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 on 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.