Painting in the Wind

The day broke with sunshine, scattered clouds and the promise of mild temperatures — all good omens for painting outside — but a steady wind picked up as I headed out to Lory State Park west of town, and by the time I got there, the wind was sending snow flying across the road and tossing tree branches wildly to and fro. As I steered my car into a parking space at the visitor center to get a day-use pass, I met my plein air painting buddies hurrying back from our designated painting location. “We couldn’t paint there; it’s blowing our easels down.” they shouted above the penetrating, 30-mile-an-hour gusts. While they retreated to sheltered spots behind the center, I quickly decided this was a day to paint in my car, but where? I could head out alone to a more scenic part of the park or I could stay in the company of my fellow painters. But in a parking lot? As I sat in my car mulling this over I realized that an appealing scene was composing itself right in front of me: sunlit rabbitbrush dancing in the wind against a backdrop of snow-splashed hills. I pushed back the driver’s seat, lay my palette board across the steering wheel and set to work.

Rabbitbrush tosses in a brisk wind in snow-splashed foothills of Lory State Park, Colorado

Rabbitbrush in Snow – Ink & watercolor on paper, 6.5 x 10

My palette board was a new addition to my plein air gear. As a watercolorist I like working flat or semi-flat, so the paint doesn’t run off the bottom of my paper. That’s why the traditional artist’s “field box” doesn’t work, because the painting surface is held upright, not flat. But balancing a pad of paper flat on my lap, which I’ve been doing for years, has never worked well either. Holding paper, paints, brushes, brush wipes and scrap paper for testing colors in your hands all at once is almost impossible, and, invariably, tools drop into the grass and sometimes disappear forever. Furthermore, the balancing act is totally unworkable while standing, and that is unfortunate because the best views are sometimes the ones seen while on your feet. To overcome these difficulties, I decided to create a set-up that keeps my tools securely at hand and allows me to paint either sitting or standing. I cut a piece of 7.25” x 16.5” of Gatorboard — lightweight, sturdy and sized to just fit my backpack —  to accommodate all of my tools. Here are, left to right, a box for an eraser and other small items, a pencil propped on the box, a block of watercolor paper attached to the board with banker’s clips, a color test sheet wedged under binder clips and my paint box with a water brush lying across it ready for action.  This will sit comfortably on my lap or against the steering wheel of my car. If I want to paint standing up I clip on another small panel that’s equipped with a tripod mount and affix the whole kit-and-kaboodle to a tripod.

Tools Velcroed to Gatorboard make watercolor painting outdoors easy.

A new rig for plein air painting!

This equipment is brand-new. Will it work for the long haul? It certainly worked propped against the steering wheel last week. We’ll see how it works out in the field. Stay tuned.


  1. I love this setup. So simple and yet so functional. I may have to make a drawing board with a spot for charcoal/pencil and eraser. I love it!

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