I was looking through some old photos today for some subjects to paint in my studio. As I was doing so, I was so turned off by the dead flat colors in the photos and was thinking about each image in the stack and trying to inspire myself as to how it would look as a painting, with lots of color put into it that I just did not see in the photo themselves. As I thought about it, I remembered how much better some of my paintings turned out that were done by redoing ones done on location. The plein air watercolors usually have much more information than the photos do. I am not talking about detail. The photo obviously has all the detail, except of course in the shadows where the shadows tend to turn black and loose all the subtle colors that the eye can see when your there. The subtle color changes are captured by the plein air painting and then later, in the studio, you can pay more attention to the composition and execution of the piece.
I am posting three paintings here. The first was painted just north of Key West in 2002, as a thunderstorm was passing over. I was driving south and the sunlight had just hit this little yellow bungalow, catching my eye, and made me turn my truck around so I could sit on the tailgate to paint. You can see the rain spots in the gray sky as the rain began again as I was just finishing up the painting. On the horizon was a pinkish light in the sky and to the left of that you could see a dark patch where the rain was coming down still. This image stuck in my mind and the painting was my record of it. I never took a photo of this spot, and usually don't. For some reason, I can't seem to remember to do so. Or maybe I would just rather get my information from the painting. I do shoot lots of photos with the intention to paint from them, but when I do a plein air painting, I don't confuse the issue with a photo.
Thunderstorm Over Key West 10"x14"
A few weeks later, I brought out the original watercolor and did a series of studio watercolors from it. I changed the composition and intensified some of the colors and stylized the clouds a bit. This is the one I liked the best from the studio watercolors.
Thunderstorm Over Key West 9"x12"
Finally, I decided to use these paintings as inspiration for a large abstracted oil. This is 36"x48". I really think if I had taken a photo of this scene, I would have refered to it and it would have changed the final outcome of the piece. I just sold the large oil this Sunday on an online website.
So obviously, most of the plein air work I do I consider a finished piece. Many people feel that their studio work and their location paintings should be segregated, the later being inferior to the former.
This practice goes way back for me. I used to go out sketching when I was 10 to 15 years old and draw houses, trees or boats by the river, then bring them back home and do oil painting from the sketches. Then in high school, I was introduced to watercolor and began adding color to the sketches. As I got better with the watercolor, they became the finished product as I was then doing "plein air painting", although I simply called it painting on location up until just recently. Around one out of every twenty watercolors would become an oil painting. These paintings are extra special to me.
Tomorrow, I will put away my photos and choose a plein air watercolor to use as a color sketch for a large oil painting.