Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rainy Day at the Park


Its a muddy drizzly day. The rain keeps coming down. The gray skies obscure the winter sun and the feel of the park is dark and wet. A burst of color in a near tree is only stubborn oak leaves that refuse to fall. But the colors are welcome in this monotone and lulling day. The kind of day you want to grab a book and read at the window, or go out for a wet walk and smell the earth.

In a deep gold or black frame this one would look lovely in a well lit corner or over a night stand.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear IV–Physical Comforts

I hope to address several things here. Some are matter of fact and others are …well … natural. So I apologies ahead of time if the natural issues are out of your reading scope.

Keeping warm:

Yes even after all the clothes we put on, we will still need to think about taking breaks and warming up. Remember please that you are simply standing in the cold. You are not burning energy like a hiker or a skier so you will have to compensate. The first thing you will need is an egg timer. I usually set it for 20-30 minutes if the weather is bearable, but I will go down to 15 minutes if it is very cold. When the timer goes off, you will need to drop what you are doing and either get back to the car to thaw out for 10 minutes, or if that car is not close enough you will need to get your body warm by jogging or jumping or exercising in place for 5-10 minutes.

Trust me this is not optional if you want to be out there for long. You will not beat the cold. You have to either generate heat or else get heat from the car. If you don’t you will be rattling your teeth in 45 minutes and then  you will be finding a reason to head back in. If you go past one hour without a break, you will have to head back in as there is no way to recapture enough heat to sustain you outside. Be smart. Break it up and you can be out all day I promise you. I have done it many times before.

When you get back in the car for a break, get some warm liquid into you. Soup is the best thing. Tea is OK, but it will make your bladder active, and coffee is a no-no. We will talk about that and alcohol later. I also carry seeds and nuts with me for snacks. You want simple snacks that don’t fill you up or get your digestive system working too hard. More on that later too.

By all means carry a few of those heat sachets for your gloves. They even make some for boots but I never need them. I do use a seat heater, the kind you get for football stadiums in winter. If you can build a small fire or if you have a camping stove to warm up the soup and your hands on all the better. What ever you do, don’t get so immersed in painting that you loose track of basic survival issues.

Foods and Drinks To Avoid

Coffee is a diuretic especially if you have it with cream so avoid it like the plague when you are out there. Also please avoid any greasy foods or heavy foods. The more your digestive system has to work, the more blood gets drawn from your extremities towards your abdomen and that is not a good thing if you plan to stand and paint in the cold.

You should completely avoid alcohol when you are out painting. I know the old myth about the flask of vodka or brandy and how it can make you feel warm all over. It is a myth and a bad one at that. The fleeting warmth that you feel as the alcohol goes down is soon replaces with alcohol in your blood which acts to lower the blood temperature very rapidly. Keep the booze for the evening at the cabin. You will enjoy it there much more and you won’t have to drive under the influence either!

As I mentioned before soup is the best liquid you can have. Chicken soup with noodles, a few salt crackers a hand full of seeds and nuts should keep you going every couple of hours.

Nature Calls:

I am surprised that no plein air book or article ever talks about this basic human function. It is hell to have to answer a major call of nature in the cold. So avoid it. basically (excuse the details here please but someone needs to talk about these things) I force myself to go before I leave for a plein air outing in winter or summer. A number one is not a major issue, but if you force yourself to a number two before you leave and you follow the eating and drinking recommendations above, you should be just fine.

First Aid Kit and Medical Issues

I carry a basic first aid kit with me at all times in the car. I augment that with Tylenol, antacid and sun cream for winter. I use the sun cream both as a barrier from the sun and snow glare and as a moisturizer against the cold drying temperature and wind.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear III–Clothing (Outer layers)

This is the third post in a series that will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
In my last post I focused on the middle layers. Here we will focus on the outer layers:


Clothing: Outer layers.


We finally get to the outer layers. The whole point of the outer layers is to block wind, water and cold from making it to the middle and inner layers. I use two zippered layers here. One is a heavy windbreaker that cuts wind and the outer most layer is a sky jacket that I have had for over 10 years. In researching the company that made this jacket, it seems to be out of business now but the name is Board Dokter ( the link is dead. It is a great jacket. Thin but very well insulated and has served me very well. The outer skin is water and wind proof and it has many pockets and bells and whistles such as arm pit zippers and waist and bottom adjustable pulls to keep the wind and cold out. The hood from this jacket is the last thing that goes on top of my hats. If needed the hood closes very well allowing for only the eyes to be exposed. A good thing to have although I wouldn’t be out painting if the weather is that bad. You can use down jackets here and many people do, but I don’t like the bulky thickness that comes with them. I would recommend more modern material than down for this outer layer.

For my head cover I use either a woollen Tooke that covers my ears or a rabbit fur hat that also has flaps to cover the ears. This fur hat is the best buy I made. It keeps so much heat in that inevitably I have to remove it from time to time just to regulate by body heat. I would highly recommend it. Since most of the zippered layers that I have zip all the way up to the chin, I don’t add another scarf to the gear. You may want to think about that though if your layers don’t provide enough neck and chest protection.

For my hands I use two sets of mittens one closed and the other cut at the finger tips. I also use woollen socks over these and thread brushes through the wool to feel them inside the sock. (This is a trick the Group of Seven used when they went out painting in winter).


I use a thin nylon shell as a bottom outer layer. It serves two purposes: It keeps the wind out and keeps all moisture out too. I often kneel to adjust my gear and you don’t want a wet knee when you are out in the snow.

Last but not least are thinsulate high boots good to –45c.

Again shingle the layers to avoid wind and cold seeping in. I place all the zippered middle layers under the nylon bottom shell and place the legs in the boots. Tighten the pulls on the outer jackets and velcro the sleeves tight over the mittens. (the sleeves from the middle and inner layers go under the mittens).

Friday, January 04, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear II–Clothing (Middle Layers)

I thought I would blog a primer on how to gear up for comfortable winter outdoor painting. The next few posts will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
In my last post I focused on the Inner (next to skin) layers. Here we will focus on the middle layers:

Clothing: Middle layers.


The purpose of the middle layers is to keep the wicking motion going outwards but also to build warmth and layers of protection. I use three or more middle layers depending on the temperature. My first middle layer is a thin polyester/thermolite/merino wool blend sweater. I love this sweater. I use it year round and only take it off when it gets really warm. Next up are a couple of fleece zippered hoodies. Be careful when you buy fleece. You want wool fleece not the polyester kind. Polyester fleece repels water and will trap it in building a layer of cold humidity in the middle of your clothing. You won’t last too long outdoors with that system.

I use lots of zippered layers in the middle and outer layers because here is where you can regulate the temperature of your body depending on how the day goes. If you need less layers, the zippered layers are easy to take off. They also allow you to shed layers quickly without loosing too much body heat in the process. If you can, make sure the zippered fleece layers have a tightening string in the bottom seam to hold them close to your body and not to hang loose. This prevents cold from seeping in from below the loose layers.

So again I would recommend at least two to three layers as middle layers, preferably fleece, and definitely not cotton or water repellent polyester fleece. Use zippered layers to allow for quick shedding or adding as the need arises.

We have to start talking about head and neck protection here. As a middle layer, I use a woolen scarf wrapped from the back of my head to the front. I hold it in place in the back by putting on a fleece cap. This is the first layer on the head. I know some people who use pantyhose on the head as a first layer below the fleece cap. I don’t. This system allows me to mimic a Balaclava by manipulating the scarf up or down. It keeps my ears warm and is not as cumbersome and unyielding as Balaclavas are. I frankly don’t recommend them.


I used jeans as my middle bottom layer for a long time, but now I use either insulated pants or simply jogging pants. I like the comfort of the jogging pants and the fact that they are banded at the bottom. Another set of wool socks or cotton jogging socks are OK here.

Again shingling is important here. Make sure that the first middle layer (not zippered) fist below the insulated pants or jogging pants and that the socks fit over the pants.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Winter Plein Air Painter’s Gear I–Clothing (Inner Layers)

I thought I would blog a primer on how to gear up for comfortable winter outdoor painting. The next few posts will take on clothing as well as painting gear for winter.
Let’s start with the clothes since you will want to get these right if you are going to enjoy painting outdoors. There are three layers that we will need to address.
  • Inner (next to skin) layers
  • Middle Layers
  • Outer layers (including gloves, hats and shoes)
Clothing: Inner layers, also called next to skin layer.


This is perhaps the most important layer to get right. It is also the one that most people get wrong. The most important function of the inner layer is to keep your skin dry by wicking away any perspiration and humidity from your body. Cotton, the most common inner layer that we use daily is the worst inner layer for being out in the cold. It absorbs moisture and keeps it next to your skin. As the moisture cools, it pulls away warmth from your skin and brings your body temperature down. Great for summer, but not exactly what we are looking for in winter.
What you need is an inner layer that pulls moisture away from your skin and then releases it forward to the next layer. This will keep you warm and dry adding comfort and reducing the risk of hypothermia. There are many modern fabrics that are designed to do just that, but I simply use a very thing and soft merino wool sweater. Wool is excellent in wicking away moisture and merino wool is soft and does not itch like rougher wool.
For hikers and active outdoors people, one inner layer is enough, but since as plein air artists we are not moving much when painting, we need to double up on every layer. We are not burning nearly as much energy as hikers, so we will have to build more protection from the cold.
My next inner layer is an old cashmere wool vest. It is too old to use for normal wear, but as a second inner layer it is perfect! It continues the wicking process and both woollen layers are excellent also in keeping the warmth in.   


Hockey players have a secret they are too macho to admit. They wear pantyhose over their briefs. Yes common nylon pantyhose or better yet woolen pantyhose is the best first layer after your briefs of course. These should be followed by either wool blend long johns or common cotton long johns. The reason I don’t worry too much about using cotton long johns below is that we normally don’t sweat much from our legs unless we are exerting ourselves.
Follow those with thin woolen socks (dress socks are best) and you are good to go on the first layers. But before we go, lets make sure we tuck everything properly. You want to alternate tucking as you build the layers.
  • The merino wool first layer goes under the pantyhose,
  • The woolen vest goes over that but under the long johns.
  • The woolen socks also go over the long johns.
By alternating the tucks (Shingling) you assure that the heat is trapped and that wind and cold can’t travel directly in towards your skin.
There you have it! The Inner Layers for Painting Outdoors. Next up, the Middle Layers…

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Harvest Time + a request

Happy New Year!

May the seeds you sow all grow and flourish and may your harvest be plenty in 2o13!

The last painting of 2012 was Harvest Time. I finished it yesterday morning and it is drying on the shelf now. I hope you like it.

Harvest Time, oil on panel 9”x12” (22.8x30.5cm)

Like everyone, I dabble in end of year goal setting outside of work. You know, the weight loss, the exercise, etc… I do that for my art as well.

One of my art goals for 2013 is to grow my Facebook page. I want the page to have over 1,000 followers by the end of 2013 (I am at 490 right now. I know there are services that promise you 1,000 followers in 24 hrs. I am not sure I want that. I want live human beings with whom I can interact, so I will pass on the services. But I need your help. Will you help me by inviting (1) one friend to join my Facebook page? Thank you!