Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obstinacy - A Prerequisite for Plein Air

There are those among us plein air painters that think just painting out of doors is challenge enough. I say - you wusses! Never do I start to paint, that I do not ask myself what I am going to try to learn here today. Am I going to learn about design when I go about composing this new study? Or will I give myself color limitations to  narrow my options. Will I increase those options by newly acquired color discoveries? Or will I learn new brush skills by limiting myself to just a few brushes, or horrors, only ONE? (I've tried that last one, and its just not me. There's a reason why I drive an SUV.) 

I actually try to learn something new with each plein air study. John Cosby, an acclaimed artist, in his blog addressed something that I had found very disturbing, given that my hair is now more silver than it has ever been. Most 'in the know' artists say that it takes miles and miles of canvas to learn to paint. That practice makes perfect. Knowing that miles and miles may be more than I can do this lifetime around, I found this totally disturbing. Then I ran across John's posting. He says Every Stroke Is Important.  The thrust of John's post was that intelligent painting decisions make for far greater strides in painting. To quote him; "To my horror "Practice Makes Perfect" is incorrect.  Now I know that someone wrote that down wrong.  It should have been
That means to me, that I resolve to not paint something simply because it is before me, but to make decisions in composition, in value and color in the here and now. To know why I am painting a painting in a certain way. Its like a light went on when I read that on his blog. I know that there are painters who seem to go off on automatic pilot when they paint and get great results. Perhaps they have already painted those miles and miles of canvas. I need a shortcut. I need a conscious direction. Self imposed challenges give me that direction.

Apache Plume
Knowing that I tend to dive off the deep end with darks in a painting, I tried consciously to limit the amount of darks and their intensity in this painting I executed this week. The subject of Apache Plume and mare's tail clouds seemed to dictate a lighter touch than other things I have painted in the past. I really tried to keep a lighter touch in the painting as a whole. The green in the river valley really was that acid green of new Spring growth, and the sky really was that soft but bright blue. The challenge was not in keeping the wind from blowing down the easel for the third was in keeping true to my self-imposed limitations. Nobody really cares what the physical reality was like - they care about the work itself.  And this was challenge enough for me this particular morning.  I care about the learning, about the journey. Did I succeed? Maybe after a few more efforts with this same challenge I will be better able to tell.

So at the end of a painting session, I ask myself - Did I get what I was after? Its not always yes. Though the viewer may have no idea what went on in my mind. I will try again, I will try better.

Art without passion is not art. Likewise, to go about painting a thing in the same way time after time and expect a different result is idiocy. Passion and intellect is what Ken Auster says is painting. Some days it is too much one or the other. Its that balance that keeps the edge of interest. That is why painting is a constant challenge. Its not the 'right' green, its the right concept.


  1. You've hit the magic reset button, one that I've just begun to wrestle with. No artistic achievement succeeds without internal struggle and composition - rather, recomposition of reality which is far more beautiful since it reveals the soul of the artist. AmyB

  2. Hi Amy! Its good to see you here. If I hit a nerve with this post, wait till the next one. As an ex-New Yorker, you will like it. I do thank you for taking the time to post a comment - it means a lot.