Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Painting on Location

This is my art studio.

September is my favorite time of year to paint. My kids are back at school so the afternoons are mine. The air is both cooler and clearer, making colors more intense, shadows longer. Potts Point in Harpswell is empty other than lobstermen. There are fewer biting insects too. 

After checking the weather radar and the tide chart, I drive a few miles to the coast. It's quite precarious balancing a camp chair on slippery rocks. I fear I've lost a brush or two to the tide. 

Watercolor, however, does a better job than photography at capturing the sea and islands. A photograph flattens the landscape and bows the horizon. Colors on a bright day become washed out. The human eye knows how to compensate. What is captured on paper is not just a shutter stop instant, but an entire afternoon. It's a dynamic experience rather than a frozen moment. 

The problem is often too much movement. The wind blows. The tide rises. Watercolors like to flow too. I tape my paper to a board to keep it stable. First I pencil a loose sketch. Then I save the whites and the bright buoys with masking fluid. I wash in the sea and sponge the sky before working in the details with a drier brush and more intense pigment. 

The most challenging part of autumnal paintings is keeping the reds from blending into brown with the greens. Those seasonal hues will come last of all, along with the deepening shadows. The original underpainting is only a memory.


walk2write said...

Thank you for the step-by-step lesson, Sarah! I thought that watercolor painting was a simple process. I see now that there's more to it. Your painting captures the energy of the sea and sun in a way I didn't think possible. And the coastline appears somewhat fragile in your interpretation.

Elizabeth said...

Such super water colors and how very right to paint en plein air.
Yes, September has such delicate, clear lovely light.
How lucky you are to be in Maine.
We are having a mini break in Sag Harbor where the light is stunning too.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I like the sentence saying that "What is captured on paper is not just a shutter stop instant, but an entire afternoon. It's a dynamic experience rather than a frozen moment." I'm picturing you sitting on the chair, the board in front of you and the ever changing scene of water movements, waves and clouds influencing the final version of your painting. What a different experience in comparison with taking photographs.

Nice picture, by the way ;)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Love the fluidity of these words and painting. It is indeed like an afternoon spent in contemplation outdoors. Thanks for this lovely day.

Carol said...

I love you studio Sarah! Your paintings convey the wondrous movement and feeling of your beautiful part of the world. I love the colors. Lovely!

A Cuban In London said...

I like the way you differentiate photography from painting. It makes sense somehow and I see that in your paintings. There's a dynamic nature in them. I loved the third image, top to bottom. It's scary somewhat but I love it still.

Many thanks. Enjoy your "art studio". :-)

Greetings from London.

Donna said...

Your art studio is the best! That's a good point about what a watercolor can capture that a photograph can't. I wish I could paint like you! Maybe someday I'll try.

Rose said...

I wish I had some artistic talent--what a lovely way to spend the afternoon! It was very interesting to see how a painting develops. I like your explanation of the difference between a photo and a painting as well; I've often been disappointed that even the best photos I take really can't capture what a scene actually looks like.

Amanda Summer said...

i love your studio - and your statement about the original underpainting being only a memory. having just finished my novel's first draft, i'm now ready for the revisions. i hope my subsequent draft turns out as well as your lovely images. just wondering - do you ever frame any of them to display?

Sarah Laurence said...

W2W, of all paints, watercolor is the most tricky.

Elizabeth, I’m gland to hear you’re enjoying the light on Long Island.

Petra, you’ve got the picture! I love photography too.

Tricia, Carol, Donna thanks!

ACIL, my mom, also a painter, said the under-painting reminded her of an iceberg.

Rose, photography has its limits but so do paints. The trick is picking the best medium for the scene.

Amanda, congratulations! Finishing a first draft of a novel is huge! I don’t usually frame my paintings unless a client requests it since it’s easier to ship them unframed. The two painting of mine that will be in a show at the end of this month (more on that on Wednesday) will be framed. And of course the ones we hang in our house are framed.