Merry Christmas!

I want to wish everyone a very merry and healthy Christmas. It may look a little different this year, but the message is still the same. We still celebrate the coming of Christ into our world with light and joy! Remember His love even in the darkest of times.

Creative Kits for Homeless Kids

A sample for the Christmas tree kit

It’s officially the off-season for plein air painting and I have been bouncing between some minor creative projects. I’m going to share the one I’ve spent the most time on lately.

Columbus has several shelters for people who are homeless and one of them takes in families with children. I can’t even imagine how scary and confusing it must be for those kids. They don’t understand the adult situations that left them without a place to call home.

In a conversation with their volunteer coordinator I found out that the children’s group activities were curtailed by the virus and they needed little projects that the kids could take back to their family’s room and do individually. I told her I’d see what I could come up with.

Angel kit sample

So I was off to the dollar store that afternoon. I selected some basic supplies that could be packaged in zip-lock bags and easily turned into a fun activity. I found packs with a dozen die-cut felt Christmas trees and others with die-cut foam angels. My blank canvases! Then I loaded up on bling. Shiny pipe cleaners, sequins, etc. Dollar Tree happened to have more craft supplies than usual and the deals were much better than the craft stores.

My mom contributed more bling from her stash of craft supplies and I had some flat wooden ornament shapes left from an earlier project. Each kit needed a sample picture and instructions. Once I had those ready I set up an assembly line on my table and bagged the kits.

Ornament kit

The directions provide a literacy element but there’s room for creativity. The main goal is provide a little enjoyment and distraction for kids who are in a very tough spot.

I also did some kits with cans of clay and some with USA puzzles. I’m planning some winter crafts for January and some that can be used at any time of the year. I hope they bring a little cheer to some kiddos who need it right now.

This is the perfect volunteer job for me. It combines my teaching skills and artsy/craftsy bent with a bit of technology. It doesn’t seem like work. With other creative activities limited due to COVID, this will fill a gap for me and provide a bright spot in a child’s stay at the shelter.

10 Ways I Might Survive the Winter Without Plein Air Painting

fall scene with sunlit path
This is my first studio painting on the indoor season. 11 x 14 oil on canvas

Summer is over and fall is getting colder. The facts are the facts. Most of us don’t go out to paint when the temperature is below 50o. For some of us there is a narrow band of comfort between 60o and 75o. (You know who you are!)

I have cold weather gear. I walk my dog every day all winter. I just don’t paint outside in that kind of weather. I’ve tried , but it never ends well.

Dog in front of snow covered pine tree
Daily walks with Lucy in any kind of weather

One April I entered the Dublin Area Art League plein air competition. The day’s high was 48o. The sun was shining when I left my house but that was the last I saw of it all day. It’s one thing to be cold and moving , but standing in one place on cold ground is not fun. Frozen feet, frozen brain, lousy painting. That was the worst piece I ever turned in for a competition. The only consolation was a hot cup of soup afterwards.

My friend Marianne is an intrepid plein air painter. She paints in the snow and I asked if I could go with her some time. We decided the temperature needed to be in the 30’s so the paint didn’t gum up. Ideally it would be a day with a little sun. Do you know how many days we have like that in Ohio??? Not many. So one day when we had a light coating of snow, we decided to drive about 40 miles north in hopes of enchanted rural scenes. Alas, the farther we went, the less snow there was. Also alas, my easel had a wonky leg. We found a nice little scene, but it was hard to paint while holding up my easel, keeping blowing snow out of my eyes, and trying to ignore the cold. Not good.

This spring and summer getting outside to paint and socialize made all the other 2020 craziness bearable. I met friends at least once a week. We’d paint for a few hours and then lunch. Once the mornings got cooler in the fall, we flipped the process with lunch first and then painting. That lasted a few weeks.

Creekside Park in Gahanna, October 2020

Now the fall color is waning. The coming weeks will get colder and grayer. Even when you get a warm day, scenes will be bleak. How are we going to cope? With the pandemic we’ll each have to toil away in isolation, touching base mostly online. We may come out of our dens for a walk in the brisk air when we can.

I know I still need to give the brushes a workout or regress in my skills over winter. Here are the options as I see them:

  1. Use some plein air paintings as studies for studio paintings. Maybe. Not really excited by that idea.
  2. Paint from photos. I have scads of photos that could be sources for paintings. I need to get better at cropping and editing for better composition. I can see that happening after I spend a copious amount of time choosing a photo.
  3. Set up still life arrangements to paint from life indoors. Nope. Not happening. Not a fan of still life.
  4. Study. Copy paintings by the master’s just for practice. Sean Wang taught a class where he had us do that – quick small studies and then one or two larger ones. I might play with that a bit. Couldn’t hurt
  5. Take an online class. The right kind of class could strengthen skills and be inspiring. I need one with some accountability, not a DIY tutorial.
  6. Switch to another medium; maybe do some watercolor paintings or colored pencil.
  7. Go abstract. Take a scene and boil it down to basics. Then switch up the colors or placement of elements. Might be fun.
  8. Make greeting cards. Geometrics, prints, watercolors, colored pencil, and mixed media all make nice cards. I’m never sure if this is legit creative work or just a cop-out thing to do instead of “real painting.”
  9. Try to paint portraits. I’ve dabbled with this a bit. The results look human at least, but not necessarily like the person I’m trying to paint.
  10. Curl up with a blanket and You Tube painting videos. I might accidentally learn something, but chances are better if I’m actually doing something. Not a good option, but very tempting.

The bottom line is to just move some paint around with a goal in mind. No matter what I choose to do this winter, it will never take the place of fresh air, friends and lunch in the park.