Postcards from the Outer Banks

This past week we stole away to the North Carolina Outer Banks for a glorious week on Hatteras Island. I had hoped to post while we were away, but I couldn't get my technology straight to do any mobile blogging. But here are two plein air pieces I completed in the early morning hours, just as the sun was coming up over the dunes. The hubby even took on full babysitting duties so that I could paint the view from our deck. What a guy!

plein air painting of the Outer Banks, North Carolina by Jennifer Young

"Hatteras Island Dunes I" Oil on Linen, 12"x8"

plein air painting of the Outer Banks, North Carolina by Jennifer Young

"Hatteras Island Dunes II" Oil on Linen, 8x10"

Plein air painting in the snow

There's a first time for everything. I actually got outside this morning in the freezing temperatures and painted in the snow. I know, I know. It's done all the time. But I'm from the South, so doing frigid temperatures is a real milestone for me. And any way, I can't remember the last time we had a snow storm with any kind of accumulation, so I was determined:

 plein air painting snow covered tree

"Snowed Under" 10x8" Oil on Multimedia ArtBoard You can purchase this painting directly from me. Contact me for more info.

This is our little crepe myrtle in our back yard. A small, up-close study was about all I could handle this morning. Even staying close to home, this was a challenging experience for me. First off, I didn't consider just how reflective all that snow would be. Initially I set up near my red studio door, but that red bounced all over the place so I had to move. Second, I wasn't prepared for how stiff the paint would get, or how quickly. My quinacridone red froze up so fast--I had to really coax it with some Gamsol just to get it to budge. And third (and I WAS expecting this one) it was damn cold. I did take a few studio breaks because my right hand (the painting hand) became one big painful throb and revolted periodically by losing its grip and dropping brushes.

Any way, I got it done in a little less than 2 hours. I can't say that I'm a convert to painting in freezing weather, but at least I like the little painting. I did find myself wondering why the heck I didn't just paint something from the warmth of my studio, looking out the window. But no.  I HAD to paint that tree from that angle. Well, maybe it's a good thing. As I'm typing this during my lunchtime break, huge chunks of the white stuff are falling off of our little crepe in mini avalanches.

Merry Christmas

Like so many others today, I'm wrapping up loose packages and getting ready for Christmas Eve dinner. So for now I'll leave you with this year's Christmas card, which is derived from one of my fondest painting experiences of 2008. Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a bright and beautiful 2009!

French nocturne plein air painting by Jennifer Young

A good day in Annapolis

My first full day in Annapolis had a slow start, but in the end I got two and a half, maybe three little pieces done. I say *maybe* three, because the last one was just as the sun was setting over the town and night fell before I could really asess the work. But I'm jumping ahead. Annapolis is a charming little town, and the weather has been ideal. As lovely as the day began, I spent a good deal of time this morning wandering around with my gear in tow. For some reason I couldn't decide what to paint. Maybe I was overloaded by too much stimuli. Or maybe I was a little road weary...who knows? In any event, eventually I did settle down, and started with a street scene of  a sweet little church on the south side of Annapolis, in the sectoin of town called Eastport:

 plein air painting annapolis street scene

"First Baptist Church of Eastport" Oil on Board 8"x6"

Because of my late start, it was approaching lunchtime when I finished. So I thought it would be a good time to take a break and check out the rest of the Paint Annapolis event before I set up for another painting.  I was a little disappointed that I didn't see more painters out and about. I know they were there, but they must have been pretty well spread around Annapolis because I only came across a few the whole day. I imagine many of the juried artists were off on some quiet street somewhere away from the tourists so they could get some serious painting done. As for the others in the MAPAPA, most were nowhere to be seen; even though by the looks of the sign-in sheet, I know they had "checked in" at the information center.

I am hopeful that I'll run into more painters tomorrow. But for today, rather than drag my gear around endlessly for blocks on end, I abandoned my search and decided to set up for another painting. The light was getting really lovely and I found a nice, shady, quiet spot at the end of Shipright Street:

annapolis coastal painting en plein air

"Harbor View, Annapolis (Shipright Street)" Oil on board 9x12"


This photo really washes out my sky, but it was turning that lovely warm tone of late afternoon, and the clouds were taking on a beautiful soft pink glow. Until I can get this painting home to adjust the colors and edit out the little knobs of the canvas holders from my easel, you'll just have to use your imagination! This little scene shows the view looking out towards a little harbor on Spa Creek, and the red drawbridge that connects the historic center with the small maritime republic of Eastport. The historic center is lovely, but I rather prefer crossing the bridge to quieter section of Eastport. There is much to attract-- the quiet, charming streets and all of the smaller harbors that allow many lovely views of the water.

With painting #2 complete, I thought I was done for the day. So I packed up to head back to the hotel. But on my way back to the parking lot, I was struck by the last pink light of the setting sun over the historic town. I whipped out another canvas and started what I thought was to be a small sunset painting. However, the sky changed soooo quickly that soon I was painting a nocturne. Even though my canvas was small, (8x8") it soon became impossible to see anything in the dark as I had no street light nearby to help me in my task. It will be like looking into a Christmas stocking tomorrow morning when I go to the car to take a look at the painting in the daylight. Even so, I may yet pull out a lump of coal. We will have to see!

Summer Reading

My husband saw this little painting I did of our friends and said "Very Mary Cassat".  Sweet of him to say, and yes, I'd certainly aspire to paint like her! But I think the Cassat reference had more to do with my painting on the beach than anything else. I've often wanted to paint on the shore the way the Impressionists once did, but always felt somewhat restricted due to the total lack of shade and the sensitivity of my fair skin. This year, however, it has been possible because we've borrowed a large 12x12' canopy from our sister and brother-in-law. Otherwise I've had fried in my first 30 minutes on the beach!

The canopy allowed me to set up my easel and caputre this little vignette of our friends Esther and Carrie, engrossed in their summer reading:

figurative painting plein air coastal beach scene

"Summer Reading" Oil on Multimedia Artboard, 6x6" (NFS)

This painting was done on Multimedia Artboard. I painted straight on an unprimed surface, and I must say I prefer this surface primed with a layer of gesso for oils. While I was able to build the surface texture up after a bit, I found the board too absorbant without any gesso. Any way, after a bit, it was fun. I felt particularly good about the piece since Esther (the one with the dark hair) got up in the middle of the painting to go surfing.  She was a good sport, but still her vacation wouldn't suffer for my art.

Wet panel carriers, plus more on pochade boxes

I have a new painting to share, but the rain we're getting is making it hard for me to get good light for a photo. Hopefully I'll get something to show a little later today. Meanwhile, those readers who are "gear-heads" like me might enjoy some light reading on plein air gear: Wet Panel Carriers:

Raymar's wet panel carrier for plein air paintingEver wonder how to carry those wet paintings around after a day of plein air painting? Never fear, that's why wet panel carriers were invented. :-)  There are a number of commercially available boxes designed with interior slots to hold a few wet panels at a time. Raymar is well known  among plein air painters for their lightweight and moderately priced wet panel carrier made out of corrugated plastic.

But with very little time, ingenuity, and even less cash, it's easy to make your own, even if you aren't into gagetry or woodworking. The folks on the WetCanvas plein air forum have discussed this topic endlessly. Here are a few of the solutions I've bookmarked:

  1. Marc Hanson's wet panel carrier, cheap and fast.
  2. Cost Cutter Ideas from Larry Seiler and others- includes wet panel carriers and other home made solutions for some of your plein air painting gadgetry.
  3. And lastly, here's Wayne Gaudon's solution, and the one I've tried myself (with a few modifications.) Easy!  It uses el-cheapo Walmart picture frames and a few very simple tools. I pretty much ditched the tools and came up with the lazy woman's version. As soon as I photograph it I'll write about my own experience with this version of the home made panel carrier.

Pochade boxes

Don't worry, you'll not get another thousand-word dissertation from me on plein air easels (but if you missed it the first time, you can read my thoughts here, here  here and here).

This time, Charlie Parker has taken good care of this task on his most interesting art blog Lines and Colors. If you're in the market for a pochade box and feel overwhelmed by the choices, this post will go a long way towards helping you along in your decision. I was happy to see that he wrote about  a new pochade box I've been lusting after myself- made by Alla Prima Pochade.

I first saw one of these boxes (the Bitterroot Lite)  demo'ed in France by fellow artist-traveler Joyce Gabriel, and I was impressed with the many thoughtful and unique features, and how all of it folded up into one neat little package to fit inside her everyday backpack.

P.S. If you have extra reading time, check out the rest of Charlie's site for lots of great art coverage, including his latest post on a painter I've long admired, Richard Schmid.  This is a timely post for me personally, as this summer I've been re-reading Schmid's wonderful book, "Alla Prima" (also available in a more  affordable paperback) and doing the color charts he recommends (incredibly enlightening!)  You also might enjoy Joyce's posts and pics on her trip to France . I met Joyce at Le Vieux Couvent where I'll be teaching my own workshop next spring.

Oil painting substrates; Multimedia Artboard

The last few paintings I've featured from my recent France travels are done on Multimedia Artboard. I posted about this surface before when I was getting ready for my trip, and I thought I'd write a little more about it as a follow up. plein air painting boardI really enjoyed this surface, especially for traveling and painting en plein air. For one thing, it is very thin, so you can pack a good number of these boards and not take up a ton of room in your suitcase. You can also cut the board to size very easily with either a guillotine-type paper cutter or an exacto knife.

In fact, it is so lightweight that when I first ordered this material I thought I had been sent the wrong product. I was expecting a board, and what I got was something that seemed more like a rigid watercolor paper. I even called the manufacturer to ask about it. I will say that the manufacturer was extremely helpful, and was almost at a point where he was willing to ship me some board from his own stock so that I'd have some for my trip, even though I hadn't originally purchased it from him. But he told me, "If it's my board it should be very rigid. In fact, it will shatter if you try to bend it." Sure enough, when I put it to the test, it did.

That's the one thing to be careful of with this product--but protect the corners in travel and don't drop it from a balcony, and you should be fine. It has a rough side and a smoother side to it, so you have a choice on which side to paint, depending on your needs. I also like that it accepts a variety of media--watercolor, acrylic AND oil. It can accept oils either as is, or primed, if you wish, with gesso. I double primed mine, but it was a little slick, so I think next go around I'll try it unprimed to see what that's like.

While the board is rigid, because it is thinner than a "board", I taped mine to a larger board (gatorboard or coroplast) to give me a stronger work surface.  For framing, I can simply pop it in a frame backed by a sturdier board and it's ready to go.

I am finding the Multimedia Artboard  much easier to mount and frame after the fact than the other surface I took with me, a fine-weave primed linen. And while linen has luxurious qualities all its own, I can easily and happily see myself going back and forth between these two surfaces for my plein air painting travels.

Le Nocturne Francais

I have always loved nocturnes, so it was a real thrill to paint one under a full moon in a beautiful French country village. This little painting was done right in the neighborhood of our home base at Le Vieux Couvent:

Plein air oil painting French nocturne landscape "Le Nocturne Francais" Oil on Multimedia Artboard, 6x8" Click here or on the image for more info.

This painting came about one evening after a full day of touring and painting in the Dordogne countryside, AND after a huge and delicious five course dinner. We were all winding down for the night and Mary, our fearless leader, came in from an after dinner walk she had taken with her husband. They had gone out to find a lovely evening scene just up the street, lit by a street lamp and a full moon. She was going to go painting, she said, and anyone who wanted to join her was also welcome. Well, as tired as I was, I couldn't resist, and neither could most of the other painters. "We're in France! We can sleep later," became the mantra of our time together.

Knowing how quickly things change in the night sky, I took a small surface with me and set up under a nearby streetlamp. While the fog painting posted earlier was a high-key close value painting, this was a close value low-key one. We really couldn't see our colors at all, so it is indeed a good practice to place paint colors habitually in the same positions on the palette!

Gradually my eyes adjusted somewhat, so I just concentrated on shape and subtle differences. After I got the large dark shapes down, the night sky and the window light were the first things I addressed. It was a good thing, as not very long after, the clouds had drifted completely away, and the homeowner had called it a night and turned off the light.

Plein air panels for travel

This whole week I've been walking around telling myself that I was leaving for France in two weeks. What I realized today is that I'm actually leaving in a week. Ack! :-0 Yes, I have been known to fall down the worm-hole of time unless I am stringent about staying on a schedule. Many distractions at home have gotten me off of that lately, and here I am wondering where the time went! So since I've nothing much to say about the all the new work I've not done lately, I thought I'd still at least post something useful about traveling with art materials. I've written about this before, but it always seems to take me off guard when I actually have to get down to deciding what I'll take and what I'll leave behind. I'll be traveling to a very rural part of France , (okay, so it's not the jungle! But art supply stores are generally hard to come by in the countryside), so I really want to try not to be in a position of "need' when it comes to my supplies and my gear.

At the same time, I can't pack "everything but the kitchen sink", because for this trip I will be traveling solo to and from my destination. My husband, who named himself "Le Pack Mule" during our travels abroad, is sitting this one out (I can't imagine why? ;-) ) This means I have to be able to carry everything without relying on batting eyelashes for assistance. I haven't fleshed out my complete supply list, but my obvious "must haves" are also the things that can cause the most weight-- the easel and the painting substrates. Since it's been pointed out to me that I've spent so much time lately talking about easels, I'll mix it up by addressing the substrates:

Lightweight but still archival

I'll be painting on location for anywhere from 7 to 10 days. I really have no idea of an exact itinerary, but I always try and plan for the max. It is certainly possible to buy canvases overseas, (Hello? France? Home of the Impressionists!) but the problem is that since we've never gotten on board with the metric system here in the U.S., I'd have to deal with custom framing each non-standard canvas once I got back home.

Canvas mounted on lightweight panel is a better option  for travel than bulkier stretched canvas. In the past I've used birchboard. It's lightweight and compact compared to many other hardboard options (masonite, plywood, etc.), but if I consider that I may be painting two to four canvases each day, that's a whole lot of birch and the weight and volueme adds up fast.

Gatorfoam (gatorboard) is a great option, in that it is offered in archival form and is also one of the lightest supports available. It is basically a very, very strong foamcore board, offered in a variety of thicknesses.

 plein air painting substrates

Picture framers often use Gatorboard, and this is what a lot of plein air painters use as a support for primed linen or canvas. Cheap Joe's and other art supply stores sell various size sheets,  and there are also companies that specialize in making panels of this material. But even if you make your own panels with this material, it can be pretty expensive when you start to consider any amount of quantity, and then there is the bulk of carting it all overseas.

One of the newer materials on the market is Coroplast. Coroplast is essentially corrugated plastic, and like Gatorfoam, it is extremely lightweight. However, while not as inexpensive as plywood, Coroplast is more economical than the Gator.

 plein air painting panel substrates

Interestingly Coroplast seems also to be getting the archival nod, and a conservator for the National Gallery of Art has noted that it is virtually inert in terms of interference with the substrate. I've also found references to the use of Coroplast on art and museum conservator sites for packing and storing fine art. The biggest beef with Coroplast for a plein air panel seems to be the fluted corrugation between the sheets of plastic. The fear from conservators is that over time the canvas, if mounted directly onto Coroplast without an intermediate barrier, would adopt this same fluting texture.

...Enter Multimedia Artboard

Multimedia Artboard is another somewhat new material, designed to be an archival substrate for a variety of media from watercolor to acrylic to oil. I've seen several references to the use of this product by traveling plein air painters. This board is made of paper and epoxy resin and unlike canvas, it is rigid but extremely thin and lightweight:

 plein air painting board

It has a smooth side and a textured side, both of which can be painted on. For oil painting, the common practice seems to be to gesso the board for a less absorbant surface ( though the company claims compatibility with oils without gessoing) and then clamp, mount, or to tape it to a larger piece of coroplast or gatorboard for painting on site. Since this surface is pretty thin, it would need to be backed or mounted to some kind of board with an archival, reversable adhesive before framing.

I've ordered some of this Multimedia Artboard and have a funny story about it that I'll save for another time. I had hoped to experiment a lot with this material prior to my departure, but given my current life pattern this may not happen! So here's the plan: I'm taking a number of pieces of gessoed MMAB as well as pre-primed linen in various sizes; all of which I will tape or clamp temporaily to a larger firm support of Coroplast on location. (I'm going for the Coroplast because it won't dent if clamped- Gatorfoam might.) Any painting could then be backed or mounted in a more permanent way if I want to frame it up at home.


  • Multimedia Artboard ( I chose 16x20 sheets, which could be cut down to a variety of sizes- 8x10, 11x14, 6x8, 9x12, 12x16, etc.) Sources: Multimedia ArtBoard's site, Jerry's Artarama, Dick Blick (to name a few)
  • Gesso (for above- any art supply store)
  • Primed linen canvas, (many sources for this) cut to size (allow about 2 inches on all sides if you want to stretch the canvas when you return home, or 1/4 to 1/2 inch all around for shrinkage if you intend to glue these to a panel.)
  • One 14x18 or 16x20 inch Coroplast board to use as a firm support for paintings on location. Sources: Check local sign companies- they may be willing to sell blank sheets. Otherwise there are online suppliers for this.
  • Painter's tape and/or clamps (for temporarily adhering substrate to support)

Don't feel like doing it youself back home? You can get prepared lightweight panels from commercial sources. Here are just a few:


Wind River Arts

New Traditions Panels

Raymar (not as light as other options, but less costly and still much lighter than plywood. BTW- makes great, lightweight wet panel carriers out of --you guessed it! Coroplast!)

Plein air in my neighborhood: "Color Surprise"

In the evenings, my husband and I love walking through our Bellevue neighborhood, and we try to do it most days that our schedules and the weather will allow. There are a lot of avid gardeners in our 'hood, and in spring it seems like every nook and corner has a touch of color. The other evening we took a back alley detour and came upon this scene. It was striking in the light of dusk as the building and the irises were backlit. I came back in the morning to see if I still found interest, and I did. It was a different light, to be sure. But there was a certain pattern that played across the path and fence that I liked enough to do this little pochade.

plein air garden painting by Jennifer Young "Color Surprise" Oil on Canvas, 6x8" SOLD

If you've looked around my website you might notice that I have a thing for sheds. I guess I like the simplicity of the form, and the interesting texture of the walls and rooftops (the more decrepit the better.) I've sure painted my share of the French Provencial versions; called "cabaneaux" en Francais.

Call me crazy but I also have a thing for certain alleys. They can be kind of a "grab bag" though-- I don't always see (or smell) the most pleasant things. But sometimes when people let their private gardens spill over into the walkways I can find quite a surprise of color.