It's Not Because I'm Lazy

5 Dec 2012

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.
Sometimes set your sketchbook aside
in favor of soaking up a landscape
painting scene with your eyes alone.

But sometimes it’s better to not 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.

--Marion


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Comments

adriann216 wrote
on 8 Dec 2012 10:57 AM

Marion,

Sometimes when I see an awesome scene and wish I had my camera, I realize it's O.K. that I don't because I'd be missing out on that exact  moment to truly experience what I'm viewing.

SuzetteG wrote
on 8 Dec 2012 8:56 PM

Marion,

we have a place at Pyramid Lake, Nevada and we have a full view of the Pyramid from our livingroom windows. I have taken many pictures and I have to agree there are times I don't and I just savor the sunset and all the colors with the drama of the light showing like a spot light on the Pyramid.

on 10 Dec 2012 4:50 PM

Thank you for your article on spending time looking at the scene, rather than taking photos and drawing while at a plein air location.  

I am planning my first cruise in the  Caribbean with the intention of doing lots of drawing and painting on location.  Unsure what to expect, my list of materials continues to grow! and with all the painting, the time spent just looking seems to diminish.

Perhaps I will take the sketchbook, camera, and an open mind.  Just looking, absorbing the scene, might be the best vacation ever!

-Leslie,   Mandeville, LA

on 10 Dec 2012 4:50 PM

Thank you for your article on spending time looking at the scene, rather than taking photos and drawing while at a plein air location.  

I am planning my first cruise in the  Caribbean with the intention of doing lots of drawing and painting on location.  Unsure what to expect, my list of materials continues to grow! and with all the painting, the time spent just looking seems to diminish.

Perhaps I will take the sketchbook, camera, and an open mind.  Just looking, absorbing the scene, might be the best vacation ever!

-Leslie,   Mandeville, LA

on 13 Dec 2012 3:43 AM

Leslie, The first time in a location is often mind-filling (-blowing) and it's hard to slow down to look only. I'd take a sketchbook, camera, watercolour set and build up visual memories to work from for months, years back home. The sense and feeling of it, which sketchbook/photos trigger again.

Huey lim wrote
on 14 Feb 2014 12:05 PM

Every time I left my camera and sketch book home, I see the most beautiful landscape on my way...