Friday, November 7

If Impressionist Painters Had Used Reference Photos in Plein Air Paintings

Today’s Image

I’m following up on an In the Studio segment from one of my recent blogs. It’s the one where I was talking about finishing my acrylic of a view overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I mentioned I ‘finished’ it several times but may also ‘finish’ it a few more. Today's Image is a photo of the scene.

I believe almost everything I read about plein air painting and plein air painters. If you follow this blog, then you know the Impressionists, with their 19th-century breakthrough of painting out-of-doors, are some of my most favorites. I’m pretty sure plein air painting does provide some special something that can only be realized ‘before your very eyes’ so to speak. The old saying, “you just had to be there,” is probably true in some respects, but don’t you think that a good, or especially a great, artist can capture a scene in the studio at a later time after having seen the subject firsthand? I do.

I have read about some of the Impressionist painters’ difficulties with outdoor climate, such as storms brewing up at the coastline and heat/cold/fog, while on the scene painting in plein air. But look at it this way, they were lucky enough to be living in a fairly temperate climate for the most part. We’re talking Parisian suburbs, Normandy coastlines, and sabbaticals to London and Tuscany. I’m sure the summers could be hot and the winters cold, but for the most part it was pretty darn nice with long springs and autumns for plein air painting. It’s no wonder their landscapes are magnificent.

I also discovered through reading that the Impressionists were greatly influenced by the camera and photography. Photography was new for the period. They used its viewpoint to their advantage, which gave them new perspectives in viewing subjects and cropping their artwork at the edges. Very new and high-tech for the time, and if you’ve read anything of the era, it was not well received. But now the Impressionists are regarded as Masters. Time certainly has a way of changing things doesn’t it?

But I digress. What about the rest of us today? There are a lot more of us now (1.5 billion vs. 6 billion), and we’re living all over the planet due to conveniences such as heating and air conditioning in places that would have been considered near uninhabitable in 1874. I maintain that if the Impressionists had had digital cameras or cell phone cameras, they would have used them.

Regarding my acrylic painting overlooking the Pacific, I initially reported that, “I like it so far and think it will turn out fine.” I had trouble getting the water to look right in addition to the perception of depth. This was because of the near foreground that overlooked a steep cliff while at the same time a hill rose to the right and simultaneously the viewer could see up the coastline for a distance not to mention the far horizon on the ocean.

Next blog I will tell you about my process for painting from a reference photo, although I hate to call it a process; it's more like working in the moment. Whatever. I think every painting (or creative endeavor) you undertake is unique in the way you come to it, at least mine are. I'll show you the 'finished' painting, too.


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