Paint Schoodic

Join Carol L. Douglas at beautiful Acadia National Park, August 6-11, 2017. More details here!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The nature of Nature


"Keuka Lake Vineyard," oil on canvasboard, 9X12

This year I am teaching plein air painting in two venues. I believe that all aspiring painters should study plein air. Why?

Character: The strength of plein air painting lies in its relationship to reality, but that is also its greatest weakness. Slavish homage to what one sees is a dangerous trap, even more deadly than the same tendency in figure or still-life painting.

Our appreciation of place is not entirely visual: it also encompasses sound and smell and spatial awareness. There are certain experiences in nature—such as standing in the sand on an elliptical shoreline—that are tremendously appealing in real life, but which make for weak paintings. A literal rendering of them is worse than banal: it lies about the character of the place.

The challenge for the plein air painter is to portray the place in a way that gives a sense of the non-visual cues—the warmth of the wind, drumming of the waves, crickets in dry grass. Either the non-representational aspects of painting become more dominant, or you fail. This happens in ways that figure or still-life never force you to consider.

Composition: We know intellectually that paintings built upon a strong, simple schematic project more powerfully than those pieced together from innumerable details. Nature, however, is essentially an infinite layering of innumerable details. With landscape painting, there is no solution but to fall back on the basic tools of composition: thumbnails, value studies, and shape studies. Painting students who rely on their instructors’ model poses or still lives will never learn to compose the way a plein air student—picking and choosing from the environment’s complexities—will learn to compose.

Communication: Painting is pointless if it is devoid of any emotional or intellectual content. Despite that, it is surprisingly easy to “phone it in” at times, especially in the controlled environment of the studio. We’ve all done it. But everyone has an emotional relationship of some kind with nature, and it is impossible to avoid expressing that.

"Piseco Outlet," oil on canvasboard, 9X12

Upcoming classes

The two venues I’m teaching in are convenient for both the local student who wants to study in Rochester and the out-of-town student who wants to take a single, intensive class:
  1. Weekly classes in the Rochester area, every Wednesday from 5:30-8:30 PM, meeting in some of the loveliest parts of Monroe County, from the pier at Charlotte to High Falls to Genesee Valley and more. The tuition is $100 a month. Email me here for more information.
  2. “Adirondack Wild,” a plein air painting workshop at the Irondequoit Inn in Piseco from September 30 to October 5, 2012. The Adirondack preserve is the biggest, wildest park in the Lower 48, and at $775 all-inclusive (room and board) for five days and nights, this is the deal of the century. Download a brochure here.

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