Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Here and there, facing into the sun.

I've been traveling around Europe for several months now, visiting various museums, wandering around beautiful places, attempting landscapes and creating makeshift studio spaces in the corners of borrowed rooms. I spent the holidays in the company of lovely friends in Ireland before hopping a ferry to Wales. In Wales, I spent a week in the town of Bwlch, where I did some amateur hill walking, and some debatably abysmal plein air paintings, none of which survived the "is this a waste of canvas?" test and all of which were scraped off to make way for, hopefully, better paintings. It's all good practice though, even if I fail to have anything to show for an afternoon's painting. I like to think I'm always learning, even if it's only one more way NOT to paint leafless trees. I also have the terrible habit of yielding to the temptation to see what's just beyond the next hill. So while I go out for hours, I'm often guilty of spending the first hour, if not two, thinking, "Oh, but I wonder if the view would be better just over here?" and then going off to see. All of which is more preposterous given hikes up steep paths, through brush and whatnot, carrying all the equipment of painting. I hear the 19th century painters had porters. I'm a mite jealous.

There are a few tricks to plein air landscaping. You should set your canvas in the shade, for one, as what seem like the right colors and values in full sun don't translate well indoors where the paintings are, obviously, ultimately hung. It's also best to have the sun to your back or side for several reasons, not the least being that staring into the sun is excessively bad for someone as reliant on her eyesight for her life's work as a painter. In an ideal world, there would pleasant shady bits of even ground under kindly trees over looking every beautiful landscape you could want to paint. Alas. I, almost without fail, find myself powerfully drawn the view that has me facing into the sun, the more directly into the sun, the more likely I am to set my heart on it. What's more, despite my very ample understanding of the relationship between the earth and the sun, I often find myself wandering up, down and around hills trying to see if I can't just get the same view with the sun off to the side, or better yet, behind me. The need to stand in the shade is often remedied by attaching a shade umbrella of sorts over the easel. As one of my other weaknesses is for scenery only available from the top of exposed hilltops, it is a remedy I often employ. Due, however, to my lack of porter and my wandering tendencies, I've tried and tested the lightest possible plein air set up. Brilliantly, exposed hilltops usually involve a fair bit of gusting wind, and my light set up plus umbrella has often managed to catch a fair bit of air, before toppling spectacularly. It's rather a shame I've been painting in such out of the way places that no one gets to laugh at these scenes but myself.

I've been on the road for just over three months, and it's been over five since I've had a proper studio, but for the first time in years I finally feel like I've got my head on straight and my life pointed in the right direction. Right now that direction is Boston, where I'm moving shortly to set up a studio and start a new life. It'll be a great adventure, I couldn't be more excited.