Plein Air by Bike

Sunset on the Puget Sound. Discovery Park, Seattle

It’s spring again, and time to get outside! Living with seasons has its ups and downs. Now it’s time to enjoy the ups!

No matter your experience level, plein air painting is always a fun adventure. Finding your spot, capturing the scene, and getting out of there. It’s a great way to spend the day.

To add to the challenge, I’m trying to get my setup entirely on my bike. This gives me limitless options of where to go, and let’s me keep all my stuff in reach. My area has a good network of bike trails, making cycling a breeze.

Challenge accepted

My bike isn’t anything special, but it gets around pretty well. It’s an aluminum hybrid with a front shock to absorb bumps. It works well on roads and off. I have a rear rack bag that holds my gear. Dont get too caught up on the hardware, pretty much any bike will work!

And, of course, I gave my bike a pretentious name. I wanted It to be nonbinary so It’s name is Mr Wednesday Adams. Combining Mr Wednesday (Odin) from American Gods, and Wednesday Adams. I think those characters gel perfectly and give a good masculine/feminine balance.

This is called a pochade box. It holds your paints and stuff. But the most important thing it does is protect a wet canvas during travel

I have a small pochade box made by Guerrilla Painter. It holds 5×7 canvas boards. That’s the best size for mobility. The top holds the canvas in place when it is wet, so you don’t have to worry about smudging your painting or getting paint everywhere.

Inside the box I have paints, a small container of oil medium, and brushes. Most are just normal brushes with their handles cut short. I just bring the essential gear.

When you’re on the bike, you don’t know what you might end up painting. So I bring a large range of colors. Usually a warmer and cooler version of each of the primaries. Yellow ochre and cadmium yellow, pthalo blue and ultramarine, alizarin crimson and cadmium red, corbet green and sap green. Plus ivory black and titanium yellow. With a range like that you can paint pretty much everything. You might not NEED it, but at least you HAVE it!

Other things I bring: a towel, a portable stool, water, helmet, food, first aid, paper towels, trash bag

Call me crazy, but it makes for a really nice day. The bike exercise clears your head before the painting. You take in the atmosphere. And in the end you get a finished painting.

Good vibes aside, painting outside brings some variables to overcome. Number one is wind. I have almost thrown myself off a cliff to catch a painting that the wind took. Don’t be that guy. Also, debris can get stuck in your painting. This last one I made was covered in sand. I think it adds to the authenticity!

This is one where I waited a few hours(!) to get the light perfect. That would have been fine but damn was it windy!

Another consideration is the light. You might be looking for morning light, or a sunset. Those can pass very quickly. So you have to wait for the right time, and then work fast. It’s worth waiting for your lighting to be perfect. Also, bring a bike light!

It’s nice to stay in one place for a long time. People come and go, the weather changes, and you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t. Plein air painting is a good way to plant yourself in one space and watch the world go by. Just make sure you’re prepared for the weather!

Plus you get to eat all the calories you burnt!

I’m not saying these are masterpieces. That’s not really the point. It’s just a fun activity. The paintings just remind you of a day we’ll spent.

So yeah, I think more people should be doing this. It’s a fun way to get out and enjoy life. If anyone has questions, let me know in the comments. Want to go out and paint? Go for it!

-Sam and Wednesday

Clockwise from top left: Magnusson Park, Discovery Park, Sammamish River, Lake Union