Sunday, February 19, 2006

Art quotation of the week 19 February 2006

"Landscape is nothing but an impression and an instantaneous one"
Claud Monet


What Monet is talking about here is the way in which a landscape is a product of a particular set of factors which combine to represent it in a particular way on a particular day at a particular time. He was fascinated by light and how it changed how a subject looked. This is reflected in his "series" paintings in which he painted the same subject again and again - but each time in a different light.

It's impossible to paint a landscape without having to find some way of adjusting for the fact that the light changes while you are looking at it and as it changes so do all the colours and shadows (and forms) in the landscape.

Plein air painters endeavour to catch the moment by working out of doors in front of their subject and either working fast and completing a painting in one go. Oil painters usually refer to this as "alla prima" (Italian for "first time") - they complete the painting without building up layers. Others return to a landscape and continue with the painting when the conditions prevailing are the same. Monet always had a large number of paintings underway at the same time and would only continue painting if the conditions in which he started it were reproduced.

Working at particular times of the day can provide a plein air artist with light which stays similar for longer. Early morning and late in the day in more temperate zones can provide an interesting light, interesting shadows and a sun which seems to move more slowly than when it is high in the sky.

However, when I'm traveling, the option to return to a landscape is not always possible. I've developed a practice of completing a fairly detailed sketch to record what attracted me to the landscape in question and something about the colours. I then take a lot of photos to remind me of details within the scene. The challenge when starting to paint back home is finding a way of reaching back to experience that "instant experience" which initially attracted. Invariably I find that the best way is always to do with having drawn the scene rather than just taking photos of it. By drawing it you really look and end up understanding an awful lot more about how it works.

And why am I wittering on like this? Because I want to get to grips with a landscape painting which has been in the planning stages for some time, of course!

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