We travel frequently to paint en plein air in new locations and sometimes teach workshops in those new environments as well. One of our favorite locations is northern New Mexico–the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch area. Each day while we are there, we plan our schedule to paint in the best light—about two or three hours of plein air painting the early morning light, followed by a long mid-day break, and then another four hours in the late afternoon into evening, for those golden sunset moments.
|Chimney Rocks, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico by John Hulsey, 8 x 10, oil painting.|
Painting outside in places such as this, which are so different from the colors and light conditions of our home ground, takes some getting used to. First, there is the intense light caused in part by the latitude, high elevation and dry air. Unless some open shade can be found, having a painting umbrella is essential. Second, the colorful new scenery requires a change of palette from what we normally have in our pochade boxes, and this too, takes some time. All those desert colors must be mixed in enough quantity to carry us through a painting, and most of us would rather be spending time painting than mixing.
A smart way to handle this is to pre-mix and fill tubes with the new colors that we are likely to need. We often buy empty tubes and fill them by hand before a big trip. This saves enormous amounts of remixing time on location and can really jump-start our paintings. There is no need to get them exactly right—close is good enough. Then one only needs to make slight adjustments on site to get the colors just right. Painting repeatedly in a familiar location allows one to nail down the palette with more precision, as Scott Christensen has done with his set of western colors for Vasari Paint company. If you don't want to deal with mixing and filling your own tubes, his set of 6 colors is a simple way to get most of what you'll need for painting in the West.
|My New Mexico plein air palette of pre-mixed colors allows me a "close enough"
starting point to start painting in this new environment.
Our rule if you can't get no satisfaction when in a new plein air landscape? Do whatever you can to spend more time painting, not mixing. Maximum artistic satisfaction just about guaranteed.
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–John and Ann