Painting Lessons from a Fox
Philip Koch, Otter Cove, oil on canvas, 44 x 55"
Just unpacked this oil from the crate that brought it back from Cape Cod Museum of Art to my studio (it and all its friends survived the perilous journey). This was done from memory/imagination of the Otter Cove area in Acadia National Park. I had been there several years earlier, choosing the causeway over an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean. This was the spot Frederick Church, the Hudson River School painter, had chosen for his oil Otter Creek back in the mid 19th century. Time had done nothing to diminish the view. I did my own version of the mountain peaks Church depicted in his oil. But then I turned to face out to sea and did the drawing below.
With my easel erected at the side of the road I was about 2/3 of the way through the drawing when I sensed something coming toward me. A large fox had come out of the woods and was eying me suspiciously as it approached. It realized to get to the other side of the inlet it had to pass within feet of me and my wife Alice who, city kid that she is, was now frozen in horror.
It advanced without missing a step. As it came closer I saw this was the largest fox I'd ever seen, perhaps the scale of a medium sized dog, a well-fed dog. Perhaps it preyed on hapless landscape painters I thought. It passed on by and ran up an impossibly steep embankment as if it were Superman, finally disappearing into the brush again.
To paint the landscape well one has to sense it as a living thing. I don't mean this in an over the top mystical way, but just to say the deeper you feel its presence, its durability, and its long history, the more it will stir your unconscious mind to help you make the painting happen. This wild animal, totally unconcerned by the the conceits of a painter as it passed me by, was a reminder of this. Nature is big and we remain small, despite our striving to the contrary. I think when you give yourself over to this thought you begin to be ready to do painting of real quality.