Friday, July 27, 2012

Plein Air in the Studio

A Landscape from the Cupboard

Today found the Friday morning Plein Air Class assembling at my studio. Rain and lightning were in the forecast.

It seemed a great opportunity, this day in July, to demonstrate a February technique. By this I mean the kind of exercise which can be a life-saver when you're tired of winter and you want to paint summer in all its glory.

Since most everyone knows by now how I feel about painting from photographs, let's suppose you also don't have a good drawing kicking around the studio.

What to do? Where's the inspiration going to come from? 

To me it seems pretty simple. When we were little children, we would find ourselves playing with whatever came readily to hand. I remember being on the kitchen floor, surrounded by pots and pans. And I would mix them all together, pretending they were
all manner of other things, a landscape for my play. Perhaps this pot was a firehouse, and that one over there was a train station. My imagination would fill in all the missing bits, and I was instantly transported into my created world.

We seem to lose this ability to easily substitute forms as we grow older. We become much more literal (and much less interesting). 

Why not see how much of that lost imagination we can recapture, for those sleety February days, or even for this rainy Friday in July?

We started with some reasonably random groceries from the kitchen cupboard: linguine, lasagna and rotelle, three tuna fish cans, an empty glass jar, a box of peppermint tea and two wire whisks. And this is what we made...

To me this became a group of building on a riverbank, with a narrow road crossing a bridge. On the left bank, a tree or two.

A bit more grisaille starts to mass out the various elements, and we begin to imagine a more complete scene.

And, since everyone wanted to see some color, I added a bit to be obliging. 

At the moment there are quite a number of items that aren't well drawn, even aside from all those parts where decisions have yet to be made. Who knows quite what the color will be in the end, or how the river will resolve itself in the distance. There's certainly much to be done, and I'll try to bring this further along, and to blog about it.

The important thing, though, is for us all to try to regain that wide-eyed wonder of childhood, when anything can be a station, or a zoo, or a bridge across a river.

So next time it rains, and you're stuck for an idea, have a go at the landscape in the the cupboard.  You'll be surprised at all the things that are in there.


  1. Great idea for a rainy day, and for February, too. I'm going to have some fun with this!

  2. What a wonderful invitation to invention! Can't wait to try it - there are several rainy days predicted in the week ahead.
    I've read that Gainsborough arranged entire forests out of broccoli stalks. The possibilities now seem endless.....

  3. We could use some rain here! But at least we are getting some painting in at last. Great post, Donald. Love to see things evolving from nothing. I think that building in the foreground should throw a nice dark shadow down the bank and across the water. Can't wait to see what you do with it.