Patrick Saunders is very accustomed to painting outside, and he loves natural light. But he and his wife, Kimberly, live in an Airstream. So how does he handle the commissions that he likes to take? Inside out.

“We have a 16-foot Airstream trailer and no room to paint in it,” says Saunders. “Even though we don’t have a house, I still take large commissions, so I need a studio. Also, I noticed that I liked the light outside better. The color turns out better.”

The canopy setup that constitutes Patrick Saunders’ outdoor studio. Photo by Kimberly Saunders
The canopy setup that constitutes Patrick Saunders’ outdoor studio. Photo by Kimberly Saunders

So the artist bought a 10’-x-10’ canopy and sides that were made for it. “I’m not painting in the sun — no light shines directly in,” he says. “But that ambient light that sneaks around the sides and comes in actually makes the color better. If I want, I can even set up lights if I wish to paint into the evening. But during the day it’s best because light seeps in and bounces around. It’s as close as I can get to working from life outdoors without actually doing it.”

“Lou,” by Patrick Saunders, oil, 12 x 16 in. Private collection. Photo by Kimberly Saunders. Painted in Saunders’ outdoor studio
“Lou,” by Patrick Saunders, oil, 12 x 16 in. Private collection. Photo by Kimberly Saunders. Painted in Saunders’ outdoor studio

Saunders takes other steps to get into the plein air groove — from inside the canopy. “I needed to do commissions from photos because of portraits — fidgety dog, posthumous portraits, busy lives etc.,” he explains. “That means printing up a full-size photo and working from that. But I treat the photo like I’m working from life. I paint for 20 minutes and take a break of five or 10 minutes, as if the model were sitting. I do everything I can to mimic working from life. Otherwise, I could work for six or eight hours at a time, and then I could get caught up in it and not see the picture. Instead, I do paintings in a couple of hours, like a plein air piece. There’s no stress of a long-term commission, and it has that spontaneity like a plein air painting.”

“Sawyer,” by Patrick Saunders, oil, 14 x 18 in. Private collection. Photo by Kimberly Saunders. Painted in Saunders’ outdoor studio
“Sawyer,” by Patrick Saunders, oil, 14 x 18 in. Private collection. Photo by Kimberly Saunders. Painted in Saunders’ outdoor studio

The Saunders are currently parked in Southern California. Doesn’t it get hot under that canopy? “No, it’s about 70 degrees here during the day, and I’m so used to painting outdoors now — I’ve done it in 100-degree weather. The fact is, when you are in the shade, it’s not bad. People ask me if I miss anything about having a home, and after I set up this outdoor studio, I don’t.”

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