Art Diaries: Plein Air Painting in Patagonia

It almost happened without me noticing. All of a sudden I felt a searing hot pain in my fingers. No longer absorbed in what I was doing, I noticed how numb my hands were. That’s what happens when you remove your gloves for plein air painting at -2 degrees Celsius. It’s cold, and it hurts.

It was intense, but it was definitely the most amazing painting and travel experience of my life so far. A honeymoon, an adventure story and a journey of discovery all rolled into one.

Witnessing the first fog-shrouded day in the heart of the Torres Del Paine National Park in Patagonia, I didn’t fully know what to expect. To say that this trip was inspiring is an understatement, as I’m still trying to process it all and to learn what I can learn from it.

What struck me most about this place was the colour. How muted, and how bold it can be. How quickly it can change.

Painting from a photo is one thing, but painting there and then when you’re absolutely freezing and the wet paint is actually forming ice crystals, is a huge challenge. The range of hues is simply magnificent, even when everything is muted by mist. The colours of the grasses, the bark and the sky are still there, but they’re wrapped in the most beautiful blankets of greys. It’s still, calming, yet slightly haunting. It’s impossible to see the sun, impossible to tell the time or to track the movement of either.

I quickly realised it was almost impossible to capture the values accurately, partly due to freezing paint, partly due to the fact I was standing and had nowhere to sit and mix colours – and indeed not the resistance from frostbite to do so. I didn’t realise quite how many shades of yellow-grey, green-grey, brown-grey and blue-grey were in front of me. As a result the painted sketch turned out to be too green, too vivid.

As if the violent compression of the value range wasn’t enough, I found it next to impossible to judge the hues much of the time.

Plein air painting in Patagonia was a failure, but the challenge made it no less enjoyable. Thankfully, I had a heated lodge with a stunning view in which to paint the landscape just close enough, but without losing any fingers. But still, the speed of the changing light and the dancing of the fog and clouds, even on the most spectacular sunny day, was near to impossible to capture.

In this instance I’m glad to be able to turn to my trusty digital camera, where time really has been stood still, so that I can paint that perfect scene and really explore these wonderful new colours.

I’ll be getting out the oil paints soon!

More Patagonia-Inspired Blogs:
Back to Patagonia
Photo Blog: Wildlife of Chile and Patagonia
Surviving Winter in Patagonia
Cosmic Thoughts: Strange Worlds
Couples Travel: The Artist and the Writer
Art Diaries: Chilean Wildlife
Finding Darwin

If you like what you see, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@chloewaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the bottom to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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