Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Lost Art of Observation

Against the Sky
10 x 10

I spend a lot of time looking. I believe that first hand observation is one of the most important tools that landscape painters have at their disposal. There are many reasons for this. Obviously, the more familiar we are with our subject matter the more authenticity we bring to its depiction. But, I think there are others reasons, just as important, as well. I am constantly surprised at how many landscape painters have only a passing acquaintance with nature in general and the scenes they paint in particular. Observation is the way we form an intimate relationship with our subject and understand the way things work in the natural world. Its also the way we form visual memories. Memory has become an increasingly important aspect of my working process. It distills and intensifies experiences, filtering out the insignificant details and leaving a lasting reminder of our most intense response.

While I still think that painting outdoors is essential training for landscape painters, I've come to believe it can be a hindrance is some cases too. We can get so wrapped up in the effort to make a painting that we forget to just be, to simply experience our surroundings. Using a camera can have the same effect- how many times have you snapped a picture of something only to discover later you can't remember a single thing about where you were or why you took it?

Walking and looking- it worked for many of the great 19th century landscape painters, as well as writers like Emerson and Thoreau and more recently Andrew Wyeth, Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver. Its so simple, so old school, its positively revolutionary.

11 comments:

Jim Kiesling said...

Yes, I agree, I need to see more than to act. I get so worked up setting up my palette and equipment, that I lose the impression of the moment and become a slave to the process. I want to paint from my heart and soul – I will give myself the moment and slow down to really see what is before me.

Jean Victory said...

Really beautiful work!

Casey Klahn said...

Well balanced and important observations, Deborah. I appreciate your position on outdoor painting.

Everything in balance, eh? And, your words about connecting to nature resonate.

Thanks for mentioning A Wyeth - one of my all time favorites.

Maggie Latham said...

I love how you have incorporated one of your 'summer skies'....beautiful....
Maggie

Perry Brown said...

Good post,Deborah. John F. Carlson devoted almost an entire chapter in his book about the importance of using memory and visual experiences in composing one's subjects (landscapes). I had also studied this approach with one of my mentors. It can be very rewarding and the best way to establish a style or handwriting.

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Jim- the great thing about observation is that you can do it at any time and there's no equipment needed!

Thank you Jean.

Hi Casey-mine too!

Thanks for noticing that Maggie!

Hi Perry- yes, Carlson was a strong advocate of working from memory. Its interesting that so many rely on his book as the "bible of landscape painting" (including me) but so few seem to have read that chapter!

painthorsestudio said...

Gorgeous work and excellent advice. I'm ready to go out and paint now......:)

Don Coker said...

Deborah, your light effects continue to make me smile!

Gary Keimig said...

Wonderful blog and great art.
Love the use of light in tonalist work and you are doing great with it.

Barbara Rudolph Fine Art said...

Your work is beautiful!

Jala Pfaff said...

Wow, can I just say this is the most dramatic and stunning piece I have seen in a very very long time!!