There is something I totally missed out on in all my years as a “studio” artist. Well there are a lot of things, but let’s focus on the relevant for a bit.
It’s not something I noticed till recently, though I’ve now been painting as a plein air artist for 2 years and 3 months now. It’s that feeling of being whisked away somewhere as you paint. Many artists speak of getting into “the zone” when they paint, but I’m not talking about that, nor am I speaking of some of those trips I took at my canvas in my college, AKA Timothy Leary daze.
What I’m talking about is what happens to you when you bring down one of those unfinished block-ins from a long past excursion. You know the paintings I’m talking about, one of those that had you enthralled while you were there painting it, and looking forward to get back to finish up… but time and travels got in the way.
It’s what happens after you get that canvas on your easel and the paints out in front of you, pull the reference photo up on your monitor. Does it matter what playlist you bring up on your Ipod, or what kind of beverage you just set there on the coaster? No, I don’t think so. For me I wasn’t trying to do anything to spur it on, it just kind of happened.
You can have all the modern conveniences available to mankind at your fingertips, music blaring out the Bose 901 speakers, A/C turned to a perfect 78 degrees, but once you have everything set up and ready to go, it’s only moments before you are magically transported back to that place and time where that inspiration was first realized.
Maybe it’s not so dramatic, but when you get back into painting a piece that was started plein air, there are things stored in your memory that come out while painting. Was it the big fly that wouldn’t leave you alone, or the people you were out there painting with that day?
I had recently pulled out a block in from last year in Colorado, a wonderful start to a painting that I had been meaning to get back to since the day I returned. After getting it up and painting on it a while, I could feel the vast landscape around me, a overwhelming feeling of being again part of that land, by myself in this beautiful yet barren land. Those shadows in your photo that no matter how much you zoom in on your monitor in a studio piece, the plein air painting fills in with remembered details that if you had not been there, you would never know.
It’s “Deja Vu” at it’s finest!
A studio artist who has not painted outdoors will never have this same overwhelming feeling of being there. A plein air artist when out on the land observes and records, observes and records. Taking what they want, recording it either on canvas or in that strange storage cell called the brain, and then leaving the rest. A photographer observes and records, but not in the same sense. Do they study the shadows, watch as the light creeps across the scene before them for hours on end?
Pull out one of those forgotten canvases and see if it happens for you, no need to put bug spray on, and sunscreen, though the olfactory senses can play an important role.
Does this work for you? Do you remember the feel of the day when you work on an old painting started in the field? Does the entire time come flying back up in your memory?
Don’t have any unfinished paintings, then grab a favorite and make it BIG, either way I’ll see you back on the rivers edge. Enjoy