Who am I as an artist? What really interests me enough to spend hours painting it? Do I really like painting landscapes? Do I really like painting plein air? Do I even like looking at plein air landscape paintings?
After making 100 plein air landscape studies and only liking 2 of them, it seemed like a good time to reevaluate and those are the questions I’ve been asking myself.
Before I took up oils a year or so ago I was fascinated by details and enjoyed seeing and painting the reflections in glass, faces that told stories (human and non-human animals), the world inside a flower, urban scenes from around my quirky home town.
Then I started painting mostly plein air landscapes in oils and was told I needed to lose the details; simplify; just paint the big shapes; soften the edges, go for design and composition rather than content. But the more I simplified the less I enjoyed painting. I started to question whether I wanted to continue with oil painting and plein air painting.
Then I serendipitously discovered a book of Charles Sheeler‘s paintings at a used book store. I’d never been much interested in his work before, but when I looked at the images and started reading I was led to the answers I’d been looking for. I saw in his landscapes (mostly urban/industrial), still lifes and interior scenes a specificity, strong point of view, personality, AND great design. I saw a way I could translate what gave me joy in watercolor into my oil painting.
I realized that what interests me is the PARTICULAR, not the general; the close up, personal view that tells a story; a portrait of an object, a person or a place; not the general widescreen view as I’ve been doing.
In trying to better define my thoughts, while waiting for my train at the at the El Cerrito Plaza BART station I sketched the thumbnails at the top and bottom of this post (which can be enlarged by clicking either image). Below is a photo of the scene, though a slightly different point of view:
And here is what I discovered and wrote in my sketchbook, thumbnail by thumbnail:
1: No focus, BORING. What I’ve been doing: including every single detail from the window frame in the foreground to the cars, parking lot, city, bay, hills across the bay, and the sky.
2. A little more interesting. Focus on the Cerrito Theatre marquis sticking up with foreground and background being less important.
3. A close up view but no focal point, still boring. 3 trees. Who cares?
4. BORING. Sky mountain water. Big Fat So What!
5. Maybe… a portrait of specific trees and lamp post but still not interesting enough to bother painting.
6. Now this interests me! A person waiting, a bench, a sign, a particular tree.
Now I just hope I can find a way to implement this new way of viewing and painting with oil paints. I wrote several more pages about these ideas in my sketchbook, but I’ve probably bored you enough for today. Now off to paint!