Every journey — even imaginary or creative ones — have both a destination and a starting point. It’s human nature, I think, to focus more on where we’re going than where we’re starting from. After all, the purpose of the journey is to go somewhere else, to leave behind where we are, and while in reality our physical journeys are round-trip as often as not, with a journey based on learning new things, the overall objective is to reach what we perceive to be a better place.
Once we introduce ideas of good, better, and best, we’re implying a judgment process. In a sense, we’re setting a sort of goal for ourselves. And in order to achieve that goal we’ll have to draw certain comparisons — comparisons between now and then, comparisons between here and there, comparisons between our starting point and our final destination.
This all has to do, of course, with the beginning of my latest creative adventure, my quest to spend the next 100 days exploring mood and atmosphere in oil painting. I hope to learn specific new techniques, improve my landscape painting abilities overall, and be able to more accurately depict lights and shadows in my art.
I’ve been packing for the trip — figurateively speaking. I’ve straightened the studio up a bit, I’ve ordered a few new tubes of oil paint, I’ve laid out my favorite brushes. Recently I also toned a small 5 x 7 canvas with a yellow acrylic. With that done, I was ready to set out on my new oil painting journey.
One additional thing remained — finding a reference photo for a “Point of Departure” oil painting. I have dozens of inspiring landscape photos I’ve collected, but for some odd reason, nothing spoke to me. I went to Pixabay, one of my favorite reference sites. All the while I was asking myself, “What scenes in nature feel most reflective of mood and atmosphere to me?” I knew the answer to that one. I love rivers and lakes, so I searched for “river landscapes.”
Lots of photos came up, but again, nothing spoke to me. Nothing I saw truly made me feel emotions. Nothing I saw made me reflect on life, love, time, space… all those inherently meaningful aspects of existence that I believe should be part of good art.
Finally one photo whispered a bit, so I downloaded it and set to work with my little 5 x 7 canvas. I gave myself permission to approach the work any way I wanted, not trying to follow any specific procedure or rules of painting I’ve picked up over the years. This was my starting point, my opportunity to see what I could do and evaluate where I was in regards to creating a landscape with mood and atmosphere.
You’ll see lots of little specks in the sky. Oops! The previous day I did a watercolor project that involved the use of salt. I didn’t realize I still had salt crystals on my work surface. I wasn’t happy about that. Nor was I happy about the colors, the composition, or anything else. When all was said and done, I didn’t really care much for the painting at all.
Part of me, I think, was deliberately trying to make mistakes or create a work that didn’t truly represent my best efforts. At the end of 100 days, you see, I want to look back and say, “Oh, yes, my landscape painting is so much better now!” In other words, I’m giving myself plenty of opportunity for artistic growth here.
Even so, looking at this “Point of Departure” does suggest several areas where I’ll want to pay particular attention.
- This painting lacks any real focal point.
- As usual, I was being very skimpy with paint.
- I was afraid of being too bold or non-traditional with my colors.
- I need stronger lights and shadows.
- I want to learn better techniques for creating soft edges.
Is it a bad painting? No, it’s not awful. It’s just lackluster. Nothing about this painting draws me in. Nothing gives me pause and makes me think or feel. The only true narrative this painting has is self-imposed. I see it as a starting point, a point of departure for an exciting 100-day journey of exploration.
At the end of the journey, I might paint another landscape based on the same reference image. It will probably be much different. Hopefully it will show that I learned a lot as I traveled, that I experienced many different moods and atmospheres, and found ways to bring them into my oil paintings.