Painting pretty pictures in the great out-of-doors is not just another walk-in-the-park. In fact for the outdoor painter, plein air painting is tough work. It takes us from the controlled environment of our studio and into the unpredictable environment of Mother Nature.

Outdoor painting with a pochade box is a wonderful experience, but believe it or not, there are some hazards the artist should be aware of and prepared for when painting outside. The most effective way to prevent mishaps is to adequately prepare for the safety of your trip ahead of time and it is also important to know what to do if trouble arises.
Whether you are painting next to your car or backpacking into the wilderness, it is good to be informed of the following safety tips for outdoor painters – especially the ‘extreme outdoor painter’.  But, these tips apply to any nature enthusiast who enjoys playing, hiking, biking or photography in the great outdoors.  When I am in the remote back-country I always travel in numbers or have a guide with me who packs a 357 S&W magnum for protection.  I don’t carry a gun, but I always carry Bear Spray on my hip in a water-bottle holder.  Living and painting in the Rocky Mountains, I personally have had encounters with lightening, blizzards, black bears, moose, coyotes, snakes, a mountain lion, a wolf, and of course, a strange person or two.
Safety Tips:
TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU ARE GOING: The buddy system is always the safest way to travel and paint, but if not, be sure and tell someone where you are going and when you will be returning.
HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF THE AREA: Before you venture off into the wilds of the countryside or mountains, be sure and acquainted yourself with the area.
FIRST AID KIT Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, bug spray, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen.
EMERGENCY SUPPLIES KIT: map, pocket knife, flashlight, warm clothing, hat, rain jacket, water, cell phone, high energy food, water proof matches, candle & empty tin can (for heat), water purification tablets, pepper spray or bear spray, whistle, snow shovel (for winter painting), tow rope, blanket.
PREPARE FOR WEATHER CHANGES: Watch the local weather report and be prepared!

When Thunder Roars – Go Indoors!

What to do if you are caught in a lightning, thunderstorm:

  • If you are caught above the tree line when a storm approaches, descend quickly.
  • Avoid isolated trees. It is better to run into a forest.
  • Try and find a ditch
  • Run into a forest if a shelter or car is not nearby.
  • Drop metal objects like umbrellas, easels, tripods and packs with internal or external metal frames.
  • Get off bicycles, motorcycles, and horses. Avoid metal fences, and utility poles and metal bleachers.
  • If you are caught in an open field, seek a low spot.
  • Crouch with your feet together and head low.
  • Don’t sit or lie down, because these positions provide much more contact with the ground, providing a wider path for lightning to follow.
  • If you are with a group and the threat of lightning is high, spread out at least 15 feet apart to minimize the chance of everybody getting hit
  • Don’t return to an open area too soon. People have been struck by lightning near the end of a storm, which is still a dangerous time.
  • Get off lakes or rivers and seek shelter when storms approach.
  • Once on land, get at least 100 yards away from shore.
  • If Someone Is Struck – People who have been hit by lightning carry no electric charge and can be safely tended to. Also, victims who appear dead can often be revived. If the person is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But if a pulse is absent as well and you know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), begin CPR. Stay with the victim until help arrives.


  • A person may develop hypothermia when the outside temperature is around 50 degrees or is cold, damp and windy. Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it.
  • Wet clothing from perspiration, dew, humidity or rain puts you at risk in cold weather.
  • Wind lowers your body temperatures as it evaporates moisture from your body and draws heat from the body.
  • Hypothermia can be prevented by dressing properly and avoiding potentially dangerous weather conditions.
  • High-calorie foods, including chocolate, dried fruits and raisins provide quick energy that helps produce body heat.

WATCH FOR BUGS: Hornets, bees, wasps, and yellow jackets can be a problem for painters. Avoid attracting stinging insects by wearing light-colored clothing and avoid perfumes or colognes. Should such an insect approach, do not wave wildly and swat blindly – instead use a gentle pushing or brushing motion to deter them.
Tips for ticks: The proper technique for tick removal includes the following:

  • After arriving on the skin, the tick that spreads Lyme disease usually takes 24 hours before feeding begins.
  • Use fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
  • Pull backwards gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist. Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, since its bodily fluids may contain infection-causing organisms.
  • After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • If any mouth parts of the tick remain in the skin, these should be left alone; they will be expelled on their own.
  • Attempts to remove these parts may result in significant skin trauma.

Tips for Stings:

  • Remove any stingers immediately!
  • No need to scrape off bee stingers, just remove them.
  • It’s OK to pull stingers out with your fingers.
  • The longer bee stingers are allowed to remain in the body, the more severe the reaction will be.
  • How fast you get the stinger out is much more important than how.
  • Honey bees leave a stinger behind when they sting a victim.
  • Wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets do not leave a stinger. These relatives of the honey bee can also cause an allergic reaction.

WATCH FOR SNAKES: Over 8,000 people are bitten by poisonous snakes in the United States each year.
Keep your hands and feet away from areas where you cannot see, like between rocks or in tall grass where rattlesnakes like to rest.
Tips for bites:

  • Keep the bitten area still. You can immobilize the area with an improvised splint made from a board, magazines, or other stiff material tied to the limb. Don’t tie it too tight—you don’t want to reduce blood flow.
  • Remove any jewelry or constricting items near the affected area in case of swelling.
  • Keep the area of the area of the snake bite lower than the heart. Go to a hospital immediately.
  • If bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT use ice to cool the bite.
  • If bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom.
  • If bitten by a rattlesnake, DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.
  • If the victim has to walk out, sit calmly for 20-30 minutes to let the venom localize at the site, proceed calmly to the nearest source of help and try to avoid unnecessary exertion which will stimulate circulation of the poison.
  • Get the victim to definitive medical care for antivenin, which will provide the greatest relief from the toxic effects of the bite.

Black Bears:

  • Most times black bears do not want to bother humans. Some, though, are curious or even predatory.
  • Do not get in between a bear and its food source.
  • A sow with cubs is the most dangerous.
  • Get BIG and bold.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Do not run!
  • Wave your arms and yell loudly.
  • If the bear sees you as a threat, it will charge.
  • Bear spray is about 92% effective according to a recent 2008 Alaska study.
  • Guns are inaccurate and can just make the bear angry.  But shoot to kill if you do.
  • But, if the black bear does attack you, fight back!

Grizzly Bears:

  • There are more grizzly bears in the wilds now and they are more territorial than a black bear.
  • Humans are NOT the preferred food for grizzly bears.
  • Treat a grizzly differently than a black bear.
  • If you surprise one, avoid contact and back away slowly.
  • Do not run…their instinct is to chase prey.
  • Climb a big tree if you can, but these bears can push down smaller trees.
  • Guns are less effective on grizzlies.
  • Bear spray should be your first line of defense; unfortunately the bear has to get close to you!
  • If the Griz does attack, lie on your stomach and play dead.  When the bear doesn’t feel threatened anymore, it will usually retreat.
  • People who run, panic or fight a grizzly end up with the worse injuries from a grizzly attack.

Mountain Lions:

  • Lions are quiet, sneaky and usually attack from behind.
  • Get BIG and bold and loud.
  • Stand tall and wave your arms.
  • Throw rocks and/or pick up a big stick – use it!
  • A lion’s nose is very sensitive to bear spray, so use it!
  • If a mountain lion does attack you, it will go for your head or neck first.
  • Fight back as hard as you can. My friend saved his daughter from a mountain lion mauling by poking out its eyes. (gross…sorry for that!)


  • Although healthy wolves usually do not attack humans their population is on the rise and so is good to know what to do.  Attacks are rare, but not unheard of…
  • Defense against them is the same as the black bear and mountain lion.
  • Get BIG and fight!
  • Throw rocks & sticks.
  • If a wolf thinks it is going to get the beaten, it will back away.
  • Maintain eye contact, do not run or turn your back.
  • Where there is one wolf, there are usually two…so keep a sharp eye behind you.
  • If you have a gun, fire off shots in the air.
  • Wolves usually attack the back of the leg to cripple its prey.
  • Bear spray should work on this wild canine.
  • But if not, do you best to climb a tree!


  • Moose are very territorial and dangerous animals.
  • Moose are very unpredictable.
  • Never get between a cow and its calf.
  • Try and remain 50 feet away.
  • If you see its ears back or the hair on its ‘hump’ stand up, it is angry and ready to attack.
  • Never throw anything at a moose.
  • Keep dogs under control.  Dogs only anger the moose.
  • A moose will chase after a dog.
  • If it charges you, try and get behind a tree or a big boulder.
  • You can try and look big, but if is attacks get down on the ground and cover your head, stay still and play dead.
  • Moose kick with their front feet and back feet.
  • I’ve always heard that moose are the only wild animal you should run from!

FYI: Remember, running from any predator is futile.  Bear spray only lasts about 7 seconds. Be sure and check the expiration date on the can or buy a new can each year to assure potency.
I would like to add one more thought…As a woman, I usually use the buddy system when painting out in the wilderness or remote areas.  I have to admit that I am more leery of a strange human being than a wild animal.  When I paint alone or with another attractive woman, I make sure to stay within cell phone range and carry bear spray.  I also don’t dress to impress!
Some of these ‘safety tips’ may seem a bit extreme for the average outdoor painter, but it is better to be over prepared, than under prepared. Just like the Impressionists before me, I love to venture out into the back country to investigate and capture the effects of sunlight on a favorite subject. I often chose to paint in the wild Rocky Mountains where I hope I never have to use any of the above safety tips!
Safe outdoor painting travels to you! ~Lori
You might also enjoy reading:
Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Family: Too Close for Comfort!
Winter Outdoor Painting Tips for the Plein Air Painter
A Brush With Danger: Plein Air Painting in the Back-Country
Plein Air Painting with Utah’s Finest
Painting & Playing in Provence
Water Soluble Oil Paints: Facts, Tips and Why I Use Them
A Day at the Louvre Museum
My Tour de France
Pack for Painting: Tips for the Painter by Airplane or Car
Maui’s Dynamic Art Scene
Local Color of the Caribbean
For further reading check out: Learn What to Do If You Encounter a Bear in the Wilderness, Simple Survival – About Wild Animal Attacks, How to Stay Safe from Lightning

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