With the arrival of spring, many landscape painters’ fancy returns to working en plein air. After spending the bulk of the winter hunkered down in the studio, we find ourselves eager to get back outside to become immersed in the natural light that fills the landscape.
While oil has long been considered the king of plein air painting, and watercolor the perfect travel-sketching medium, many of us consider pastel to be the best choice. It doesn’t require solvents or fluids; finished paintings are not messy to transport; and as quickly as we can open our field palettes, we are painting. The biggest issue is the number of pastels to carry and how to set them up for accessibility and stability—subjects I have addressed in my Pastel Pointers print columns in the June, August and October 2008 issues of The Pastel Journal.
There are two motivations when working on location—besides the obvious benefit of working directly from the source—and they are: first, to find inspiration by seeking the new, and second, to return to a familiar location to reinterpret. When heading out to work on location, it’s easy to believe that we should always be looking for the new, to be wondering what lies just over the hill. This is the hunting aspect of working on location. It provides the exciting subject matter that motivates and inspires us. Always seeking the new, though, can become a hindrance, diverting us from what can be accomplished by returning to familiar locations.
Last week, after a four-year hiatus, I was able to return to an area with Albert Handell that we have both previously enjoyed (See the photo of Albert Handell, at work in the Redmond, Ore., location we visited four years ago). There was no need to explore. We knew where we wanted to be. We have grown artistically in the interim and the scene had subtly changed, but within a matter of minutes, we had picked up where we left off, as if it were just yesterday that we had painted there. Having this familiarity allowed us to paint with heightened clarity, ultimately leading to multiple paintings.
When we return to familiar territory, we are able to bring our prior experiences into play, leading to more sensitive painting experiences. It becomes an old friend and, even though we might not have interacted with it for a while, we pick up where we left off. This comfort allows us to go deeper.