You’re in a beautiful plein air painting
location, you whip out your camera and take photograph after photograph –
it's essential to have lots of references for landscape painting, you know.
Then you dig out your sketchbook, pencils,
and paints and set about covering page after page of your sketchbook.
The relentless pursuit of information. The drive to be sure you’ve got
enough (never mind how intangible that measurement is). The fear that the
moment will be lost, forever.
|Sometimes set your sketchbook aside
in favor of soaking up a landscape
painting scene with your eyes alone.
But sometimes it’s better
take a single photo. Nor make a single mark in your sketchbook.
To rather sit and look. To listen, smell, look some more. Look slower,
build visual and sensory memories.
Sitting and staring out,
as I love to do over the sea, isn’t doing “nothing.” It’s recharging my
memory’s batteries of a subject I love to paint. Quite often what I’m focusing
on differs. Some days it’s the colors in
the distance islands, others it’s the patterns in the sea. Sometimes
it’s a bird or a ship, sometimes the ferry on its daily route between
the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Sometimes it’s all of these together, the
proverbial bigger picture.
One day sitting on a sea
cliff (not too close to the edge!) I could hear a whale phh-phhing
somewhere. It took me a while to spot it, and in trying to do so I was
paying attention to the ripples in the water, any
sign of disturbed water that broke the usual surface pattern. While I did
ultimately spot it, the whale isn’t what I’ve remembered most, because
let’s be honest without binoculars (or a zoom lens) a small whale from a
distance isn’t much more than a darker blue shape
moving in the water. It’s the noise I remember vividly, which then
brings up the memories of the colors
in the sea as I attempted to spot it.
It’s the color memories I’ll put into a seascape painting, stirred in
with the emotions from the moment, which adds that not-quite-fathomable
extra to a landscape painting that can so resonate with a viewer.
How regularly do you go
on location and look slowly, without sketching (deliberately, not
because you’re too lazy!) or in the end putting your sketchbook away to
enjoy the scene? Leave a comment and let me know.