This past weekend I made my first attempt at Plein Air painting (En plein air (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn ɛːʁ]), or plein air painting, is a phrase borrowed from the French equivalent meaning “open (in full)air“.).
We were heading out to Joshua Tree for the Easter weekend and it seemed like a good idea for me to sit and paint while everyone else wandered around – hiking or taking photos. So I asked around for suggestions and got some great tips. Thank goodness for that, and thank you to everyone who chimed in on that.
I packed a couple of canvases, brushes and paints in my travel bag. And we lugged my French Easel out to the dessert. On Saturday, in the afternoon, we drove around the national forest looking for a good spot. It was just in the 70’s this weekend, but no one was prepared for how dry it was. Now don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a dessert. For that reason it was recommended that I bring a spray bottle with water. We’ve been to Joshua Tree a lot over the last decade and a half. At one point we would camp nearly once a month out there, so I thought I knew what to expect. But we all agreed it was the driest I’ve felt out there. And we had the wind to contend with.
There was a bit of discussion on where I would set up. I had a view I really liked, but I caved to the wisdom of setting up in the shade of a rock formation and used a view I was much less impressed with. (And maybe that colored my experience as well).
So it took me 3 tries to just get the sky in. When I sprayed the canvas, it would get wet in spots and the rest would be dry. So, as I would bring a big blue stroke across the canvas, by the time I would come back the other way, it was “digging a hole” (painter term – see below*).
Eventually, I figured out it was better to use the spray bottle to spray the paint in my wet pallet. And I had pretty much flooded the sponge and paper in the wet pallet and still the paint was drying almost as fast as I could put it down. And I had to move fast to get the paint up to the canvas before it dried on the brush.
4+ hours later and a lot of frustration, I had something done. And I was pretty much done with the experience. And I never figured out what I wanted to replace the cars and road with.
I may try this again sometime, but probably NOT in the desert.
*Digging a Hole: In painting, if you try to take a brush with wet paint and apply it over paint on canvas that is partially dry it will start to lift off some of the original paint on the canvas – causing holes.