Painting Outdoors with AcrylicsTips and tricks for painting plein air in acrylics by Linda MacAulay
Painting on Location in Acrylics
by Linda MacAulay
Well I am back in Melbourne after painting on site in the West MacDonnell Ranges and working as Artist in Residence at Uluru. What a whirlwind! Painting on site this time proved to be one of the biggest challenges I have had with hot gale force winds, plagues of flies and an audience of tourists at each location. Phew…every day was exhausting, but also a creative joy with lots of lessons along the way.
This blog is about some of the lessons learned on my journey. Scroll down to check out the photos and some advice on working on site.
The painting on the left is of Walpa Gorge in Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). It features Matisse Impasto Medium and Geraldton Crushed Garnet to create texture and then many transparent layers of paint over metallic paint. Of course it was created over a week in the studio….again with an audience watching, but it was a whole lot easier than the location works.
I used Matisse Gel Medium to glue canvas off cuts onto some board. I used standard sizes which I already had frames for. This way my boards had good quality canvas which is easier to paint on.
Some of the canvas was a little dirty so I gave it 2 coats of Matisse Gesso and let it dry before packing it. I used baking paper between the boards once they were dry to prevent them sticking together as acrylic loves to stick to acrylic…especially in the extreme heat of the car.
I bought these flat plastic boxes with a lid to use as non drying palettes while I was away. I lined the base with a towel cut to size and then good quality baking paper. On site I wet the towel and put the paints out on the baking paper. This prevents the paints drying out and the lid stops the paint spilling in the car.
Finally I bought a toiletries travel kit with small leak proof bottles for my painting mediums. I took Acrylic Painting Medium, Surface Tension Breaker, a tiny jar of Impasto Medium and the spray bottle contained drying retarder. Then I packed it all in a snap lock bag to prevent leaks.
I also added some brushes, a palette knife, clean absorbent rags, water containers, spare plastic bags and a roll of baking paper to start a new palette when needed. I sorted my paints into colour groups ie. reds, yellows blues etc and put each group into a snap lock bag to make them easier to find.
Once on location I wet the towel beneath the baking paper and put out a warm palette and a cool palette in separate containers. This prevented the colours running together and forming a muddy mess.
It was so hot that I immediately sprayed each palette with drying retarder. When I was finished painting I just put the lid back on. Despite the heat, the paint on these palettes stayed moist for days.
I used a mixture of Matisse Flow and Matisse Structure paints. Usually I sat on the ground and spread my tubes of paint out around me. Once the palette became too muddy I simply throw out the baking paper and start with a fresh piece.
This was painted in about an hour. One of the advantages of the heat was that things dried fast allowing me to use multiple coats of paint in a very short period of time.
Here I painted in the shade of the van. So much easier….cooler with no gear or water to lug. The little fold up camping stool was easier than sitting on the ground.
These two little paintings were done in 90 minutes sitting under the shade of a gum tree. The photos were taken by a tour group who stopped to chat. If I had eftpos while I was out I would have sold them on the spot. Lol
I can’t look at this without feeling thirsty. It was scorching hot and I ran out of water despite having 2 litres on me. I found I needed at least 3 litres for each hour and most of that was for me to drink but in this work I used a fair bit to wash brushes.
Tips for Painting on Location
Here are the main things I learned on this trip.
- Pack Light Remember you also need to carry water so take as little as possible and improvise.
- Use Palettes with Lids that are Non Drying. Use one for cool colours and the other for warm colours and set them before you head out to your location so you only have to carry a few paints with you to the actual location. Make sure you can carry the palettes flat so the paints do not run into each other.
- Take lots of Water You need water to wash out brushes as well as to drink. I found I needed at least 2 to 3 litres for each paint out.
- Baking Paper– Use this for a palette and also to prevent your dried acrylic paintings from sticking together in the heat of the car.
- Pizza Box – This was fantastic for popping wet paintings into and prevented me getting wet paint in the car.
- A Good Hat and Insect Repellent
- Be prepared for an audience – If your painting on location in a well visited location then your going to have an audience watching, asking questions, making comments and taking photographs. It can be scary but have a few business cards on hand as you never know what you might sell as a result of making that contact.