Painting From the Row Boat

Painting from the row boat
Monet Painting in his Studio Boat, 1874 by Edouard Manet
Monet Painting in his Studio Boat, 1874 by Edouard Manet

In June I finally did what had been percolating in my mind for at least a year. Paint from my row boat. I row every  once in a while and consider myself capable. With that said, to start painting from the boat I did not need any extra gear than what I usually bring when I paint plein air and I do take a bit of gear. When driving somewhere to paint and I won’t be working close to my car I use a foldable hand truck for carting my full size French easel, a “kitchen sink” box with all my painting gear and an umbrella. All of which are shown in the photo of the boat, excluding the hand truck. The French easel can be used without it’s legs extended as a table easel. Knowing I could set the easel like that on a seat in the boat was the seed that got me thinking I could get out there and paint like the great painter Monet. He had a “studio” boat which he would paint from. As a matter of fact, Manet painted Monet (and his wife) painting on his boat. I wonder if Manet was in a boat…Referencing the painting it looks like a row boat to me. See the oar on the right side of the painting? Course in that time, 1874, a row boat was most likely your only option. In the painting I don’t see a line for an anchor in the stern. Hmm…I wonder how he kept his boat from moving while he painted…


Painting outdoors is hard enough. Doing that in a limited area in a tippy boat is not for everyone. On my second painting session I had an awkward moment involving balance, one foot in the boat and the other on the shallow bottom. This got me thinking that as I go forward with this type of adventure in painting I should to follow a system to be productive in my small aluminum boat as I paint, enjoy myself, and stay safe. Here is a start of that system which I post for grins and giggles more than anything.

  • I must know how to row and know I can row back from where I started.
  • I must be comfortable painting outdoors.
  • There must be very little wind in the forecast for the time I will be painting.
  • Always move slowly and if it is to move my body plan the movement before I do it.
  • Painting should be done in shallow water, ideally where I can step out of the boat and step back in. 
  • Things that must not get wet put in a water proof container. All my painting gear can get wet, except paper.
  • Have a holder for any liquids for drinking. I use a car drink holder hook which I hook on the edge of the boat.
  •  The boat tipping over is the worst case scenario. From where I paint, if I had to, I can walk back through the shallow water to where I started.
  •  Have three anchors. One for the bow (front) and two for either side of the stern (back) of the boat. I used bricks (with holes in them) on a nylon string. This will keep the boat, more or less, in a position you want. Critical for painting from the same spot. It would be very frustrating if the boat started drifting from your spot while painting. 
  • Sit on a water proof cushion. Sitting in one position without much movement will become uncomfortable even with a cushion. 
  • Use rags for paint cleaning instead of paper towels if possible. A wet rag will clean paint better than a wet paper towel.
  • Be protected against the sun.
  • Have a way to protect your finished wet painting. I work in oil and getting water on the painting would not damage the painting but it would be annoying.
  • Ahh yes, enjoy myself.