Insist on the Beauty of Form

Insist on the beauty of form and color to be obtained from the composition of the largest masses, the four or five large masses which cover your canvas. Let these things above all things have fine shapes…Let them be as meaningful of your subject as they possibly can be. ..Remember that the greatest beauty can be expressed through these masses, that the distinction of the whole canvas depends on them.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

I passed by this stand of tall, slender pines while driving on a back road in Wisconsin a couple of summers ago. I stopped and took a couple of photos and had every intention of painting them—until tonight.

Every composition is an arrangement of shapes, but the shapes aren’t always obvious. In the photo above, the trees are full of interesting details, and those details disguise the big shapes. That’s when making a notan (the process of reducing everything to two values—black and white—can be a best first step before diving right into a painting. The notan eliminates details and leaves only large shapes.

When the 30-minute notan study was done, I felt less than thrilled with the four large shapes that remained. There is nothing outstanding or beautiful about any of the shapes and I decided not to do the painting

I still love the scene and the memory attached to the photo, but creating a painting requires a significant block of time and effort. So, I’m not disappointed about letting go of the notion. The 30 minutes it took to do the notan drawing was a good use of my time.

 

Fields and Clouds

Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscapes look to you — your pleasure in the thing.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

When I passed by this Wisconsin farmstead on a summer day in 2015, I had to stop the car and just take it in. The cumulus clouds floating above a field of ripening grain was, as they used to say, “A Kodak moment.”

The small 6×6-inch oil painting was done on a birch board in 2015. I leaned into this painting, using a palatte knife to paint the field. I say “leaned in” because I’d only started painting again after setting aside my paints and brushes for 30-plus years. But something about this landscape gave me the courage to try. I gifted the painting to a friend, and it remains one of my favorites.

I’m painting the landscape again. This time on a 9×12-inch linen panel. The house is hidden, protected behind the windrow of trees. The small barn and silo, once so common in rural areas, are an anomaly in today’s world. Many of the older barns and silos have fallen into disrepair, or they’ve been replaced by sheet-metal barns and shiny aluminum silos. My motive for painting this little landscape (which still needs a little tweaking) is reason I stopped my car and took the photo — it was a beautiful summer day for watching clouds sweep past, high above the field.