Thinking about Landscape Painting

I am at the beach thinking about landscape painting.

I think the reason that I did not become a landscape painter was because I got so tired of seeing the same old same old photographic postcard copy a beautiful scenes. And that was decades ago.

By now every scene has been rendered and most of them that are so technically exquisite are just boring and repetitive to me as an artist. Which leads me to the thought of how do you look at your environment and want to paint it yet want to avoid just duplicating reality?

I found an old art book dated 1978 and the author was addressing pretty much the same issues. By now we all realize that a beautiful depiction of one’s landscape environment is always a wonderful thing to see hanging in your home.

It takes you back in your memories.

It gives you calm and peace.

But from the point of view of an artist who wants to do something that is unique and even unusual, one needs to try to see your world a bit differently.

Landscape Painting Describing Your World

I say your world because artists should be describing their world. Yes, it is fun to paint photos from your vacation abroad. John Singer Sargent painted magnificent landscapes, watercolor, and sketches in Florence, Venice, the Tyrol, France and Spain. (Personally I think his people sketches are his best). But artists like Andrew Wyeth and Georgia O’Keefe painted what they knew. Wyeth interpreted such as in Christina’s World, but O’Keefe took her Southwest and really made that environment her own. She threw all caution to the winds in her flowers and I am blown away by her courage.

So how does one do that? How do you look at a forest or seascape and see it through different eyes? This is when it gets hard. Your inclination is to look at the waves crashing on the rock and render it. See the beach and the ocean and there you go… one horizontal seascape coming up.

I have done it more times than I can count. They are always best sellers and that reinforces the idea of frankly duplicating your environment. And the more paintings you see that do just that do not encourage you to break out of that mold.

If you want to see the world in a more abstract, personal way, you have to throw away your preconceived notions based largely on the millions of postcards you have seen or purchased, and try your best to be an interpreter.

What is it that attracted you to that particular scene:

  • a close-up of a flower,
  • or was it the light,
  • was it the color,
  • was it the shape,
  • was it an ethereal feeling of mist or snow or fog,
  • was it the old architectural structure such as a barn, a shed, an old car, farm implements, was it an old part of town with engaging architectural elements?

If you start your painting and forget what led you to it, trust me you will lose its essence. So write it on a post it.

If you merely render these visual things and you don’t stretch yourself to interpret them, all you are doing is being a photographer with a paintbrush. I do this all the time and I kick myself every time. I want my art to be unique.

The world is our oyster as the saying goes. If you put aside the juror and buyer hanging over your shoulder, your work will be more satisfying. Now of course, I am not talking to those artists who have to sell to pay the bills.

Engaging in Memory of Feeling

And I think that when I am painting my other themes (not landscape) I am engaged in my memory of what I feel about the subject perhaps musicians and dancers so I think I can get out of the photographic realism mode.

  • I can add motion,
  • I can add exaggerated color.
  • I can add in music especially cluster groups of musicians together and play with those elements.

For some reason in landscapes (maybe because it is in most cases static) I find it much more difficult. It isn’t begging for interpretation.

Painting in a More Personal Way

We are influenced by what the public buys. And I can paint and sell them all day long. But I want to be able to paint in a more personal way, yet still reach a public that loves them enough to buy them. But first I have to do enough of them to show a small collection. And to do that I probably need to pick one theme and work it until I like it.

It could be the James River. I live here. I love the river and it’s marshes, the osprey, the great blue heron that fly over my backyard.

What is it that I want to do, that will be important to me, meaningful to me, and unique. Otherwise, frankly, I am a hack. Another artist painting another beach scene. Or another marsh landscape.

So I am a work in progress. And you will have to stay tuned to see what actually happens. Even at my age I can evolve. So long as some part of my body can hold a brush I will paint.

Perhaps by writing this I can force myself to commit to actually doing the experimentation.

During this era of self isolation I don’t have much of an excuse. But like all of you, I put everything else first, then say I didn’t have time. Seriously though I have higher expectations of myself than anyone can put on me. I want to do my best, but have to remember- the perfect is the enemy of the good. Maybe next time I will have something positive to relate about this journey (the reality show word I loathe).

Crashing Waves Landscape Painting

And if you still need the perfect holiday gift …

I’m available to meet with you at Associates in Dermatology to share a tour of my paintings that are currently available for purchase. Since it wasn’t possible to do my Annual Show and Sale due to COVID restrictions, I want to make sure you can find the beautiful painting you’d love to see hanging on your wall or the wall of a loved one. Reach out and contact me today.

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