I love being outdoors, and after the rain we’ve had this winter, the hills are calling to me. However, the last plein air workshop I took made me realize that my full sized French easel was way too heavy for me unless I stayed very close to my car. I’d been wanting to take another workshop soon, but needed to be able to get on location without the help of a prairie schooner and a team of oxen. So, after doing a good bit of research (i.e., checking out other artists’ blogs), I ordered an Open Box M, pochade box.
I fitted it with a Duralar liner to protect the wooden paint mixing surface while adding very little weight. Then I went through a trial run, setting up the new easel in my studio. I found the lightest tripod we own and fitted it with a cloth sling to hold gear and help keep the whole outfit from toppling over with the first good breeze.
A couple of weeks ago I packed up my gear, lunch and dog and drove over to Jack London State Historic Park to try out my new easel. Although I had tried to limit my gear, I still ended up hauling too much stuff. My day pack held my easel, paints, brushes, solvent, sunscreen and paper towels. I slung my Raymar panel carrier over my shoulder where it refused to stay, as the backpack strap prevented the carrier’s strap from resting squarely on top of my shoulder. I also carried my lunch, including a sandwich, yogurt and apple in an insulated lunch bag with one of those little ice inserts that won’t get your food all soggy when the ice melts. At least I left the folding chair in the car!
While being watchful to keep the dog out of the poison oak and managing my assorted parcels, I took a nice walk out to the ruins of Jack London’s Wolf House. I had passed a nice spot along the way and after eating my lunch near the Wolf House, I backtracked to the promising spot and got to work, completing a 5″ x 7″ oil painting on location.
The day after my trip to Jack London Park I went through my painting gear, getting fairly serious about lightening my load. I had packed carefully to start with, but found a couple of ways to reduce and lighten my gear.
Yesterday my friend, Carol, and I went out to Moore Creek Park, near Lake Hennessey, just east of Rutherford. We were surprised to find that we had to wade across a stream near the trail head, but managed it without getting soaked. We just pulled off our socks and shoes, rolled up our pants legs and waded across. Easy as can be, except that neither one of us is accustomed to walking barefoot on sharp, slippery rocks. Surprisingly painful, considering that every kid in the world would have been barefoot in that water and having a blast. I doubt that the weight on our backs helped with the discomfort, and definitely not with the balance.
Once we had dried our feet and put our shoes back on, we made good time and covered a couple of miles of trail at a good pace. For some reason, we thought that the Shoreline Trail would take us closer to the actual shoreline of the lake than it ever did, but we were still happy that we had located the trailhead and braved crossing the stream. The trail wound through oak woodlands that opened up to grassy meadows strewn with wildflowers. Yep, Julie Andrews would have been spinning in circles and singing her head off out there.
One thing about painting outdoors is that you do just have to decide at some point to set up your gear and get started painting. The potential view from the next bend in the trail always lures you forward, but sooner or later you’ve got to do what you came there to do before it’s time to start the hike back.
Carol quickly and quietly spread out a waterproof cloth, pulled out her watercolors, sketchbooks and watercolor paper block and got down to work. I looked around for a couple of minutes before settling on my subject, getting the dog situated and setting up my easel. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to be outdoors.
This time I had forgone the lunch bag, ice insert and yogurt in favor of a peanut butter sandwich and some trail mix, which fit into my backpack. I had managed to put the Raymar panel carrier into the rear compartment of my pack along with the Open Box M and could still, just barely, get the zipper closed. A partial roll of painter’s tape had been replaced by a much smaller bit of tape, which was plenty. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. My next plot to lighten my load is to use tin snips to cut off the empty ends of paint tubes, which I’ll re-crimp, leaving the useless weight behind.
I still seem to be wildly optimistic about how many pieces I’ll be able to complete in a single outing. It would be a shame to get all the way out there without enough panels to paint on, yet I’m finding that getting one painting (even at this size) done or nearly done on location is plenty when I’m hiking more than a mile or two each way. I would love to hear how others plan and execute outdoor painting trips, especially with canine company!