You’re in a beautiful plein air painting location, you whip out your camera and take photograph after photograph – it’s essential to have lots of references for landscape painting, you know. Then you dig out your sketchbook, pencils, and paints and set about covering page after page of your sketchbook. The relentless pursuit of information. The drive to be sure you’ve got enough (never mind how intangible that measurement is). The fear that the moment will be lost, forever.
|Sometimes set your sketchbook aside
in favor of soaking up a landscape
painting scene with your eyes alone.
But sometimes it’s better to not take a single photo. Nor make a single mark in your sketchbook. To rather sit and look. To listen, smell, look some more. Look slower, build visual and sensory memories.
Sitting and staring out, as I love to do over the sea, isn’t doing “nothing.” It’s recharging my memory’s batteries of a subject I love to paint. Quite often what I’m focusing on differs. Some days it’s the colors in the distance islands, others it’s the patterns in the sea. Sometimes it’s a bird or a ship, sometimes the ferry on its daily route between the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Sometimes it’s all of these together, the proverbial bigger picture.
One day sitting on a sea cliff (not too close to the edge!) I could hear a whale phh-phhing somewhere. It took me a while to spot it, and in trying to do so I was paying attention to the ripples in the water, any sign of disturbed water that broke the usual surface pattern. While I did ultimately spot it, the whale isn’t what I’ve remembered most, because let’s be honest without binoculars (or a zoom lens) a small whale from a distance isn’t much more than a darker blue shape moving in the water. It’s the noise I remember vividly, which then brings up the memories of the colors in the sea as I attempted to spot it.
It’s the color memories I’ll put into a seascape painting, stirred in with the emotions from the moment, which adds that not-quite-fathomable extra to a landscape painting that can so resonate with a viewer.
How regularly do you go on location and look slowly, without sketching (deliberately, not because you’re too lazy!) or in the end putting your sketchbook away to enjoy the scene? Leave a comment and let me know.