Friday, June 12, 2009

Learning and Growing--Landscape Painting, Part I

Landscape painting is a balancing act and requires priority setting and focus. I wrote about balancing life goals and projects last time, then realized that a similar balancing process goes into the decisions involved in painting. 
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?


  1. Hi Mary,

    Fun to read your excellent writing and thoughtful reflection, and great photos.

    I've linked your sight to two of my blogs, okay?

    Fun to reconnect.

    Tom Eggebeen

  2. Wow! A blast from the past to hear from you, Tom--thanks so much for visiting and for your kind words.

    I look forward to viewing your blogs as well.

  3. great post!! "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. " So very true!

    As to your question, on this photo, I'd make the light colored tree the focal point, moving into the focal area. But, If I had been there, seen, heard, smelled, etc, something else might appeal to me! I think you have to be there to paint it!

  4. Thank you so much for your observations, Jean. I would love to be together sometime to paint the same scene and to compare our perceptions. That would be lovely!

    The tree you mention was also tempting as a focal point. It is interesting that in such a very simple location, there were so many possible elements to focus on.

  5. I find your explorations with yourself intriguing... They resonate
    You're certainly right... the "WHY are you painting this?" question is the most important..followed closely by "HOW are you going to paint it..?
    ....... then the prayers to see if you actually can pull off what you were trying to do.

  6. Thank you for your thoughtful response to my reflections, Marian. I value your thoughts and your artistic insights.