Ingredients: Fog, Shells, Paper Towels, Fortitude

Fog in the Marsh, plein air oil painting on canvas, 8" x 8"

When you paint outside, you can’t wait for a nice day. Mostly because it is impossible to figure out when you are going to get one.

Even when the weather forecast promises a beauteous, warm, sunny day on the iconic Maine seacoast, you can find yourself in a wet, cold mess instead.

That is partly because the sea is changeable. Even with miraculous technology, the ocean effects the air in ways that the computers can’t predict.

Which is why, last October I drove an hour and a half to paint rocks and waves only to find that my favorite scenes were completely obscured by fog. The forecast said “Partly Cloudy,” not “Sea Poop” fog.

Oh well, I thought, I will make the most of this. I seldom paint fog because if I think it will be foggy, I usually stay home, so this was a great time to practice.

And the dogs will still have fun running around and swimming.

Nothing to do but unload the truck and make the best of it.

I carried my pack all the way to the farthest point of my domain. The tide was high and the steely grey marsh water against the maroon weeds captured my attention. I still waited to unpack for a bit, to see if the heavy air would hide all interesting compositional elements from me.

The far trees, sand bars and grasses seemed disappear and reappear consistently enough for me to give it a go - I'd think of them like rocks in crashing surf.

Slowly, I unpack all of my equipment and supplies, assembling things as I go - first, extending the tripod legs and settling them into the small rocks at my feet, then clicking the Strada easel into place on top of it and settling it into position.

Next, I pulled out the worn ziplock bag of pigment tubes, the odorless mineral spirits in its metal jar, the roll of paper towels that, today, can’t hit the ground or it will “quickly pick up” the moisture in the sand.

The Viewcatcher is next - I use it to scan my surroundings for a pleasing composition.

Oh look, there is a Larabar - I’ll eat that while I think more about what to paint and how to paint it a bit more.

The dogs are splashing and having a wonderful time. I know they will smell like the marsh mud later.

Time to stop fooling around and start painting. The Viewcatcher is lined up and I go to make my first mark and......realize that I have no brushes. 


Zero brushes. And because it gets stored with them, no pallette knife either.

What to do?

What I really did was get very frustrated and nearly quit and go home. Instead of packing everything back in the bag immediately, I decide the dogs could have a bit more fun. I am envious of their ability to just enjoy where they are. They don’t care about the weather at all. They are having fun getting wet and muddy and chasing each other on slippery rocks. They grab sticks and taunt each other with them.

My mood increases because it is impossible to be around such happy creatures without smiling.

Back to the easel. Ok, no brushes. But what can I do? There are broken shells everywhere and I know from stepping on them with bare feet that they can be as sharp as knives. Could a shell work like a pallette knife?

Love the shells you're with

And I do have paper towels - can I smear enough paint around with the paper towels? It will make a mess, I know. What choice do I have but to try?

Since it is foggy, details are obscured anyway and the paper towel and mussel shell experiment  yields one painting.

After a little frustration, I started to enjoy myself - the Goldens rubbing off on me? I liked the color combinations and the different marks a shell makes. I was also proud that I forged ahead and used my brain and available resources to have a good afternoon despite the fog and lack of brushes.

Painting and available tools and equipment.


I don't recommend painting with shells and I’m not going to do this on purpose. But the willingness to try it saved the day.


Better to have the brushes and if I want to pick up a shell and paint, I can certainly do that...

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