I love listening to podcasts with interviews of artists, especially painters, who talk about their process and practice, their lives, studios, challenges and successes. In the list below I share with you the ones I’ve discovered and what I like about them. Let me know which ones you like and if you know of any I’ve missed, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list.
When I walked up to the woman at the counter at Peet’s to order my coffee I started babbling that she looked just like someone in an Impressionist painting. She humored me and asked for my order. I ordered my latte, went back to my table, and Googled “Impressionist Bar Painting” on my iPhone. It didn’t take long before I found it.
I showed her the image on my phone and asked if she’d pose for me like the woman in the painting and she agreed. I don’t have permission to post her photo so all I can show you is my sketch, which is a study for a larger painting.
Needless to say, I left a good tip for my coffee (and modeling services). And fortunately there wasn’t a line of people waiting for their coffees.
I can see that I need to go back to Peet’s to sketch and take more photos so that I can replace the computer monitor on her left with something more beautiful. Or maybe it’s appropriate to be there? But it sure isn’t as pretty as Manet’s oranges and flowers in crystal.
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!