Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Plein Air Cure

September in the Dunes © Theresa Grillo Laird - oil 9x12 
September on Pensacola beach is still plenty hot enough to go swimming. It's also a great time for painting in the dunes. The colors of both land and sky deepen and the beach plants begin to bloom. But, it is still very hot and humid.
When I first visited this area 15 years ago, I was completely defeated by the climate. It was only late June, but I was so overcome by the Gulf Coast heat and humidity, that I literally couldn't function. I spent the largest part of my vacation week sacked out on the couch totally enervated. I don't know whether I can credit the pleasure of plein air painting for making me so heat tolerant, but now I actually enjoy being out in it. The sun on my skin, and even the feeling of having just emerged from a steam room, adds to all the sensory impressions that make their way into a painting. But for anyone wanting to venture out with paint and easel in a Pensacola summer, I offer these tips.

   1. Bring water. Bring plenty of water. An Audubon field worker who grew up in these parts, gave me a very good tip. He freezes his bottles of water. They turn into icy drinks that are so much more refreshing than the tepid water that you get in no time with unfrozen bottles. 

   2. Don't even think of going out without covering yourself liberally with sun block. I inherited the Germanic skin of my mother's family rather than the olive tones of my Italian half. Right now I have a tan that would make the Coppertone baby envious, and I never use an SPF under 50. 

   3. Premix the colors that you are likely to need. I carry two palettes for my French Easel- one with my paint mixtures and one to keep everything from falling out of the paint box. With most of your colors ready to go, you can jump right into painting without spending unnecessary time in the heat.

   4. Take a break after 2 or 2 1/2 hours, and go back to your air conditioned car for a few minutes. It gives your eyes a break too from looking at your painting for too long.

   5. Pay attention to your body. As much as you might want to push on through, stop and take care of yourself immediately if you start to fell light headed or confused.  See # 1 and 4.

With a little bit of preparation and self care, you can paint your way through the most brutal summer. And if all else fails, use the summer months to do early day or night scenes.


  1. Replies
    1. Your welcome Joanne! Do you also paint in tropical heat?

  2. Finally catching up on blog reading after a busy summer. I appreciate your tips for painting in the heat. I do not usually have to deal with heat here in the Pacific Northwest, usually it is the wet cold I deal with. This summer, however, was different. While the heat and humidity was no where near to what you have it was more than we were used to. I found myself having to adjust. I hadn't thought of freezing my water bottles! I also hadn't thought about retreating to the cool forest for a break and will have to remember that one. I usually have to hike in to paint so the car is never nearby. I do slather myself with sunscreen and this year I have quite a tan in spite of it. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Renee you're very welcome! I've often thought you work under difficult conditions- all that cloud and cold! You've been getting some beautiful results regardless!


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