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Feb 26, 2011

Paintin' When It's C-C-C-C-Cold Outside...

No, it's not the 'Masked Marauder' taking a day off from robbing banks to do a little recreational painting. It's me punching in at the day-job during a cold snap. Out with my trusty paintin'-pooch, Sally, and a good friend, Scott Gellatly (who snapped the picture)

The temperature was 34 degree F, which doesn't seem all that cold until you factor in the wind chill. We set up at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge, a veritable trumpet horn of weather, and I guesstimated the breeze was a constant 10 to 15 MPH, with higher gusts repeatedly being thrown at our faces. (That's what it takes to know my easel over. You can see me holding on to my easel mwith ymleft hand.)

This gave us the equivalent of a heat-stripping 27 -20 degrees F to work in. Brrr!...Actually, the 34F reading was at the PDX airport, west of us about ten miles. Where we were had to have been colder. Again, not that harsh, unless you are just standing around, trying not to move, pinching a brush with your right hand thumb and index finger, and holding your easel steady with your left, for several hours at a time.

So how does a painter stay (relatively) warm in such conditions? And in a manner which allows for painting?

Two things: Layers and Wind-blockers. 
Most folks already know about the layering, but equally as important, if not more so, is the wind blocking. I'm always surprised at how wind blocking gets over-looked.

In this photo I am wearing:

Below the belt...
  1. Polypropylene underwear
  2. A base layer of 100 series fleece
  3. Nylon rip-stop pants
  4. My light-weight snow pants (as the wind blocker)
  5. Two pairs of wool socks
Above the belt...
  1. Polypropylene underwear (again)
  2. A base layer of 100 series fleece (again, and with neck coverage)
  3. Fleece vest (with more neck coverage)
  4. Polypropylene coat I ski and snowshoe in (the wind blocker)
  5. A old 300-series polartech fleece jacket (The black one you see in the photo) Beat up, and soiled with paint, with the zipper handle long gone and replaced with a paper clip. It's my version of the painter's smock for outdoor painting.
  6. Fleece face mask, basically an up-scale ski balaclava (also wind blocking)
  7. Hat with brim for shade
  8. Thin polypropylene gloves with fingers
  9. And fingerless fleece gloves, so I can still feel the brush handling (Again, wind blocking)
  10. I also stuffed heat packs into the gloves on top of my palms to transfer continuous heat to my fingers
What you can't see...
  1. No cotton. Zilch. Nada. Not even a stitch. Even the undies are polypropylene.
The Boy Scouts of America have a saying, "Cotton is rotten" and trust me, it's true. In our part of the world, cold is often accompanied by dampness, and cotton sucks any moisture in the air and stick it next to your skin. And it will hold on to that moisture with a vengeance. So don't cotton and you'll be a warmer puppy. A happier camper, er, painter – whatever.  And note that Sally, the paintin'-pooch, is also wearing a fleece jacket with a wind blocker. Stylin', eh?

Now, if I put my rain shell over my black fleece, I'd would have been even toastier, but I didn't do it for two reasons:
  1. It was a sunny day and I didn't want the electric color of the rain shell to reflect its hue into my painting and palette. It's a god-awful puce and that wasn't something I wanted to contend with.
  2. And, whenever I can, I prefer to wear black on the outer most layer so it can absorb the sunlight. Radiant sunlight converts into conductive heat once it hits a dark object, and a two or three degree bump can make your whole day. Really, it can.
The painting? Well, when Scott and I were walking out to the site, we were filled with all sorts of macho bravado. Two strong manly-men who convinced ourselves we were going out into harsh conditions to bring home the kill and all that. (Ha!) We were thinking we'd knock out two or three quick little studies before heading back home to the warm bosoms of our families. But it became clear in short order that one painting would be all we'd do, and perhaps just a sketch at that. We packed up after two hours and headed back to find that warmth.

Here is my painting, raw and unfinished. Not a complete statement by any means. But something with decent color notes and speaks to the temperature of the day. I think I'll go back when it hit the low 40s – balmy in comparison – and give it another go.


13 reader comments:

Nancy Van Blaricom said...

You, Sally and Scott were very brave indeed to be out in such unwelcoming temps. Thanks for sharing with us all the layers needed to be out in the cold like you were. I really like what you came home with. The sky just says 'cold'.

Celeste Bergin said...

What a fun informative post, Thomas...I really didn't know that cotton is wrong (although, come to think of it, I will never forget those high school kids who got lost on Mt Hood while wearing Blue Jeans), They DIED. On a much happier note, Your painting is worth all the travail...the colors/shapes are outstanding. Definitely worth it. (I say from my nice comfortable Lazy-boy.)

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thanks Celeste. Glad to know the cotton info helped. I'm not kidding. Leave it at home or at the Old Navy Store and you'll be warmer.

In my old BSA days we used to wear wool army stuff and nothing cotton. Except crew socks. Mom would insist on those. At that time we didn't know cotton was also where your blisters came from. And we're talking wool army surplus stuff we got at Andy & Bax, which, when wet, would still keep you warm but would be heavier than a cement overcoat to haul around. Then that magical layer called Polarfleece was invented by 3M. Right after Gortex. Ahhhhh! I was just a 17 year old kid but man I loved them both. I had to worked two jobs to buy both. At the time I was camping in the BSA in an old (bottomless) army tent, using a kerosene stove, wearing plastic trash bags whenever it really poured. Three weekends a month.

About as homeless-looking of a suburban Boy Scout I could be without pan-handling in the forest.

Hmmmm, come to think of it . . . Did I do that too?

Brenda Boylan said...

I'm getting cold just reading your post...brrrrr.
You sure were roughin' it out there, Mr. T, very macho-macho indeed. Did you bring something to warm the throat with?
Nice, fresh work. Love the simplicity of it.

branchflower.net said...

Having spent so much of my life in single-digit autumn-winter humidity of Southern California, all I have is cotton! Except for sox--got wool there. Thank you for a very informative post. I'm going to print it out and go shopping.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thanks, Yvonne:

For those interested in buying non-cotton outdoor clothing I recommend these sources:

Usually the most expensive option, but well designed and comfortable apparel -- the benefit to buying here is that they wlll take anything back, no matter how hard it's been used, or how old it is. I once returned pair of rip-stop pants that turned out to be not so rip-stop. Of course, I shredded them by falling off the east side of Mt. Hood and almost dying, but hey, R.E.I. replaced them anyway once I got out of the ER. Don't believe me? Check this out: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2001209&id=1474564922

That was three years ago.

Oregon Mountain Community:
REI's local competitor

The game hunter's nirvana. Whatever you need, They have. Easy to buy 'Merican here. Check it out

Next Adventure:
Local new and used gear and outdoor apparel. Can find some good deals but they won't take returns and not exchange-friendly.

Dave's Sporting Goods or Big Five:
Two places to check out, but not especially outdoor focused.

Andy & Bax Army Surplus:
Great place to buy cheap polypropylene underlayers, and gloves you won't care about getting paint on – I usually buy three pairs every fall – and for German or Slovakian snow camo, latrine shovel, and the occasional Howitzer cannon...in case you ever feel a sudden need to silence your critics.

Anitra said...

What? Mom let you wear wool? Boy that was on the verboten list when I was out manning it up in the woods! See, the ways I made clear for you and did you clue me in on the Lima Bean rash in my hours of need?

Actually looked pretty fun. Its been freaking cold down here in paradise but I'm about to go launch a couple mile bike ride. (iwillbewarmiwillbewarmiwillbewarm)

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

That's what big sisters are for, Anitra. To clear the way for their little brothers. (grin)

Have a nice ride!

Best Military Surplus said...

How cold does it have to be for paint to freeze? Ha ha! The painting looks awesome, though.

Scott Gellatly said...

Why again did we think this was a good idea? Oh yeah, for the sake of "art" that's right...Cheers!

Thomas said...


Art? Nobody said anything about doing it for the art of it, I was doing it for the beers afterwards!

Of course, a hot-toddy might have been a fine choice as well. But we'd warmed up enough before we got back to Produce Row, so I didn't feel the need.

Hmmmm. Maybe next time we bring something something warm and toasty in a thermos, eh?


Rachel Harvey said...

fun, informative, conversational. i'm getting addicted to your blog. :)

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Thank you Rachel. I appreciate hearing that.