Plein Air en Velo
I’ve always felt that plein air painting is the ultimate but I’ve never done enough of it to really feel comfortable. Hopefully that will change now that I’ve outfitted myself with equipment that allows me to take-off on my mountain bike with my painting gear. While riding around the river valley here in Edmonton I’ve often noticed views that cried out to be painted. Until know I have had to be satisfied with taking a quick reference photo and then working up a painting in the studio.
The first piece in the puzzle was the pochade, a self contained studio-in-a box. I have long heard of the Guerrilla Painter line of plein air boxes and after much deliberation decided to go with their 9 x 12 inch pochade. I wanted something as big as possible but it had to be small enough to carry on my bike. That meant I had to face the limitation of the bike bag (pannier) that I would use. At first I did not think I’d be able to find a bag to accommodate the 9×12 box and so had been thinking I’d have to go with the 6×8 box. But I did find a pannier at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) that I thought would work – but it didn’t. Even though the dimensions of the bad were adequate the opening at the top was just a tad too small – the bag wouldn’t stretch and the wooden box can’t compress to fit through the opening. I returned that bag and picked up another one (the Urban Shopping Tote) which had a large top opening and ample room inside (not only for the pochade box but also for my collapsible stool).
It looks like the bike may be side-heavy with the bag/box on just the one side but I noticed nothing unusual in the bike handling as I was riding. I set off down the bike paths and then dirt trail within Edmonton’s river valley arriving at a place about 10K from home that I had long wanted to paint. It is a little pond set on a flat section, half way down the river bank.
Having picked my scene, I got set up to paint. The pochade and stool came out of my bike bag easily and set up quickly.
I had decided, for this first test run, not to use a tripod to support the pochade box since I’d prefer to travel light and not to have to carry a tripod. One thing I quickly discovered was that I couldn’t just support the pochade on my lap. I ended up sitting on my stool with one leg crossed up over the other to give me a more stable platform. This worked reasonably well but was not the most comfortable position and it did not allow me to easily back away from the painting to get the big picture of how it was coming along.
At one point I did put the pochade upon my stool so I could back-up and take a look. Another lesson was learned at that point. The stool is not the most stable thing.
As I got a few paces back, I saw not only my painting and the inspirational scene but in slow motion, I watched as the stool collapsed and my pochade box fell and dumped its contents at the edge of the pond.
Fortunately there was no damage – the canvas stayed in the lid and none of my paints or other equipment actually hit water. I picked everything up and put the finishing touches on my painting.Considering that the point of this day’s outing was to test my equipment rather than produce a great painting, I was moderately satisfied with the canvas. I used a limited palette: alizarin crimson, Winsor yellow, olive green, and cobalt blue with an alkyd mixing white. The mixed colors turned out muddier than I would have liked but were probably representative of reality. In the end I wasn’t too pleased with the value range – it seemed pretty dynamic in the field but after the fact it looks very flat and the darks just are not very dark. Both of these issues though I can work on and if I do a larger work based on this sketch I expect that I can and will improve the color saturation and values.
I am already looking forward to my next plein air excursion on the bike. I will take along a tripod to hold the pochade box and also will experiment with different clothing, that might be a bit better for both cycling and painting.