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Backpacking With Paints

Garibaldi Lake British Columbia By Cecile Disenhouse

"Garbaldi Lake, British Columbia" By Cecile Disenhouse

Backpackers are inspired by the beauty and proximity of the Pacific Northwest's varied terrain. From the majestic Cascade Range and its volcanic "Ring of Fire," to the high desert of Eastern Washington and the great Columbia River Gorge, with its im¬mense basalt cliffs, there is, quite simply, no place like it the world. But to really see a landscape, you've got to paint it. That's why I've enjoyed introducing nature lovers to the art of painting. It's a wonderful way to enjoy the great outdoors because it adds a really important dimension to the experience.

Of course, with the art of painting comes the art of packing. I pack everything I need for a week in the wilderness into a 35-pound backpack -- tent, sleeping bag, warm clothing, Thermarest chair, food, stove, cooking utensils and, of course, my art supplies. I prefer watercolors because they're easy to carry, they dry quickly, and they can define mood and notes of color with great immediacy. In other words, they're the best tools for artistic shorthand; I'll often do a painting, take photos of the scene, and complete a more refined work once I get back to the studio.

Park Butte, Mt. Baker Wilderness By Cecile Disenhouse

"Park Butte, Mt. Baker Wilderness" By Cecile Disenhouse

I'm notorious for packing light, so my art supplies weigh exactly one pound. Before I go on a trip, I prepare a small, lightweight plastic palette that includes 18 DANIELSMITH watercolors. With a range of warm colors (toward the yellow side), and cool colors (toward the blue side) I'm able to create mixtures that capture just about everything nature has to offer. In general, warm colors tend to advance, and cool colors recede. For example, in painting landscapes the background mountains would be blue or purple (cool), and the foreground might be a yellowy green, or a warm blue like turquoise.
I also include a collapsible water jar, a mechani¬cal pencil, a sepia drawing pen, paper towels (several sheets), brushes and paper. I put everything into a vinyl art bag to keep it dry and use the bag to support my paper while painting.

Arches or Fabriano watercolor paper is available in "cold press," "hot press" and "rough" at 90, 140 and 300 lb. weights. Cold press is lightly textured and commonly used. Hot press is smooth, an excellent support for ink and watercolor. And rough is, as you might surmise, the most deeply textured of the three. Since 90 lb. paper buckles when wet and 300 lb. is heavy to pack, I use both cold- and hot press paper at the 140 lb. weight. This allows me to work on both sides of the paper, so if a painting doesn't work, I simply turn it over and use the other side.

Watercolor can be a challenging medium, and it is best to get it right the first time since it often gets overworked and muddy. I would like to offer the following suggestions for a more successful painting.

LIMIT THE VIEW: A slide mount is good to hold up to limit the view, or you can simply form a rectangle with both hands to see what you want to include in your painting.
SKETCHING THE SCENE: I begin with a thumbnail sketch -- about 2" in size on lightweight sketching paper. This initial drawing helps me develop the composition. I decide which areas are to be the darkest, the lightest, and which are somewhere in between. Try to think of shapes -- a shape for the sky, the trees, the mountains, and the water.

Next I'll make an accurate and detailed drawing. Planning, working out the details and becoming familiar with the scene will make your painting easier.

BEGIN PAINTING: I start with the sky, allowing it to dry fully, and then work my way forward -- the background mountains, the background trees, the water, and lastly the foreground. In the Northwest it is important to learn to paint trees with a variety of greens. I mix greens with Phthalo Green and some blue or purple for the dark conifers, and use Sap Green and Green Gold for highlights.

There are various methods you can use for applying the paint. You can wet the paper with a brush, and then drop in color while it is still wet -- good for skies and water. You can apply the paint to dry paper -- good for rocks, mountains, ground, and trees. You can mix the color on the palette before painting, or you can mix the colors on the paper while they are still wet. The more water you use, the lighter and more transparent the color. For skies and water, use more water. For moun¬tains, rocks and trees, use less water. For white areas such as snow, leave the paper unpainted.

On a recent six-day backpacking trip in the Mt. Adams Wilderness, three of us enjoyed watercolor painting. We sat together painting and sharing our ideas about how to paint the scenery. Painting on a hike gives you a reason to stop and be still in nature. So rest those tired muscles and take time to observe the scenery around you while you put its likeness down on paper.

Salkantay Range, Peru By Cecile Disenhouse

Salkantay Range, Peru" By Cecile Disenhouse

Materials List

Daniel Smith Paints

  1. Aureolin
  2. Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue
  3. Perinon Orange
  4. Quinacridone Coral
  5. Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  6. Cadmium Red Medium
  7. Carbazole Violet
  8. Indanthrone Blue
  9. Ultramarine Blue
  10. Cobalt Blue
  11. Phthalo Turquoise
  12. Cerulean Blue
  13. Sap Green
  14. Rich Green Gold
  15. Pthalo Green BS
  16. Yellow Ochre
  17. Quinacridone Burnt Orange
  18. Burnt Umber