One of the most challenging things about landscape painting is the fast changing light conditions. Especially at the most colorful times of day – the sunrise and sunset. Over the past season, I had a fun time learning to paint more from my pencil sketches and my memory. I’m committed to never using photography as a reference tool, and I found that this approach actually strengthens my observation skills. Inevitably I never remember everything, and those gaps serve to highlight the things I don’t know, so that next time I see those things in nature, I will pay attention more closely! I also found that the conscious act of conjuring a memory strong enough to result in a painting is a great way to clarify what kind of emotional feeling initially inspired me to paint the scene in the first place. So here are a few of my memory paintings along with some corresponding sketches and notes.
I saw this lovely moon rise scene during a dinner outside. I was able to sneak in this quick sketch to help me remember what I saw that night. The next day I did the painting while observing the same location in the daylight and referring to my sketch.
I saw this scene when I woke up in the middle of the night. Something about the movement of the low clouds scudding across the horizon caught me and I stayed outside a few minutes longer to take some mental notes. I was probably too sleepy to get out my sketchbook. In the morning I did this little painting from what I could remember.
In June I spent 10 days painting at this location on Silver Lake in Madison, NH. I saw this happen on my last evening as I was packing my bags. I tried to paint it from memory the same night.
During the final two weeks of my summer travels I was in Desbarats, Ontario with this view of the sunrise every morning. I got in the habit of waking early to sketch the daily light show. The sunrise is a real slippery fish, it changes very fast, morphing into innumerable glorious and paintable moments. I found that sketching in pencil, taking written notes, and painting from memory (choosing one moment) was the best approach. I embarked on this series of paintings right after seeing and being inspired by Frederick Church’s sketches and memory sunset paintings at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
I found that by making repeated attempts every day, I was able to see where the gaps in my knowledge were, and each morning I found myself trying to learn something new that I may have struggled with the day before.