Paint Schoodic

We had another successful painting workshop at the Schoodic Institute in beautiful Acadia National Park. Join us in 2018!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The truth is, I have no friggin’ idea what I’m doing.

Spring in Glen Park, 10X12, oil on canvas, by little ol' me.

I once watched Lee Haber finish a lovely painting at Rye Painters on Location in less time than it took me to fall over my easel. I really admire plein air painters who never seem to “flail around” (as my pal Brad Marshall once memorably called it). I imagine they have a protocol by which they approach their painting; it allows them to work fast and focus on what they’re seeing rather than the mess they’re making.

I have a protocol too, but it’s unfortunately dynamic. I’m a restless soul; if I master an idea, I need to move on to the next idea. It’s why I never end up with highly-finished paintings; when the conclusion is obvious, I move on. That means on some level I’m constantly flailing. (This is not a trait I admire in myself, by the way; I think it would be nice to just luxuriate in the paint once in a while.)

My masterpiece: that's my 20-year-old daughter, studying for her physics final.
This is not to say that nothing stays the same: in oil painting there are some fairly inviolable rules that only a masochist or a neophyte would break. But there many things that you can mash up, and it seems like I’m constantly running through my bag of tricks to find some exciting way of fleshing out a thorny passage. Sometimes it works and sometimes it makes a terrific mess.

Two parrots stopped to watch me paint. "I love that,"
said the one on the left. It's because of the green, I think.
 This only matters when I have an audience, since in the privacy of my own studio I dump all my sketches in a towering heap and ignore them. Generally when I paint in public, I am very conscious of the people around me, and I end up spending lots of my time talking with them. This is one of my Favorite Things, but I also unconsciously tend to paint “prettier” when painting for an audience.

Today I visited lovely Glen Park in Williamsville. Since it is a busy suburban park, I even combed my hair in expectation of chance encounters with strangers. But those crazy Buffalonians were excessively respectful of my privacy.

My fantastic paint box, and my fantastic ball cap hair.
Good thing, because I was rapidly down another rabbit hole—my favorite place to be, of course.  I never know if a field painting is “good” when I’m working on it, or even immediately after finishing it. (And I think most other painters don’t know either; they just know if the painting they’ve done matches their idea of how they’ve painted so far.) I simply see a series of problems to be solved. In this case, there was a triad of trees whose branches paired with the little creek to enfold the bridge into an ellipse. Had I had a little more time, I would have worked more carefully on the structure of lights and darks in the unfurling leaves. But who ever has enough time?

There are still spots open in our mid-coast Maine plein air workshops! Check here for more information.

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