This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
I took my first plein air workshop about 12 or 13 years ago. It was with Matt Smith, an artist I truly admire. The workshop was in Jackson, Wyoming with the majestic (and world famous) Teton Mountains as a backdrop.
One of the painting locations was Schwabacher Landing, which provides Snake River access and magnificent views of the Teton Range. After Matt’s demo, we were set loose to paint. Thousands of potential paintings could be done from that very spot – and probably have been. The mountains dominate the scene, but the river is very enticing, too. Along the banks of the river are groves of cottonwood and pine. There are an infinite number of compositional possibilities.
Yet, despite all the majestic beauty in front of me, I turned my back to paint what was behind me – the sage brush covered hills. Two-thirds of my canvas was foreground – sage brush and dry grasses and other semi-arid flora. I included a few trees along the ridge in the middle ground and in the distance was a faint blue haze of some less majestic distant mountains.
Everyone else in the workshop was painting something more typical – the Tetons or the Snake River, or both.
I’ll never forget what Matt said to me as he saw what I was painting. Well, okay, I have forgotten the precise words. But I have never forgotten the message – and accompanying lesson.
He said something to the effect that I chose to paint something that he himself would have chosen to paint. That validated my choice. It meant a lot to me. He helped me realize that it’s okay to paint what interests me. I should follow my own voice and not be influenced by others.
I recently viewed an exhibit of LeConte Stewart’s art (read my review and see some examples of his work). LeConte is a beloved Utah landscape artist who studied under the renowned teacher John F. Carlson in the early 1900’s. As part of the exhibit, there is a video with commentary by art historians, curators, and some of LeConte’s former students. I didn’t really watch it, but overheard a bit while looking at his fine paintings.
Something one of the curators said in the video caught my attention. He said that LeConte visited the Tetons only to turn his back on them to paint the sage covered hills.
Again, it was validation for me.
I have grown a lot as an artist since that first workshop in the Tetons. I have painted the Tetons many times since then. I have painted other scenes of grandeur. Yet, just as often, I have turned my back on the grandiose and painted the subtle, understated, or mundane scenes behind me. I painted what inspired me at the time.
The point of the article is that you should not worry about anyone’s voice but yours. Create what inspires you. Create authentic and honest work. Be true to yourself and your art.
Many artists fear painting the sage covered hills. They worry that there won’t be an audience. So instead they paint the Tetons.
Seth Godin said that sales is nothing more than aligning your products/services with others who are like-minded.
If you create works that are authentic, you can find an audience. There are other like-minded people out there. Matt Smith and LeConte Stewart (along with many other artists I admire) are like-minded to me. They have attracted like-minded collectors. And so have I.
And so can you. So, don’t worry. Paint your sage covered hills (whatever they may be).
PS. You may be interested in another artist with an uncanny ability to glorify the mundane and overlooked corners of nature in his work: Clyde Aspevig. This is a link to one of his sage covered hills. Well, okay, his is the prairie. And his turned out much better than mine. :)