Milessa Murphy Stewart shares her experiences of painting in the snow for the first time. See why she describes her plein air painting trip as “exhilarating, captivating, and awe-inspiring,” and why you should start making plans to treat yourself to a similar trip.

Plein air painting trips for artists
Painting the Kananaski River

Birthdays, Bucket Lists, and 25 Plein Air Painting Trip Tips

By Milessa Murphy Stewart

What’s the big deal about birthdays?
As a studio artist, I haven’t had as much time to devote to plein air painting as I would like but after having such a wonderful time at the Paint Cuba! Publisher’s Invitational from PleinAir Magazine, my husband asked me what I wanted this year for my milestone birthday. The answer came easily. I love to travel and love, love, love to paint so I wanted to celebrate during the Fall Color Week in the Canadian Rockies. My sweetheart, my husband, my best friend did just that for me . . . now that’s a BIG DEAL!

Plein air landscape painting
“Two Jacks Lake”

My First Experience as a Backpackin’ Plein Air Painter
Usually when I paint outdoors, I have a roller bag for my gear, which has worked out great. However, this past summer we took a trip to Costa Rica, where I painted on the beach — and guess what — sand and rollers do not play well together. So, I decided it was time to step it up. If I’m going to get more serious about being with Mother Nature to paint her splendor and beauty, I need the right gear! OK, that means a backpack. I mean a real backpack! Keep in mind, though, I’m a city girl from Dallas, Texas, who paints in an air conditioned studio with a lot of supplies, a plethora of brushes, and other goodies right on hand. There is no way I can lug 30 pounds-plus on my back, trek up some mountain, unload, paint, reload, and hike some more. I’m in pretty good shape for my age but I do know my limitations! To skinny it down means a light martini or cocktail — not six tubes of paint and four brushes.

Plein air painting trips for artists
Painting in the snow at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Looking Forward to Cooler Weather
Thinking the Fall Color Week weather would be in the 50s during the day, I packed clothing that could be layered. But Mother Nature played a joke on us and it snowed throughout the week. It was the prettiest icing on the most delicious birthday cake ever. Thank you Eric Rhoads, for knowing just what would make my birthday unforgettable!

It was my first time to paint in the snow and while it was snowing. I cannot even begin to explain how wonderful it felt. It was exhilarating, captivating, awe-inspiring. However, I did find that oil paint does freeze a bit and gets stringy and hard. I heard someone in our group say to add vodka to it to soften it up but unfortunately I didn’t have any handy, so I can’t say if it does or not. Luckily, I had hand and toe warmers to keep me from freezing, not to mention my ski pants!

[Related > Join Eric Rhoads and many more artists at the next Publisher’s Invitational!]

Plein air landscape painting
This was right outside of the lodge

Plein air painting has taught me many things, so I came up with a list. Perhaps it will help those new to painting outdoors, as well.

25 Plein Air Painting Trip Observations

1. There will be wind.
2. Maybe rain.
3. Maybe snow.
4. Or it might be over 90, with the sun beaming and no wind.
5. You will be with your tribe.
6. Get the most comfortable backpack you can, even if you can’t afford the best . . . research for a good one that fits and save your back!
7. Pack light or lightly . . . ha!
8. Limit your palette; oh right . . . easier said than done.
9. Remember sunscreen, bug spray, and maybe even bear spray! If you have it, you won’t need it but if you don’t, well, let’s not go there.
10. Have something that will weigh your easel down; did I say my easel blew over in Santa Fe?
11. Clip your canvas to something that will not fly unless you like a lot of texture in your painting.
12. Proper shoes . . . snow boots or Keens, no flip-flops; I fell onto the slippery mud going down a trail to a private beach in Costa Rica but I saved my painting gear.
13. You will feel like your painting is worse than everyone else’s.
14. And right when your painting looks its worst, someone will come up behind you and want to see it or take a photo of you.
15. No matter how tired you are when you get back to your room, you will want to work on your painting some more.
16. Take a photo of your scene before completing your easel setup because . . .
17. When you find your perfect spot some tourist will inevitably stand in your view.
18. Breathe in, breathe out; be calm, remember Mother Nature is here for us all.
19. You will be amazed by your experience. It will fuel your artistic nature and give you strength, but . . .
20. You vow to get into better shape when you get home because trekking with a backpack can be exhausting.
21. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey.
22. You will improve with each and every plein air adventure.
23. You will begin to see more and paint less (detail).
24. You will treasure the memories.
25. Keep track of those you paint with; remember, they are your tribe!

Plein air painting trips for artists

I’m not sure where my next plein air adventure will take me, but I do know this: it’s very addictive. My new studio just grew by continents, mountains, and oceans, so beware!

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  1. Milessa Murphy Stewart of Frisco, TX, great article and nice paintings rom the Invitational. Please look into membership of Outdoor Painters Society ( and meet plein air painters in your area. There is a large Texas membership with many in the DFW area. In a couple of weeks we are going to nearby Corsicana TX for a two-day paint-out. Also check out entry in our annual members competition, show, and sale next May on Galveston Island. We would love for you to join us.

  2. Hi from Anne Allbeury Hock. I love your iist. Everything imaginable has happened in the 15 years I have
    been painting plein air, Locked myself out of my car. Key WAY under the back fender; spilled all the medium 3 or 4 times. Easel flipped into river at St. Michaels MD. Etc. One thing I have started to do to cut down on weight: I cut primed linen into 2″ larger shapes of 11 x 14; 9 x 12, etc. and tape them (off white tape to
    a foam board to paint. Mounting then later at home. The linen is fairly heavy and stiff. I use an Art Box Panel set up. Take a look at their site. I have used this for 10 years! Great and travels very easily in a small size roller bag with the tripod over my shoulder in its bag. Tres Chic! Let’s paint forever!!!


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