|September in the Dunes © Theresa Grillo Laird - oil 9x12|
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.