Protecting Plein Aire Paintings

Not many artists have a blank checkbook that will allow them to purchase all of the things they would like to have in their plein aire kit.  Having a light weight easel and a nice box to carry one's pastels or oil paints are two necessities that all artists must have to move their studio onsite into the great outdoors. Another item  of course is a decent umbrella to give one shade from hot sun while one works on that new masterpiece. The umbrella also allows one to shade one's painting and be able to see the correct values of your colors on the painting without glare. The one other dilemma most of us face, is a suitable and safe method of transporting our wet paintings or dry pastels safely back home to our studio.

No matter the place, you may choose, the elements can provide a tremendous challenge to your day or hours of painting. Whether it is bright sun, wind, unexpected rain or sudden chill temperatures, it can make one hurriedly pack up and head back to the warmth of your studio. Hopefully this particular day's outing you are not miles from your car, but if you are a considerable distance, will your old method safeguard your painting back to the car in a cloudburst?

Putting away the easel and the pastels is not usually the issue that gives one problems, the main concern on every artist's mind at that juncture is being able to safely transport the painting or paintings one has started back to the car and then get them safely home. Some artists carry an art bag with folders with glassine pages in them to put over the pastel so it will be protected. But even in that situation, if one is walking any distance and the bag that your folder is in is jostling about, your painting could get smudged, or damp from the rain. Therein lies the dilemma we all face,  bringing back our painting or in some cases paintings from the field safely and without any damage.

After considerable research I have found a product called PanelPak that I liked and subsequently purchased two PanelPak units, one that holds a 9" X 12" and one that holds 12" X 16" paintings. When I ordered the product, which comes in a number of standard sizes, I was pleasantly surprised by the workmanship, its light weight and the simplicity of the product. It is a frame that is routed like the back of a picture frame on both sides. It has two pieces of masonite board that act as covers that fit into the routed channel to back your paintings and keep them protected. Each PanelPak will hold two paintings. The panels are secured by two very sturdy rubber bands in a sandwich in which the paintings face each other but are separated by a half- inch of air space.  The units cost less than 25.00 each, which to me is a very good investment.  I have used the PanelPak several times since I bought them in plein air excursions, and have found that I can transport my pre-cut paper in them and of course transport the rough or finish pastels back home safely. 


I have supplied a photo of the PanelPak wet panel carrier for you to see how they work. They are not waterproof, but will fit easily in your waterproof bag. You may of course look them up online yourself at, and order them online in whatever sizes you wish. The company is quick to respond to your order and ships them out UPS within a matter of days. I hope you find this product a valuable addition to your plein aire kit.

Twilight at Pismo Lagoon

Pismo has been a getaway place for our family for a number of years. When our children were in their teens we used to go camping at Pismo Dunes RV park or Pismo Dunes State Beach. For the past five years we have had our trailer permanently stored in Pismo, and whenever we want to go down we make a reservation at the Pismo Dunes RV park. It usually takes a six month in advance reservation to make that a week in summer. We try to go down several times a year especially during the hot months. 

This past August we had a full week and were joined by our Son Colin and his new wife Maria. They flew out from Virginia to be with us on Cindy's birthday. That was her present this year. Having our son and his wife with us made the week special.  It is a cool respite from summers heat inland, and its beaches are a source of wonder from morning to night. Waking early in the morning and making a fresh pot of coffee always sets the day off the right way. It is usually col and foggy in the early hours, and a perfect time to walk up on the top of the barrier dune and survey the lagoon that is usually filled with both sea birds and marsh dwellers.

It is relaxing to enjoy the antics of the duck's bobbing up and down for breakfast on the bottom of the lagoon, or see pelicans dive down and grab a snack of fresh fish. Shore birds such as the Great White Egret and the Lesser Egret, as well as Blue Herons wade along the marshy sides spearing anything that comes within reach. Cormorants sit on floating logs washed down by winters rains, spreading their wings to dry them in the air. It is a bird sanctuary, a natural wonder of natures bounty for beach lovers and birders to enjoy.

I got up early as I have many times, only this time I took my sketch book along with my cup of coffee, and began drawing some notans for a painting of the lagoon with the somber morning fog. I decided on a painting, and went back to the campsite to break out my pastels. I began that painting while I had the low natural light and also took a few photos so I could have the right lighting in case the weather changed before I finished. I did end up finishing that painting at home sitting on our deck a week later.

Since my Colin and Maria were with us and it was her first time to California, there was not a lot of time to just sit and ponder the beauty and sketch or paint. We did need to show her the area and some of the beautiful places that are so near. I did take quite a few photos though, and one special evening my son and his wife  and I all sat on the top of the dune, overlooking the lagoon, and watched the sun go down. It was a beautiful evening, with wonderful clouds and lots of color. Unfortunately my camera battery died at the time when the sun was providing such a beautiful palette of color. Fortunately my son reminded me I still had a camera in my I-Phone and I took several pictures of the beautiful twilight sunset that dappled the sand and lagoon in pinks, and shades of purple. The light was mesmerizing and very beautiful. I wanted to paint this wonderful scene. I sent them to my Gmail address so I could look at them on my computer.

With family emergencies requiring several trips south and a full calendar of work for my old employer, it was not possible to paint that scene until this month. I selected a piece of Kitty Wallis Belgian sanded paper that was 12" X 18" and taped it to a board and placed it on my easel. I began the painting with a sketch of the lagoon, and then used Prismacolor pastels to block in the different color masses. Once I had that done, I brushed the colored areas with Turpenoid to provide a good base. I followed up with soft pastels from my palette of Rembrands, Sennelier, Winsor and Newton and Great American Art pastels.  The painting gradually came to life on my easel but the lighting in the room I use as a studio is terrible. When I took the painting outside to get a sense of the balance and color, I was disappointed, and not at all happy with the way it looked.  The colors were just not right at all. The warmth was not there.

Today, there was no rain and it was bright and a cool 51 degrees. Since there was a breeze, I decided to put on a warm coat and I took my table top easel outside and put it on the patio table. It was there on the deck in natural light that I finished the painting. The light on this cloudy day allowed me to get the right hues on the sand and capture the reflections in the water. I hope you enjoy the final product which is called, "Twilight on Pismo Lagoon".

Twilight at Pismo Lagoon

Twilight at Pismo Lagoon

A Gift From Pastel Artist Deborah Secor

Deborah Secor is an amazing accomplished pastel artist. I believe her greatest attribute however; is her strong faith and commitment to her Lord Jesus Christ, whom she credits unabashedly as her personal savior. Her faith is strong, clear and lived daily, shared by and with her husband. 

Perhaps it is her faith that gives Deborah the ability to see beauty so clearly and capture and transmit the beauty to her Wallis sanded paper for others to enjoy. Her strong sense of well being and completeness also makes her a fine teacher. She seems to enjoy sharing her gifts and insights from years of painting with her students. Her reward comes from seeing students become better artists as they soak in her demonstrated techniques to achieve paintings that catch the eye of the viewer.  We are very fortunate to have some outstanding pastel artists who are also amazing teachers. In my book, she is right there with Richard McKinley, Margot Schulzke and Maggie Price in her ability to clearly state how she accomplishes various techniques she has learned over the years through trial and error.

She has no smugness, or snobbery about her work, she is genuine and wants to share her God given gifts and what she has learned through trial and error. A good case in point is the book she has taken a long time to write, "Landscape Painting in Pastels." She is giving it to any who wants to read it free. She has published it on the web at where it can be read or downloaded by anyone interested in bettering their knowledge of pastel painting. So much knowledge that goes beyond just knowing how to use pastels, or what process to use, but a greater understanding of how to use color and how too determine the values of that color. Her book is an invaluable resource for any serious artist. I thank her for her generously sharing her talent and knowledge.

Great American Pastels

Since I became enamored with the pastel medium, I have been trying various pastels made in different countries of the world. There are many wonderful old names like Sennelier, Rembrandt, Schminke,Winsor Newton and of course many other brands that artists love and revere. I have quite a few softer pastels  by Rembrandt, Sennelier and Winsor Newton and even a few buttery soft by American pastel maker Terry Ludwig.  I have a full set of Prismacolor hard pastels that I use a lot for under colors but I did not have any Great American Art Works Pastels that I have heard so many positive things about. These wonderful pastels are made in the USA.

Since I am always griping about buying American products, I ordered a small selection of Great American pastels from Jerry's a  few months ago, and really found them to be soft, and not subject to crumbling like some of my Winsor Newtons. I was very impressed with how smoothly they applied to my Wallis paper with a light stroke. They had one pastel I purchased that said silver and so had to check it out. It really was silver and I have used it on several paintings that required a touch of silver. I wanted to have more of these beauties! They have 468 different colors and are always adding more selections. They also have fun names, like, Church Mouse Grey, Zest, Paris, Atmosphere, Merlot, don't wine, you get the picture. 

A few weeks ago I saw a Thunderstorm set on sale by for a low and impossible to refuse price. I have coveted this set for some time and so I ordered them. They came in the mail and I could not wait to use them on a pastel I was working on that had wonderful sky colors. How I wish I had them when I worked on my Desert Storm piece.

Last Saturday, I had attended a demonstration put on by Bob Strohsahl, Head Honcho of Great American Art Works pastel company, at University Art in Sacramento, California.  This was a reserve your seat event, and also the quarterly meeting for the Pastel Society of the West Coast. I had no idea that Bob would brings such a huge selection of wonderful wooden boxed selections of 78 pastels each by so many well known pastel artist like Margo Schultzke, Richard McKinley, Paul Murray, Judith Carducci and others, as well as 60 half stick sets. I think everyone in the room was salivating looking at the many colorful boxes that were saying take me home!

Bob made a delightful and informative presentation about the company and where they purchase many of the minerals used in their pastels. He showed many wonderful color pictures of places we all would love to visit and paint. Margo Schultzke was at that presentation and said that she has been delighted with the pastels and the variety of colors.  One very lucky member won a door prize in a drawing of 78 pastels of a set of his choosing. I know David, you are probably still smiling!  Many of us bought various sets of our choosing at that event because we were given a great price with no shipping charges. I purchased a Richard McKinley selection since I liked the color selection and know I do not have some of the colors in my palette.  I cannot wait to beak them out and incorporate them into my palette and enjoy using them.

I encourage you to buy some and test them out. I am sold on this companies wonderful pastels, and know that I don't need to look anywhere else to find what I want.  The best part is, like the Terry Ludwig Pastels,  they are made right here in America!