|John had to deal with rapidly changing weather conditions as he worked
on his plein air watercolor painting, Cub Lake Trailhead.
We outdoor painters are always on the search for beautiful places
to paint, and so we become inveterate travelers and explorers. Some of us will
go to great lengths to put ourselves in remarkable spots, and that may require
overseas travel or lengthy, arduous hikes up into the mountains with a backpack
full of gear. Often, it seems, after great efforts to attain some summit view
or lofty lake, we find ourselves in a stunningly beautiful painting spot, but
with rapidly changing light conditions. It is tempting to rush into action
without taking the time to really see our subject fully. Working furiously in
an attempt to capture the scene can result in missing it entirely. It is at
those times that we have to stop for a moment and decide whether it is even
possible, given the conditions, to get anything worthwhile on canvas or paper.
If the decision is to go full speed ahead, then we must put our conscious mind
in the backseat, so to speak, open our eyes and draw upon our reservoir of
painting experience in order to proceed. This is often easier said than done.
Like a noisy child in the back of the classroom, the conscious mind doesn't
have much practice in keeping quiet. Hence the expression, "over-thinking it"
which has caused the ruination of many noble artistic attempts.
I relish those moments outdoors when there is no
time to over-think what I am painting. The demands of the fleeting moment and
the fading light force me to focus my attention on the key elements of the
subject and work with economy and accuracy. "See It. State It," becomes my
mantra and the simple pleasure of being and painting is all that matters. We
have to be willing to put aside, temporarily, what we want, in order to be able
to express what actually is. It isn't very important to me if anything finished
results from this effort, but, surprisingly, many of these rapid paintings are
Cub Lake Trailhead is a watercolor that resulted
from one of those occasions when I had only a short time to work, and that time
was plagued by changing light and peppered with intermittent rain. I was
determined to make the best effort that I could given the little time I had to
work that day. Intense focus and confident painting resulted in a keeper.
All this serves to remind us that our studio work
can too often fall into an expression of what we think we want in a painting,
rather than what our original inspiration actually was. This, to us, is one of
the many great benefits of plein air painting, or working from life. When we
return to the field and work in the changing light under the dome of sky, we
feel as if we have returned to the source from which all art springs. The real
trick is to see what is right before our eyes.
Nature is the great teacher. If we can learn to
remove our conscious selves from the moment, she will teach us to see. And
seeing is the foundation of great painting.
Join the fun
and learn to "speed paint" in our plein air painting workshop in Rocky Mountain
National Park this September.
-John & Ann