Thursday, May 20, 2010

Studio Fear

"The Lucy B" 12x16, oil/canvas

For a die-hard plein air painter, I must admit that the prospect of going to the studio to paint dredges up a certain amount of fear.

Outdoors, I feel my success ratio is pretty good. I can make an exciting painting. But in the studio, without a real landscape to respond to, where will the excitement come from? One can rely on coffee and jazzy music only so much. (Lately, I've been listening to Neil Young's "Fork in the Road" album.)

I've been painting from my laptop this week. It's different, though not necessarily better, than painting from a printed photograph. My photographs are 4x6, so I see less detail. Less detail, during the abstract, block-in stage of the painting, is a benefit. I can also hold the photograph in my hand and, if I get paint on it, who cares? With the laptop, I can zoom in on detail - a benefit during the final stages - but I sure don't want to spill Gamsol on the keyboard or get Phthalo Blue on the screen. I also have a good deal of light flooding the studio, and on my older laptop, the screen gets washed out. You always hear that the laptop has a more brilliant image than a photo, and that may be true in a room with less light. For me, the real advantage of the laptop is the ability to adjust color and create a photo-collage from several references. I can also have all my reference photos, and as many as I wish, available at the touch of a button.

Typically, I stop looking at the photo - or laptop screen or, if outdoors, the real landscape - about half-way through the painting process. I reach a point where I begin to respond to the painting, and not to the reference photo. It's a great feeling when I get to this happy place in the studio, because then I know I'll end up with a good painting.

Today, I reached a breakthrough. In the past, I've fretted because my studio paintings don't look like my plein air work. In the studio, I make more tightly-controlled marks, and I do a great deal of scraping and re-painting. I've always fought this in the effort to make the studio work look more like my alla prima outdoor work, which is looser with sometimes wilder color. But why shouldn't they look different? Studio and plein air work are two different species inhabiting two different worlds. Outdoors, I have springtime with the scent of apple trees flowering and the seagulls chattering down by the wharf. In the studio, I have a light source that doesn't move - and coffee and Neil Young.

Above is a studio piece, "The Lucy B." It's 12x16, oil/canvas. I used two reference photos for this, stitching them together.

3 comments:

Bill Cramer said...

A cool epiphany to have. Alas, I seem to have a higher success ratio in the studio, must be the coffee. Nice painting. I wish we had some scenes like that around here.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Bill! But you've painted some really nice outdoor pieces, too.

Andi Sawyer said...

Hi Michael, I have an antique PC with about ten years worth of my photos on it - it, the mouse and the keyboard started out black but are pretty colorful by now. I like the way I can flip back and forth between several shots of the same subject and zoom in to check something. It's great for cropping too and I will sometimes get more than one painting from a particularly interesting shot. Andi