching, in such a short time – less than 10 years – is stunning. I spent my entire free time that afternoon looking at Van Gogh.
Today, I found a film – Loving Vincent – online and watched it. As the promotion materials says, “On 27th July 1890 a gaunt figure stumbled down a drowsy high street at twilight in the small French country town of Auvers. The man was carrying nothing; his hands clasped to a fresh bullet wound leaking blood from his belly. This was Vincent van Gogh, then a little-known artist, now the most famous artist in the world. His tragic death has long been known; what has remained a mystery is how and why he came to be shot. Loving Vincent tells that story.”
The story centers on Armand Roulin, the son of the Post Master of Arles. His father asks him who to deliver to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, a letter Vincent wrote the week before he died. Grudgingly, the son agrees to deliver the letter. He finds, however, that Theo Van Gogh died soon after Vincent did, so there is no brother to deliver the letter to. During his travels to find Theo and deliver the letter, the Post Master’s son talks to people who knew Van Gogh and finds a mystery surrounding Van Gogh’s assumed suicide. The story line is intriguing.
The film production is nothing short of extraordinary. One hundred artists painted 65,000 frames of the film on Canvas, with oil paint in Van Gogh’s style. The result is a one of a kind, painted, animated film about Vincent Van Gogh. One of a kind, just like the artist. This film shows how the film-makers re-imagined the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh into the medium of film, using the very technology – oil painting – that Vincent used himself. You can find a lot more detail, plus paintings of the cast, at lovingvincent.com. The blogs are very interesting.
This feature-length painted animation - the first film of its kind - is an artistic experience in itself and I recommend you see it. It’s available for streaming on Kanopy, Hoopla, and Hulu. It’s also available for rent on Amazon.
After my first blog post about How to Jumpstart Creativity in the Now Times, I have a partial answer: friends, other artists, a calendar. I am an Artist. Before I retired, I was an Executive and my life ran by my calendar and my cell phone. It worked rather well, keeping me employed until I decided I didn’t want to be any more.
Being retired gave me a lot of free time and I used it to kick start my art which I had put aside when I moved to the National Capital Region, e.g. Washington, D. C. Getting back to the Pacific Northwest and the fresh air and water all around was one of the better decisions I’ve made. Getting back into Art was another outstanding decision.
Being under House Arrest/Isolation/ has also given me time since none of the groups I see are meeting and the friends I have coffee with are also housebound. I’ve been slacking off, art-wise. My calendar has cleared. So, I figured if scheduling meetings and interviews and meetings and lunches and meetings (there were a LOT of meetings) kept me on track in my office maybe the same thing could work for my Art. And, guess what? It does!
I belong to a couple of Art groups, including Artists United, so there are those meetings – coming to a computer screen near me via Zoom - to put on the calendar. Check. Then there are board meetings for those art groups as well (You guessed it. Computer meeting via Zoom). Check. Then I have invested a few meager coins in some on-line classes and these go on the calendar. Check. I support a couple of outstanding artists on Patreon and they do on-line and sometimes live presentations and tutorials so, again calendar. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
One of the first things I did was review my folder of “To Be Completed” projects. There are several. Most of us have a variety of UFOs* around the studio. I’ve decided to put those in order and actually finish them! Astounding, I know. But necessary. I have a thing about buying art supplies and I refuse to buy more with unfinished things sitting around yelling at me to finish them. And I’m running out of a particular kind of paper I especially like. So, in order to pry the coin purse from my tight fists, I need to finish these projects.
And, hence, the calendar. I enter a start date an approximate completion date. I make sure I have the supplies I need – since these projects are already ‘begun’, I do have the supplies. Then it’s a simple matter of opening up the calendar and setting to work. Tomorrow. I’m going to begin to finish one tomorrow. I can do this.
After all, I am an Artist.
*Un-Finished Objects d’art
Art is generally an alone pursuit. Artists work alone, take photographs alone (for inspiration or as art themselves), work in a studio alone. Basically, artists are more or less loners.
The reason artists join groups like Artists United Club is so they can be around other people who understand this ‘alone -ness’. Others who share their media, their joy when a drawing or a painting turns out. Others who know the crush of working on deadline when a commis- sion piece is looming. Others who know the agony of having no good ideas or of having too many good ideas. Others who struggle to sell their art in an age
of very short attention spans and instant
In the Before Times, we did gather with others to exchange ideas, reviews of new tools, to share works in progress, to talk about, well, art. In the Before Times, we would congregate, socialize and then go back to our alone spaces.
In the After Times, we can’t do that. We are self-isolating, self-quarantining, staying at home. For a while this might have been met with a shrug and a “I’m an artist. I work alone.” But the novelty of having all this time on your hands, no commitments to attend meetings or to ready pieces for a show, wears off. We substitute Zoom or FaceTime or Skype or other ways to connect while main- taining distance. And these are good things. They let you see your fellow
artists and meet and discuss and present and share. They also lead to what one fellow artist labeled “Zoom Fatigue”, especially if you have several Zoom meetings in a week. Another artist con- fided that she was having a difficult time working up the energy to do any art at all.
We all wish we still lived in the Before Times, but we don’t. So, other than working in your studio alone and joining in On-line meetings, what kinds of activi- ties have you employed to keep your artist spirits up? If you share your quar- antine space with other family members (especially those who are normally gone during the day), how do you create in that environment? Or maybe you aren’t having an attack of the blahs and are delighted to have few responsibilities except your art. Any advice for us dealing with the blahs? Have you tried out new things? New media? A new style? Become the next Kandinsky, perhaps? Or turned to self-portraiture? Let us know how you’re creating in the After Times. Send your comments, ideas and experiences to our Newsletter and Howler Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. He may well want to post them in the next newsletter.