Thursday, 27 February 2014

Traveling and Painting on a budget - The 12 kg challenge ! sept.'14 note: policies have changed on certain airlines since I wrote this to check before travelling

I was invited recently to visit Florence by Simon and Ayfer Mills, and Karina Drogowski, and Mauricio. It had been on my "to do list" for a while, and with friends already there, it was an opportunity too good to miss.
I haven't traveled often on painting excursions, so I decided to use this trip as a test to see what is possible when painting abroad on a budget. Budget flights always have a 12kg weight  limit to passengers on board baggage, so this became the challenge : Could I include all my painting materials, as well as clothes ect within this 12kg limit ?

Tickets and accommodation

Tickets and accommodation were booked early, (unfortunately before the Aer Lingus Sale, which would have given me a direct flight to Pisa), For about the same price, I booked a transfer flight, Dublin - Paris....Paris-Florence, and on return, Florence Amsterdam.... Amsterdam - Dublin.
With some research I sourced a hostel , The Duilio Hostel, which had good reviews, at a very reasonable off season prices. A shared 6 bed dorm for one week (around €66). There was a four story climb to reach it ,but basic, clean and very helpful. It more than met my needs.

Can oil paints be carried on board flights ?

So, The big question. Can oil paints be carried on board flights ? I read through flight regulations in all the companies I was flying with, and saw nothing directly related to the subject. Later, I rang the airports, and asked specifically, if artists oil paints can be carried on board flights ? All gave me the same reply:
"Artists oil paint is o.k to bring on board, so long as each tube is under 100ml and placed in a transparent ziplock bag", and  presented with all your liquids at checkpoints  As an extra insurance I also placed a printout of the manufacturers ingredients  in the bag.
Needless to say turps is not allowed. And I decided to buy linseed when I arrived in Florence

The Litmus Test

The only way to truly know what's possible, is to go through the system. In case they were confiscated, I brought old tubes of paint. Happily through all four airports I traveled through, there was absolutely no problem bringing oil paints through the security checks and on board flights.
Paint materials in Florence are very expensive, so I was more than happy I could bring my paint and panels.

Carrying Paint gear while on location

Unfortunately my new Alla Prima pochade box, didn't make the trip as the tripod it attaches to was too big for my suitcase, so I settled for my old homemade box and tripod, which were a little smaller. The backpack, and paint gear, all fitted into my suitcase, while traveling.

Painting Panels

I like working on 6x8, (3mm  mdf wooden panels), particularly when under such a short time frame. I brought what I thought I would use, plus a few extra panels of the same size and larger, to have a choice, should an opportunity arise.

Storing and transporting panels

I believe Mark Delassio uses a similar system. I  have found cork very handy to store my paintings in the studio ,and also when plein air painting at home .A cork tile, (cut  into 3mm slices), placed in between two panels and wrapped with masking tape on both sides.
 3mm of each side of my paintings are marked a little by the board, so I intend, in future to cut the 3mm mdf panels allowing extra space for the cork separators.. I'll blog that when I make the next batch of panels...

All in all, I found that it is possible to travel abroad on a limited budget, with only a 12kg baggage bag . Of course including changes of clothes, toiletries ect. It takes a little planning, but for me, well worth the effort.


If planning a painting trip abroad, I would advise to check the Airlines you are traveling with beforehand, as to  their policies of bringing Artists' oil  paint on board, for your own peace of mind. Ultimately, traveling with one suitcase, may be too much of a "squeeze", and you decide to bring a second bag, whereby  many of your decisions  be different.

My trip was made all the more enjoyable by meeting friends over there, who gave me great insights, before and during the trip. A great help also, was having my old painting buddy, and now Florence based artist Karina Drogowska  who guided me around the city and surrounds, while also painting.
Karina is the founder of the group ,  Italy Plein Air, a voluntary group, based in Florence, which meet every two weeks to paint plein air.

On my return home, walking through "arrivals", I couldn't help, but keep an eye on the "Departures" Area...hmmm where next ??

Friday, 21 February 2014

Plein Air Painting

The aim in my Plein Air work, is to respond to, and attempt to capture fleeting light effects and colour, from life. As soon as  light conditions change, so the mood and first response changes, creating the need to work from memory. At that point  I usually change my panel. It's possible to work from memory outdoors, but my aim is always to respond to the environment, with all its challenges as it moves and changes.I like to work "subjectively", and aim for that high concentration level needed to work intensely within a  short time frame. In this respect, it is far from a mundane activity, and very much like training for a sport.
These paintings can seem "sketchy", when compared to studio pieces, but look at them as responses to a subject, rather than solely a record of  place. In recording a "response" to a subject, all of what your experiencing, while being on location, is being expressed, through a variety of techniques, along with a sense of place.I try not to stick to a formula, as each day is different, and each response is determined by many factors.
Sometimes the "Plein Air Sketch", stands as a finished painting in itself, when all the elements come together easily. That, I feel depends on many factors, and is what Plein Air Painters chase, - that perfect moment when all your years work, study, experience, combined with excitement in your subject, and that x ingredient we can never put our fingers on.
 Plein Air,  for me,  is a solid foundation from which all other work benefits. It provides endless inspiration, and possibilities from representational through to abstract, and the sheer discipline of getting out there,experiencing,  and really looking at ,and responding to a  subject is endlessly challenging .
I used to question the relevance of Plein Air Painting in today's world, but what can be more "relevant", than observing, and recording  life as you experience and journey through it ?