Monday Morning Art School: it’s plein air season

How can you get the most from a workshop or class? Here are some simple suggestions.

Early Spring, Beech Hill, 12X16, oil on canvas board, $1449 framed.

I’ve been to enough beauty spots in this world that few really astonish me, but the red rocks of Sedona managed it. Brilliant cliffs and spires of sculpted sandstone soar directly above the town. After seeing a dozen or so sites, I turned to my monitor, Ed Buonvecchio, and said, “It’s all wonderful.”

I’m here to teach the first workshop of my season, and it feels great to be out of the cool damp of the northeast, although the temperature there is steadily rising. I’ll be going home to spring painting and it’s time to get prepared.

Lupines and woods, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, $522 unframed.

How can you get the most from a workshop or class? Here are some simple suggestions:

Study the supply list.

Note that I didn’t say, “run right out and buy everything on it.” Every teacher has a reason for asking for specific materials. In my case, it’s that I teach a system of paired primaries. You can’t understand color theory without the right starting pigments. Another teacher might have beautiful mark-making. If you don’t buy the brushes he suggests, how are you going to understand his technique?

A tube of cadmium green that I once bought for a workshop and never opened still rankles. I never want to do that to one of my students. When you study with me, I want you to read my supply lists. If something confuses you, or you think you already have a similar item, email and ask.

Spring Greens, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, is available through the Rye Arts Center.

Bring the right clothes.

I’d forgotten that I didn’t have enough warm-weather painting clothes to take to Arizona; I retired most at the end of last year. It was warm in Phoenix but just 50° in Sedona yesterday. That means a variety of clothing, because you’ll be chilled in the evenings but might need shorts and a tee-shirt during the day. Layer, baby, layer.

I send my students a packing list for clothes and personal belongings. If you’re going on the Age of Sail, Shary will send you a different list, meant for a boat. Follow these instructions, especially in the matter of insect repellent and sunscreen. Bugs and skin cancer are, unfortunately, eternal verities.

End of winter, Wyoming, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, $522 unframed. It will be much warmer when I teach there in September.

Know what you’re getting into.

“How can you stand this? It’s all so green!” an urban painter once said to me after a week in the Adirondacks.

There are amenities in Sedona, but not in other places I teach. If you’re dependent on your latte macchiato, you may find the wilderness uncomfortable at first. There are compensatory attractions. Last night I listened to a duet sung by a coyote and a domestic dog. It was magical.

Be prepared to get down and dirty.

I’m not talking about the outdoors here, I’m talking about change and growth. I am highly competitive myself, so it’s difficult for me to feel like I’m struggling. However, it’s in challenging ourselves that we make progress. Use your teacher’s method while you’re at the workshop, even if you feel like you’ve stepped back ten years in your development. That’s a temporary problem.

You can disregard what you learn when you go home, or incorporate only small pieces into your technique, but you traveled to be challenged, and you can’t do that if you cling to what you know.

Connect with your classmates

I know painters from all over the US. I met most of them in plein air events. There’s power in those relationships. Exchange email addresses. Keep in contact. Follow them on Instagram or Twitter.
Take good notes.

Listen for new ideas, write down concepts, and above all, ask questions. If your teacher can’t stop and answer them mid-stream, save them for after the demo.

Monday Morning Art School: packing for overseas trips

Leave home the flammable chemicals, make sure your passport is current, and you should be fine.
I like Panel-Pak carriers but usually run short of slots on a long trip.
Most problems with painting in other countries are due to flight regulations, not your destination. I haven’t had a problem flying with my paints since the early days after 9/11, but they are in a clearly-labeled clear-plastic bag.
Do not bring large tubes of oil paints in your carry-on luggage; they exceed the 3 oz. rule. It is not necessary to empty your pochade box if it still has useful paint on it; paint is no more volatile on the palette than it is in a tube.
According to the FAA, nonflammable paints are those with a flashpoint above 140° F (60° C). Linseed oil has a flashpoint above 550°F. This information is found on the product’s material safety data sheet (MSDS). The flash point is in section 9 of the MSDS. Section 14 indicates if the product is regulated for transportation. Here is a PDF for Gamblin Oil Colors’ general artist oil colors sheet.
My paints are in a clear plastic bag with a label written by Lori Putnam, which I print from the Gamblin website.
Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F, which makes it theoretically transportable by plane, but I’ve never done it. The FAA itself says “paint thinners, turpentine, and brush cleaners are flammable liquids and may not be carried in carry-on or checked baggage.” Odorless mineral spirits (called ‘white spirits’ in some countries) are cheap and easy to buy in any art store. One quart lasts me two weeks.
Don’t plan on bringing medium, either. Most of them have naphtha added as a drying agent. This is a volatile petroleum solvent, more powerful than mineral spirits, and it has a low flash point. It appears across a wide range of pre-mixed mediums including alkyl gels (such as Galkyd) and the Grumbacher mediums that I prefer.
Don’t forget the rain gear, especially in Scotland.
Your choices are to buy a small bottle at your destination, paint without medium, or use a traditional drying oil like linseed oil. If you choose to do the latter, remember that it will dry more slowly. Plan accordingly to carry your wet canvases home.
I use PanelPak wet canvas carriers, but there are times (like this morning) when I have more wet canvases than slots. If paintings are almost dry and have little impasto, interleaving them with wax paper will get them home safely. If you have a mess of wet canvases, you may need to improvise. Your goal is to create a space between the canvas boards. The easiest way is to cut cardboard or plastic spacers. Once the strips and the boards are in a stable pile, I tape or tie the whole mess together. Carry the gooiest ones, or the ones you like best, in your carrier.
Interleaved wax paper can stop almost-dry paintings from sticking to each other.
Americans already live in the world’s largest art market, so traveling to other countries to work doesn’t make a lot of sense. Still, it sometimes happens. You may need a work visa. This is a laborious process. Ask the organizer of your event for documentation.
Our State Department maintains a list of travel advisories for foreign destinations. These include additional-vaccination suggestions. Some foreign destinations require visas. Others require that you have at least six months left on a passport. You should check with your health insurance provider about whether you’re covered abroad, and with your auto insurance provider about whether your policy covers an international rental car.
But for gooey paintings, you’re going to need to improvise some kind of spacer strip.
You will need power adapters for most foreign destinations. I find a USB power bank very useful for long plane trips. And I just smile and pay the $10 a day fee to use my cell phone overseas; without that, you wouldn’t be reading this blog this morning.
Here is my personal packing list, and here are supply lists for oils, watercolor, and acrylicsupplies. I print the relevant ones every time I pack and use them as a checklist.

A few questions (and answers) about plein air painting in Maine

Yes, there are bathrooms. We like to call them ‘heads’ on a boat
Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas

If you’ve been thinking about taking my Sea & Skyor Age of Sailworkshops, this is a reminder that you have only two weeks left to get an early-bird discount. That’s $50 off the price of the boat trip or $100 off the Acadia workshop.

The Age of Sail is June 10-14, 2018 on the historic schooner American Eagle out of Rockland, ME. Sea & Sky is August 5-10 at Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park. Here are some questions I’ve been asked recently:

Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas

What do you do if it rains?

While the rain in Maine falls mainly on the plain, it does sometimes rain over Penobscot Bay and the ocean. American Eagle has a canopy over the main deck for when the boat is at anchor, and we’ll use that. At Schoodic, we have access to a pavilion. In either case, if the worst happens and we’re totally unable to work outside, there are interior places where we can gather.
Are there bathrooms?
Yes and no. On a boat, a toilet is more properly called ‘the head.’ Although American Eagle is a restored heritage boat, she does have these modern conveniences. Schoodic Institute does, too.
On the boat, you’ll sleep in a berth. At Schoodic, you’ll have a room in an apartment with a kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and access to laundry facilities. Out in the woods, we either drive to the nearest park facility, or we take an amble into the woods like the locals (bear, moose, and foxes) do.
Outrunning the Storm, Carol L. Douglas
Are these workshops handicapped-access?
Schoodic Institute is, but let me know if you have physical limitations when you register. Our painting locations are all accessible by car and involve little hiking, so you won’t miss out. American Eagle is not accessible. It was built as a working fishing boat.
What about food?
In both cases, all meals are provided, so you don’t have to worry about where and when you eat. Schoodic’s chefs prepare lunches and snacks for us to take into the field, and we have breakfast and dinner cafeteria-style. American Eagle’s cook and mess-mate feed us three squares a day on deck.
Both trips include a lobster boil. Schoodic’s is prepared by a fisherman from nearby Corea, ME, who hauls that day’s catch over to us. On American Eagle, you’re likely to see Captain John Foss row his dinghy into a nearby harborage to buy seafood off the dock. You’re encouraged to make dinghy jokes.
An island lobster bake, in progress.
Can I get a glass of wine?
You can bring some along. In Maine wine and liquor are sold in grocery stores, and you can easily pick some up along the way.
What about black flies or mosquitoes?
I’ve painted in the far north from northern Alaska to Labrador, and the worst black flies I ever did see were at Piseco Lake in New York. They’re an early-summer phenomenon, which is why we’ll be out on the water in June and on land in August.
Watercolor field sketches, by Carol L. Douglas
What equipment should we bring?
For Sea & Sky, all mediums are welcome. Here are my packing lists for oils, acrylicsand watercolor. The Age of Sail is a little different. I’m supplying everything, and we’re going to work in field-sketch style in watercolor and gouache, the better to capture fast impressions.
A reader once posted this comment on my blog: “Noted watercolor painter John Marin of the Maine coast not only painted many boats but also painted from a boat. He rowed out from Mt. Desert Island where he sketched and painted quick minutes-long watercolors while bobbing in his rowboat. One was on display at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art this past summer… Mount Desert Minute Drawing, most likely a view of Cadillac Mountain, and can be seen on this web page