Paint Schoodic

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Same spot, different vision

None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.
Dyce Head in the early morning light, 12X9, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. I’m drawn to lighthouses, even though I know they’re a trope and a trap.
One of the joys of participating in painting events is running into the same people. Often, we don’t just paint in the same locations, we paint the same scene. Still, our paintings end up looking vastly different. How does that happen?

It’s partly a matter of composition and the pigments we choose. Occasionally it doesn’t work; for example, an iconic object like a well-known lighthouse can force painters into a narrow box. A scene with only a single viewpoint creates the same problem.

Not a cloud in the sky, 8X6, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. This is the Owl’s Head Light painted from the back.
One of the distinguishing factors in painting is how the artist perceives light. To some degree, all of us see it within our own historical perspective, where certain values predominate. In our time, the driving forces are color temperature and chroma. But light in a painting is also a spiritual element that reflects the artist’s own values, identity, and perception of reality.

This isn’t a thinking process: no artist goes out in the morning and says, “I think I’ll seek out a strong rim light today.” It’s a matter of what draws his or her eye, and through it, speaks to his or her soul.

Owl's Head Light, 8X10, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas
In other words, the last thing lighting is in a great painting is an ‘effect.’ You can see that clearly in chiaroscuro. It was wildly popular throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and continues to be used in photography to this day. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Georges de la Tour and Artemisia Gentileschi all used it; it was the stylistic convention of their time. But they ended up with vastly different results. We viewers can read far more about the artists than just their historical setting. The way they handle light tells us about their character.

Henri Matisse thought deeply about art history and his place within it. He described a distinction in his own work between natural light and inner, or what he called “moral light.”

Cape Spear Road, 10X8, oil on canvas board, Carol L. Douglas. That’s not one, but two, lighthouses.
“A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I've been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light,” he said.

Matisse was an agnostic. “But the essential thing,” he said, “is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”

“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” For a founding Fauvist, that seems contradictory. But Matisse’s essential convictions overrode his stylistic ideas. His work is restful.

None of us see the same way. It’s more important to achieve the right state of mind than to find the perfect angle.

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