Sunday, September 21, 2014

En Plein Air

just spent a spectacular sunny September weekend at Police Outpost Park, on the border of Alberta and Montana. On Saturday afternoon, I hiked to a viewpoint along the trail and painted on location. I had to carry my gear about a kilometre. I started out at 3:00, and was back at our campsite by 8:00 when the sun went down. So after subtracting the time taken for hiking, and setting up and taking down, I think I spent about 4 hours drawing and then painting. I completed a 14x18 en plein air painting.

This was my setup. I had remembered this handy little bench along the trail from previous hikes.

This was the scene that I painted. I was looking out over fields and an pond towards Chief Mountain. The autumn colours were brilliant. This photo does not represent the colours well as I was looking towards the sun. The mountain was just a hazy silhouette against the bright sky. The sun passed across the sky to the right and was setting over the mountains in the west by the time I finished the painting.

This photo shows the painting just after I had blocked in the main shapes and colour areas. I was painting on a birch panel with oils. I usually paint on stretched canvas or linen, and I found it hard to work on the panel. It seemed to suck up the moisture of the paint too much. When I began laying on the pale blue wash for the sky, the thinned paint went blotchy, so I ended up blocking in with much thicker paint than usual. Also, when I used unthinned paint, my brush became dry after a short stroke. So I struggled with the consistency or viscosity of the paint throughout this experience. 

I had prepared the panel with two coats of shellac, followed by a ground of white alkyd paint. I have been told that artists do not use shellac anymore as a base on panels - that it is an old-fashioned approach - but that is how I was taught to do it many years ago. I would like to hear advice from others on how you prepare panels for oil painting. No doubt, the wind and sun also contributed to the problems with paint consistency.

Anyways, I had great fun painting this scene. Most of the time I paint indoors. I had really been wanting to get out on location and paint. My excuse was that I couldn't find my old telescoping portable easel. I painted one panel outside last summer by setting up a table, and propping my panel against a box on the table. That didn't work well once the wind came up! I finally went a bought a new lightweight easel, and this was my first time using it. 

Here is the final painting. I took the photo with my phone, so the colours are not very accurate. 


  1. What a spot and beautiful work!!


  2. Thank-you Jeffrey. It truly is an amazing location. Looking at the painting after the fact, I can see that it is not as polished or finely rendered as something I would have produced in the studio - but what a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

  3. Thanks Alvin. The air was hazy with smoke from wild fires, which greyed the mountain in the distance, and I struggled to deal with the changing angle of light as the afternoon went along. Also, I brought only a small selection of paints with me, and ended up wishing that I had brought a more opaque blue. But, I sure had fun painting in that beautiful spot!