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  • Writer's pictureJoel Popadics

Cold Hands, Warm Palette

It's freezing outside! Which means that it's time for me to get out my warming palette, so that I can paint outdoors. Yes, that's right. I take my watercolors and paint outside!

In Marine Painting in Watercolor, the renowned watercolorist, Edmond Fitzgerald, observed: "Painting outdoors in winter presents obvious problems. In addition to personal discomfort, washes can freeze on the paper, producing unpredictable results upon drying. Or, more likely, they will freeze on the brush and palette, making painting impossible. I have successfully overcome the latter drawback by adding an ounce of whiskey to a pint of water."

Don't waste the whiskey. I tried it. It doesn't work! I also tried adding salt and every other type of "antifreeze" solution - the watercolor paint still freezes.

Years ago, I researched painting magazines to find articles about artists whom I admired in an effort to understand their working methods. I came across Aldro T. Hibbard's "Painter of New England Winters" in the June, 1940 issue of American Artist Magazine. It was a great piece about how the Rockport, Massachusetts artist, while wintering at his farm in Jamaica, Vermont, braved the elements and frozen terrain to venture out and paint his incredible snow scenes in oil. He would pack his palette, paints, easel and canvas onto a sled, put on a pair of snowshoes, and wander out. Yet when it came to watercolors in winter, Hibbard said: "You just don't use watercolors outdoors in January and February in the state of Vermont."

Well, I respectfully disagree. I can and do paint on the coldest winter days. It's true: When the thermometer drops to 32 degrees or below, the watercolor washes form an icy glaze on the paper and the wet brushes stick to the palette, making it impossible to work. To counteract that effect, I've come up with an invention that enables me to paint in cold weather. I've recycled a couple of old styrofoam containers and created a sort of hot water bottle to prevent my watercolor palette and paper from freezing. In that manner, I'm able to work for as long as I like.

People always ask me, "Why bother, when it's that cold?" I don't really mind. As long as it's not windy and the bugs aren't biting, I'm fine. I love the winter landscape, snow scenes, and the feeling of being outdoors. I've often heard people say how "gray" and uninspiring everything looks in the winter, yet I've found the opposite to be true. The crisp, cold winter skies are most colorful during this time of year. And since the sun is lower in the horizon, the filtered sunlight produces colorful landscape effects.

You can read more about my warming palette and how I paint my plein "cold" air watercolors in the February, 2009 issue of American Artist Magazine. My article includes a step-by-step demonstration.

If you would like to see a few of my winter creations, you'll find winter landscapes throughout the gallery, many of which were based on sketches I made while using my warming palette.

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