Plein air painting is soooo romantic! At least, that's what I think. I was seduced early on by photos of other artists painting outdoors in exotic locations. These adventurers were braving all the elements- from 100 degree weather to freezing temperatures all in the name of art- and I thought that was AWESOME. I wanted to be an adventuring artist, too!
Usually plein air artists use a pochade box or French easel for painting outside. These specially designed boxes with legs allow a mobile studio to be set up anywhere. I didn't have a pochade box but I did have the next best thing- a Dominoes pizza box. I lined the bottom with wax paper on which to put my paint, and taped my canvas board to the top lid to act as my easel. I remember feeling SO inspired! Nothing could stop me now- I was an outdoor artist.
For my first outing I picked a familiar mountain trail and could already see the composition laid out in my head. I knew where there was a gorgeous bend in the trail right beside a bridge. I wanted to sit above the gurgling water and capture the morning light through those tiny, tender tree leaves. When I arrived at the trailhead it was fairly busy and I wasn’t surprised. It was, after all, a gorgeous summers day. As I made my way up the first hill clutching my pizza box joggers tromped by with wide eyes.
"Have any extra?" One runner joked, pulling out his headphones to hear my response.
"That looks amazing!" a girl laughed breathlessly, slowing just long enough to get a good look. I started to feel a little cruel. I got SO many comments that I realized people were convinced I'd brought an actual whole pizza on the hike with me. One man asked if I was going to eat it once I reached the top as a kind of reward! But the people weren't the only ones to take a keen interest in my 'pochade box'. I reached the trail bend and set up on my folding camp stool. I opened the pizza box and balanced it like a laptop across my legs. I set my solvent jar on the ground between my feet and got to work.
If the people could see my pizza box from a mile away, the dogs could certainly smell it! There was quite a commotion of dogs on a mission for my invisible pizza followed by distressed owners wondering why I was sitting in the forest eating a 'pizza' in the first place. One dog lost his composure entirely and began spinning and barking in a frenzy, something the owner had never seen him do before. I suppose the sight of a stranger stooped behind a box in the trees was more than the dog could handle. Even a mountain biker zoomed past only to slowly inch his way back over and ask what exactly was going on!
Apart from the suspicious dogs, confounded humans, and even more interested insects, I managed to complete my first plein air painting. Despite it's haggard construction, my pizza box pochade worked like a charm! If you want to paint, don't let anything stop you. Make due with what you have and the painting will find it's own way.
I did save up for a real wood and glass pochade box and it has been a wonderful hiking companion! A pizza box is no match for the real thing, but based on the interest, I'm convinced a person could make a small fortune selling slices of pizza along mountain trails.
Here you can see my fancy official pochade box in action!