Posted in Creativity, Playbook Strategy, Plein Air

On Choosing What to Paint


I set my backpack in the trunk and closed the lid. For the third day in a row, I was returning to a location near my home to paint. It’s a tiny wooded area, probably no more than 300 square feet in all, beside a path that runs between two small ponds. I painted there last fall, too, and I did a studio piece from photo I took this past winter when long shadows from the rocks and trees fell across the snow. What is it this place that keeps luring me back I wondered?

Number 6, 7, and 8 in the series of 6 x 8 inch pochade studies I’m currently working on have been painted there. These studies are done in 90 minutes or less so whether the study is finished or not, I stop when the timer goes off.


Number 6 oil on linen panel

My intention for this study was to focus on rock forms. The background isn’t much more than a wash.


Number 7 oil on linen panel

I was still interested in the rocks when I want back the second day, but from a slightly different angle. In this painting, I sketched in the Z-shaped path that starts near the bottom right corner of the study and zigzags up to the horizon and disappears to the left of the three rocks.


Number 8 oil on linen panel

I parked my car on the street near where the path begins, and as I unloaded my painting equipment, I decided to let the place tell me what I should paint. I set up my tripod and attached the pochade box. A light blanket of last year’s oak leaves and hundreds of smallish rocks are strewn across the rich, dark earth. Larger rocks and a few boulders are scattered about, and a veil of green encloses the small open space onΒ all sides and above. I’ve forgotten about the zigzag path and the small rocks. What I see on the third day is sunlight. It’s backlighting leaves and falling against the trunks of three small trees that, in turn, cast long shadows across the rocks. The sun that has teased and tantalized generations of artists is too quick for me, though. I can’t capture it.

Each time I’ve returned to this tiny, intimate place, I’ve seen something different. And I realize that my studies are helping me learn to see with what author and landscape artist John C. Carlson refers to as “the painter’s eye.” I’m not trying to reproduce what I look at, but rather I’m learning to interpret what I see so others can see nature, too.



3 thoughts on “On Choosing What to Paint

  1. I enjoyed reading about your process and I agree, I also try to depict what I see or feel rather than trying to reproduce a scene, a photograph can easily do that. πŸ™‚ I really like your subtitle….that it is never to late to reclaim your creativity.


    1. Thank you, Margaret. It’s challenging to separate duplicating what you see from painting what you feel and experience when looking at a scene. It takes lots of practice to subjugate everything else in order to convey the essence/what is most important. My understanding of this currently exceeds my ability to do it. πŸ˜• I still try to paint everything, but by the time I finish 50 studies I think I’ll be better able to convey my intention and minimize the things that fight for attention.

      Do you have any practices that help you avoid reproduction?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Boy, that is a hard one to try not to paint everything you see, I still struggle with that but I have noticed that I am beginning to get more into that place of painting the essence of the scene. I think first and foremost paint only what you love and feel moved by….that is integral because then you are carried along by your feelings and what you see, like the lighting…which always seems to capture me. Also I have found that doing some loose work in the studio really helps. The more I do that (loose/abstract) work in the studio, the more I can let loose en plein air. Just keep at it and once you get it ironed out in how to let loose and not worry so much about depicting exactly what you see, the feeling and essence takes over. I truly feel that it is a matter of course, maybe some artists can skip steps but I think it is part of letting loose, and that is reproducing what you see and then learning what to let go or loosen up and then you are free to capture an essence. Does this make sense? It seems like I repeated myself…I hope you get the gist of what I am trying to say πŸ˜› lol It is the fun part of plein air, a lot of people let it frustrate them but I think that it is a part of the adventure…embrace it….the learning how to let loose and not depict everything you see. At least it helps me to think of it in this way. πŸ™‚


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