Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More about winter painting

Paintings this page by Aldro Hibbard, The Rockport Art Association is selling a book about him here.

Before I go into equipment for winter painting I want to do another general sort of post on the subject.

People who hear that I paint outside in the winter are always so sure that it is heroic and that it takes great ability to withstand cold and hardship to do. Thats not usually the case. I get cold EASILY. Yet I am almost never cold when I am painting outside, because I have got the right equipment. There are times when it is 5 or 10 below zero when it IS extreme, but anything above about 1o degrees is very comfortable. In fact I like it when I look at the forecast and the prediction is for cold. Cold days are clear, and have good light. Gray days are warm. So the cold is generally my friend, I want it cold.

What I don't want is wind. You can paint in any temperature if you can get out of the wind. But if the wind is blowing on your face and it is zero or below you are going to be unable to take it for very long. On days with any wind I like to be down in the woods or in the lee of some building. Whatever it takes, you have to get out of the wind when it is super cold.

I used to drive an Expedition that had four wheel drive, and it was a pretty good snow painting car, but it ate too much. Now I drive a Lincoln or my wife's old Volvo wagon, neither one is particularly adapted to off road driving and I don't do any. It can be hard to find a place to park along a winter road, but there is usually someplace. I paint along frozen streams and often at the point where the stream cuts under the road there is a little bridge and the area on either side of that is plowed. There are often plowed areas to provide access to hikers in public access allowed properties.Often I am out in the sticks in Maine or on some country road in Vermont and I park the car and set up behind it. People can see me from a long way out on a straightaway and they go around me.

In the winter it is almost always best to paint with a buddy, on the road it is nice, but in the woods it is essential. A friend of mine fell down along an icy stream in northern Vermont and broke his leg a few years ago, had he been alone he might have frozen to death out there. So you need a buddy if you are painting down in the woods.

There are some things that you need in your pockets when its cold too. You need to have a pair of pliers in your kit, particularly if you are working on a French easel. Your fingers can get cold and you won't be able to turn the wing nuts on your easel to collapse the legs at the end of the day. I also carry matches, you never know when you might need to light a large cigar, and butane lighters quit working in the cold. If for some reason, you were to get stuck out there (I have never had it happen but I guess it could) matches would be a real cool thing to have.I will return tomorrow and post about the kind of clothing it takes to be comfortable out there in all of that lovely snow.


Mary Bullock said...

Stape - have you ever had to worry about hunters when you are out in the woods?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Good question!
I will answer it out on the blog side tonight.

Mary Byrom said...

I wear an orange vest when painting out in the marshes & woods in fall & winter. I see hunters all the time. Seen some real Andrew Wyeth pictures for sure. I carry my cell phone and check to see if I have reception (not always). I carry a compass so I don't get lost if I go off a trail. I tell my husband where I am going and when I will be back. And always call him as I am heading home as it is often dark by then. (One small problem was no flashlight and coming out of the woods after dark. )But I had a good clear trail so now I carry a flash light. I paint alone. I go out so much and winter is not a popular time for a lot of painters. I was raised spending a lot of time in the woods so I am very comfortable there. Its capturing that last light on the snow & twiglight that keeps me out there so late. Its beautiful out there and its usually quiet & peaceful after the wind dies down at dusk. If I'm near houses or villages the lights are beautiful. Its a gorgeous time.

jesusest@gmail.com said...

love winter paintings, i just arrive to Canada a couple of years ago , I have a lot to learn about the snow,I will come a check your blog every so often to see how you solve the snow on the different lights, great work ,cheers

Unknown said...

Stape...You ARE the man. So true about painting with a buddy. A friend and former classmate Stephen Lyman fell to his death in Yosemite. He was found when he did not return to base camp. He was a loner by nature. He was an amazing talent. Google his name to see his stuff....

Gregory Becker said...

Good info. I like the Stephen Lyman paintings. Sorry you lost a friend Frank.
How do paints handle in the cold?

Unknown said...

I fell on ice and shattered my wrist winter before last.. alone, and it was about 28 degrees. I wasn't painting,though, but running, and wasn't dressed for the cold when having to walk slowly - it was 3 miles back to my house. My arm was bent like a fork. That was COLD. So now I prepare for winter painting like I prepare for winter hiking - including the flashlight and matches mentioned, a space blanket and extra clothing and dry socks, which can double as mittens. I've got Reynaud's Syndrome, so the hardest thing for me in winter is keeping my hands from freezing, literally. I have to bring those hand warmers, and wear mittens. That helps keep the painting loose at least.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Good for you. Too many people miss the excitement of the deep woods in snow. What a great subject.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You should get plenty of snow up there! Some day maybe we will paint together, my wife's family has a house in Marmora.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I had seen the moose painting before. Sorry to hear of his death. I have had a close call once or twice out ijn the woods, and I don't go to far in without a buddy, in the winter, in the summer is different.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will address that in a soon to come blog.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I hope we don't scare people, we have been telling all these horror stories. Painting outside in the winter is just like cross country skiing or hiking it is a excellent and reasonable outdoor activity.

jeff said...

The other good thing about having a partner is coyotes. They have been getting more aggressive in recent years and I now see them here in Boston. Saw one last July just walking around the neighborhood like he owned it.

Up in Nova Scotia a young woman was killed by two of them this past fall while hiking by herself. It's very rare for this to happen but it did.

I was thinking of bring a small can of mace or a small air horn. I go out the Blue hills here in the Boston/Milton area and there are a lot of them up there. They need to be culled.

Stapleton Kearns said...

C'mon up to New Hampshire, we got all that stuff, Mace,we got it! legal here (illegal there) Handguns, you bet! fireworks, liquor, come on up and see us. Get some tax free tires!
Coyotes, who ever thought they would become a problem. Have you ever seen a fisher cat? Now there's a problem.

Ben Bauer said...

I only worry about deer hunters here in MN. I always hear opening firearms at least 4 people are killed an opening weekend, something is to be said about duck, pheasant and grouse hunting here which usually never yields a death, Marc Hanson last year were out painting in MN on opening weekend and wore blaze orange, and had one fellow ask us what we were doing when we unloaded out tripods before the Open Box M went onto the things. Needless to say we were very aparent we were there, I pheasant and grouse hunt the entire season and the two weeks of fire arms here in MN I sit it out and wait too many butt head deer hunters that may be steroe-typical but my life as an artist isnt! Well back to painting.


Ben Bauer said...

what mediums do you use as the paint stiffens up? That is always a search. I remember another artist mentioned that Neo- Meglip by Gamblin was the ticket. Many others gum up like the paints them selves.


Unknown said...

Keep the medium under your shirt.
(in a sealed bottle, of course!)
Or in any inside pocket where the body heat keeps it fluid.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Ben: See tonight's post I have the answer, and it is simple.