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Friday, November 18, 2011

On site (plein air) or studio?

                painting at Popham Beach in Maine       Studio door at 28 West Main St. In Georgetown, MA

A follower has left a wonderful question on my blog, and because it addresses something I have struggled with so long, I thought everyone might like to hear the answer.

"I'm from New England and read your comment with nostalgia! I find, however, when I take fotos and then paint in my studio from the fotos, that I tend to copy the photos carefully. Is that "as truthful" as paintings done in "pleine aire"? I was always told not to copy fotos. How do you get inspired art that way? Maybe I have to try to develop more immagination?"

I have spent most of my painting life feeling like you do. However, I have had an awakening this year. Because I needed to make larger paintings for my "Coastal Sunrise" series, I have had to paint from photos in the studio. Surprise to me, I loved it. And with the time available to stop and go back to a work, they have become stronger every time. This pink chair show is my strongest one ever and about 3/4 of them are studio pieces.

I take a photo because I sense something about the scene when I take it, or I take it for reference. I take many. I decide which one to use by which one hits me in the gut, a little bit. For each one hundred or more I take, I may choose one to paint. There is almost always a physical reaction in making that decision, again in the gut. It just feels right. Then I think the key is that I use the photos only when needed, to get proportions, anatomy, structure, composition right and go off from there. I am looking at the photo more in the beginning and almost never near the end. Sometimes I combine several because something is needed or I want to change the composition. For "Barrier Beach" I started with a plein-aire painting I was not happy with, then adjusted it until I was satisfied. I made the rocks bigger. I added more rocks from another photo, and finally it worked, to help show you what I wanted you to see (and feel): the feeling of the beautiful day, the warmth of sun shining on the barrier islands in the distance and the chair standing triumphant among rock after rock after rock.

One thing I do is say: What do I want you to see that I saw? And it is not just "this shape is green and irregular". It is more like: "This green shape feels like the damp moss in the northern woods near Haystack Mountain School of Crafts because it is glowing so bright, rich, and deep, and I can almost smell it" Then I'll make it even richer by adjusting the colors around it to spotlight the color.  My friend Mia Lane, the Canadian artist I traveled with, helped me see this fall that the challenge of the plein air work is a good training ground. How do you choose from all around you? Millions of decisions. Yet, each decision makes you stronger for when you go into the studio, and like soup on the back burner, you are nourished from it all winter. So, as much as I am enjoying studio work, I will be out again next spring. It is a way to "fill the well" of my spirit and keep my abilities sharp.

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