I love plein air painting. (Plein Air Painting is an artwork done from life on location.) I love the challenge of capturing the scene while the light and colors change. And being out in the great outdoors is a bonus. One of the obvious challenges, especially for beginners, is transferring the subject matter to paper.
Although I like challenges, I do like to use the right tool for the job. One of my new favorites is my can opener. The first one that I owned had a small crank and it kept slipping off of the can. I got another one with a very long handle. It was much easier to use, but it still kept slipping off of the can.
I don’t know how it happened, but out of frustration, I eventually asked my neighbor about her can opener. She has an awesome can opener. I actually took a couple of cans over for her to help me with. I was suspicious, thinking that somehow this amazingly simple-to-use device would not work for me. She decided to get me one for Christmas. (That is one way to get rid of your pesky little neighbor.) And I love it! It works easily and does the job perfectly every time. Having the right can opener saves me time and frustration, allowing me to do what I really want to do – get dinner on the table.
The View Catcher is a tool that is designed to help the artist work out his composition. The View Catcher has markings on it that correspond to the paper (or painting surface) size that the artist is using. The small hole is to help the artist see a color or a value (how dark or light a color is) in their subject matter. One is supposed to hold the View Catcher so many inches away from their face and look at their perfectly composed subject matter.
My problem, and it is me I am sure, is that when I go out on location, I see “everything.” And I want to paint this, that, and “everything!” So I pull out the View Catcher to figure out how it is going to go down on paper, only to find that the view that I want is the view with the View Catcher on my face.
I went through a period where I would sit down with my sketch pad and determine my focal point. I would decide that I wanted “this” to go there. But “that,” if I put “that” there, it would weaken my composition. But I could move “that” over here to maintain my focal point. I used to start by drawing the shape of my painting surface first. But most of the time, I ended up moving the borders that represented the edge of my painting surface. And this IS good!
The beginner in painting begins by copying nature in all literalness, leaves nothing out and puts nothing in; he makes it look like the place or person or thing. By and by he will learn to omit the superfluous and grasp the essentials and arrange them into a more powerful and significant whole. And it is wonderful to know that these “essentials” will be essentials to him only (and herein lies the secret of originality).
– Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting.
Now I start by placing my focal point, placing the supporting elements, and then drawing the borders on my sketch. I still may end up moving those borders. Then I work from that sketch to get my composition onto my painting surface. For those of you who learned to work from photographs, this method is similar in that you are working from something that already has the composition worked out for you. In my example below, notice how moving the border out a bit made the trees feel taller.
Please be clear, the View Catcher is a good tool. A very good friend of mine pointed out years ago that I tend to paint the far off view – which explains the view finder on my face. Yes, I enjoy challenges, but the right tool for the job can keep you focused on the right challenges. Oh, and I highly recommend Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting.
“There is nothing an artist needs more – even more than excellent tools and stamina – than a deadline.”
Adriana Trigiani, Viola in Reel Life