Plein Air: “Pleinaking” (Kayaking n Painting)

~6x8 acrylic on paper. This is the backwaters of Lake Tyler (East side)
~6×8 acrylic on paper. This is the backwaters of Lake Tyler (East side)

I finally finished the welding program and shot out of town to visit friends in Tyler, TX. I had a chance to get the kayak out to Lake Tyler where it crosses Hwy 64.  The water have risen from recent rains and on the north side of the highway, where it’s “swampy”, 20 acres of area has opened up like a VIP area for kayakers.  It’s a great respite tucked away from heavy traffic on the main lake area.  Here’s a quick video I did to show you the area: 

8×10 acrylic. I wanted to catch the massive clouds over Stillhouse Lake

After getting back home, I noticed Renato Muccillo’s new painting “Rising Thunderheads” and with billowing clouds outside, was inspired to get the kayak out once again. This is out on Lake Stillhouse where the turnoff for the fishing area is. The paper seemed to suck any moisture out of my paints like a parched sponge, but one I got an initial layer of acrylic on there, it was fun.  It’s a trick to paint in a kayak. You see that line where the lake water meet the land and needs to be a straight line? That was exactly the moment a huge bass boat sent a monster wake broadside to me.  The second try? A boat passed with some screeching girls on one of those towing plastic floats with handles. Eventually, with three applications, I got it.  Phew.  After they left, the water was calm as the sun began to set. The thin strip of green land really looked like it glowed. If I scale this up, I’ll probably pull that land forward, enlarging it so you can really see the golden light to complement the cobalt blues.

Both lakes had moments of such peace, there is little that can describe it except being immersed in the ever-present stillness of nature.  It’s an experience I wish for everyone.

Artist Chat/Notes:

Tyler Lake Painting:  The video explains much of the concept.  Palette: titan white, cobalt blue, red light hue, hooker’s green, alizarin crimson, cad yellow.  Using cobalt blue seems to nail the sky color, adding a touch of red light hue (orange) to it with some white to mute and lighten it toward the horizon.  The clouds themselves are just mixes of cobalt blue and the orange and lighting them with white. If you do a simple gradient of those two colors, I bet you’ll like the soft grey that form, looking a lot like the actual underside color of clouds.  The darks of the trees were mixes of alizarin crimson and hookers green and I added yellow to get the brights. The distant trees were the same, but with cobalt blue added to distance them.  One other note is that I used the orange in the mix to get the color of the weeds on the water, which really tied in the colors in the clouds, producing a harmony.

Stillhouse Lake painting: titan white, cobalt blue, right light hue (orange), paynes grey, cad yellow.  I really punched the contrast in the clouds and decreased contrast of the rest of the painting to make the eye move upwards.  Also, this is one more area where gesture drawing in life drawing classes has really helped to capture the “movement” of the clouds. If you don’t already, I encourage you to practice this, even though it’s not landscape drawing. I can sense the difference this makes when I’m painting now. The clouds used the same cobalt, orange, titanium mix as the previous painting, just in different values.  Tim Gagnon has a good YouTube video on doing clouds. It was really hard to keep the strip of land so thin, but that’s actually the way it is in the scene.  The other difficult part is how muted the greens were, despite seeming to be very green.  Holding your brush with the mixed color up to the scene will help identify this. As always, please comment with painting tips if you see something that’ll help! Thanks!

Now get out there and paint! 🙂


Painting in a Kayak: 1st Attempt


So there is “on location” painting, and then there is kayak painting, in the kayak, with water, waves, 20 mph winds and splashing. And then there’s the same thing when a bass fisherman screams by at full throttle loving all his horses packed in the engine and not noticing the kayak that looks like a large man-bobber with arm and legs out trying to keep a painting and pallet from getting wet. Welcome to kayak plein air painting!

For all its “less than ideal” aspects when trying to paint, it makes up for it with great views and a lot of fun getting there! I just throw the kayak in the truck bed, with my pochade box (portable paint-kit box), a paddle an anchor and I’m off to a picturesque river or lake! Not a such a bad idea, eh?

This first experience had a few teaching points. I’ve kayaked at Stillhouse Lake before and had a rough idea for some good painting spots. “Good” has a new meaning in a kayak for painting. Wind is a really big factor. I paddled about a quarter of a mile and found a good spot. I carefully adjusted the view just right. It’s like when hanging a picture on the wall where it takes consideration to get “just right”. Excited I could envision what potential the view had while pulling out the pochade box, then looked up and I’ve just drifted half a football field. It’s no longer “just right”. I needed the anchor and this spots too deep. Relenting, I paddled another half mile ohhing and ahhing at all the sites. I found another view in really shallow water and tossed out the anchor. There it went. All of it. Luckily I saw the end of the string floating so I could paddle to get it real quick before it disappeared. So I tied it in to the seat adjusting belt and tried again. It’s one of those anchors that looks like the grappling hook superheroes shoot out over the edge of a building and four spikes fling out to hook anything solid. Well, in real life on the bottom of a lake it grapples mud. With the force of the wind on the kayak, I dredged quite a bit of shoreline hoping for a branch or rock to grab. If there was a dead body, I would have known. Finally, I practically launched it on the shore, it held and as luck would have it, it turned my kayak with the wind in just the right position to paint the view!


I got out the pochade box and dabbed a bit of paint onto the pallet. By the time I dabbed the second paint color to mix, the first dab was dry! Hmm. Maybe quick drying acrylics in dry wind is a bad idea. Then, a little wave splashed some drops of water on my pallet. I lowered the box down tucked out of the wind in my sit-in kayak, mixed in a bit of lake water drops and that helped to slow down the drying (some). It became a speed painting challenge and I was having fun. Then the bass boat ripped by creating a rouge wave (from kayak view). Splash. Wet pallet, wet me and a wet painting. Hmm, maybe water-based acrylics is a bad idea in a watery lake with rouge waves. Eventually, I adjusted to the rocking boat, the wind and even the sun glaring at me from above and below. There’s a point at which it doesn’t matter what’s not ideal. There is an incredible view right in front of me, paint on the pallet and I’m just painting. Nothing else matters. While its not the best painting result, the experience was awesome.


With some oil paints and a larger anchor, attempt #2 should be much better all around.

Update: Day 2 with oils… 20-30 mph gusts, but using two grappling hook anchors worked great. As for using oils, it was officially a mess. The boat rocked and my spare bushes rolled across the pallet. I tried to clean off the bushes and my hands were then oily. Oily kayak, anchor ropes, … Time to figure out how to use acrylics and slow down the drying time. On the positive side, two anchors really helps with rouge waves!