Independence Day

It was hot and humid and overcast. Our baby had been sick part of the week prior and through the long weekend with a 102 degree fever and hand, foot and mouth virus. And to top it all off, we woke up on July 4th sticky and without power from a tremendous summer storm the night before. But believe it or not, I had a great morning, as I was allowed the privilege of escaping getting outside early to do this little plein air painting.

plein air painting of water by Jennifer Young

The location is Young's Pond in nearby Bryan Park. I've painted this location before a number of times, and this approximate scene once before, which you can see here. There were a number of nearby spots I could have chosen, but on an overcast day it's nice to paint a water effect, as then you have some luminosity built in, when the light is otherwise fairly flat.

I spent about 3 hours on site working on this piece, which was longer than I normally would do on location. But I think the combination of fairly steady light conditions, and my private glee at having the entire morning completely to myself kept me lingering longer than I would have otherwise.

Here's a shot of my setup right before I started.

plein air painting setup

Next time I would like to get out even earlier than I did, to try and capture that wonderful atmosphere (aka humidity) before it settles into just plain old hot heavy air. But with a baby, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I was happy to get out at all. My setup has remained pretty consistent over the years, with my Soltek easel still being my go to plein air easel due to the ease of use and quick setup time.

The sun made its appearance often enough that shading myself, my painting, and my palette was a concern. I brought my umbrella with me, but it is a pain to set up and doesn't really work that great with the Soltek (one of the easel's down-sides...I've yet to find a really compatible umbrella that can attach to it without falling over.) So If I can get away without, I usually do. This often means avoiding standing in the blazing sun, even if it means forgoing a preferred view. Otherwise my painting ultimately suffers (not to mention my skin.)

In this photo I've set up my painting panel so that the sun (when it peeks out) is behind it, making it shaded. I am relatively shaded by tree branches overhead. Since I am right-handed, my subject is to my left, so that I am not having to reach across my painting when I look/paint. Often times I can shade my palette simply by wedging another panel between it and my painting. In this case I am using a flat wet panel carrier called the Art Cocoon.

This is actually a pretty neat concept for a wet panel carrier, which I read about some time ago on another artist's blog (when I still had time to read them) owned by Ed Terpening . The advantage is that you can use the carrier for different sized paintings with the provided inserts, and it is nice and lightweight and not bulky. But the down side for me is that it is made out of cardboard, which eventually warps (especially in our hot Virginia climate) and when that happens it stops protecting the painting effectively.

For that reason, my go-to wet panel carrier is still the RayMar. It's a little more expensive, and bulkier, but still lightweight. And its coroplast construction means that while it won't last forever, it lasts a good long time and doesn't warp.

Oil paints bursting in flight?

Here is a recent question from a reader that I thought I'd share at blog central:

I am planning to bringing 100s of oil paint tubes back from Beijing and I am wondering if they are at a high risk of bursting? Your advice would be highly appreciated. Best, J.


...and my response:

Dear J- If these are tubes of artist's oil paints, my experience has been that there wouldn't be much danger of that. After all, they are regularly shipped all over the world. And while some paints do contain driers and additives that are considered combustible, most are made with just pigment and a nut oil or linseed oil.

But don't take my word as law. Most of the well known brands will provide material safety data sheets (MSDS) for their art materials, which should provide a flash point of the paint in question (combustibility at a given temperature). You could always check the information provided on the MSDS with the airlines to see what their restrictions are. Most likely you will need to check the paints if you are flying commercially. Otherwise they could get confiscated if you try to bring them in your carry-on (but you probably are already aware of that!)

Good luck! (And check out a prior, more detailed post of mine on flying with oil paints from more info.)

Of Paint and Palette Knives

Here is a recent message I received from a reader that I thought I other blog readers might find of interest: Q: Can you tell me if you use painting knives or if it is all done with brushes? And do you have a favorite brand of paint? -N.M

A: Hi N.M-I paint primarily with a brush, but here and there I have been using the palette knife as a painting tool (rather than just a tool for mixing). If you can get your hands on Richard Schmid's video on painting the landscape (June in particular), he has an excellent demonstration of how he uses the palette knife in his paintings. I am experimenting with his technique (as I understand it) but, not for every painting. So I wouldn't call myself a palette knife painter by any means.

As for paint brands, I'm looking at my paint bins now, and I see Winsor Newton, Gamblin, Holbein, Daniel Smith, M. Graham, Rembrandt, and Old Holland! I probably use Winsor Newton and Gamblin most often, but I have had good experiences with all of the above. I often base my decision on which brand to buy by the pigment I am after. Some pigments seem to be pretty particular to one brand. But even paints that go by the same name can vary quite a lot in hue, value, or color temperature. For instance, Winsor & Newton's Cadmium Yellow Light is warmer and I believe, a bit darker than Gamblin's, which is more lemony. That's not necessarily better or worse-- it all depends on what you're after.In any case, I make sure that I buy professional grade paints, rather than student grade. They are more expensive, but there is a big difference in quality.

I hope this helps, and happy painting!

A neat little tool

I haven't yet had time to edit my new pictures for the vineyard work-in-progress I have been posting about recently. So instead I thought I'd share a neat tool I found online for all of you meticulous types. It is an online proportional scale calculator. This is often the tool of printers who need to know what size a final print would be if an artwork is reproduced to a different size. But I find it a handy tool for anyone who wants to translate a small sketch or plein air painting, (or photo)  into a larger painting. Here are two variations of the calculator, so take your pick. The first is actually from the printer Century Editions' site. The second is by They can help to take some of the guesswork out of what size canvas you might use that is of the same scale as the smaller work. I am not one to grid out my landscape paintings in any meticulous way, but I do find a proportional calculator helpful in judging placement (usually via the eyeball method). You can also get a proportional scale wheel at an art supply store, but seeing as I have misplaced several of these over the years, it helps to have an online option!

Painting on a colored ground

Every so often I'll get a question about my painting process that I think might be an interesting topic to share here on my blog. Recently an artist friend asked me about the red ground I prepped my canvases with at one time.  I'm sure I've addressed toning a canvas a few times here on the blog, but since I've been asked about painting on a red canvas a number of times, I thought it would be a good idea to address this question specifically. Here is his question, followed by my response: Question: Are you still using red underpainting most of the time? Is that landscape specific or do you switch up for sky/water? 

My response: As for the red ground, I never use it any more. I really only used it for landscapes. It was fun because the underpainting gave vibratory effect due to it being a complement to the greens.  But it was too much of a distraction for sky and water, and ultimately I personally found it so for all of my landscapes, especially as I moved a little closer to realism.  Plus I got too lazy to tone my canvases that color as I'd have to let it dry first. Otherwise the red would lift and get mixed into my painting too much. Now in the studio I either just paint on a white canvas, or tone it with just a quick wash of transparent red  oxide (a.k.a PR101- the color I used in the tonal underpainting here).  That still adds a warm tone but is muted enough that it doesn't distract. It also isn't as high staining so I can apply a wash and then start painting immediately after.

*This artist is a studio painter, but I'll add here for the benefit of my blog readers that if I'm painting outdoors, I pretty much always use a mid-toned canvas of either gray, or a wash of trans red oxide or raw sienna, as sun on the white canvas creates too muchbounce and glare.