Easel On!


My new set-up which is different not necessarily lighter because I have discovered that my pastel box weighs a hefty 10-12 pounds loaded. My tripod was a little wobbly and I am thinking that I need to buy a tripod that can handle the weight. Those pastels are too expensive to have them hit the rocks because of my tripod breaking.

The easel that you see here is one that my daughter and son-in-law gifted me a year ago. It is lightweight and folds up into its own carrying case. A keeper so far I am happy to report. I will be looking yet for a lighter pastel box. My current box is a Heilman but the standard size that doesn’t allow for the easel attachment. I am thinking of this one also made by Heilman: http://heilmandesigns.com/product/heilman-sketchbox-double/


I am about 20 minutes from this location just on the other side of the Indian Valley Outpost area along the North Yuba river. I decided to get a head start on my painting before the sun hit my scene. 


The sun started creeping across the river to brighten up my scene. I sometimes wonder if my technique of late is perhaps setting myself up with paintings that are too dark. I have the tendency to not get my darks down when blocking in my painting. My only misgiving is that the dark can be very overwhelming and I end up hoping for the light. When the river is in the dark the richness of colors is so enticing and yet I wonder if I am being pulled into the dark too much. Not sure what I am really trying to get at other than this is all an experiment.


My painting and my scene. I realized too late that in order to come away with a completed painting or almost completed one, I have to paint on a smaller size of paper. I discovered too late in the game that my paper was too big for plein air. After 11 years you would think that I know this. I was holding onto this larger sized paper to use it for painting a mountain range (Sierra Buttes).

On this particular day I grabbed it not thinking that I should have kept it small. So, what you see is actually an underpainting. The paper size is about 18 x 16 inches. Much too big for what I am doing here. I typically paint on 9 x 12 sized paper or 11 x 14.


Light! Now the rush is on….painting by the seat of my pants. Odd to say that I am finding that the sun bleaches out those rich colors that I have chased in the past. Now that I start a painting in the “dark” I am becoming more sensitive to light and color. Some days it brings in some beautiful rich color but today I wasn’t able to pick out all those wonderful colors once the sun hit the river.


A close-up of a rock that I was hoping to get the perfect photo. Hard when I am chasing light, color and perfection!


I often will take close-ups of water always looking and studying it to understand how water moves or looks. In order to paint water well, you need to know it. So much so when you paint water, you are water.


34 thoughts on “Easel On!

  1. lindywhitton

    It’s hard to find a good lightweight pastel box that will protect those fragile sticks when travelling overseas! Love your underpainting and agree that plein air does mean a smaller sheet because the light just changes too quickly to fill a large one. This looks a great spot for painting – wish I could join you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What fantastic scenery and photos, Margaret. I really like the painting you did and how you showed it juxtaposed with the scene. I agree with you that smaller paper/canvas in plein air is the way to go…i think that applies to workshop activities too. Get it down on smaller paper to learn it or to express it in the time alotted, both in plein air and in workshops. Thanks for commenting on my blog.

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  3. Reblogged this on jill millward artwork and commented:
    Check our Margaret’s work! I love seeing what people do and how they are inspired by where they live. Margaret lives in what must be the most heavenly place on earth. And coming from me that’s saying something because I think I’m from the most beautiful place. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in Northern California and has no trouble finding inspiration from the scenery all around her. She does plein air drawings and paintings with mainly pastels and watercolors. Margaret, your plein air work and gorgeous photographs are an inspiration! And she leaves delightful comments. 🙂 I’m happy I stumbled across your site. Carry on! XO

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  4. I think your painting is beautiful. I also think it fortuitous that you grabbed the larger sheet in your hurry. The plein air movement has become a genre of small works, and there’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but people are not taking chances because they’re striving for a certain kind of realism vis a vis other artists doing plein air. However, the artists who first made plein air a thing often left paintings unfinished, worked in all kinds of sizes, made lots of studies and vignettes since their aim was to make their grand machines in the studio. And then there was Monet. Monet used ever larger canvases and returned to his sites again and again. And he changed the concept of realism in landscape painting as well, choosing color and light over texture.

    I’m not saying you should imitate Monet, only that when artists try out lots of ways of working, they discover new ideas. And sometimes innovation is a good thing. I think it’s fabulous whenever someone breaks the mold. Also you can continue working the painting later away from the scene, especially since you took reference photos, an option that the 19th century landscape painters didn’t have. Indeed the fact that you have photos means that you can take all kinds of chances since realism is always available via reference photography. Larger paper, bravo, I say …

    Regarding the weight, maybe you should use a limited palette sometimes since it also forces you into thinking about and doing color in different ways. I’m teaching a pastel class in the fall for the first time and have been trying to figure out what palette suggestions to make to my class (who I’m assuming are probably beginners). My own pastels are a hodge podge (some are older than I care to admit ….). In anticipation of this class, I bought a Rembrandt set of 30 half sticks which I’m experimenting with. If I’m recommending something I want to know how it works. I’m looking for sufficient color range to grab a large share of the spectrum, but small enough to be economical for people who are figuring out whether pastel is their thing.

    Anyway, last night I was doing a little still life study in which there are purple flowers. No purple of any density in this set — so I used the two available dark shades of blue, some red, black for the darkest darks, and a bit of pale blue for highlights and a sort of violet red for some of the middle. Strokes sit beside each other in an impressionistic way and the over-all sense of the purple color came through. It’s a decent match.

    Just my opinion, hope I’m not being nosey. My two cents. Okay, my ten cents. Maybe a quarter. But I think that experimentation is wonderful. Maybe you should accidentally grab the larger sheet again sometimes in the future and see where it leads. Especially since your painting posted here is so beautiful.

    Totally envy you your scenery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know you have really inspired me to go ahead to step outside of the boundaries and ideas that I have set up for myself. I shouldn’t expect to finish a painting on site and like you say, I should go ahead and grab that larger paper! I have painted the river so often that I can paint it back in the studio without the photos. Hmmm I like the way you think. You are right! thank you so much. That is why I love to converse with other artists. I want discussion here on my blog. I desire it. I often find that I want that. I want to go beyond. “oh it’s beautiful” etc. I have done that myself because you never know what people really want or don’t want. I love your dollar worth of ideas and thoughts! bravo. 😀 Being honest with myself, about half of those pastel sticks in my box probably haven’t been used in ages. I have them there “just in case”. There are probably about 20 that I routinely use each and every time for just the river, I am guessing perhaps Iess than 20. I am thinking that the smaller box should do it because I know what I use, depending on the subject matter. I am working from a fear that I might need it, so I pack it. Well, I am looking forward to getting to know you and having more conversations. I am very honored to live in such a beautiful environment. I am hoping to venture out more. Thank you again for your comments and visiting my blog. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Water is so fascinating, always changing, light, direction, speed..your photos of the scene triggers my imagination! I don’t know anything about painting. My little sister is very gifted, painting have always been her thing, and photography mine. Enjoy this beautiful day ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I found your blog through a comment on Maria’s blog. I must say, I was entertained and enjoyed this post so much. What a gift to give yourself, to spend so much time by the river, feeling it, painting and photographing it, hearing it, letting it soak into you enough to create it. I am impressed. I love the final image, you captured the movement and abstract beauty of water in a way that makes me smile. Just lovely all around.
    For me, no matter if you finish the pastel or not, the experience of living in this moment enjoying the scene, the light, the feeling for as long as you did is a wonderful way to live that day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments! I truly appreciate it. There are some days I tell myself that I need to venture away from the river, do something else because I think I am over-doing my subject matter, boring! That last perhaps a day or two and when I get out there my spirit soars, my creative juices flow and I am so excited….nah, this is what I love to paint, get over it! You are correct, it is the moment of experiencing and enjoying the river and all that goes with it. 😀


  7. I have only dappled in pastels – your painting is beautiful!! I hope to learn more about this art medium through you. And I also enjoyed your photos – especially the one looking into the water. I find nature and water to be so calming. So nice to meet you, Margaret. 😄🎨

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree but after reading Aletha’s suggestion in one of my comments, she has some thoughts on that subject. I will have to go back and review what she wrote. I think that there is value in dragging out the larger sized paper or canvas now and then just to challenge ourselves if anything. Though the smaller size is the most logical and I will stick with that for the most part. 🙂 thank you for your comments!


    1. I love hearing from other artists and especially when something that I write or convey clicks with that person or they can relate to it. I love your paintings by the way. I want to venture more into the floral realm 🙂 because I do love flowers.


  8. I love what you’ve done here so keep going with the larger papers! There’s a freshness and liveliness about it-possibly because it’s not confined 🙂 I know I like to “finish” my plein airs too so maybe I need to break out of the box as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were quite a few artists that painted large out in the field. That is something that I have noticed when researching Plein air artists…..I mean BIG canvases! I will do it from time to time just to remind myself that I can!


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