Notes from the horizontal position

Dear Artist, After several weeks working at the Badg-easel I feel I’m a bit of an expert at horizontal painting, and I’d like to tell you about it. First, to clarify, I’m working with no reference, from the memories of places I’ve painted en plein air. While not totally accurate as to geology, it’s been a surprise how the feelings of places are hard-wired enough that they come back with a little bit of effort.

At the beginning lies a combination of remaining casual and yet paying attention to your vision. Working mostly in positive shapes prepares the way for the design to come. Insecurity rises, but also the thought of what may be ahead.

The trick seems to be re-visualizing a place in the mind’s eye before beginning. Once this is done, and it may take a few minutes, I start with a few of the salient features of the landscape–preferably objects with a fair degree of form that happen to be near the central or focal part of the painting. I then work out from these motifs, paying attention to the balancing of shapes. Thus, the composition evolves according to the sense of design rather than rigid reality.

As the work progresses, opportunities (such as the orangish trees pushing themselves forward in counterpoint) begin to appear. In a relaxed atmosphere, the “What could be?” question is more broadly explored.

      As readers who have followed my explanations in previous letters will know, I’m fairly sloppy about colour in the early stages and pay more attention to texture and gesture. Working in acrylics, I frequently glaze to tone down or modify (sometimes I have a couple of paintings going at the same time and have an assistant take them and put them on an electric heater behind me). This ploy is also an extension of the oft-mentioned business of putting a work out of sight for a bit, to more readily catch onto its problems.


Strong contrasts and sky-reaching monoliths are endemic to the Rocky Mountain Lakes. So I committed myself to the big statement on the left at the very beginning. Then hopefully the design is set to flow. This needs that. That needs this.

A surprising bonus of horizontal painting is the almost lackadaisical slowdown. There’s no need to hurry. Contemplation and reconsideration rule. While working slowly and deliberately, I watch other projects unfurl, and I access the headset telephone. Curiously, I don’t stop when visitors drop by. The constant painting may have something to do with coping in the current situation.

Bringing the work to a final consistency of reality and imaginative design is the tricky part. Colour adjustments and design nuances for me can take many tries and always have. For some unknown reason I love fighting my disabilities.


Opportunities for aerial perspective have arrived and a simplified and monumental pattern has evolved. One tentatively wanders over the painting with small brush and large, looking to make minor touches that might add to the whole.

The system might not work for every painter. My position, in an attempt to reignite outdoor experiences, is backed up against a big window. The Badg-easel, with a stretch of the imagination, is not unlike the outdoor contraptions I sit in. Also, parallelling outdoor methodology, I’ve started to substitute unbleached titanium and high-numbered grays for the unpleasant refrigeration of titanium white. Best regards, Robert PS: “To be with Nature is to be one with Nature.” (Peter Ewart)

A good idea is to change horses with each new canvas. In other words, scratch the old brain for new places, new subjects, new angles, new designs. A great pitfall to be avoided is “dropping into rote.”

Esoterica: As in Peter’s quote above, nothing beats the spiritual qualities of the great outdoors. An active bird-feeding station on the other side of the glass aids in the fantasy. We are currently serving 14 species of birds plus squirrels and even a very handsome rat. A block of suet can be gone in half a day. Everyone’s presence has a tangible influence on the brush. In the words of my bird-painter friend Fen Lansdowne, “There should always be such things.” To read a previous letter on how the Badg-easel is set up, please go here.   [fbcomments url=””]  Featured Workshop: Jane Slivka 021414_workshop Jane Slivka Workshops The next workshop is held in Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.      woa

Tofino Tidal Pool

acrylic painting by Brian Buckrell, ON, Canada

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Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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