We’ve all had the experience of loving an abstracted landscape painting, only to finally visit the site on which it was painted and realize it was much more realistic than we’d thought. Visiting Ghost Ranch with Georgia O’Keeffe in mind is an excellent example. There are iconic views that make sense no matter who paints them, like Motif Number One in Rockport, MA. On the flip side, there are things that wouldn’t be believable even in the most realistic of styles.
This was the case with the coal seam I painted along the Red Deer River in Canada’s badlands. It’s small, it’s odd, and I like it, even though I’m still not sure I’m finished.
I didn’t finish the painting on-site because the vibrations from the high winds were making my easel unusable. I was shocked to look at my reference painting and see how bleached the place looks in a photo. Those seams of rock were a beautiful cross-play of color in real life.
This summer I painted Goosefare Creek in Ocean Park, ME, which ended up being a similar abstraction. The Goosefare’s mouth changes course with every nor’easter that blows through. That means you can take any artistic liberty you want. I was interested in the sand and its reflection in the wide arc of the stream.
Sunrises and sunsets sometimes seem artificial to me. The one above was painted from the deck of the American Eagle off Stonington, ME. I threw it down in disgust after touching up the colors last week, complaining that I had ruined it.
“What do you do with the ones you don’t like?” a friend asked.
“Swear and get back to work on them,” I answered.
In fact, after a few days not looking at it, I think the light and color are really quite accurate.
I had about fifteen minutes to limb out this storm on Lake Huron before the blowing rain emulsified my paint. Finishing it was just a matter of adding some final coverage. I wouldn’t do more with it, because even though it’s just a few brushstrokes, it tells the viewer everything he needs to know.
There’s something to be said for not jumping in too fast to ‘fix’ a plein air piece. You can easily destroy what’s quirky and wonderful about it because to your tired eyes it looks just wrong.