Preserving Wildlife

Desert tortoise – Death Valley, Nevada

We blew past this little guy in the middle of the road in Death Valley, and rather than let him be hit by some other vehicle behind us, we turned around, went back, and escorted him well off the road into the desert scrub. We didn’t learn until later that some people – desert researchers – can wait their entire lives to see such a rare sight in Death Valley National Park.

Fortunately, we were quite early and there wasn’t anyone else on the roads with us for many miles – so we were able to take all the photos we wanted, get the tortoise out of danger, and resume our headlong rush down the empty road.

Desert tortoise – Death Valley, California

This is going to be my last post for awhile, as I am currently re-evaluating my commitment to posting daily content. Creating a new post for each and every day takes time, precious time for me that would be better spent on other activities for now. Will I return? I honestly don’t know. What I can say for certain is that I simply don’t have the passion for blogging now that I did during prior efforts, and I’ll just leave it at that.

See all of my artwork here.


Photo info:
Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley, California
October 2016
Eastman Double-X (5222) film
Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5 ZM lens
Leica M3 35mm rangefinder film camera

What’s In Your Plein Air Field Kit?

My fully loaded watercolor field kit

This post is in response to Judith, over at Artistcoveries – specifically to address some of her questions in “Not Plein Air”. The photo above is my current plein air field kit, and it’s filled with everything that I need for watercolor painting, pencil drawing, and ink sketching in the great outdoors. It’s the result of over 40-years of evolution on my part, as I began trying my hand at plein air watercolor painting during my high school days in the late-1970s. Please note: this entire kit changes over time… the kit of today is not what I used in my youth, nor is it the same kit I used as recently as five years ago – it’s constantly being updated.

My plein air carryall first started out as an enormous backpack that I took with me everywhere, but that quickly got old, so I began to seek out smaller and more portable solutions. For a long while, it was a large waist pack – but that became too constraining, and I’ve switched between small lumbar packs and small sling packs with more capacity for many years now… changing the bags as my needs arise.

Me and my plein air painting field kit in 1990, during our honeymoon

My own plein air aspirations began with a Pelikan watercolor pan set in early high school, which – surprisingly – is still in production today. However, I quickly exceeded the capabilities of the inexpensive painting media that came with that set and needed something more robust that would allow me to grow as an artist and not hinder me in the process. After much looking, I eventually stumbled across the Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Field Kit, which is actually cheaper now ($107) than when I bought my first one back in 1980 ($120) – which represented a lot of coin in those days. According to the inflation calculator, that same W&N Watercolor Field Kit should be selling at $395.67 today!

The W&N Field Kit is not bad as far as an all-in-one watercolor solution goes. It comes with a decent selection of twelve W&N professional-grade watercolor half-pans, a small water cup, a small sponge, a very small water reservoir, a small but high quality paint brush, and three small mixing surfaces – all in a robust plastic box not much bigger than a package of cigarettes. I’ve read a lot of negative comments about that little field kit over the years – specifically that the plastic box is junk – but I can vouch that my original box has lasted over four decades of being dragged through thick and thin, and is still perfectly functional.

Even better, the W&N Field Box lends itself beautifully to hacking, so one can easily modify it to whatever configuration one can imagine. The unaltered kit comes from W&N with room for only 12 half-pans (below, left), but by removing the rigid internal plastic spacers one can increase the capacity to 15 half-pans, and even 16 half-pans (below, right) if the sides of the middle row of half-pans are sanded to make them just a little bit narrower. Of course, if one is fed up with the very small water reservoir that comes with the W&N field kit (like I was), that can be ditched as well, and the capacity can then be DOUBLED to 30 half-pans (below, center) of glorious color!

Five decades of field kit evolution

I don’t know of any other watercolor field kit on the market today that can carry 30 half-pans in such a compact package, though the Art Toolkit Pocket Palette with mini-pans is close at 28 colors; however, the mini-pans are definitely tiny in size (below, right).

W&N standard half-pan field kit vs eighth-pan Pocket Palette field kit

Now that we have the paint box out of the way, here is the rest of my plein air kit. I’ve opened the main sling bag so you can see how it’s packed.

Zipped open for the contents

And below is the contents of the main bag:

The main bag unpacked

With the main bag out of the way, below is what I keep the art materials in – a Peak Design Tech Pouch, with lots of pockets and dividers suitable for a wide range of various art supplies.

The art supply pouch

Below is what the pouch looks like opened, so you can see how it’s packed.

Art supply pouch opened

And below is the list of items I keep in the Peak Design Tech Pouch:

Art supply pouch unpacked

When everything is packed together, the main bag weighs 6.2 lbs (2.81 kg). If I find that weight to be too heavy – which happens on occasion when my lower back flares up – I simply use the much smaller Pocket Palette, with a smaller bottle of water, one travel brush, and a couple of other items to bring the weight down to less than 1 lb (0.45 kg).


Photo info:
Plein air watercoloring field kit
Poolesville, Maryland
August 2021
Apple iPhone 12 Pro

Seldom Seen Now

Common toad (Bufo bufo) – Poolesville, Maryland

We used to see lots of tree frogs and common toads in our yard when we first moved here in the early-1990s – lurking for unsuspecting insects in our vegetable garden and flower beds – but they began to disappear within a few years and now we rarely see them at all. This is the last large toad that I’ve been able to photograph, and that was over seven years ago. We’ve seen two or three other small amphibians since then, but none of them have been as big, beautiful, and plump as this one.

We don’t know what to attribute the decline to, because we didn’t use chemicals on our lawn, garden, or flower beds during the time that we noted the decline of their numbers in our yard. However, we do still hear peepers in distance at night, but even their welcome sound is dying down over time.

Toad – Poolesville, Maryland

Photo info:
Common toad (Bufo bufo)
Poolesville, Maryland
April 2014
Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH lens with helical extender
Leica M240 digital rangefinder camera