Philosophy

Plein Air and Beyond

Plein Air

Nature is my own private studio.  The watercolor imagery on paper, the thoughts captured to my journal-by the time this process has begun, I am obligated to the site and to the work. There is comfort in planning my route, hiking to it and choosing a spot to paint. These preparatory steps may empower me with an intimate knowledge of my location. But I can’t predict what happens next.

Sometimes, I set up to paint, find my view and occupy myself right away with a shape or a color. There is no time to understand why I choose a certain focus, so I leave the explanation up to nature. Landscapes, especially remote ones, ask ‘why here?’ and I try to respond in paint. I feel good about my choices, the experience, and the painted object I have made.

There are other times that I honestly cannot focus at my location. What I see stuns me and in this confusing landscape, everything seems to have equal priority. I paint anyway, and my work shows the shifts in my focus. I will leave the site without anything cohesive in my journal. In spite my creative problem, my memory of the setting and weather are accurate enough to serve me well later.

Studio

A fruitful outdoor painting experience often drives me into the studio but, then I hit a brick wall. I can’t imagine ‘doctoring’ the freshness of the plein air image. I wonder if judging the painting that earlier seemed so fulfilling is premature.  It takes me a long time, until am I ready to allow myself to alter or edit, to imagine and expand on the original.

Developing a new studio painting from a mixed up sketch can be risky, but I crave it. I want to paint the stunning, confusing landscape that left me ‘artless’. Now I am in the studio with time to unravel the memory while I consider my crazy sketches. I flip through photos and read my notes about the hike and weather. This is a puzzle that is exciting and motivating.

In Between

In my home studio, besides making art, I spend a ridiculous amount time planning and preparing for my painting trips to the backcountry of Baxter State Park. I do this because I don’t want to research a route or plan a meal or wander around looking for painting locations during my precious time in nature. I just want to get at it! Some events, of course, can’t be planned for, and weather is responsible for most of them. In spite of my ‘uber-planning‘, some days I hike and paint, and other days I am forced to work in the lean-to, walk around in the rain and take photographs, and hope for the best. Whatever the case, when my painting trip is over I give myself a pat on the back, get my journals in order, and hope to be inspired.

Susan C. Siegel
May 1, 2013