Heat index is a calculation combining actual temperature with humidity, the result being what the temperature actually feels like, and a good gauge of the stress one suffers in the environment. Plein air painters paint in the open air, so they regularly subject themselves to extreme weather, often without realizing it, since they are absorbed in painting. That was the case when I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center near Freeport, FL, this week. We were met by our most gracious guide, Laura Leslie-Sell, herself an artist, who took us on a short tour of the nearby grounds, showing us an old house on the property, with fat, happy, free-range chickens scratching in the dirt, and the tortoise area, where we saw numerous gopher tortoise burrows, and then through the hammock and down towards the creek, and finally back up past the rescued eagle, hawk, and bobcats. Also on the grounds, too distant to trek to, is a large bog filled with pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that has fascinated me since I saw them for the first time when I moved to Florida years ago. Laura showed us a small patch the Center had for display purposes, and I decided they would be my subject for the day.
Back to the heat index… I set up my umbrella and easel and got to work on my pitcher plants. The shape of the pitcher plant is what interests me the most, a slender tube with a flap suspended over the top, inviting insects to come in to be dinner. With so many grouped together, they presented quite the challenge with the brush size I was using. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But when it grew time for our soft critique and I began picking up my paints, I discovered that slight bit of disorientation I know is my first symptom of heat stress. I checked my weather app on my phone: the heat index was 107 degrees!!! I had known it was a scorcher; I had drank my refillable bottle of water and the can of LaCroix that I had brought but clearly it was hotter than I was able to endure for much longer. I quickly cleaned up and set out to find the other painters, to check on them. They all seemed fine, and one was painting on the shady front porch of the Center, where the air was moving a little bit. I was reminded of an instructor who said, regarding scene selection, that first she finds a nice, shady place, sets up her easel and palette, and then she turns around in a circle and looks for something to paint. That’s the wisdom of experience!