On Oil Painting

photo for blog, Sept. 2015I am standing in the Rivanna River enjoying the scene.  There is no wind or sun on my canvas.  There is a fragrance in the air of sweet smelling white flowers that are attracting bees and butterflies.  I have dragged my easel and a small table down a steep embankment to get to this spot.  I had to look for a way into the river ahead of time, then make a small trail through the bottom land.  The woods here are a tangle of fox grapes, water leaf, wild ginger, box elder, green brier and a hundred other plants.  I am blessed to be here.  I have found a large rock in which to anchor my easel and now have all I need to get started.

Oil painting is an experience like no other.  As I layout my canvas, my hand encounters a smooth and sensual feeling as paint glides across the surface.  Oil paint has a fragrance that is almost sweet and enriches the experience.  Reading the subject requires me to calculate spatial relationships, color and brightness.  Intuition guides my eye and hand in determining what choices to react to.  Fixing on the subject, the decisions in paint become automatic.  My pace quickens and my hands are moving faster now addressing areas around the canvas that need attention.  It takes shape.  Standing back, I can see where improvements can be made and I begin corrections.  Details catch my eye and key places are sharpened.  Still, the whole scene is not apparent.  A hawk will see a rabbit and not see what is around it.  That is the nature of focus.  Working diligently, I move around to cover all spots in the canvas and the picture begins to look like something.  Painting is not unlike an orchestral piece, where the instruments are color, brushes, mediums, sensitivity to the surface and the mental focus of putting it all together for a good performance.  Success depends on how well you work with all your instruments.  A few kayakers float by and admire my work.  As the sun angles down, the light becomes more intense on the other side of the river.  I make some changes based on the new light.  I check the time.  It is late.  I shoot a few quick photos to capture some detail.

Back at the studio, after it has sat for a few days, I decide if it worth keeping or what can be done to improve it.  Making further corrections begins to pay off.  It’s as if I am seeing it for the first time.  It takes on a persona that was not expected.  Did I paint that?  It does not seem that I did.  It was a gift.