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Outdoor painting doesn't stop in the winter

The Eastern Sierra and Great Basin aren't the most user-friendly landscapes for plein air painters in the winter. Winter here, I am learning, lasts from December through April. (I don't think we get to call it "spring" until the aspen leaf out in May.) We moved to the tiny town of Genoa, Nevada in February, 2016. Genoa sits just over the mountains from Lake Tahoe. For a lifelong Californian who enjoyed the temperate climes of the Monterey Bay Area since I was an art student at UC Santa Cruz, it was a bit of a shock.

Fortunately I met some wonderful plein air painters almost immediately after relocating (it's a very friendly area.) They've shown me that plein air painters have any number of ways to keep going when it would seem sensible to stop: fingerless gloves, many layers of clothing (that you don't mind getting paint on), carpet squares to lay on the snow so you can stand in front of your easel without freezing your feet, real winter boots (thank you, Costco!) a thermos of something hot, and those ever-present necessities, sunscreen and a hat that will not blow off in the high-desert wind.

A recent paintout on a magnificent circa 1860's ranch in the former community of Fredericksburg, right across the California border, was a luxurious 30 degrees (and windy.) With me were two painting buddies, Ray and Liz, both of whom gamely set up their easels and endured the whipping wind off the snowy peaks above us. Yet when the sun is shining, at this 5500 foot altitude its warmth is so penetrating that even on a cold day there are moments (and they're only moments) when you are nearly comfortable. Especially when you lose yourself in the painting process.

To my surprise, I fell in love with snow last year (I fell out, around March.) The myriad colors, the luminosity, the shadow effects, makes it deeply alluring as a subject. Years ago I saw an exhibition of Monet's paintings from winter in Norway. They were presented in an otherwise-darkened gallery at the Musee Rodin in Paris, each painting spot-lighted in the gloom. It was one of the most magnificent shows I've ever seen--but those beautiful, sober pieces rarely show up in museum exhibitions. Snow's beauty is subtle.

Perhaps by the end of winter I will have had enough of the (not exactly) white stuff, but right now, it's a fresh romance for me as a painter.

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