En Plein Air: A Conversation With Clyde Aspevig

Back in April I posted an interview with Clyde Aspevig under the Plein Air section of our old website. I wanted to move the interview over to our new blog area for those who haven't had a chance to read Clyde's responses. Clyde is very generous with his knowledge, has great insight on what makes a painting more than just a pretty picture, and is experienced in all aspects of the fine-art business. So, if you haven't already read this, get ready for some pearls from the landscape legend himself.


Raindrops and Dragonflies
by Clyde Aspevig, 2006, oil, 50 x 40.

Allison Malafronte: What made you choose landscape painting over other genres?

Clyde Aspevig: I feel that landscape painting gives me a broader range of interpretation. The various weather patterns and changing seasons give constant inspiration. Because the landscape has always been an integral part of my life, I have developed a deep sense of belonging to nature rather than feeling apart from it or above it.

AM: You grew up on a farm in Montana surrounded by mountains and natural beauty. Do you think it’s important for plein air painters to spend periods of time studying and analyzing nature to deepen their understanding of their subject matter?

CA: I spend a great deal of time outside observing and learning about the world we live in, and I feel that this absolutely enhances my abilities to accurately and more profoundly portray nature. Understanding how plants grow, how geology has shaped land, and how light affects the appearance of objects produces a much more thoughtful approach to interpreting the landscape. It’s extremely rewarding to spend a lot of time observing and enjoying nature, and it doesn’t cost a thing. It’s my favorite form of entertainment.

AM: When you begin a landscape painting, what is going through your mind? What are you asking yourselfwhat is your aim and purpose?

CA: My first concern when beginning a landscape outside is capturing the overall feeling of light as it affects the forms. I use broad brushstrokes to block in the overall color and values of the masses while simultaneously trying to create movement. As I progress, my intuition drives me to concentrate on the idea or purpose behind what I’m painting. The further elaboration of the concept comes, later in the studio. Field studies supply you with information that you can then use on a more complete painting.

Wind River Mountains
by Clyde Aspevig, 2007, oil, 30 x 40.

AM: You say that you have constructed your own form of realism, in that you suggest detail with such painting effects as scumbling, impasto, and transparent glazes and let the viewer’s imagination interpret the rest. Can you explain how you do this while achieving such highly realistic effects?

CA: I try to paint the landscape the way the human eye sees. I do not really paint every detail, even though it may appear that way. Instead I concentrate on the overall summary of shapes and silhouettes as they appear against the light. The detail comes from textures and the layering of paint, which create effects or abstract shapes that explain detail.

I try to blend the scene into the concept of a whole by using various techniques involving soft and hard edges to explain focus, distance, and depth. If you overstate the detail the painting becomes boring. I try to approach realism in a way you normally wouldn’t expect. The surface quality of the painting, if done properly, should enhance the mystery of how the overall effect works. Methods such as scumbling and glazing add to that mystery. When the unity of the whole is achieved, the work is successful. The fun part about painting is how much variation and interest you can achieve in building the parts that make the whole.

AM: A little-known fact about you is that you use the principles of music in your painting process regularly. What exactly was your training in music, and how have you applied that to your painting?

CA: Music has always been an important part of my life. I studied classical piano as a child and young adult. We all know that music is organized sound. Painting is “silent music” in a way because so much painting technique can be related to music theory. Soft and hard edges are similar to loud and soft notes in music. Harmony, chords, pitch, rhythm, syncopation, and timber can all be translated to the visual arts. Many scientists say that music originated before language in humans, so it’s no surprise that we are hardwired to connect the expression of painting to the mechanics of music.

Scriabin said his compositions were “sound paintings,” that is that notes and melodies were shape and form, and that timbre was color and value. I use the idea of notes, and more important the space between them, to organize busy passages (a wooded hillside, for example) so that the viewer can experience purpose in these shapes. Complex subjects can be made simple through arranging shapes as notes while still retaining the complex concept that adds interest to the painting. The trees scattered along a hillside are just notes waiting to be organized into “silent music.”

AM: Wind River Mountains, which sold through the Scottsdale Art Auction for just over $72,000, is one of your most beautifully conceived and executed pieces. Can you take us through the conception of this painting?

CA: Wind River Mountains was conceived from field studies, slides, and memories from a recent backpacking trip in Wyoming and then executed in the studio. Over the years I have developed a visual memory for the landscape. In this painting I just mentally hiked the scene, creating rocks and trees, hills and sky as I went. It’s like creating your own world in a way. This painting is a composite, but it still stays true to the actual landscape.

Land Snorkeling
by Clyde Aspevig, 2008, oil, 40 x 50. Private collection.

AM: You have been very successful as a landscape painter throughout your career and are known to have not “sold out” to those who would try to pigeonhole your work. What advice would you give landscape painters when it comes to choosing galleries and interacting with art dealers?

CA: Trying to find a gallery or dealer who is willing to promote you as an artist according to your own personal goals and objectives is a very difficult task. Galleries are in the business of selling art, and generally they want big inventories or really good art that sells for a lot of money. Very seldom will a gallery nurture a young artist unless there is something in it for them, and that’s money. My advice to artists is to never sign any contract, but do be loyal to the gallery if they do what they promise. If you work really hard and paint from your heart and your work is good, you’ll do fine. There are more buyers for great art than there are great works of art being created, so concentrate on quality, and don’t raise prices faster than the market can bear.

AM: If theoretically you had an apprentice spend a year in your studio learning from you, where would you begin distilling all that you’ve learned and mastered in your career? What would be the main tenets you would want to pass on to the next generation?

CA: If I could pass anything on to the next generation it would be to follow your passion, work hard, play, be curious about everything, read a lot, travel, explore, live, love, and dig deep. And don’t drink cheap wine.

AM: Is there a dream or goal that relates to your art career and landscape painting that you have still yet to achieve? What is the legacy you want your body of work to leave behind?

CA: I’m trying to be the best that I can be as a human being. Art is the vehicle with which I have the best chance of leaving behind something of worth. I hope my paintings will always inspire people to become a part of nature rather than a force that manipulates and destroys it. I hope my work will be seen as an important voice in the environmental awakening of the last 50 years that is aiming to conserve and sustain our planet.

For information on Clyde Aspevig, visit his website at www.clydeaspevig.com. For more information on the artist’s role in land conservation, visit www.americanprairie.org.

Related Posts:


Plein Air Painting Blog
Allison Malafronte

About Allison Malafronte

Allison Malafronte is the senior editor of American Artist magazines, and the project editor of  Plein Air Painting and Workshop With the Masters magazines. She is also the creative manager of the Weekend With the Masters Workshop & Conference (www.aamastersweekend.com) which was launched in 2009 and is now in its third year. She is author of the Art for Thought column in American Artist magazine (also on the Artist Daily site under The Artist's Life blog) and the 2008-2010 Plein Air blogs on Artist Daily. 

8 thoughts on “En Plein Air: A Conversation With Clyde Aspevig

  1. Hi – I would have liked to know what is the sizes of Clyde’s en plein air works…I understand from the interview that he continues in the studio on larger work of the same theme and uses his reference and visual memory and employs various techniques. I like that – but does he also use photographs of the same or just his own reference work and studies? Is he using drawings? Just curious…

  2. Dear Wessel

    I saw an exhibition of Clyde’s plein air paintings and large studio pictures at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa about 10 years ago, and my recollection is that the plein air paintings are rather small — 8″ x 10″, 9″ x 12″ up to 11″ x 14″. I watched him paint in 1997, and he didn’t take any photographs. It’s my understanding the studio paintings are done primarily from the on-site paintings and his memory, although you’ll note that he told Allison he sometimes refers to slides.

    From my observations, Clyde is a very efficient, disciplined painter. He seems to paint two or three small pictures from the same location, just turning his easel in one direction and then another so he doesn’t waste time packing and moving around. When he put his oil sketches on display he only laid out 5 or 6, even though he had painted 20 during the week. He said the percentage of “keepers” is usually pretty low. I wouldn’t mind owning a few of his discards!

    When I was arranging the transportation for the painting event, I gave Clyde the option of riding with someone else or driving his own vehicle. He immediately said he wanted to be a driver so he would be in control of his time and the locations where he would paint. He left every morning precisely on time and headed for a location he scouted out a day or two before.

    Clyde will be having an exhibition in New York in May — I believe at the Salmagundi Club. I plan to attend the opening and cry.
    Steve Doherty

  3. I like what Clyde has to say about the landscape being an integral part of his life and that sense of belonging as part of nature, not above it or apart from it. As artists we are privileged to convey this sense of belonging and connectedness we all share by hopefully motivating and inspiring others through our work. Thanks, Allison for a great interview. Clyde Aspevig’s paintings convey above all, love…a deep emotional connection to the land. Thank you too for the links. The APF’s video on their website is very informative and shows the amazing beauty of the Northern Great Plains. It truly is Big Sky country!

  4. I saw one of his paintings at the Autry last year in the 2008 Masters show, and I see that he has a painting in the 2009 show, opening this weekend. I can hardly wait to see it. I’m a big fan of his work.