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.
Some artists paint exquisite plein air paintings. Yet, when they return to the studio, they simply enlarge their studies. Often, the studio piece has less life than the plein air. It’s just a copy and feels like it. The plein air is full of emotion, but the studio work is static and stale.
There are other artists whose plein air work is rough and unfinished. Yet their studio work is powerful and beautiful, full of emotion.
What is the difference?
One artist has learned to replicate. The other has learned to create.
Of course not all artists fit into these two camps. There are those whose plein air and studio work are both emotionally powerful expressions.
I think one of the biggest reasons that some artists’ studio work fails is because they have not developed their memory skills. They are keen observers while on location. They have mastered the ability to capture the relationships of value, color, atmosphere, etc. while the subject is in front of them.
However, once they are in the studio, they have nothing additional to say about the subject. They have no new insights. They aren’t searching for a better way of expression. They are merely trying to replicate their plein air success in the studio. What is the purpose, then, of painting it again?
There must be a valid reason to explore an idea again in the studio. Either there needs to be an attempt to improve the composition, find better ways of expression, or to explore different ideas prompted by the scene.
Those artists who develop their memory skills can take their plein air work as a springboard for more expressive or creative works in the studio.
Memory retains only the essential elements of the scene. The non-essentials are forgotten. Also, the memory retains the emotional response to the scene. An artist who is able to tap into the most important elements and the emotional connection to them while eliminating the superfluous will create more powerful works of art.
An artist who is too literally tied to the scene often has a hard time rearranging. Sure they may move trees. They may divert the stream a bit. But do they move mountains in their work? It is often difficult to make drastic changes. And it is often difficult to filter out those things that are not essential. Likewise, there is so much stimuli while on location that it can often be difficult to understand just what your muse is telling you.
Allowing your memory to distill the information is a powerful tool. It frees an artist from replicating, and allows an artist to orchestrate and rearrange. It enables artists to move mountains. Memory work is a critical component of creation. Creation is at the heart of pure artwork. Replication is a step or two away.
Don’t get me wrong. Working from life is essential to understanding the subject. One cannot recall from memory something that was never put in there in the first place. The focused observation while working from life is essential to putting things into the memory bank. Recalling them is another matter.
So, how do you develop your memory? I’ll share a few ideas and exercises next time.