Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Vacation from All That Sunshine and Fresh Air

Philip Koch, Sea Moon, pastel and vine charcoal, 5 x 7 1/2"

My wife just came back from her annual professional conference. She is a psychiatric nurse who runs a day hospital program at a big local hospital. Patients normally come to her shortly after a suicide attempt. Her program is widely respected as one of the best. 

One of her secrets is she really works at making it better and puts in incredibly long  hours. But picking her up at the airport after her return flight I saw immediately a twinkle in her eye that usually signifies she's fired up. She launched in excitedly telling me she'd just figured out how to solve some thorny problems she's been having with her program. She was confident she was onto something. Getting away from her routine and talking shop with new therapists always does this to her.

I worked for over 25 years pretty strictly as a plein air painter- a way of working I love. But a persistent problem was color. Despite what people think about Monet, most of what you see outside, at least in the warmer months, is yellow green, grey, or brown. I longed to stretch my color choices, but as I would stand and work at my portable easel, I'd mimic the actual colors that were before me. Nature is powerful like that. 

Then I made a discovery. I found I could make paintings back in the studio based on the closely observed charcoal drawings I had done outside. I'd be as faithful as possible to the key shapes and tonalities, and then invent the color combinations. It was a way to take a "vacation" from direct observation I do out in the field. The color study illustrated above is a recent example that is serving now as a source for an larger oil painting. Like my wife getting away from the routine of her hospital job, I love alternating between working outdoors and painting back in the studio. 

Out of the glare of the sun, the light of one's inner imagination sometimes can shine a little more brightly.

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