Wednesday, November 21, 2018

When Inspiration Fails

The Big Mountain
9x12 Oil - Available

Plein air painting workshops are difficult.  The instructor tells you, "Okay, I've shown you how to do it – now go out and paint one on your own."  You gather up your gear, walk around a bit...decide that you don't want to paint the same thing as the instructor...so you walk around some more.  Eventually, you've circumnavigated the entire hilltop, all the while scanning both vista and intimate close-ups, hoping for something that will grab you.  Yet nothing does, and the clock continues to tick.  Fear of failure grabs you, and suddenly there's no hope for inspiration.  And now, here comes the instructor, stepping purposefully toward you to critique what you've done so far.

I've seen this happen a great deal in workshops.  (And yes, it's happened to me, too, when I was on the other end of the stick.)  Nothing inspires the student, and that is indeed a desperate situation.  However, there's a solution, right in your bag of gear.  It's the materials you've brought with you.

On the first day of my workshops, I tell my students that we can't always find something to "connect with" or to be inspired by in the landscape—especially in a workshop, when the terrain may be unfamiliar and the situation, intimidating.  To the class, I offer this advice:  Consider the painting session just an exercise, and pick anything, absolutely anything, to which you can apply what is being taught that day.  If I'm teaching atmospheric perspective, pick a vista; if I'm teaching you how to paint a tree, pick a tree.  It really doesn't matter if the subject inspires you or not.

However, if you have an open mind, you may find that your materials themselves may inspire.  The mere act of mixing color and pushing around paint might engage you.  Or, inspiration may come as a part of the process of analyzing the scene.  I personally find it exciting to observe how shadow and light differ; warm here, cool there, more intense color here, more dull color there.  The intellectual pleasure of observing may transform into a heart-felt one, and you  may find that, suddenly, the subject inspires.

At the top of this post is a scene I have painted many, many times as a demonstration for my students.  It illustrates how to capture the luminosity of sunlit rock, as well as sunlight on trees.  For this particular demonstration, I found it hard to be inspired—the scene is so old to me—but once I started mixing paint and making marks, the inspiration came.  I was very pleased with the results.  It's sketchy, but I like this one that way.  It's fresh.

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