Outdoor work can be confusing. Because there is often so much to look at, the painter may not know where to begin. Here are three basic approaches you might find useful:
Even though your planned subject may be off in the distance, before you do anything about it, search around your immediate environment and find something in the foreground. This can be anything that interests you or has design potential — a stump, colourful foliage, animal or human figure. Render this to some degree of completion first. Pay attention to its form, design and colour and try to get it more or less right. With one strong motif in the foreground, the rest of the design can be more easily composed. Elements of the composition can then be tied in to harmonize and complement the foreground motif, and a more enriched work is the result.
Another way to approach an environment is to mask off a particular view using two L-shaped pieces of card or a small viewfinder. Eliminating peripheral clutter clarifies compositions. The problem with this approach is that you can get stuck with what’s out there. After the fact, significant powers of imagination may be required to bring the work up to creative standards. Nevertheless, pre-framing has its place. Seasoned painters tend to look at the world and see frames all over the place.
A third way is to pay little or no attention to the view at hand and to dedicate your eyes to the canvas itself and the design as it develops. One stroke begets another and a new vision appears. Rather than slavishly copying a scene, one inhales the feeling of the place and commits this feeling to the canvas realm. In this mode, conventions such as form and drawing may suffer, but more abstract and personal work may result. This is the style finder’s way. The result is often a unique vision and a country mile of personal satisfaction.
It’s sometimes the combination of many approaches that keeps the practitioner interested. The outdoor workstation is a place of invention as well as toil. The eternal puzzle draws us back. It was ever thus. We are not donut machines.
PS: “The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.” (Thomas Edison)
Esoterica: In some situations it may be necessary to retreat to your comfort zone. At other times you need to cruise for new challenges and new subjects. A combination keeps you at work until the grazing elk get too close for comfort.
This letter was originally published as “Three useful systems” on June 18, 2010.
“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Never be without a design from which to create an abstract painting. Taking images you see on your daily walk, while shopping or in your home… dissecting them into shapes and value to produce abstract paintings that sell.
Held at Gwen Fox’s private Art Sanctuary in Taos, New Mexico. Her 100-year-old adobe home is the perfect environment to inspire and renew your creativity.
There will be private critiques that empower, glorious breakthroughs while basking in a safe environment in which to grow as an artist.
This workshop will fill fast. Limited to 10 artists. Each artist will have their own table.
My aim as a painter is to bring to life a slice of the world as I experience it. Light, color and form are my vocabulary.