Under the cherry

12

Dear Artist,

It’s one of those open-air workshops on a crisp spring day. The fields and wood-groves are studded with painters, right down to the water’s edge. Here and there, respecting each other’s space — men with big hats and French easels; women, in pairs, hunched down in the grass. Some are very much alone and aloof. A woman gives me a frown as I approach.

A Common Blackbird, A Red-Billed Starling, A Western Bluebird and a Pied Myna on a Branch of A Cherry Tree, 1856 Watercolor over pencil 45 x 45.5 cms by Aloys Zötl (1803–1897)

A Common Blackbird, A Red-Billed Starling, A Western Bluebird and a Pied Myna on a Branch of a Cherry Tree, 1856
Watercolor over pencil
45 x 45.5 cm
by Aloys Zötl (1803–1897)

“I don’t need to learn anything from you today, Mr. Genn,” she says, over her shoulder. She’s cut herself some privacy under a blossoming cherry. There’s a stream below and a rusted hay-rake obstructing the bay and the distant islands. An ant-hill seems too close for comfort. “I more or less just want to be left alone,” she tells me.

At the end of this golden day she is still there — her finished watercolor quarter-sheets laid down in a tidy row. I’m marveling at the current phenomenon of plein air painting — the togetherness and yet the apartness. I see how the dynamic of a group gives security and a reason to work and remain focussed. I see the value of imprinting one location, taking in everything possible in its good time — letting the environment slyly surrender its values. I see the rust and dust of studio-habit being vacuumed away by the gentle breeze. This person was one who didn’t show up for my noon demo. “Can you hear the ant-hill?” she asks. I listen hard, and eventually I can — a kind of crickling, almost a hum, running on their DNA I guess, not unlike the tiny traffic on a distant freeway.

Vögel und Passionsblume, 1878 Medium: Watercolour on paper 43.8 x 54.5 cms by Aloys Zötl

Vögel und Passionsblume, 1878
Watercolour on paper
43.8 x 54.5 cm
by Aloys Zötl

“If this were all there was,” she says, “it would be enough, wouldn’t it?” I agree with her. She gathers her things, blows away the fallen petals, tucks away her work. The sun is now setting. Everyone is moving toward their cars and another world.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room;
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.” (A. E. Housman)

PPS: “My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” (Claude Monet)

Esoterica: Serious practitioners report plein air to be zen-like, mind-altering, life-enhancing. The resulting work may be a secondary benefit. When a butterfly comes and sits on your palette, you know you are blessed.

This letter was originally published as “Under the cherry tree” on May 8, 2001.

 Vögel und Guavenbaum, 1877 Watercolour on paper 43.7 x 54.7 cms by Aloys Zötl


Vögel und Guavenbaum, 1877
Watercolour on paper
43.7 x 54.7 cm
by Aloys Zötl

I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara 

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“…Lacking any biographical details about the artist, one can only indulge one’s fantasies in imagining the reasons which might have induced this workman from Upper Austria, a dyer by profession, to undertake so zealously between 1832 and 1887 the elaboration of the most sumptuous bestiary ever seen.” (André Breton)


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12 Comments

  1. I so often think of this in regards to painting in general but even more so for plein air – “ The resulting work may be a secondary benefit.” I painted a commission this week using one of my plein air paintings from standing beside the Rhine River in Basel Switzerland. I could still see the morning sunshine shimmering off the spring greens and sparkling on the water of this working river as the waterside restaurants set up for the patio lunch crowd behind me. These sounds and smells and glorious light guided my brush as I worked on a larger canvas four years later from this day. The memories were all there in the small 8 x 10 inch plein air painting study. Great letter reminding us about just getting out there and painting… physically distanced of course.

  2. I really liked this letter, particularly the Monet quote. I really wish the corona message was not included though, we are bombarded with it from enough places…..everyWhere really. It is nice to lose oneself in an art letter and forget about it monetarily.

  3. I sat on a patio on a cool late September day in France and painted a lonely white ceramic pot with wilted yellow flowers in it. I got lost in my work, presently I was joined by a tiny newt who came and sunned itself on the cement wall. As I painted, I kept seeing nuances in texture and shadow. What started off as an exercise became engaging and challenging. My hosts were delighted to receive it as a thank you.

  4. Hi Sara,
    I spent a magical weekend at my friends beautiful farm on Vancouver Island. I finally started painting again. I think my plein aire is connected with my happiness, as I felt happy, in the sunshine, in the beautiful fields, and I finally found my oil paints again. Perhaps we all have our inspiration. Mine is being alone, or with a friend 2 metres away, in a little cabin or a picnic bench…with nature. I remember our time on Cortes.
    You are doing a great job here. And you can reinforce about the covid thing all you want.
    Thank you for getting me into my own creativity!
    ❤️ From Diana

  5. How wonderful to leave behind this “elaboration of the most sumptuous bestiary ever seen”! Inspires me to better use the time I have left on my own labors of love. Thanks as always for these letters.

  6. Cheryl Connolly on

    I always enjoy your words of wisdom and especially the quote by Monet today “My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” (Claude Monet). I’m not certain it is always better but it gives me opportunity to explore and be myself and not feel like I have to measure up to another more “talented” artist. I actually prefer to be alone in a group —kind of like we are doing during this crisis. I’ve been on several plein air excursions and find them peaceful,restful, and restorative. But it’s always nice knowing there are others not far away doing their own thing and at the end of the day is fun sharing our experiences. Someone once told me that creating a piece of art is not a group activity…however, I have gained a great deal of inspiration and guidance painting in groups and taking workshops. So there you have it….can’t always believe everything we hear.

  7. This came to me just as we are pulling out for our first trip in our new little camper. We will be gone for two days and I will be painting while my husband will be doing his own thing. It will be a great time. Your letter was exactly what I needed! Thank you!

  8. I really relate to both these quotes:

    PPS: “My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” (Claude Monet)

    Esoterica: Serious practitioners report plein air to be zen-like, mind-altering, life-enhancing. The resulting work may be a secondary benefit. When a butterfly comes and sits on your palette, you know you are blessed.

    Thank you, Sara, for reposting this valuable letter that your incredible father wrote for us artists/creators. One can only learn from his experiences and teachings that he so eloquently wrote and shared.

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Featured Workshop

5-Day Art Retreat in Kawartha Highlands July 31 to August 5, 2020
July 31, 2020 to August 5, 2020

Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, Wolf Lake, Site 301This retreat is an homage to early pioneers of plein air painting. We canoe-in and camp, paddling every day to our painting locations. This is a self-catered trip. We provide the canoes, life jackets and instruction. You bring your own provisions, tents, etc. The scenery in Kawartha Highlands is fantastic. Bald rock faces, sparkling lakes, majestic trees. Every direction you turn is another painting. Your instructor, Keith Thirgood, has been camping and canoeing all his life, and teaching artists his own unique approach to painting for over 12 years. Learn how to find order in the chaos, control your colours and create paintings that work. Learn modern colour theory, values, shapes and lines, what makes for a good painting.
If you need advice on the camping portion of the retreat, we have you supported. Even brand new canoeists have no trouble with this gentle adventure. This retreat is suitable for beginners wanting to learn to paint in a fun, outdoor location, as well as more experienced studio artists who want to try plein air, plus artists who are looking to loosen up and paint in a more post-impressionist style. To find out more and register, please visit www.wilsonstreetstudios.com
http://painterskeys.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peter-hobden_moment-wpcf_300x240.jpgWaiting Moment
oil on canvas
54 x 40 cm
2010

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