Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books on landscape painting…books about composition, books about the philosophy of nature, books about techniques, color mixing, and brush strokes. I want to learn as much as possible, yet I understand that “book learning” is no substitute for practice. And so, I’ve been practicing, too.
One question regarding landscapes involves the source from which we draw our inspiration. We may be working from a photo reference; we may be painting en plein air. Either way, the same question arises. Do we paint what we see and nothing more? Or do we take inspiration and do with it what we will?
Copying a photo reference — or even another painting — can be a great learning tool, but at some point, I believe we have to see beyond the pictures before us. It’s a necessary step in our development as artists. What point is there in merely copying a scene? If that’s all we want, we have cameras. Photography is an art form, of course, but it’s different from oil painting.
We’re told to look within, to paint from our heart, to express our thoughts and feelings on the canvas. Wonderful words, but until we learn basic techniques, our voices as artists will be muffled, muddy, and messy.
I love woodland scenes, and so far, most of mine have left a lot to be desired.
My first woodland scene turned into a mudfest. I wasn’t too happy with it, but it was one of the earliest oil paintings I attempted. It could have been worse.
My second woodland scene fared slightly better, I think. I like the sky, and I really liked the pathway.
Yesterday, I challenged myself to create another woodland scene — and to do it in a small-scale format. It was the first time I’ve tried painting on a 5 x 7 inch panel, and it was a challenge, indeed.
Despite trying to use smaller brushes, I wasn’t able to get any real detail or sense of depth in this small painting. I have a love/hate relationship with my rock-strewn pathway, and I do like a few of the tree trunks. Overall, though, I was frustrated by the small size. It was, of course, a good learning experience.
These paintings are examples of what I call “visual fiction”. I’m not painting from a photo reference, but using my imagination to create woodland scenes. I’ve gone hiking in the woods many times, and I’m using past experience as a source of inspiration.
Unfortunately, though, no matter how inspired I may be by woodland scenes, I don’t yet have the technical skills to create a beautiful work of art. I’m making a lot of noise, and now and then a word or two comes out clearly. For the most part, though, I’m still struggling to find my voice as an artist.
It’s there. I just don’t yet know how to make it speak.