This time of year people tend to ask the same question. "Do I need to paint outdoors or from life to be a good painter?" The fast answer is no. You can become a good painter without setting foot out in nature. Painting from life however, greatly increases the odds that you will become a better artist.
To become a successful painter one must embrace the four main ingredients of verve.
- Painting from photos
- Painting from life
- Painting from imagination
- Painting lots
At one time artists had no choice but to paint from life but the very moment they got a hold of photographs they began to use them as reference. There is nothing wrong with using photos to paint from, except that they are habitual liars. They are constantly showing half-truths, falsehoods and misguiding the painter. Only Mother Nature gets it right when it comes to temperature and light. Photos don't. They are a great jumping off point but to really get all you can from a photo you should paint outdoors and/or from life.
But painting from life is so hard..... Mother Nature is just like my aunt Edith at Christmas. She will fill your plate like it's your last meal, then gives you even more for seconds. How is one supposed to edit down all that's before you to fit that 9x12 canvas? The best way to learn to paint outdoors is to use a photo. Yup, that's right, a photo. Once you get the gist of how to paint a mountain from a photo you can then try painting one outdoors with more accuracy. After having the basic understanding, the things that you will see and use from being outdoors will make that mountain look even more believable. Use the tricks you learned from the photo to get the base for the outdoor painting. Use the outdoor elements to gain accuracy for painting from a photo reference.
What happens when the photo lies and going outdoors to get more truth doesn't yield anything? You need to access the frontal lobe of the right hand side - that jello like blob in your head called your imagination. Yes that's right, you need to make it up. How does one make up something one has never painted before? See ingredient #4.
The more you paint, the more you will run across things you have never painted before. Soon enough you will have painted so much and in so many scenarios that you will be able to draw upon something from a past painting to put into this painting with perhaps just a tweak or two. It all builds to make a solid structure called experience.
Use your photos to help outdoors. Use the outdoors to help your photos. Use imagination to help those mystery areas or just to add a bit of spice to your painting. Use all experiences to help your imagination flourish and your painting thrive.
You don't have to be a great outdoor painter to enjoy Plein Air painting. Enjoy the process and I'll stake my morning donut, that you will get better at painting indoors.
We can't all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
Your friend in art
PS - want to come painting with me on Wednesday July 25th? Join my Meetup Group HERE