The Challenge of Painting Outdoors

Painting what’s actually there will always be a temptation for me. Sometimes the joy of being on location seduces me into painting truth rather than beauty. Once, when I was in England, I did a painting of a wonderful, old pub scene, including an enormous chimney. I had painted what I saw. When I got back home, people who hadn’t been there said, “What’s with that enormous chimney? That can’t be right.” To prove it to them, I got out my photographs. I had painted reality, but in the painting, the enormous chimney was distracting.

Unfortunately, we all have to keep learning the same lesson. Once, in Monterey, I painted a lovely house that had a strange roof line. It didn’t phase me at the time, but when I showed the painting to a group of colleagues, an artist who also is an architect said, “That roof line—it can’t be.” I rummaged through a folder and found the photos: “This is the way it was!” I said triumphantly. Now “This is the way it was!” is a joke in our critique group, because we all know it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re right, it matters whether or not you’ve painted a good painting.

We all have paintings that show “the way it was.” Sometimes those paintings simply don’t work! To make a better painting, we have to go beyond the way it was. With the painting of the house in Monterey, I dragged a tree branch down over the roof line. This didn’t change the odd line because that was the feature showing it was an old house that had been added onto, but the branch did soften the line and camouflaged the accentuated angle. The painting of the pub with the enormous chimney I left the way it was; it has value to me because it’s a reminder of a happy time and place.

Painting from photos can also present a problem because photos can distort what’s there, especially figures. We believe a photo because it’s a photo, but when it’s a painting, we question the artist’s ability to see and to draw. If something looks odd in a photo, don’t reproduce it in your painting.

“With a major in art and a minor in music, I was destined never to make a living, according to my father,” says Mary Deloyht-Arendt. But she got a job doing what she loved most—drawing—for a greeting card company and for children’s books. When Deloyht-Arendt took up watercolors again in 1978, she discovered it was her medium. “I was so excited, I painted for eight days straight, bent over an easel, and ended up in the doctor’s office because I couldn’t straighten up!” The winner of more than 65 local and national awards, including the Gold and Silver Grumbacher medallions, DeLoyht-Arendt is a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, Plein Air Painters of America and the American Academy of Women Artists; a Royal member of the Arizona Watercolor Association; and a lifetime member of the Arizona Artists Guild. North Light Books featured her work in Splash III, Painting with the White of Your Paper, Making Your Watercolors Look Professional, The Best of Flower Paintings and Splash.

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