top of page
  • Writer's picturebkeeler

Biking into work- Painting Mobility

Brian Keeler painting on Spring Hill near Wyalusing, PA- using his mountain bike to get to the scene.

It is is location, location, location right? Well that's the the mantra of real estate agents when referring to the clincher for selling a property. And this advise easliy applies to painters seeking the motif. After all it is conneting to the subject, finding inspiration and sufficient engagement to involve us and sustain our endeavors. For myself, this active looking, which is searching with the intent of expressing the scene into paint comprises perhaps 90% of the job.

Bicycles are a wonderful form of transport that can facilitate this search. Biking to our subject also allows us to combine exercise with our work in a wonderful way. Riding a bike with art supplies may not be for everyone for a vairety of reasons, but for some it opens up all kinds of benefits. The beauty of the Finger Lakes area in New York, where I live now offers countless miles of wonderful roads offering really beautiful vistas and intimate views of enchanting glens and waterfalls. There are also wonderful trails that wend there way through scenic area of towns, past the Ithaca Farmers for example and through Stewart Park. Equally as inviting are former railroad lines, like the Black Diamond Trail running up towards Trumansburg that are gently sloping gravel trails that pass through miles of woodlands. I might add that many of the roads have minimal vehicular traffic- making for pleasant peddling, The rural area of Pennsylvania- the northern Susquehanna region where I grew up is abundantly beautiful too. This area of northern Pennsylvania has been invaded by the fracking industry in recent years- so dealing with countless water trucks and all the other related traffic is definitely a negative and makes biking risky. But for the most part, whether one lives in an inner city or out in the hinter lands- a bike can offer a good method to get to the motif.

A plein air oil painting done north of Ithaca, NY at the intersection in Lansing, NY. It was done during a bike ride severasl years ago. The view of the historic Rogues Harbor Inn- shown in the background has changed since then- the house in the foreground has been razed.

A recent plein air painting depicting an evening view on the Wycoff Road north of Lodi, NY overlooking Seneca Lake. A lone cylists was added on the road back in the studio.

To view a short video of the above painting during the beginning-

For starters, biking allows for ease of access in an unobtrusive way that is really well suited for plein air landscape painting. Unlike with cars, our bikes are easy to park, and we can navigate busy streets to find just the right spot without the concern of parking. When we find an inspiring location in an inner city or rural setting, we just veer off, and shazam, we are set up in minutes ready to apply the brushes to canvas.

Using bikes in this way has become a method used by some of the best plein air painters competing in national events. For example, at this year's Wayne Plein Air Fest, in Wayne, PA (A Philly suburb) there were a couple of guys tooling around the gritty streets of Manayunk in search of their subjects. I plan to take my mountain bike to the Cape Ann Plein air event this October.

Bicyclists as a motif- This large oil painting depicts a group of bicylists in front of th Philadelphia Musuem of Art. The orignial is in a private collection in Dalton, PA.

I have been using my bike for many years as transportation to painting locations too. I might add that my kayak has served a similar purpose. There are of course some caveats to using your bike for transport to the scene. One is getting back before dark- which is not a problem with taking your car or truck. There were more than a few times when I stayed out to paint the sunset only to have a rather treacherous return. I did not have a light on my bike in those early years- and one time upon returning from a paintng session on my bike I hit an unseen rock a crashed. A broken rib, but otherwise ok.

Riding to the inspiration- Brian Keeler is shown here set up on the pedestrian bridge that crosses the inlet leading into Cayuga Lake at Stewart Park in Ithaca, NY. You'll notice a 10" x 36' stretched linen on the floor boards here- under the umbrella. This is the same size as the canvas being worked on- so when finished, I put them face to face to return home.

The environmental aspect- the non-polluting nature of riding a bike is also part of the appeal for many. The astounding number of exhaust-belching cars and trucks on our roads is a major part of global warming. So by riding our bikes when we can we are helping in some small way to combat global warming and wean ourselves away from fossil fuels.

By bicycling we also enter into an empathy with other cyclists in a communitarian way. This also extends to finding bicyclists as a potential subject for our art. I have found the muse in bicyclists on many occasions. Sometimes while doing a landscape, a bike will roll past, and I'll quickly sketch it in or take a photo to add the figure in later. There is an appeal about portraying people enjoying themselves in such a recreational or practical actity. There are drawing challenges with painting bikes. For example, the unavoidable task for rendering the perspective issue of ellipses- caused by the wheels is one such problem. The spokes of wheels always present another issue- usually solved by suggestion- rather than transcription of each spoke. After all they're moving usually and so adding a few defly places accent may be the ticket.

What to pack? If you're new to plein air painting- just getting the right equipment is a good starting place. Having the right tools and materials will minimize the struggle and allow for focusing on the creation rather than chasing your blowing-away canvas or holding your flopping paper down etc.

Get a good sturdy and light weight easel, I use a Sotec Ease- which sets up in minutes. And all the basic stuff, like a air-tight cannister for your solvent, a pack for your brushes, and a stool perhaps. The supports or panels are worth considering too. How do you bring back a wet oil on a bike? I sometimes take stretched linen- but usually several panels, Masonite or other light weight hardboard - of various sizes. But I take two of each size, so after the work is done, I place them face to face (a dry panel in front of the just-completed oil) to get the painting back home. There may be some minor smearing- but nothing that can't be remedied or adjusted. I prepare my own panels, by gluing Belgian linen to the panels, (the smooth portrait weave) works best. These are coated with acrylic gesso then toned.

A recent plein air oil (10" x 36" oil on linen)- done on the Jerry Smith Road in Lansing, NY. It includes a bicyclist riding toward the light.

A recent oil painting depicting a view at Homet's Ferry, PA- just west of Wyalusing. This oil titled "Autumn Light, Homet's Ferry, PA" is a 26" x 30" oil on linen. It is currently part of the one-man-show of Keeler's art at the Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston, PA.

So I hope this essay may have inspired you to perhaps try biking as a way to get to your lanscape subject. I have many Youtube clips of painting on location. And I have several really great full-lenth videos, available as DVD's or instant downloads. In these I share a wealth of ideas and techniques for creating en plein air painting. You can order them on my website, or They are also available along with my instruction books, "Dramatic Color in the Landscape" and my newest book, "LIght on the Figure- Aspects of Painting People" at the West End Gallery in Corning, NY or the North Star Art Gallery in Ithaca, NY.


bottom of page