Recently I took a family trip to the woods outside of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. The air was crisp and the ground very muddy. A wet winter had left the earth beyond damp, and the forecast for our weekend away featured rain throughout. The colors of the forest were brown with bits of moss green mixed in. I am a plein artist but rarely get out before the warmth of spring finally hits Pennsylvania. However, I like to bring my easel and supplies on family trips because there might be a chance to sneak away and paint. I watched the skies and saw a break in the clouds on Saturday. I grabbed my gear, kissed my toddlers’ heads and promised my husband I’d be back soon. There were a few four wheelers at the camp so I had my brother-in-law chauffer me down the road.
I knew I couldn’t be outdoors painting very long because it was chilly. I choose a family-favorite spot along a back road. There’s a large pipe under the road through which Dantz Run crosses to the other side. It is a location that the whole family loves to visit in the summer so the kids can splash around. I may have washed my hair more than once in that icy water on hot days. It is a magical place and it holds a lot of memories for us. I like to create artwork in places that have special meaning, so this was perfect.
I told my brother-in-law to come back in 30 minutes. I strapped my travel easel to my hip and slowly worked my way off the road and down to the creek’s edge. It was a quiet place. I knew exactly where I wanted to set up. I’ve thought about painting in this place for many years, so I had it mentally ready to go.
As I set up my easel I realized two things: I would need to prop the easel at an extreme angle because of the rocks and I should have brought gloves! This practical tip is a big one. I always forget how cold the fingers get and how hard it is to hold a pencil with them. Oh well. I pressed on.
I was going to stick with a pencil sketch and possibly a watercolor painting. There was pressure to get it done. Having a short frame of time made me focus better. I got the equipment up and out. Now to another important step when painting outside—always take pictures of your subject matter right when you start! It seems obvious, but I have done it at the end of the session and my lighting has shifted. It changes my process and can be annoying to fix when I get back home.
I snapped my pictures and tightened my hood a little tighter as the air cooled off. I began laying out the composition with pencil on paper as quickly as possible. I reworked my lines on the paper many times. It was daunting because I haven’t done much drawing from observation in a while. I was rusty. I had to use my eraser a lot, but I enjoyed the challenge of it.
The time flew by so fast! I heard the roar of an engine about the same time my hands could no longer hold a pencil. It was my ride, ready to pick me up. I was able to get a great first layer on my drawing and can’t wait to add my paper to it. I closed up my easel and filled my backpack with supplies. My plan is to go back this summer and create in the same location—this time remembering sunscreen and a hat!