Skip to content

Quebec Spring : Subzero Plein Air

April 9, 2015

Every year, around this time, a group of die-hard plein air painters gather in the town of Les Eboulements, about an hour east of Quebec city.

The paint-out has been going on for upwards of 40 years, bringing serious outdoor painters from all around Quebec and Ontario. This year I was fortunate to be invited, and jumped at the opportunity.

Artists in attendance included Catherine Young Bates, Helmut Langeder, J Allison Robichaud, and Stuart Main – among many others.

It was an honor to paint with these experienced artists, each of them demonstrating the hard earned skills of a lifetime of painting on location. A highlight of the event was the nightly rounds going from room to room seeing what each painter brought home from the day.

These artists bring with them a direct continuity with the region’s history – painters like Bruno Côté and René Richard who made Charlevoix famous.  I heard stories of ‘the good old days’ when there would be over 60 painters coming and going in this small Quebec town, from as early as January, working in weather as cold as -30.

15Apr09_LesEboulments (6)

This week, there are still 10-15 foot snowdrifts in some areas, but the high was around 0c/32f. You can withstand that long enough to paint if you have some serious boots and thermal underclothes.  I had read Stapleton Kearns’ article on proper painting boots a while back. It’s good advice.

I knew however, that it would be impossible to paint with my usual watercolors. They simply won’t dry on the page at this temperature, making it hard to get sharp edges or deeper shadows. People have suggested the trick of painting with alcohol instead of water – but I can’t seem to make it work. So I reached back to something I tried out first in 2009. Painting on location with oils and a palette knife.

I think the watercolor concepts I rely on – working larger-to-smaller, seeing the large shapes of the design, and thinking about injecting color variation, translated well into oil paint.

15Apr09_LesEboulments (9)

It was quite fun to layer on the rich pigment:) It’s the exact opposite of transparent watercolor. I’m not in the least bit sure why this is a ‘natural’ way for me to paint in oil, but it certainly feels right. Possibly it’s the pace at which you can work that feels similar. (About 45 minutes a painting). I’m starting with a 1″ knife for the under painting, stepping down to a ‘butter knife size’ and finishing with a needle pointed detail knife. Much like the #14>#6>#1 rounds that I might use normally.

15Apr09_LesEboulments (8)

15Apr09_LesEboulments (11)

As much as I enjoy this technique, this was just a brief infidelity. I will be returning to watercolor for the summer. We have trips planned to Italy, Singapore and Cambodia and Prince Edward Island, and I think it’s simply too difficult to bring wet oil paintings back from these far flung locales. So the knives will go back into the drawer until next winter. Unless I get a chance to do some more with it in the studio. The oil is seductive. But I must be disciplined! There is only so much time to paint, and I have to stay in training for sketching workshops this summer :)

15Apr09_LesEboulments (2)

15Apr09_LesEboulments (1)

Still. That is so juicy.  Tasty looking no? We’ll see what happens with this over the coming year!

15Apr09_LesEboulments (4)



12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2015 10:37 PM

    So different from your watercolours, but still as beautiful !
    Bravo Marc!

  2. April 9, 2015 10:46 PM

    the effect is like walking outside into sunshine from a dimly lit interior – this is great!

  3. April 10, 2015 6:13 AM

    I admired your efforts to paint under such a hard condition much more than your painting actually. Of course I like your paintings. I like the colors and structure you depict the Quebec. I found you experiences interesting while you try to figure out how to paint under a different environment. Glad you still have trip to other places. Hope you can continue to show us your work!

  4. Suzanne permalink
    April 10, 2015 6:38 AM

    Wow Marc! Life earned skills + infidelity = AMAZING.

  5. April 10, 2015 8:11 AM

    Really, really gorgeous! So lush!

  6. April 10, 2015 8:34 AM

    Those oil paintings are wonderful, you captured natures energy!!!

  7. April 10, 2015 5:31 PM

    FABULOUS! Your palette knife paintings are fantastic!!!

  8. April 11, 2015 10:27 AM

    Wonderful paintings under some pretty challenging weather conditions. I was just wondering, why a palette knife and not a brush? Is it because it’s easier to work with in cold weather, or is it just an artistic decision?

    • April 11, 2015 10:51 AM

      A bit of both. Knives are easier to clean – so you get pure color and more accurate mixes every time. Plus, you don’t need to carry medium and solvent.

      But, artistically – I enjoy the incredible surface. Just like with watercolors – where I feel you should see the natural fluid dynamics of the wash (blooming, sediment, backwash, splatters), I like how the oil clumps and drags and whips like icing.

      Philosophically, I’m saying that a painting should be as different as possible from a photograph. Photography is a tremendously powerful media. It’s capable of any kind of expression you want to create – can be altered and recombined infinitely – and at the same time it captures instantly. Cameras today can see in microscopic and telescopic ranges and can practically shoot in the dark. Plus the color sensitivity of a camera is now superior to the human eye. So – in many ways it’s silly NOT to be a photographer. Therefore, I naturally want to be as stubborn as possible, and make things that would never be compared to the digital image. (The same could be said for digital painting in photoshop – which I do for work). So yes – that’s the real reason. I’d put up with cleaning brushes if it was the way I wanted to paint :) And, eventually I get around to trying everything so I’ll do oils ‘normally’ some day :)

  9. April 13, 2015 5:14 AM

    Nice pics BUT all your images lookED really badly pixelated to me for absolutely AGES before they resolved. Maybe you’re loading very large files?


  1. I’ll have a few paintings on display at Steward Hall through November | Citizen Sketcher
  2. Getting Meta : Copying Your own Paintings | Citizen Sketcher

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: