Thursday, June 25, 2009

Painting outside on rainy days

Corot, Canal in Picardi, image from

Boy, am I tired of rain. It seems to never end. Maybe tomorrow we will get a day with some light. But if not, here are some things I do to deal with the gray.

You can paint in oil in some mist, or even very light rain, particularly if you have an umbrella. There even used to be an artist who painted underwater, he did pictures of tropical fish.
In practice though, when the rain begins you usually have a short window of time to finish and clear out.

When I am at home, I work in the studio on rainy days. However if I am on a painting trip I generally will try to work outside. Here's some things I do to make that work.

  • I try to find somewhere to get out of the rain, a covered picnic shelter, under a shops' awning, in a barn looking out the open door, in a gazebo in a town common (that's New England) etc. Sometimes you get lucky and there is something good to paint there.Those covered picnic shelters are often good as they are in parks.
  • If I can, I like to choose a colorful subject, like a brightly painted house or any thing else I can find to get a little more color in my painting. Bright white houses can be good too. Gardens are nice.
  • Bring an umbrella to affix to your easel, over your painting and palette.
  • Often pure nature is not so good. Woods and closed in places can be DARKER THAN THE INSIDE OF A COW.
  • Take the black off your palette unless you can be certain to use it sparingly. Make the grays you see out of mixtures of various compliments and try to vary the warms and cools of your notes. Look to extract every bit of color you can. State those subtle colors in your grays a little more intensely than you see them, if you can do that with out getting an artificial look.
  • Try to keep the key up.That is, paint a little lighter than what you see . Keep the light warm or blue or what ever but not gray. The picture will have plenty of gray in it without making the light gray.
  • Use a wholly chromatic palette to make your grays and keep them colorful. Or sometimes I do just the opposite and...
  • switch to earth colors on gray days. It works for me sometimes, here is one of those.
I painted this in a light rain in Vermont last spring. I used no blue, only a few earth colors. No cadmium's no alizirin. I was under some big trees and they keep the rain off of my palette. The river reflecting the sky doubles the amount of light area you have in the painting. Inventing puddles in your foreground will bring more high key areas in.
  • try to stay optimistic and think about painting the subtleties in front of you.
  • Think in terms of layers of silhouettes.
  • try to avoid making grays with black and white or ultramarine and burnt sienna. Make luminous grays even if what is in front of you looks "deader" than that.
  • look for abstract patterns in nature, you may not have a lot of color or depth to work with but you will often have pattern.
  • Put butter in your shoes.


willek said...

Got here too late to paint today but am in position for tomorrow. The stuff on painting on rainy days kind of surprised me. I have been thinking that grey weather would be perfect for a limited black white red and yellow pallet. It seems that when I paint on a sunny day it looks like a grey day and visa versa. It seems like you are trying to get all the color you can into the dreary day painting. The color in your picture in the pose is just great, however. You have achieved a silvery wet look that is charitaristic for such days. So I am hoping the sun will stay away tomorrow so I can try some of your strategies. WillEK

Unknown said...

Just curious, why no alizarin in that all earth color painting? I can understand the blue, I think, and the cadmiums, but why no alizarin?
Actually, since I'm probably wrong, explain the no blue and no cadmiums too while you're at it.
I am so tired of this rain.

"denom" blue jeans without spell check.

jeff said...

Lovely painting Stapleton.

For those interested Williamsburg paint have a good variety of ochers ranging from a lemon ocher, which pale and light to orange and green ochers.

I also have a red ocher and there is even a blue which is more expensive then most earth colors.

They have a nice range of Italian earths as well. The Italian raw sienna is very nice.

armandcabrera said...


Great painting! What size is that?
The subject matter reminds me of an Enneking but better.

Bob Carter said...

Good tips. One good thing about weather like we're having here in New England is that the light doesn't shift on you. No shadow chasing. Also, if atmospheric perspective is your thing, boy have we got it right now. The distance just fades away.

Unknown said...

You mentioned varying color temperature. How far can you push it before you start compromising the balance of warm shadows/cool lights, or vice versa?

Todd Bonita said...

I'm leaving for monhegan in the morning and can't beleive my fortune of your timely post today. A thosand thank you's my good man, this will come in handy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

thanks. I think it is good to get more color into a gray day paintying when you can.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I am using a small palette to get color unity. I have removed the cadmiums because I am working in an earth color "mood". I think I had indian red which is not tooooo far from alizirin.
I am using no blue for the same reason. If I want a reduced palette things have to be left off, otherwise it wouldn't be a reduced palette.In conjunction with those warm earth colors the black functions as a blue. The dutch painters did that all the time. Its a deliberate limitation I am setting on myself to get a look. The goal isn't always to "match" nature.

Denom = evil spirit that possesses a dyslexic.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I always say yellow ocher, but I actually have a gold ocher on my palette. I sometimes have used a red ocher and mars red is close to that.
Williamsburg is a nice paint isn't it? It is expensive though.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, its a 16 x 20 on a panel.I love Enneking.He was a real hero in Boston during his life.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That's true on a gray day and is the good thing about gray days.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

Actually you can push it a lot, how much is up to your personal taste. Probably you can push it more than you would expect prior to doing it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I wrote that post from Vinalhaven. I am home now. It was really wet. I hope you have fun out there. Lobster Cove is my favorite place out there. Its a great place to paint seascape. Are you staying at the Trailing Yew?
Hopefully you won't need my rainy day painting advise.

willek said...

Hi, Stape. No Post... No problems, I hope. It should be OK to take a day off now and then. That carot at the top is really complex. I It looks like a very simple, 4 paint pallet, too. If it is really there, that purple note in the middle ground is terrific. I was not aware of Enneking and in my image search, was surprised to see the great variety of the sizes of his work: from 4x9 to 52x63. Lovely work, too.
Futess= girl who rubs your feet wile telling your future. WillEK

Unknown said...

Butter in one's shoes?

One could probably paint in more enthusiastic rain if one had a big golf umbrella. Just don't use it in the wind. Whatever you've attached it to will blow away.