Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Painting Exactly What We See

"Atlantic Maritimer" 9x12, oil

Learning to paint outdoors is first all about learning to see - and then learning not to see so much!

When you first start working from life, you become enchanted with all the little things you never noticed before. Not to dredge up the 60s, but it's almost as if you've taken a drug that expands your sense of sight. Details, especially, seem to take on a larger importance. The exact pattern of cracks in a rocky cliff becomes paramount, and your eyes ache, trying to trace a fingernail-thin fracture from a few hundred feet away.

This level of detail is only important if you want to create a photograph of the scene in paint. But I would bet that even photorealists do a certain amount of filtering and don't paint everything.

For the plein air painter, the next step in learning to paint is to not see everything. See a little less. See only what's important in capturing the magic of the moment.

In the painting above, I left out a lot. For example, I omitted a mass of rusted steel pipes sticking out from a pile of old tires and the registration numbers on the side of the boat. I was more interested in the sense of light. (By the way, I've nicknamed this boat "Stubby" - it really does look that short! It has an enormous hold for carrying vast quantities of fish.)

Today is the second and last day of the Two Countries, One Bay Open Studio Tour. Come on by! We're open 10-5 AT.


Hannah said...

This is a great work and gives a mellow tone of what the colors actually might have been.
What strikes me as well is that this painting looks like it was on the shore of my home town, Parrsboro.. Was it?


Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Hannah! Actually, the boat is on Deer Island, New Brunswick.