When it's 10 below and most of us are hunched over a space heater in our studio, these artists are bundled up, full of excitement, pochade box gripped in gloved hands. Who are they? You guessed it, plein air artists! These winter enthusiasts will stand outside, chilled to the bone, but thrilled at the challenge of capturing the flawless winter beauty of a fresh snow.
Creating art in these circumstances requires dedication, but it can also be extremely rewarding. Do snow-laden branches and quiet winter serenity beckon your creative side, but the weather makes you turn up the thermostat?
We looked to the masters of creating art outdoors for tips on how to stay warm in the field.
When it comes to layering, plein air painter Brienne Browne says it best: “I may look like a puff ball, but I am warm.” Don't just toss on your heaviest jacket over a cotton shirt. The layer closest to your skin should be something that keeps you extra warm. Wool, especially, makes an excellent insulating base layer.
For your next layer, consider a down jacket. Combining a wool base-layer and a down jacket will keep your body’s core warm. This is critical because if your core is losing heat, it will decrease blood supply to your extremities. Cold hands and feet make it difficult to paint in the field, so be sure your core is well insulated.
Work With the Sun
To get the most out of sunny days in the field, you want to soak up the warmth of the sun’s rays and also minimize the glare. The snow reflects sunlight right into your face and eyes, so don’t forget sunglasses and extra sunscreen.
Bright light can also make it difficult to see your work. Plein air painter Kathleen Dunphy advises using an umbrella not only against precipitation but also to combat glare on sunlit winter days.
Lori McNee suggests another creative solution to fighting glare—wear a black shirt to help prevent the light from reflecting onto your work surface. Lori has extensive experience painting in Idaho winters and has put together a useful video about her process in the field.
Jane Hunt stays warm in the field by combining layers of down as she paints.
Bring a Warm Beverage
The only thing better than getting home to warm cider is having that cider with you while you’re out in the cold! Next time you head out into the field, bring a thermos full of your favorite hot beverage. The key here is to find a thermos that really makes the heat last, so you can take warming sips for hours.
Bonus tip: thinking of putting a little something extra in your thermos to beat the cold? Don’t stop there — Brienne advises adding a little white wine or vodka to your watercolor water to prevent freezing!
Break Out the Long Underwear
Since your legs are well insulated by muscle and often in motion, it's easy to forget about keeping them warm. However, all this movement lets cold air in and pushes warm air out. In addition, once you stop moving, they grow cold quickly, which also chills your feet. A snug pair of long underwear is that extra step you can take to really beat the cold.
Silk long underwear is comfortable, light, and warm. It may feel thin, but that extra layer between you and the elements goes a long way. Combine this with wool socks and even placing a mat between your feet and the snow and you will be surprised by how much longer you can stand in the field painting! It’s easier to access that serene winter magic when your legs and feet aren’t freezing!
Keep Yours Hands Toasty
Drawing or painting with cold, numb, hands is a challenge nobody wants to deal with. Fortunately, hand warmers are the perfect solution to that problem. Kathleen Dunphy combines fingerless gloves with hand warming packets to keep her hands warm, yet dextrous enough to paint precisely.
If it's especially cold, or you want extra warm hands, bring along an old fashioned hand warmer to put in your pocket. These use lighter fuel to generate heat and are surprisingly compact. Not only do these produce more heat than the disposable variety, they’re also reusable and stay warm for up to 12 hours.
Next time you’re outside and the lines are getting shaky, put your hands into a pocket warmed by one of these, take in the scenery for a few minutes, and get back to it.
The Bottom line?
“A camera just can't capture the nuances of color that a plein air study can, and I find this to be even more true of snow scenes,” says Jane Hunt. By preparing your body for the cold, you can capture the subtlety and beauty of nature comfortably.
Waiting for the paint to dry after a long day in the winter wonderland? Put another log on the fire and get organized using Artwork Archive. By the time spring is here, your work will be seamlessly inventoried and ready to go.