Lori McNee
Lori McNee with her plein air partner for the trip, Rocky

When caught in a plein air painter’s paradise without all the “necessary” tools, Lori McNee got creative, and her horse helped. Here’s how…

By Lori McNee

Horses, plein air painting, adventure, and the backcountry wilderness are a few of my favorite things. So when I got an invitation to go on an all-expenses-paid, week-long horse pack-trip into Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, I jumped at the chance!

Consisting of 1,009,356 million acres, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, or “the Bob,” as it is informally known, is to remain roadless thanks to the Wilderness Act of 1964. The only permanent structures are some old ranger stations and horse bridges. “The Bob” is the fifth-largest wilderness in the lower 48 states.

Although I travel extensively for my international painting workshops, this trip would be different. I was the only artist, I’d be off the grid, on horseback, away from civilization, and sleeping on the ground in a tent, in the heart of grizzly bear country.

With only a few days to prepare, I scrambled to get ready. Being an Idaho mountain gal, I felt pretty confident about my preparations. I always keep a plein air painting pack on the ready, so it was easy for me to gather all my art gear. The rest of my personal items went into a duffel bag, which would be packed onto a mule.

Painting outdoors set up - Lori McNee
I brought along the “bear” necessities with me on my weeklong, remote, 61 mile, horse pack-trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana! I packed light. However, I forgot a few rather important items… can you guess??

I already mentioned I travel a lot, so you’d think I’d have packing down to a science. But, I always second guess myself. At the last moment, I decided to streamline my plein air painting gear in order to lighten my load. So, I condensed everything into a smaller pack. And, lighten my load I did…

Our first day was a big 20-mile ride. After the ride, we unloaded the 16-mule pack train and pitched camp. Everyone was tired, but I was so excited to paint! The sun was beginning to set, and the mountains where casting beautiful blue shadows against the warm landscape.

I stole a free moment away from the group and set up my easel, set out my Cobra paints, and was ready to paint. When I reached for my brushes, however, I was startled to realize I’d forgotten to pack my paint brushes!!! Somehow, I missed packing my brushes and palette knife when I changed bags!


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That’s right, I forgot to pack my paint brushes for my weeklong Bob Marshall Wilderness horse pack-trip adventure! I wanted to travel light so I packed a dozen @fredrixcanvas linen panels, my Cobra solvent-free @royaltalensna and my compact U-go easel @newwaveart . However I changed bags and forgot to pack my palette knife and my @princetonbrush paint brushes!!! 😱 I was the only painter on the trip. No one had paint brushes and I was on horseback and days away from any art store. I was so bummed, but then my friends helped me make horsehair brushes with some sticks, fishing line, blue tape and horsehair!! Also @kirstie.d.lambert donated her favorite small makeup brush to the cause! 😅 I ended up having fun! In this video you’ll see the homemade mop brush for the block-in, and the horsehair liner for the tree details. I now have even more regard for brush makers!! ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ #pleinair #pleinairpainter #montana #campinghacks #horsesofinstagram #paintingwithatwist #finearttips #bobmarshallwilderness #pleinairpainting #pleinairpaintings #adventuretime #pleinairartist #pleinairart #instaart #instaartist #instaartwork #artistsoninstagram #landscapepainting #landscape_lovers #landscapepainter #paintoutside #outdoorpainting #outdoorpainter #pleinairmag #lorimcnee

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I felt helpless. Here I was, the only painter on the trip, and I was on horseback and days away from any art store! I was crestfallen. I couldn’t imagine my trip without painting.

But then my fellow trip-mates and I got resourceful. They helped me make horsehair brushes with some sticks, fishing line, blue painter’s tape and of course, horsehair. Yes, “MacGyver” style!

Although primitive, I was able to paint with these homemade brushes. In the attached video you will see the homemade mop brush which I used for the block-in, and my favorite, a “horsehair liner,” which I used for the tree details.

During the week we rode on horseback, over 60 miles deep into the wilderness through heat, rain, and even snow. We dodged grizzly bears, forded rivers, crossed meadows, and climbed rocky mountainsides. We shared campfire stories and listened to the wolves howl under the Milky Way.

I had hoped to get more painting done, but I’m grateful I at least came home with these five little studies. They aren’t masterpieces, but they are fun memories to go along with this story of how a huge mistake turned out to be a wonderful experience in using what’s at hand when needed.

Plein Air Studies From the Trip:

Have you ever had to get creative when using your painting supplies? Tell us about it in the comments below!

***Lori McNee is an American artist who specializes in landscape, still life, and plein air oil paintings. Inspired by nature, Lori’s paintings reflect her love of the great outdoors and respect for its creatures. When not in her studio, Lori enjoys skiing or trekking mountaintops, photographing nature, and teaching painting workshops around the world.
Connect with Lori McNee: www.LoriMcNee.com and www.FineArtTips.com; Instagram; Twitter; Facebook.

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