Saturday, April 28, 2012

Plein air, idea 1

   Carl Peters, Crossing the Bridge
The blog is morphing into more of a magazine. It used to be an encyclopedia, but I feel like I have laid out the basic information I set out to record. I seem to be writing "articles" rather than entries now. I am getting very close to a thousand posts. The whole thing has been stream of consciousness anyway, and stumbles along with no particular system or order. It is all very homemade. Do you think this blog would look better with more commas? Some day it will all get edited and put out on Betamax.

I intend to do a series of brief posts each limited to an idea to keep in mind when painting outside. Tonight's idea is previsualization.

When you start a painting outside, the greatest predictor of success is previsualization.
  That is, if you have a clear picture of what the painting is going to look like finished, when you start, you are most likely to "win" that day. Usually the best paintings are those where you proceed directly to your result. The painting will look fresher and less labored that way. Also, time is often short on location, and time spent reworking or struggling with a passage is subtracted from your end result.
 It is seldom enough to set up your easel and say "that looks good, I will paint that". Almost no view is perfect, and even if it were, to make art and not just transcription it is desirable to have a "treatment" in mind. At the very least you need to have an idea of how you are going to deal with the gremlins that pop up when a picture gets rolling.  Look at the scene and ask yourself "what out there is going to bite me?" Try to think of solutions to the problems before you even touch the canvas. If you can envision what the finished picture looks like, really close your eyes and see it, you may spot those gremlins and also the opportunities for design, color and handling before you.

I have been painting outside for almost forty years, almost all of my pictures are "professional", adequately observed and rendered. But some are lots better than others, the weaker ones are simply "matter of fact", that is, they look like the place, alright, but they are not interesting, much less poetic. So for me previsualization is usually "what am I going to do to this thing to make it look cool?"


That would make a great neck tattoo wouldn't it?
A Carl Peters from Alterman galleries
So don't just dive in and start painting, a little up front contemplation may save you a lot of worry later. Close your eyes and imagine what the painting will look like finished. Try to imagine every part of it and every passage as it will be in your finished work. This is a developed skill. Most people think more in words than pictures, and you will probably imagine yourself having a much clearer idea of the finished picture than you actually do. Happens to me all the time.

Sometimes I will imagine a clock face on the surface of the canvas and then go around the hours and ask myself "what goes here? what goes there?

The highest form of previsualization is a thumbnail sketch, more about those tomorrow.


Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

I totally agree on this one, Stape. If you know your destination, you can usually find a good route to it. If you don't know your destination, you're likely to end up with lots of mud on your boots.

Festo said...

It would seem, perhaps, that you have morphed rather than the blog.

ZanBarrage said...

How many of us headed thiis lesson when we started painting outdoors. I know I didn't. Even now after many years of painting outdoors I still ssometimes believe I can short-cut it... No I can't!!!

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

While agreeing with every word of your post, to me the joy and challenge of painting outside is to look at nature and see the beautiful or unexpected surprises that challenge our "knowledge" and somehow make them work into a painting. While planning ahead is fine, what you "know" shouldn't overshadow what you "see" on any given day.

Hummmm. Guess I think of plain air as learning time and studio time as putting into practice what I've learned.

Billy Guffey said...

POW! That was the proverbial nail getting hit on the head. If I could remember this lesson every time I paint outside I would have a much better track record.

By the way, the outside is as much of, if not more, of my studio than the one bounded by walls.

George Perdue said...

Amen, simplifying, omission,repositioning etc are easier done mentally and checked in a thumbnail. You can even "paint" the thumbnail with a pencil to check out strokes on the shapes. said...

This is true of every painting. Paint the painting you see.

Philip Koch said...

Stape, great post! Good to see you in print once again.
Years ago I received the same good advice in a figure painting class at the Art Students League of New York from the abstract painter who taught the course, Rudolf Baranik. He was a HUGE help to me.

jimserrettstudio said...

Previsualization, great terminology.
It is so easy to get distracted or overwhelmed on location and blindsided by those gremlins. Anything one can do to stay on focus to the original intention is a important habit to cultivate. But just like this blog sometimes things just evolve in a natural way when you are truly focused on understanding a subject.

janice skivington said...

Mr. Stapleton Kearns, This is one of the best ideas I have heard from you, so far, and that is out of many very good ones. Thank you. I will remember this advice. And act on it, today.

Sharon Weaver said...

Seeing the finished painting in your minds eye is crucial before starting to paint. I see plein air painters rush to start their paintings before they have even looked at the scene. As I paint I rely less and less on what is actually there and more on what I want my painting to look like. I look at the scene intently the first hour and less and less as time passes. Do you do that too?

mary teabo said...

These Posts would make a great book, no matter the order. Although not a professional artist,
I, along with a lot of other readers who don't comment, totally appreciate your wisdom and put it to good use! We appreciate you and your clock analogy I will definitely use at the next plein air event, I wish I had read it before I went out Saturday morning, would have saved me some grief! Thanks!

mary teabo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dot Courson said...

"IT IS NOT WHAT IT IS A PICTURE OF, BUT HOW IT IS A PICTURE OF, THAT IS IMPORTANT!", sounds like something Winne the Pooh would whisper to Piglet.

"It just shows what can be done by taking a little trouble," said Eeyore. "Do you see, Pooh? Do you see, Piglet? Brains first and then Hard Work."
Winnie the Pooh
The House at Pooh Corner

Ann Trainor Domingue said...

aGreat advice. I'm a big proponent of doing a couple (at least) of thumbnails before jumping into a painting. Just a few quick lines will give your brain a chance to consider the best option before committing to hours of effort. A couple of sketches will clearly define your area of emphasis and focus. Make quick color notes too. It will be sooo worth it.

Lee McVey said...

Terrific post. I'd like my students to read this one. Your words will benefit them. I talk to them frequently about planning the composition and not just copying the view they see.