I paint with the PAPC, an informal group of artists who paint at different locations each Saturday morning. Spring Valley Nature Center in Schaumburg, Il (of enormous Woodfield Mall fame) was our stomping grounds for the morning. A surprising, natural gem of a place in the middle of suburban office complexes and huge retail.
The temp was 6 degrees when I left my Chicago home… a bit colder than forecasted. Needless to say, I grumbled on my way out the door. We’ve had a lot of snow this winter and I needed some experience painting snowscapes. I just got a new Anderson field easel and was excited to try it out. I was using an easel of my own creation – being an old music stand for the watercolor block, and an old TV table to hold palette and water. No one is sayin’ it’s sexy, but it did a good job. It was just a huge load to transport.
OK, back to the painting… Plain ol’ water just frozen up! Whenever I’d lay a wash down on the paper, it would crystallize in about 5 seconds. It was frustrating. At times when I’d wait for a wash to “dry”, I went for a walk to wait for the layer to “freeze” so I could put on the next layer. Kinda fun considering, I got a chance to do more hiking in the neat winter weather with nature and wildlife all around. Remember, I’m a born and bred city chick. Street lights and concrete are considered nature around here.
I finished one painting and went to lunch. My friend, Stuart, convinced me to return for another round. Here was my chance to paint near dusk – which I had been wanting to do for awhile. Also, there’s safety in numbers. I found a nice spot with a wonderful scene of a barn, lofty snow hills and beautiful low sun casting crazy-long shadows and warm light. It was gorgeous. I would have been happy just sitting sipping a hot chocolate. But hey, I’m a plein air artist, I have to document the creative process, not just sit there and admire nature. Off your duff Beck.
My second painting was even a bigger frozen disaster than the first. The temperature must have been dropping. My paint was turning to slush right there in the mixing palatte. I applied it to paper thinking the motion would warm it up. It just created ice shapes. There was no controlling what I put on paper. Sigh. My brushes became very stiff and frozen. When I rinsed them they became pliable for a few more seconds. But just to manipulate the
So where the heck was Stuart in all of this (the shiester who talked me into this adventure)? Was he or his paints literally freezing? He, as an oil painter, was like a kid in a candy shop and cranked out like 3 paintings that afternoon. Oil paints don’t freeze as easily as watercolors. After I packed it in, I found him in the middle of a field – madly painting away. He had to laugh out loud watching me walk the ¼ mile across the meadow in knee-deep snow. I kinda liked struggling along tho. Woman vs. the elements! When I finally reached him, he was painting one of the animal barns. It looked almost church-like in the glowing, setting sun. It was an inspiration to watch him work and also very educational.
Two big snaps to my twin sister, Sally, for sending me her super-insulated (and 2 sizes too big) Sorel Ice Fishing boots. My feet weren’t cold all day. That was a first! Too bad my painting couldn’t follow suit with my comfortable body temperature.
My paintings defrosted in the car ride home. Some of the crystal funky textures remained -- that’s the romantic version of this adventure. The truth is that my paintings were a drippy mess (more so than usual, all you haters).
I’m not giving up watercolor painting outside in the winter It can work and it can be awesome. There is something cool (pun intended) to glean from this experience. A texture one can only achieve when painting in cold weather – outside perhaps. Or maybe, just a neat story. Stay tuned everyone – success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Yeah, whatever. I think Stuart’s comment sums it up best: “When are you gonna switch to oils…” (he kindly left out “dumbass” sidebar: he would never say the last bit).