Saturday, April 30, 2011

That Which Does Not Kill You...

5x7 inches, acrylic on gessoed mat board, painted en plein air at Riverside Park

I decided early this spring that this would be the year the I would give plein air painting another good solid try.  There is a plein air painting event each June in Beloit, called Edge of the Rock. I tried it with watercolors in 2008, and while I produced a couple of reasonable landscapes, both of which sold, I was frustrated every day by wind, rain, and curiosity seekers.  I didn't have any sort of easel, so I had watercolor paper clipped to boards on my lap, and it wasn't the easiest situation.  My butcher tray palette flew away in the wind, and I had no real way of controlling the moisture level of my paper.  

So, I decided that this time I would try acrylics, since I have been painting with them quite a lot this winter.  Yesterday was the first warm and sunny day we have had in ages and ages, and I decided to go out and give it a try, but things didn't go very smoothly.   I have been thinking about this for a while, and about a month ago bought a french easel on eBay, what I thought was quite a good deal on some quality used equipment.  It didn't arrive and didn't arrive.  Finally I got an email from the seller saying he was sorry, but he lived in Alabama and his house had a tree fall on it in a tornado!  Of course I said he should attend to his life first, that I could wait.  So, yesterday no easel.  I went looking for my trusty old camp stool, even engaged my husband in the search, but failed to find it - so I trudged to K-Mart and bought a collapsing chair that had been marked down a couple times.  The chair actually was fine, though I was disconcerted to come home later in the afternoon to discover my spouse had unearthed the camp stool from from a dark corner of the cellar.  I have plenty of places to sit now.

I had all sorts of lists from articles I had saved that had suggestions on what to take along when painting outside.  I have a nice big plastic zippered bag with strong straps for carrying equipment.  I found a big old plastic jar, the sort that might once have held condiments for a school cafeteria, complete with a screw on lid.  I had paper towels, brushes, paint, prepared small mat boards that I had prepared.  I had a little plastic palette with a cover, and my acrylic paints.  I had a sketchbook and a pencil, I had a little viewfinder that I made from scrap cardboard and and old clear plastic transparency.  I felt I had what I needed.  Then I made my mistake.  I added a little flimsy bottle of water for drinking, and on a whim, threw my trusty Canon Powershot camera in the bag.  

The plan was to head out the the Janesville Schools Outdoor Lab, a nice rolling park-like area with a stream running through it.  But as I stood in the parking lot, then hiked part way into the woods, I could hear what sounded like a large group of elementary students, so I decided to visit Riverside Park instead. Riverside is a lovely old park right on the Rock River, and I found an interesting tree to make my focal point.  So I set up the new chair, and went to unpack my tote bag.  Oops.  The small water battle had leaked all over the bottom of the bag!  My canvas hat was dripping, my roll of paper towels was wet on one end, and then I remembered the camera.  My heart sinking, I pulled the camera out of the bottom of the bag, and saw that the viewfinder had all sorts of moisture behind the screen.  So, I took out the batteries and memory card, and locked the camera in the car, along with the useless wet hat.  

After that, besides my fumbling around, and struggling some with paint that wanted to dry out on the palette because of the steady breeze, it didn't go too badly.  It has been such a damp cool spring that there isn't much color yet.  Across the river the willows are a pretty pale yellow green, almost like a green mist, but most of the leaves have not emerged.  I had a hard time trying to make the tree in the foreground interesting, and also suggest the woods across the river.  Then there is the issue of painting water.  I think I have my work cut out for me. 

There is good news.  The poor fellow in Alabama wrote today to say he had shipped the easel, and my camera apparently is still working.  A night in a bowl of rice, and half a day on a sunny windowsill apparently dried out the moisture problem.  I successfully took a picture of our cat, so at least I don't need to buy a new camera.

Update: This photo of the old willow was taken later, with a camera that was not soaked!

1 comment:

Ann's Art said...

Full marks to you Sherry for all the effort you went to. Your determination against all the odds paid off and you ended up with a wonderful the darks against the lights. Now look upon that trip as ironing out all the rough edges - your next venture into the outdoors will go smoothly - trust me.