Working Outdoors

The creation of artwork in wild areas, far from any shelter, is no simple task.  Nevertheless, some of my best drawings have been done under the cover of an umbrella during drizzling rain - to do this, of course, I’m obliged to balance the umbrella in one hand while drawing with the other.  I did the small drawing "Study of a Eucalyptus" in this way.   And I completed the larger drawing "Triffids" from the shelter of a small cave on a rainy day.  I don't necessarily try to go out on rainy days - but the mountain weather is unpredictable, and I do have a preference for the softer light and atmosphere of cloudy or foggy days, and that increases my risk of getting caught in the rain, so I simply go prepared.  Occasionally, though, even the best preparation can't provide sufficient protection from the elements - as during an especially memorable incident when I was surprised by a sudden downpour so intense that water ran off my umbrella in drenching torrents.

Rain, however, is often less problematic than wind.  A light rain can be easily deflected with an umbrella, but powerful winds are much more difficult to contend with.  A canvas on a standing easel becomes an effective sail, and I've watched my easels collapse or blow away on more than one occasion.  Or there was that time when an unexpected gust of wind threw an entire box of pastels onto the ground, smashing many of the colors into tiny bits.  I lost a glass palette in the same way (I don't use glass palettes outdoors any more).

By far, though, the greatest difficulty of outdoor painting is the issue of safely transporting the artwork from one place to another.  Wet paintings and fragile drawings are very delicate objects to carry around.  They must be protected from rain and from all contact with tree branches and airborne debris. 

To solve this problem, I designed and built wooden cases in which to securely hold a drawing board or a stretched canvas - my paper or canvas is held within the empty interior of these shallow boxes, where nothing can touch the surface of the work.  The boxes are heavily varnished to render the wood waterproof, for extra durability in wet weather.  An enormous back-pack attaches to either box, to carry not only art supplies but also food, water, warm clothing, etc.  The entire arrangement probably weighs more than 30 pounds when fully loaded, but the boxes are equipped with adjustable straps and thick padding that allow me to carry it all on my back with reasonable comfort.

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