Want to Loosen Up? Go Winter Plein Air Paint!

17 Feb 2014

On a sunny winter day it's so hard sometimes to overcome the temptation to go outdoors with a sketchbook! Snow and sun make a special light and colors you never see in any other season. So why not to go out for a winter plein air painting session? Well, there are at least two main reasons that may stop you from doing this: 1) paint may get frozen (I'm talking about watercolors here), and 2) you may get frozen yourself, assuming you stay still for a certain period of time while painting.

Recently I was visiting Serre Chevalier (France) for skiing. The mountain landscape around me was so gorgeous that I could not help going outdoors to sketch. The weather was brilliant; the air temperature was about -2 Celsius (that's about 28 degrees Fahrenheit), and I decided to try watercolors. I was sure if I worked fast the paint would not have time to freeze, and hopefully I wouldn't either (which is even more important!).

The first sketch I made standing on a bridge. People in rare cars passing by were probably curious about this kind of activity.

Winter watercolor plein air painting

I asked my wife to take a picture of me sketching, so you can better imagine how all this plein air action was going on:

Plein air painting in winter

For my second watercolor painting sketch I found a quieter place to work:

winter plein air watercolor painting
Winter watercolor painting en plein air

Below is a photo of my sketching tools. I believe all the items will look familiar to you, though I would like to mention something about the water container that I use. You can see it in the left top corner of the photo. It consists of two small bowls. Every bowl has a narrow neck that prevents water from spilling out when you move while painting. The bowls are located on a metal clip that allows you to attach the water container to your sketchbook. Another clip is used to attach a small palette, so the whole construction is a single unit that you can easily hold in one hand, while keeping your brush in the other hand. It's so easy to work with!

Winter plein air painting tool set

I managed to make two sketches before both me and water got frozen. Success!

And here is the main lesson I learned from my winter plein air painting experience: as you realize the risk of being frozen you simply must work fast! The sketches shown above took less than 15 minutes each to complete. I am aware of my inclination towards details, which can result in overworked watercolors that lack freshness and transparency. Believe me, painting in the cold winter air is the best remedy of this inclination.

So, want to loosen up your painting style? Go for a winter plein air painting excursion!

Just remember:

Paint fast before your paints freeze.
Paint fast otherwise you get frozen yourself.
Keep your tool set as simple as possible, so as not to get lost using multiple items.

 


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Comments

pkcrios wrote
on 22 Feb 2014 9:37 PM

Marvelous advice! I haven't mustered up the courage to go out in winter and I have absolutely nothing to inspire me indoors right now. There have bee some beautiful snows here this year and I did get some photos. Perhaps they will keep me cool looking at them when we reach 98* with 98% humidity in Missouri this august.

on 2 Mar 2014 1:51 PM

I tried it once in minus 10 Celsius weather--it was sunny and not windy and I went out in my ski outfit. I also took my water in a thermos with warm tap water and used a 9x12in sketchbook. The water froze and made some interesting patterns, but once inside, it melted and I let if air dry. The washes got a little slushy but once inside, again, it melted and I let it air dry and it created some interesting textures. I read on the internet that some artists put vodka or other alchohol into their water mixture, but I only tried it 2x and while it did keep it fluid longer, you can't do more than one wash or pass on the paper, because it will melt the previous layer you paint into one.

I think your experiment was smart, work small and fast--so I might try it with a smaller sketchbook instead--but mostly I just sketch in pencil in these kinds of weather conditions and take photos as reference.  I get too cold, so it isn't fun after the novelty wears off.

on 2 Mar 2014 1:51 PM

I tried it once in minus 10 Celsius weather--it was sunny and not windy and I went out in my ski outfit. I also took my water in a thermos with warm tap water and used a 9x12in sketchbook. The water froze and made some interesting patterns, but once inside, it melted and I let if air dry. The washes got a little slushy but once inside, again, it melted and I let it air dry and it created some interesting textures. I read on the internet that some artists put vodka or other alchohol into their water mixture, but I only tried it 2x and while it did keep it fluid longer, you can't do more than one wash or pass on the paper, because it will melt the previous layer you paint into one.

I think your experiment was smart, work small and fast--so I might try it with a smaller sketchbook instead--but mostly I just sketch in pencil in these kinds of weather conditions and take photos as reference.  I get too cold, so it isn't fun after the novelty wears off.