This Is Why You Interpret Nature on Your Own Terms

From landscape artist Peter Fiore: Barn at Bowman’s 2006, oil on linen, 24 x 30. Private collection.
Barn at Bowman’s
2006, oil on linen, 24 x 30.
Private collection. Article contributions from Linda Price.

Your Version of Reality Counts Most as a Landscape Artist

I love creative people who know their own minds. Landscape artist Peter Fiore considers his paintings “reorchestrations” of reality. “A painting is what I envision,” he says, “not necessarily what nature gave me.” That’s the spirit! Enjoy Peter’s tips on how to suss out your version of reality when you paint, and continue on your artistic journey with Peter’s Painting Winter Tangle video download, with two hours of painting demonstrations. If you paint along with Peter, by the end of the demo, you’ll have an alla prima painting ready to exhibit! Go for it, artists!

Courtney

Go on a Picture Hunt

According to Peter, you’ve got to go on “a picture-hunting expedition.” Peter’s lucky enough to get his wife to drive around while he observes, ready to jump out and take photos that are never random snapshots, he emphasizes. Instead, study the scene for a long time, figuring out what attracts you. Carefully photograph all the elements of the landscape. You never know what might end up in your finished work.

From landscape artist Peter Fiore: January Ice 2006, oil on linen, 18 x 24. Private collection
January Ice
2006, oil on linen, 18 x 24.
Private collection

Mess In Photoshop and In Sketches

Likely, you are using digital images. Don’t just use the photo as is. Mess with it! Change the crop or the colors. Experiment! No need to print out images either. You can use on-screen references. The resolution is often crisper than in prints but it also allows you to see into the shadows. The color is also more reliable, too, although not as accurate as real life.

Don’t Look for Perfect–Make It Happen

It’s very rare to shoot a photo that’s perfect. Peter usually has to manipulate color and shape, and accentuate certain elements. Often he takes a photo of an undistinguished field and will then create studies, adding a dramatic sky above it or inventing cloud shapes to lead the viewer’s eye around the canvas.

Don’t hide yourself in the detail. Figure out what you are responding to in a scene and make that the point of the painting. If you include everything, Peter warns, you risk diluting the message.

From landscape artist Peter Fiore: Autumn Sunset 2007, oil on linen, 24 x 30. Courtesy Travis Gallery, New Hope, Pennsylvania.
Autumn Sunset
2007, oil on linen, 24 x 30.
Courtesy Travis Gallery,
New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Listen to Yourself…Literally

In addition to using photographs, Fiore often makes on-site sketches, and because he can’t write as fast as he talks, he also records his verbal impressions of a scene. Back in his studio, with photos displayed on his computer monitor, he uses sketches to arrange the elements of the scene and figure out what direction he wants to take a painting.

Make Studies and You are 90% There

Next Peter paints studies—from 9″ x 12″ to 12″ x 16″—using a large brush that allows him to get down the basics of shape, color, and value in 20 to 30 minutes. With this preliminary work done, it can take you only one day to bring the final painting—even one as large as 30″ x 40″—to 90 percent completion!

A Lot of Paint and No Drawing

Peter begins a painting with a big bristle brush and a wash of color that establishes the horizon line and large shapes. Because he’s less likely to make necessary changes if he’s afraid of losing the drawing underneath, he skips the drawing step. Painting as directly as possible, he tries to get the color, value, intensity, and quality of brushstrokes right the first time.

One of Peter’s painting secrets is squeezing out a lot of paint. “Paint must have dimension so you can move it, carve it,” he says. The final 10 percent of the process involves careful observation, after which Peter makes any necessary adjustments to edges and shapes, as well as completing those elements—such as bare trees against the sky—that are better done when the paint settles.

Late Day, Winter Meadow 2007, oil on linen, 24 x 30. Private collection.
Late Day, Winter Meadow
2007, oil on linen, 24 x 30.
Private collection.

 

Glaze But Beware

Once the painting is bone-dry, Peter glazes, because he feels that glazing adds character and richness to the surface that can’t be achieved in any other way. He also uses glazes to modify—making areas warmer or cooler, darker or more neutral—to unify a painting, or to enrich it. But Peter warns, however, that glazing can sometimes make a painting look cheap, as if a sheet of cellophane were stretched over it, so he uses the process sparingly.

His preference for a glazing medium is Gamblin Galkyd Lite, to which he adds linseed oil when he wants to slow down the drying process. Peter brushes it on vigorously, moving it around in a circular motion with the palm of his hand and wiping it away in areas he doesn’t want glazed. Then, to add variety, he scumbles back into certain sections—such as snowy fields—to create texture.

Winter Clearing 2007, oil on linen, 24 x 36. Courtesy Travis Gallery, New Hope, Pennsylvania.
Winter Clearing
2007, oil on linen, 24 x 36.
Courtesy Travis Gallery,
New Hope, Pennsylvania.

It Will Come

“Some people think you have to travel to find subjects to paint,” Peter says, when asked where he finds inspiration for a landscape work, “but you just have to stand still and observe. Be patient, and it will come to you.” The artist lives in a rural area of Pennsylvania, and most of his subject matter is local. One stretch of nearby road inspired roughly 20 paintings in the past two years!

The Point, Late December 2004, oil on linen, 18 x 24. Private collection.
The Point, Late December
2004, oil on linen, 18 x 24.
Private collection.

Bring a Compass

Even an unexceptional field can be inspirational in the right light. That’s why Peter always brings a map and compass when he scouts locations, so he can come back to sketch and photograph when the light is most interesting. He is especially partial to the last 20 minutes of daylight when, even on a cloudy day, the landscape is often beautifully illuminated as the sun goes down. “The true subject of any painting is light,” he says. “If you have good light, anything can be made beautiful.”

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

2 thoughts on “This Is Why You Interpret Nature on Your Own Terms

  1. I completely agree with the practice of the pre-painting sketch and color study. I’ve found that doing a thumbnail sketch to nail down the basic shapes and values makes the composition more successful. The small color study (I do 5 x 7 or 4 x 8″ watercolors) helps me sort out the initial palette choices and helps make me more aware of the color shifts and nuances that are happening in the scene. I read a quote (can’t remember the artist unfortunately) “If you fail to plan, plan to fail”. So true. I have found I am MORE flexible, creative and spontaneous when the composition basics have been sorted out and nailed down right at the beginning. My brush can work more freely and happy “accidents” generally fit it beautifully-because they happened at the right place.

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