As a plein air advocate for most of my painting career, I prided myself upon creating a number of paintings... start to finish... on each and every outing. I must admit that I felt a sense of failure if I didn't fulfill that 2-3 finished works result. Even size didn't enter into the formula. I often brought back one or two larger scale paintings.
Looking back on the practice now, I realize that the strategy offered both pluses... and minuses. On the plus side, I learned how to make decisions rapidly and to accelerate the speed of my brushwork. This did indeed result in "loose and painterly" results... which were the "go words" in the painting world at that time.
All the "how to" books of a generation of artists preached and pitched that approach religiously. Galleries chimed in using it to ramp up their sales and interest in specific members of their stable of artists. It reached cult proportions in the seventies and eighties.
On the minus side... many dashed off works lacked a full sense of understanding and cohesion... if one looked carefully and honestly at the works. Glaring mistakes in tonality, composition and lighting often diminished the overall effect and quality of the work greatly.
Something Old.... from Then
In the west corner of my studio space sits a number of what I considered were derailed plein air train wrecks. Not everything that we paint should find its way to the wall immediately, or in some cases never!
Lately, I most often set a new work aside for a period of time and glance at it occasionally... hoping to discover a glaring weakness needing resolution ... or a previously missed redeeming feature.
In years gone by such time for reflection was rarely, if ever was possible. When I was producing work for sometimes up to eleven well-respected galleries across Canada, the need for a constant flow of work to send off to satisfy the demands imposed often exceeded or pushed hard upon my ability to deliver.
Hence time became the governing factor an a focus upon quality more often than not took a back seat. Paintings were often barely dry and some, in my opinion today were even "weak-kneed" when they were shipped to galleries.
Today, I regret that reality greatly. However, it was a time.. when being a "market painter" was essential to maintain a livelihood and became the norm in the art business really. Only a few of the older and better established artists enjoyed a sense of free agency and personal control over their work.
My only solace today, lies in the fact that my collectors then were very much aware of my "emerging artist" status and that they felt that they were receiving decent dollar value for my work and that my work met the criteria they themselves decided upon to purchase and form collections of my work.
I thought it might perhaps be an interesting exercise to take one "failed" sketch from back then and to work it up from memory only... making use of the a mix of remembrances and feelings about the scene.
This exercise might highlight my growing belief that though plein air provides a certain freshness and dash... it as well contains areas that should be reconsidered and built upon to create even stronger landscapes.
Plein air painting presents a great opportunity to learn directly from the subject. Perhaps if one is fortunate as I was, you might find mentor(s) willing to share their experience and knowledge. The process offers a wonderfully stimulating classroom to learn about your own painting abilities and interests. .
Last Light, Gould Lake - oil on canvas 11 x 14 inches
This sketch was produced back in 1996, a time when my paintings were mostly small sketches and completed "in one go." Most were signed right there on location... or rubbed off immediately if painfully bad. I specifically remember this scene out on the Gould Lake Road, north of Kingston. My painting companion and I had decided to stop at this site... have a quick bite of lunch and a coffee before beginning to paint. What was so impressive and attracted my interest was the intensely warm light and shadow interplay. It was truly a golden moment!
We were no more than into the actual painting process when that light disappeared completely for the rest of the afternoon. It never did return... nor did I "catch" the spirit and the elusive golden lighting effect that had drawn me to this landscape in the first place. Deflating!
Good structure... and compositional elements. BUT... where's the light??? A very flat and two dimensional space that lacks drama and verges totally upon very ordinary. The whole raison d'etre for making the painting in the first place was lost in translation. It was, at most a poor copy or representation for what was there.
Something New... from the Now
This week, I decided to use my memory of the day and experience to revisit the past. For the sake of a better word... let's call the process "Imagineering"...
I spent an afternoon leisurely searching for areas of the painting to introduce stronger light and colour. At first, it was difficult to let go of the past. The fear for disturbing what had been the recording of a long lost moment in my life was at first disconcerting. As new passages revealed improvement that was pleasing and stronger light, the momentum to complete the exercise grew quickly.
Here is the final take on the result of this experiment. What do you think?
I wonder... Let me know how you feel.
Note additional elements added to foreground. Every "newbie" painter... whether painting from digital images, or en plein air encounters difficulty with the foreground area. Many times, as seen in the first version... the road or water simply sweeps unceremoniously forward engulfing the immediate front area of the painting with... nothingness.
Here in the final edition, the combination of light and shadow plus the addition of the dark puddle creates something to stop the eye... and to make a statement which adds to the composition.
Just some food for thought... from one "old(er) painter passing through." Maybe... an idea to think about in your own work!
Much Joy... Rich Blessings and Good Painting... to ALL!!