Worth a Thousand Steps
I enjoyed the change in subject matter so much, I decided to take a two-week road trip up the Pacific coast and visit my daughter Sarah and her husband Ryan who had just moved to Seattle. Although I've made this trip several times in the past, this vacation would be different. I was going by myself, stopping as often as I wanted to get reference photos of the coastline for future paintings. I also wanted to get pictures "in the woods." There are few things that I enjoy more than a walk through woods illuminated with periodic rays of sunlight. The trip turned out to be a huge success in meeting my own goals. I took well over 3,000 photos and have material for many future paintings.
I don't consider myself a very good photographer. But I do take enough photos of good scenes to enable me to do a credible painting. My camera is a not-very-expensive, $250, DSLR, with 35X optical zoom. Optical zoom is my #1 requirement. It allows me to take many different and valuable pictures of the same scene. Once in the studio, I use this series of photos to enable me to draw and paint what I believe is the best composition. For example:
- I take several pictures of the scene with no zoom. This defines the mood, light sources, light direction, sky conditions, and determines water surface colors and values. It also provides the reference for the amount of overall aerial perspective. These wide angle views bring back my memories of the scene and how I felt being there.
- I take many high-zoom shots of objects that I may place in the painting. This allows me to paint the objects from knowledge rather than guesswork.
- I take many photos at intermediate zoom levels to help determine good areas to crop.
- Coastline scenes can have drama, or not, simply due to wave patterns. Waves add great areas of sharp contrast. This can be between troughs in deep shadow and bright peaks that become transparent from backlighting or from the white foam falling from near-black coastline lava rocks. Because of the impact of waves to a composition, I try to get many shots of wave sequences.
- Many times I intentionally revisit a location on my return trip. I'm hoping to get more pictures at different times of the day, at different tides or wave patterns, in the fog or in the sun, or maybe just to see it again from a different angle. Something unexpected always seems to make the return visit worthwhile.
While on my trip, taking hundreds of pictures each day, I often asked myself if I should be doing plein air paintings instead? Well, every time I asked that question, I came to the same conclusion. No! I firmly believe in the value of painting on location. It forces the artist to make decisions and paint quickly. You learn quickly. There is spontaneity to the work. But because the light is ever changing, I found the need to have taken photographs of the scene anyhow. I've referred to the photos when I needed more time to finish the work at my studio. Yes, I'm slow and deliberate. I can't finish a painting to my satisfaction on location. Therefore, I much prefer starting and ending a painting in the studio. I need the time to paint with a degree of detail and accuracy. That's part of my representational style. So, for me, my time on this trip was best spent by seeing and photographing as many painting subjects as possible.
I've completed a couple of paintings, shown below, from my trip and have many, many more to follow.
Over Snoqualmie Falls Coming Ashore
If you have thoughts on "studio or plein air painting" that you would like to share, please send them in for the next newsletter. You could be published with reference to your website.