As an artist and a teacher, I now feel the need to devote myself to work entirely from life. It's a choice based on quality and it's an important decision to make my work as strong and non-derivative as possible. For commissions, this can be especially troublesome, but I want to create truly original works of art that have a feeling of life in them. I want to create art that is as close to the source of nature as possible; And as a teacher, to encourage my students to do the same.
As a society we are now overwhelmed by digital photography. For paintings, this is particularly hazardous because many viewer's only relation to great works of art is through a screen. I see certain benefits, but the downsides are numerous.
Imagine if we lived with only recordings of music and no live music. What are the benefits of a recording? Well, most prominently, we have a greater access to the art and an ease of access. One of the advantages that I see is being able to catalogue my own work. the images on my site are meant as a visual record, but they're definitely not meant to replace the actual painting or drawing. Then we can ask, what are the limitations? Is ease of access always a good thing?
For me, a huge part of making art is about making a memory and to have an experience while painting. For a portrait, it's about being with the person and sharing a conversation. If I'm painting en plein air, I will remember trekking up the mountain until I reach the point where I set up my easel. Maybe I meet someone along the way and they comment on my painting. All of that is what I love about painting. Another thing to remember is that these experiences may not always be pleasant. I have a friend who said to me one time, "In hindsight, things will either be fun or funny." I try to remember this when I'm experiencing something that is real, but not enjoyable.
When paintings get boiled down to a photo-realistic image, it becomes devoid of life. I often say that I'm very impressed with photo-realism as a trick and demonstration of pure technical ability. In the same way I would be impressed by someone who had memorized the dictionary; I'd say, "Wow, impressive." But would I ever want to do that myself? Absolutely not. What's the point of that?
As I turn 30 this year, I want real world experiences. To look at things through my own eyes and develop more of my own style. To listen to live music. To take a hike through a beautiful area. To play a sport, instead of watching it on tv. To be in the game, instead of on the sidelines. To ride my motorcycle and skateboard. To make a pilgrimage to a museum and stand fact-to-face with a painting, in the same spot the artist stood before nature. To be sweating outside, battling the wind and bugs in order to create a painting. That's what makes me happy.
It's always a fun challenge to paint en plein air and I always end up learning something from it. It forces me to paint quickly and to make the best of the situation.
If you're using watercolor en plein air in cold weather, remember that your watercolor can freeze on you, so you may be better off with oils. It's also tough because the watercolor doesn't fully dry on the paper so your watercolor can bloom easily. Today was sunny and the ambient temperature was above freezing so I decided to use watercolor. I have done watercolors in the snow before, but I wanted to do a larger piece that had a nice sense of space to it.
The reason I love painting is because it helps me to make memories and document adventures. It almost doesn't how the painting turns out because I learned something new and I had fun. I think I'll do some more snow scenes since we'll have this snow for a while.
Got up early today, shoveled and then got some time to paint this beautiful snowfall. The subtle color of the snow, the cool shadows and warm lights was really fun to paint. I've done watercolors in the snow before, but this was my first oil painting en plein air in the snow.
This was also the first time that I used my antique mahogany arm palette (last image in gallery below). It worked great en plein air since it's smaller than my studio arm palette.
Sharing a few images of these two paintings that I look back on with pride. They were both painted from life and make me happy. I have strong memories associated with both which also makes them special to me. I don't think there's a magic formula for always making a "good" painting, but I know it's important to paint from life, to paint sincerely and to enjoy the process.