In Which I Begin to Paint Outdoors

 Plein air painting has a lot in common with backpacking and painting. 

In the beginning, you pack way too much stuff.  After hauling it around and struggling you finally sit down on your kitchen floor, unpack your gear, and start tossing things aside, "I don't need this--at least not enough to mess with it or carry it any distance.

Still, I've been intrigued with developing this type of painting. I happen to live in one of the most visually and structurally interesting and pleasing areas in the US: New Mexico. Within a day's drive there is desert, mesas, rivers, forests, mountains.  I have a history of long-distance trail-running so being in the wilderness doesn't scare me. 

I signed up for a plein air workshop through the New Mexico Art League. We have gone to three different locations so far.

The first location was Placetas, New Mexico.

I didn't really feel like I had a good view of the Mtn, and I wasn't inspired by the dotted houses on the hillside near me.  However, I was inspired by weird and crazy tree nearby.  I painted it on a gesso masonite board toned with transparent yellow oxide.  

Not over the moon about the mountain in the background. But it is what it is.  

The second location was in Bernalillo, New Mexico.  And I want to take a moment here to introduce my pleinair set-up

My set-up is the oil package from PleinAir Pro. And yes, I KNOW, I KNOW, FRENCH POCHADE BOXES are the thing but I want to be able to paint without fiddling with a million wingnuts.

I use a SLIK tripod - it's pretty great, and I love having the built-in bubble level to steady the legs. Then I slip on a panel holder, which clicks into place, and then the palette. My palette is glass.  I'm just not organized enough yet to use anything else, because I forget to clean it and then need a razor knife.  

The outfit is complete with a sport-umbrella that clamps on. 

The whole thing goes into a large bag that functions as a backpack, and NO, it was not cheap. But totally worth it.   

One of the best tips I've gotten about landscape painting is to make my distant mountains with a mixture of cobalt - this gives them the luminosity they deserve. I generally start with a sky that's a mixture of cobalt and titanium white, which you can totally do in the southwest. In the east, I think you need more prussian blue. 
Then I block in the mountain as being a darker version of the sky. 

The finished painting:

The third location was up near the ski area on Sandia Mountain. I missed this class due to having a pinched nerve, so in the middle of the week, I packed up my gear, and drove up the mountain.

I wasn't over the moon about the location. I prefer big views. But I'm determined to find beauty and interest wherever I go. So here's the scene I picked.

My gear set up, ready for painting.

The beginning. ProTip: I take off my glasses and just paint blobs and shapes as experienced by my near-sighted eyes.  

Here's the painting I left the mountain with in my PanelPak: 

Current situation. Of course it's not done. I'll go back and forth and agonize over everything until I finally give up and put some vanish on it.

I'm rarely satisfied. I felt like the first pass was too dark and didn't accurately depict the brighteness of the morning, or the scraggliness of the trees. 

I do feel that my looser, impressionistic work is better than when I get down with the tiny brushes to fix up every detail. I also feel that plein air gives me more of a chance to exploit that ability, and the ability to be comfortable. I feel that impressionism is where I want to live, if I can just LEAVE THINGS ALONE and stop going into the weeds on every single detail. 

I also joined the New Mexico Plein Air Painters association or group or something that. I'm stoked! I can't wait to start painting more scenes outdoors.