The greatest challenge for the plein air painter, no matter their previous experience is to overcome the overwhelming tsunami of visual information that the natural setting always imposes upon the eye and the mind of a painter. That state of feeling overwhelmed usually becomes amplified by the "visions of sugar plums... dancing in our heads"... that all artists enter into this intoxicating environment with. Often, in the past, with both of these two conflicting factors actively at work... I have driven around for the better part of the day... searching for that "perfect" scene to paint. Discouraged, I never was able to settle down to work. I was using both my eyes and brain to look for , rather than to "See" the endless possibilities and potential painting sites that I had driven by. Here are some strategies that I employ in my own process which you might find helpful when you head "out there" to paint the next time.
Scouting...Selection... then Composition
I am going to draw upon the experiences and process that I chose to work with when Janet Gaylord at the Eagle Point Winery to make my point for this strategy. The scouting part of the working process needn't be necessarily restricted to the day one actually goes out to paint. Often, I do this in advance, or stumble upon a suitable area with many possibilities at a time when neither the time available to me, nor the weather conditions are in my favour. Rather than trying to immediately decide upon the actual painting "Idea"... I wander about examining the area for multiple possibilities from which to choose.
Selection... infers the process of evaluating and taking from the whole landscape before you... a single area of interest that contains structure and high interest for you to build upon. That will not necessarily include all of the landscape attributes, but rather a few of its strongest elements upon which to build a strong underpinning or foundation which we could call structure or Composition. Before getting the paints out... or into action, do a walk-about and consider for a short period of fifteen minutes which site appeals most strongly to you. Then mark the spot and return.... painting gear in hand... set up and get down to work. In other words... commit immediately to the Composition stage... what's in... what's out. Composing... simply put .... meaning creating. You hold the baton... and Nature follows your rules and tempo! Be ruthless - Simplify!!!
When I come back to that same area at another time, strictly to paint... much of the spade work has been done beforehand... and my foray then becomes direct and reduces wasted time in the field searching. In the case with Janet, I had walked the grounds myself a week earlier... for other reasons in preparation for yet another venture that is presently in the works for the fall at the winery. Another story... for another day! I knew exactly where we could begin to make possible the easiest and most potentially satisfying entry into plein air painting for a novice. That strategy worked in both our favours and made the day a success in every way possible.
While Janet was in the final stages of her painting, I purposely left her to her own thoughts and actions. I chose to wander about camera in hand ... just inhaling the immense beauty in the immediate area of our chosen site. I had no other intention than to simply explore... and enjoy the remainder of what had been a productive and joyful day en plein air. Here are some of the images I found, as I moved about... merely looking.
A still life possibility.... whenever??? They sure tasted sweet... right off the vine! Never taste that way coming from the supermarket... or in the studio!
A view down the road... not a strong enough tug on my creative heartstrings in this one... today!
Down the road a bit further... the heart strings resonating better... BUT
Voila!... THIS is a distinct and highly engaging possibility... High enough to email it off to Frank for a look-see! I never set out to look for this intentionally... it simply happened during a leisurely ... effortless scouting foray. I learned this trick from my Algonquin painting pal David Kay... who by custom and habit intentionally leaves his easel unattended part way through every painting... just to get his head outta his painting a--!!! It works!
From Possibility... Into Realty
Both Frank and I responded to this strong and unexpected gift from the Universe... but we did it on our own terms. Frank completed his version in his studio because of the distance away from the actual site, while I painted my version en plein air... well sort of. It was completed entirely outside our Gallery in Rockport a day later... because I had to attend to the Gallery while Deb was away for the day on business.
My first strategy was to print a copy of the jpeg. I instinctively felt a strong need to manipulate/play with the basic elements... and used a cropping technique (with scissors) to create a "jigsaw" version of the original composition in the photo. In so doing... I focused less on the barn structure... preferring to develop the creek aspect of the subject as my main compositional interest. The barn merely added an opportunity for colour and a barrier to stop the eye from leaving the picture plane on the right side of the painting.... and offered a more intimate and heightened visual relationship in the composition between the creek and the barn.
I then responded to the scene colouristically... pushing the seasonal feel more towards autumn. Having worked in the field for so many years, helped me build a strong visual vocabulary and complete understanding of how light, shadow and colour manifest themselves in all seasons. This acuity or intuitive response can only be developed after many plein air forays and canvases. Truly "Seeing" is the strongest tool in an artist's tool box... and it can be used either in the studio, or in the field at will.... with "painterly" results.
Here is my version entitled "Summer ... Winding Its Way Towards Autumn" - oil on canvas 10x12 inches. I feel that I captured the essence of what I "saw" and feel no changes will be necessary. Frank is, as well satisfied with his very different take on the subject. You can view that by visiting his blog site Blogging For Life at www.fedwards.blogspot.ca if you wish.
In closing... August has been a carnival of activities... feelings... "ups and downs." I guess one can just say... "It's simply Life - full of surprises"! As I swing the August page of my calendar over and into the Past, I move forward with new optimism... Hope... and Faith into September. The child within "Me" pushes forward with very much the same degree of excitement and anticipation that I felt... ever so many years ago now on that first September day back to classes... carting with me my tools - those empty... but fresh notebooks, pencil, ruler, eraser and pencil crayons in hand. It was a bitter-sweet moment Then... still is in the Now. But I choose to embrace it for what it is:
"One day more... but paradoxically... one day less."
I choose.... the More!
Happy Fall and Good Painting.... to ALL!!!