The Lure of Landscape Painting

The landscapes that attract me are always full of “things.” I can’t deal with an empty landscape. Other factors that influence my choice of painting sites are comfort and feeling. Sometimes I’ll see something beautiful in a landscape but there’s no place for me to sit or I realize it wouldn’t be possible to be in that place for 10 days or so?the time it would take to complete the painting.

When I’m outside, all the landscape elements?not only the colors and the light?influence me. I respond to the landscape, yet I don’t feel that I have to represent all its elements faithfully. Usually I’ll get an idea from a landscape and just start painting. Rather than use an easel, I sit right on the ground, close to the forms. I’m in the landscape and the landscape is arrayed around me. The large sheet of paper (Arches, cold-pressed, 40 x 60) lies on my lap. My palette is an aluminum cookie sheet; I also carry a collapsible 1-1-2-gallon water jug, paper towels and a waterproof sack to protect the paper in case of sudden rain. Because I frequently have to walk a distance to my painting site, I try to keep equipment to a minimum: a backpack with paints, brushes, paper clips and drinking water; watercolor paper; a cardboard box (to lift the paper to a comfortable working height) and finally cloth and a container for painting water. If I’m working on a vertical 60 x 40 sheet, I roll the bottom edge of the paper away from myself and clip the edges of the paper together?making a big curl. The roll is toward my body and the edges are resting on the cardboard box: This method enables me to reach the top of the paper with a brush.

For the past several years, I’ve painted in Costa Rica, at the heart of the rain forest in Central America. I’ve made five or six trips, because I always want to get out of Washington D.C. in the winter and go somewhere warmer so I can continue painting outside. Costa Rica is such a small, mountainous area that the climate and topography change dramatically; it’s possible, therefore, to get varying kinds of weather from day to day or even from hour to hour. The works I’ve painted there often deal with plunging landscapes or cloudy skies broken by breaking sun.


Napa Vallery/Fog Breaking (watercolor on paper, 80 x 120)


Arenal (watercolor, 40 x 60)

Edwin H. Wordell is an artist living in San Diego, California.

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