Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Have No Fear: The Magic Cropping Tool and Plein Air Painting


"The Miss Fletcher" 9x9, oil
Private Collection

While I'm traveling for the next few weeks, I am re-posting some of my older blog posts.  With that in mind, here is my next re-post, from August 25, 2011.


You're out in the field, and the most perfect scene imaginable as been handed to you.  In the excitement of this marvelous opportunity, you launch in with inspired sprezzatura.  Surely, every brush stroke will be masterful.

Thumbnail sketch?  Nah, you skipped it, because the design was so obvious.  But as you paint, you grow increasingly uneasy.  There is something wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it.

Back in the studio, you put the painting up on the easel.  The cause of your uneasiness still escapes you, so you let it sit there a few days.  One day, as you're walking by, sipping coffee and trying to steal a glance at it - as if the solution, a shy devil, might vanish if you were to look at it directly - and it comes to you.

Out comes the magic cropping tool.  In my workshops, I make a joke about my "magic" cropping tool, but you'd be amazed at how many painting problems can be solved with a couple of pieces of cardboard.  Find your center of interest, and start cropping creatively around it.  Almost always, in a disaster of painting, there are a few salvageable inches, perhaps even a masterpiece.

It is always the part of the scene that won your heart in the first place.  You spent a great deal of love and attention on it, making sure it was just right, but in the meantime you sacrificed everything else.  Your instincts were right - congratulations!

The painting above is a case in point.  It was a 9x12, but it ended up being a 9x9.  I painted on a hardboard panel, fortunately, so it only took a boxcutter for the surgery.  (Stretched canvas is more difficult; pastel paper is even easier.)  Below are the two pieces put side by side.  You'll note that the rock on the left intruded into the part on the right, and I had to paint out the tip of it for the finished painting.  I've also put the detached piece as a separate image; it makes its own little painting.


"Head Harbour Afternoon" 3x9, oil

(First posted August 25, 2011)

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