Plein-air Painting Fieldwork

Away again:

This time to Springbok Flats, doing plein-air painting in the bush!

Since been in New Zealand, there was a short break to sort things out at home, before going off to Springbok Flats, situated north-east of Pretoria, Transvaal, South Africa.

It was my intention while staying with our son there, that I would spend the time working on the Gunn Castle story that was originally started on this website. But I couldn’t resist taking time out to paint the bush. It is so fascinating. Each season has its own charm.

(Hey, I did get a few chapters of the Gunn Story written through!)

Doing plein-air painting is exciting. Like going out on unknown adventures:

When painting is in your blood you just can’t pass the opportunity with such beautiful fascinating natural bush surrounding you from day-to-day! The sunsets are always a draw card for me. I love observing the haze of light filtering through the trees and bush, making halos of the grass seeds at sunset.

For expats who have fond memories of South Africa’s bush:

Here are  three plein-air paintings I did. Each done at diverse times of the day.

For those who are interested in my plein-air equipment:

I improvise, depending on each situation and what there is on hand to use. The key word is to `reduce’ everything down to the basics and carry light. When you have done location work a few times you get to know what to take with and what to leave behind.

Plein-air painting of Springbok Flats bush

A5 watercolour: Springkbox Flats bush

The first was painted around early afternoon:

I took a camping chair out of the house and parked myself in the swimming pool area. The placement of the chair was designed to look out over the bush through the high fence surrounding the house.

To make things easily accessible, I put a four-legged (backless) camping stool next to me. This would support my watercolour palette plate. And In the hollow of my camping chair’s armrest I put my selection of brushes & small water-spray bottle. On the pool paving I placed my water cup and paint box.

My water container:

One of the things I carry, is water in a yellow plastic bottle. One of those which the children used to use at school. It has a white rectangular cap that fits over the top and lid of the bottle.

When I get to where I want to paint, I take the cap-cup off the top of the water-bottle and pour what water I’ll need from the bottle itself. Just enough water for the proposed painting. The water that is left in the bottle can be used for drinking or wetting a cloth that I use to wash my hands. If you wet your cloth and spread under your watercolour paper, it keeps the paper damp.

TIP: Keeping your paper damp:

When working out on location your paper gets dry very quickly, especially if there is a breeze blowing, making it hard to make smooth free-flowing washes of colour. When your watercolour paper is dry, you tend to ‘draw’ with your brush, very frustrating if you want to make special effects.

First I fine spray my paper with water both sides before starting to paint with a small plastic spray bottle. And lay my wet/damp cloth under the paper. My cloth isn’t made of natural fiber. It’s light-weight, like one of those clothes you wipe clean your kitchen counter-tops with.

Plein-air painting of Springbok Flats bush at sunset.

A5 watercolour: Sunset haze and grass seed halos.

The second painting was at twilight:

I had walked along the dust road near the farm-house, leading out to the fields. Along the way, on both sides of the road, is natural bush.I love walking along that road at sunset.

What griped me this time was the last rays of sunlight on the grass. So I made sure I got to the spot I choose the day before, well before sunset and made myself comfortable.

Plein-air location equipment

Photo of my fieldwork gear with the second outing: My camera case is to the left of the four-legged chair. You can just see the yellow water bottle laying down in the grass between the chairs. Extra watercolour paper is peeping out of the front chair’s back pocket.

My plein-air painting gear:

After getting the basics of the plein-air painting done, I stood up to stretch my legs and take photos of my camping gear. Because I had to walk some distance this time, you’ll notice I used a small fold-up camping chair, instead of the larger heavier camping chair I used previously.

Been such a low small camping chair though, you have to work fast before you get a serious bout of cramp! But it’s very convenient and light-weight. It has a back-rest and a cooler-box-bag under the chair to carry my paints, brushes, etc.

Necessary touch-up:

When out doing plein-air painting you sometimes have to complete the painting back home. In this case I needed to softened the seed halos with water and removed their hard contour edges, to give them a soft glow. It isn’t easy to create that soft glow out in the field because your paper dries too quickly.  The end result gives a feeling of mystery. The sun has just set, leaving a warm glow in the sky and over the land.

Plein-air painting of Springbok Flats bush

A5 watercolour: Third outing in the bush.

The third plein-air painting was created about ten o’clock in the morning:

This time I walked much further along the farm’s private road. Because I had to walk further I decided to split my painting materials into two small folding camping chairs, using one for wet stuff and the other the dry stuff.

Plein-air painting gear out in the bush

Photo of my plein-air equipment: Note the white water container cap and small spray bottle in between the chairs. My camera bag is slightly further back.

My light weight camping chair (in the foreground of the photo) I carried over my arm, through the metal loop of the back rest.

The second camp chair without a back-rest, I had bought it a few years before, but never got around to use it. I had left it at our son’s place. You can still see the tag on it!

It has a bigger cooler-box than the one with the back-rest. It also had back straps which meant I could use it as a haversack and free-up my hands somewhat as I walked. At the back of the cool-box is a large pocket where I put my watercolour paper clipped to the clip-board. But because it had no back-rest to it, I used it has my field table, and arranged my paints on its seat.

In this painting I intended to show the many fussy weeds in the foreground undergrowth. But the result didn’t turn out just like I was hoping. So I softened the foreground and added the blue distant bush.

I must say I was disappointed with the result. It seems you can’t win them all! But if you stand back from the painting, you’ll see the simplicity of the composition after all. After studying it for some time it does seem `to grow on you.’ Especially if you know and understand what the bush is really like in the Springbok Flats.

As to the Springbok Flats area:

There aren’t herds of springbok buck roaming there anymore. But there is a range of different types of wild animals and birds. Such as: warthogs, porcupine, black-back foxes, mongoose, bush-babies, kudo and duiker buck, franklin birds, guinea fowl, owls, white-backed vultures and Marabou stocks. And the usual range of small birds, that bird watchers call ‘little brown jobs’.

Because of the recent drought conditions, South Africa has suffered somewhat:

Someone who had just returned from spending one week further west the week before, he told us that the drought has been so bad near the Botswana border, that there wasn’t any grass on the game reserve where anymore!

Will have noticed my plain-air paintings had green in them. Luckily the farm I was on in the Springbox Flats has a good source of underground water.  Also there had been recent rains there, so there were lovely fresh green leaves on the trees and bush on the farm, in spite of winter bringing in cold-fronts.

Link to other demos:

Hope you enjoyed seeing what my plein-air painting equipment is like, and how I cope painting in the bush! There are other sunset paintings of the Springbok Flats bush on this website: Painting Demos page and Sunset in the Bush blog.