Places to Paint

Why do we choose to paint certain scenes and not others? What are attracted to? I know that I’m interested …

Why do we choose to paint certain scenes and not others? What are attracted to? I know that I’m interested in capturing more intimate views of the landscape; the band of light across a path or the tuft of grass silhouetted by a dark shape behind it. I’m enchanted by the dance of leaves in the fall or the warm earth poking through some grass. I’m not likely to paint the grand mountain reflecting in a lake.

I also know that a place needs to sink in for me to want to paint it. That’s why going on trips to paint unfamiliar scenes is interesting to me, but often doesn’t yield my best work. My best work is of places that have weight and meaning to me beyond the initial beauty of a landscape. Places that I visit often and get to experience in different seasons and at different times of day have the most impact on my work. These become sacred places that I am drawn to over and over again. They sink in. They seep in. These places have mystery and meaning to me.

I’m getting ready to start a small series of pieces of a local spot called Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It’s a place where I’ve been spending some time recently and have gathered reference both photographic and in memories. Whether or not they are of merit to sell has little interest to me.
If they capture some of the impact that the place has on me is what will be important.

One of the reasons that I find doing commission work from a clients photo so difficult is because of just this issue of a place needing to have meaning in order to do ones best work. I need to feel a connection with the place to really have magic happen. I just can’t do it from a clients image. Whereas a place that I am connected with will have a profound impact on the work.

I’d love to hear how you decide on places to paint!


5 Responses

  1. Great post Marla, I really enjoyed reading this. I also prefer the heartfelt vignettes rather than grand vistas. Anything that gives me that feeling of home and security is inspiration for me 🙂

  2. It's great to have an awareness of what moves one to paint. What attracts me to plein air paint with our local group is quite often the adventure of discovering something brand new. It takes me longer to find my subject at new places though because I have to make sure I've looked at everything available there. When we return to familiar places, it gives me a chance to work on a piece that might be sitting unfinished, or start something similar to continue that study. I'm often able to get to work more quickly when I don't have to explore a new place. Choosing a subject or scene can occasionally depend on ease of transporting my stuff, or whether there's a spot vacant, not already occupied by another artist. My plein air subjects have ranged from an intimate floral to grand landscapes showing the 3 Sisters, to a merry-go-round, and when shade was the driving force behind a hot day of painting, the trunks of trees nearby. Every choice has so many variables – but the most important is that you feel something about what you're painting.

  3. Just how I feel! But I would like to change that attitude. I am traveling a lot with my husband for his work and we are visiting beautiful countries. I'd like to get comfortable painting new scenes. If you have any ideas or suggestions I'd love to hear! As always, thanks for your blog.

  4. When I see a scene I like, I may quickly sketch it, make mental notes, take some pics and see if the mood stirs me to paint that particular landscape. There is so much to see in West Michigan. There's a painting every where you look

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