All Content Copyright © Michael Chesley Johnson AIS PSA MPAC

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Painting Tourism v. Deep Painting

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Postcard painting.  I recently spent a few days at
the Basin Harbor Club in Vermont, along the shores
of Lake Champlain.  It was hard not to resist the
view of the hills across the lake in New York.  I took
my kit and settled down on a rock to paint the scene.
5x8 gouache.

Second postcard painting.  After completing the 
first sketch, in which my goal was to just get 
something down on paper, I decided to make a 
more complex composition--yet I was still entranced
by the view.  5x8 gouache.

Finally, I was able to enter a state of deep painting.
I was no longer concerned about capturing
the long view of the lake and distant hills.  This beautiful tree,
knee-deep in the water, was located at the edge of the
same rock I'd been sitting on for the previous two sketches.
5x8 gouache.

In my daily painting practice, I aim for “deep painting.”  I go repeatedly to the same location, painting the same landscape, hoping to deepen my relationship with that tiny corner of the world.  For me, painting isn't so much about the final product as it is about the experience.

But when I travel, I tend more to a type of “painting tourism”—I end up painting the postcard view of some beautiful place.  The scene, often featuring a trite composition that includes a scope far too wide to make a really good painting, lures me in.  Its pull is just enough to overcome the nearly-equal pull to practice deep painting.  This is not an epic battle of right versus wrong, or of greater versus lesser.  Rather, the process of painting, whether superficial or deep, addresses a purely personal need. 

Often, although I may be pleased with my postcard view, I leave the place unsatisfied. Yet if I spend a few days—or make a series of sketches during one session—I always find myself moving into deep painting.  I may start off making postcard views, but once I have that urge flushed out of my system, I settle down.

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