Sunday, February 26, 2017

Approaching Abstraction?

One of the experiences I enjoy about painting on location is how strong an impression spending time observing nature leaves on me.  I've written before about how what I observe can outpace what I'm able to achieve at the moment.  This is especially true in unfamiliar locations.

What I've learned over time, is that there are two main things that I just need to let happen.  Time - Time to interpret what I've seen, time to continue to develop my painting skills.

On location, there is a time pressure.  Conditions change.  The light changes dramatically in as little as half an hour.  A change in light equals a change in colors.    I choose to view these potential constraints as a benefit.  It forces me to simplify the scenes.  To emphasize what is essential, to subordinate what is not.  If I were to compare this to writing, I'd say that painting on location is to studio paitning, what writing poetry or a short story is to writing a novel.

I've written before about a spot off Bear Notch Road.  We've had a number of family visits and picnics on this spot.  Our dog even went for her first swim here (impressive for a Shih-Tzu).  Not sure a cold mountain stream was the best choice for that.

On Julie and my first trip to this spot I produced the following three sketches.  The first is the view looking up stream.

The next sketch was a view just under the bridge looking upriver.  The light was fading and almost choked out by the thick forest.  The dark greenish/blue was the color of the reflections in the water.  A few treetops were hit by the fading the light, most of the trees were in dark shade.

I was walking to take a last look at the mountains when I happened to look down at the water and I noticed the beautiful reflections in the water.  Beautiful but fleeting.  The slightest breeze made the reflections flutter and disappear.  The result of that was a very quick unpacking on my paints and this very quick sketch.  The bottom left is a quick indication of the shore and then the reflection of the mountain.  The rest are the very briefest indications of beach in the river and the locations of visible shorelines.

To most, this simple sketch means little to nothing.  A semi-abstract doodle.  Speaking of abstract art.  I was quite surprised to learn that one of my inspirations, the late Robert George Harris, experimented and explored with abstract art for years after he retired from a very successful carreer in illustration.  He spoke of how this time absolutely informed his second career in portraiture.    I don't pretend to understand abstract art.   My earliest paintings tended to approach the abstract, which is not something I desired to explore; however, over time I have developed a tendancy to approach studio work with an initially abstract or semi-abstract design.

Julie and I had a neighbor years ago in Westbrook.  She saw me painting outdoors and we both discovered our mutual interest in and our very different approaches to painting.  I enjoyed our conversations about what inspired us to paint what we painted.  Our approaches and choice of subject matter could not have been more different, but that didn't matter.  They were a young couple and moved away a short time later. They made sure to stop by before they left and they gave me a gift of two art books that I still have in my collection, Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta.

This sketch takes me directly back to the time and place more than two decades ago.  This will be the basis of a more finished painting eventually.  

Here are a couple of sketches done years later in studio using these on location sketches and memories as reference.  More on these in later posts.

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