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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Plein Air Painting...and Smart Phones? Tablets?

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In the first season of Landscape Artist of the Year (reviewed in my last post), I noticed that many of the painters used tablets or smart phones in the painting process.  That is, they took photos of the landscape and painted from the captured images.  Clearly, they were more comfortable painting in the studio from photos than painting from life.

I've had some students try do this in my plein air painting workshops, but I quickly discouraged them from doing so.  First of all, the human eye has a greater sensitivity (I believe) to color and value than any man-made image sensor.  Second, the brain, when coupled to our own wonderful, organic image sensors, can exercise greater selectivity and control than any camera app.  Finally, our binocular vision helps us to see depth and form—something a single lens can't do.  Perhaps in the future, artificial intelligence will change all this, but what is the pleasure in having AI do it all for you?

For now, the eye and your brain are your best tools.  All they require is training.  Leave the camera at home.  Then, go out and sketch with a pencil.  Go out and sketch with color.  The more you observe and sketch, the more you will see those fine gradations of color and value, the subtle turning of form and how distance functions in the landscape.

So what IS a camera good for?  It excels at capturing detail and patterns.  If you need some important detail to make your painting better, by all means, look at the photo.  If you need to remind yourself of the shadow pattern because the sun has moved, go for it.  But don't get trapped by the “literal” quality of the photo.  Take creative control, and use your eye and brain to truly observe your subject and turn it into something remarkable.

3 comments:

Jo Castillo said...

You are so right about painting from life. In studio when I paint from a photo, I get down my idea and colors, shadows, etc. and then put the photo away. I paint better! Thanks for your hints and advice. Hope your Thanksgiving was nice. We are recuperating from all the over eating but good times with the family. Your work makes me homesick for New Mexico, but in a good way. I’m smiling.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank you, Jo! Glad you all survived Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100% in everything you say about this topic. There is the overall sensory pleasure that helps us to understand the landscape but I don't have a word for it.......did you ever read Stranger in a Strange Lang? The alien would "grok" (incorporate?) the experience/perception of a thing. No gadget can do this for us!