Pamela Ruschman painting on the banks of Lake Superior

We’ve been passing along the best advice for painting in cold weather, and last week, we received the absolute bottom line for staying warm en plein air. Not surprisingly, it came from a veteran of painting along the shore of frigid Lake Superior in Wisconsin. What is the word from Pamela Ruschman?

“Lakescape, Feb. 6,” by Pamela Ruschman

“The best advice I ever received was when my boy was in nature preschool,” says the Mequon, Wisconsin, painter. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices. If you dress for painting in the winter, you can. That’s what it’s all about.”

Ruschman painting in her cold-weather gear

“Plein Air Lakescape, Jan. 17,” by Pamela Ruschman

Ruschman reiterates the advice to layer clothing for additional warmth, and she recommends a specific hat from the Duluth Trading Company that shades the eyes yet fits firmly and warmly over ears and head. But her strongest advice is to wear an outer layer that is windproof. “Even if it is not snowing, windproof and waterproof protection can make a huge difference in your body temperature,” she says. “The mistake I see is wool coats. Many of the older painters did that, but with the modern technology we have, why do that?”

“Plein Air Lakescape, December 19,” by Pamela Ruschman

The artist layers turtlenecks, fleece jackets, and an old Columbia hooded jacket over the whole shebang — including face mask and the aforementioned hat. “Too many artists try to look cute or handsome, but when you are winter painting, you can’t be glamorous, you have to dress for the elements,” asserts Ruschman. She puts handwarmers on top and on bottom of her feet in between a layer of regular socks and wool socks, tucked snugly into boots. She wears cleats on her boots to prevent slips and falls. The artist feels that it’s crucial for her to keep all her cold-weather painting gear together in a duffel bag, which makes it easy for her to quickly access it all for a painting session, and to contain any spilled or smeared paint she might have gotten on her clothes. Even with all her gumption and gear, Ruschman sometimes still needs a nudge from a friend.

Ruschman painting in a frozen landscape

Even the preschoolers are tough enough to paint outdoors in the wintertime in Mequon, Wisconsin

“Last year I got a phone call from my friend who said, ‘You need to get down to the lake today.’ There were ice volcanoes forming with water splashing up through them,” recalls the artist. “But a blizzard was coming in. I didn’t want to go. She said, ‘Oh, just get your butt down here.’ That’s what I needed to hear. I only completed one painting, but it was so much fun. I had to hold on to my easel in the wind, and the snow fell on my painting and on palette. I just let it happen — and it created a really neat effect, a grainy, very coarse texture on the canvas. When I look at this painting now, I feel like I am absolutely there. It was very exciting to paint that.”

“Lakescape, March 5,” by Pamela Ruschman. Painted during a blizzard, resulting in a surface quality with a coarse texture

Ruschman, who serves on the event committee for Plein Air Cedarburg, is obviously an unabashed advocate for painting on the coldest days of the year. “I prefer winter painting to summer,” she says. “I think the colors of winter are amazing — especially the sunsets — plus the calmness and peacefulness, the solitude. I wasn’t always like this. Until I learned how to really dress for the weather, I wasn’t really fond of painting in winter. But there are no insects, none of the other stuff you have to deal with in the summer.”


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