Few, if any, painters copy what they see in exact detail. We must discern what aspects of a particular scene drew us in and feature them. Other aspects need to recede in importance or even be left out. Sometimes an element needs to be moved or added for the sake of the composition. However, such changes require restraint. If a weathered barn is surrounded by purple wildflowers except for a trash pile in my sight line, filling that area with similar or compatible plants or a glimpse of bare earth is an acceptable adjustment to enhance the overall scene. However, it wouldn't make sense to paint a profusion of tropical passion flowers or cacti instead. The integrity of the location matters. Now I know that some lovely landscape paintings are completely "made up" by the painter from some combination of memories and a desire to create a scene that looks a particular way. I have done that myself, with fairly good results.
However, the "made up" places, at least when I paint them, do not resonate with the same depth as those based on an actual location. If I have truly been there, have seen, heard, tasted, smelled and touched the natural elements, I believe the truth of that experience shows in the art work. Yet, I do not paint simply what I see with my eyes or experience with my other physical senses. The painting arises out of my personal response to a natural place.
Holding the real and the "ideal" mental vision in tension to produce an interesting painting of an observed scene is infinitely rewarding. Sometimes this is quite difficult and requires extensive adjustment along the way--at other times, the process flows more easily. Wrestling with the balance of light and dark tones, with the way colors appear under variations in natural light, and with the arrangement of shapes and elements is a deeply moving, uniquely personal, creative experience.
The scene in the photo above is near our home. It's no place special--definitely not on anyone's sight-seeing itinerary--just a wide bend in Little Pottsburg Creek. Chunks of old concrete jostle the rocks and mussel beds in the muddy shallows, and trash lies half-submerged in the water. Still, something in the scene drew my attention. So I carefully recorded details mentally, snapped a few photos, and went home to figure out what the appeal was. If I tried to capture the feeling I had experienced in this everyday North Florida location, what would I paint? The result was an excellent learning exercise for me, which I will show you in my next post.
Question of the day: If you painted, drew, or more carefully photographed this creek bend, what would you feature?