Painting the Landscape from Memory

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.

Pale Moon, oil on canvas, 8″x6″, 2012

the quick pencil sketch I used to make the above painting “Pale Moon”

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.

Midnight at Marsters Point, oil on canvas, 2012

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.


Storms at Dusk, Silver Lake, oil on canvas, 2012

Storms at Dusk, Silver Lake, oil on canvas, 2012

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.


Sunrise at Marsters Point #1, oil on board, 2012

Sunrise #1, oil on board, 2012

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.

Sunrise  #2. oil on paperboard, 11.5″x6″

here is the sketch I did for the corresponding sunrise painting above

Sunrise  #3, oil on canvas, 2012

I think this one goes with the last sunrise painting on this page



4 thoughts on “Painting the Landscape from Memory

  1. Wow. Now that I’ve read through your latest blog entry I have an even deeper appreciation for your work and work ethic. Thank you for sharing so much of your work process and your inspiration. I know last we spoke you expressed how this part of being an artist, the sharing part, takes time away from your painting. I hope you continue to find your happy medium between creating and sharing.

    • Thanks Alexandro! I thought I was going to spend most of the day painting today … so far it’s been eaten up by other work … it’s necessary though. Tomorrow! All painting.

  2. What beautiful work! In your painting “Pale Moon in Desbarats” you really caught that special green that happens between fading daylight and twilight. Well done… Thanks for sharing and I look forward to seeing more. <<>>

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