Thursday, November 14, 2013

Inside Outside Redux

"But you know all pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside. When out-of-door scenes are represented, the contrast between the figures and the ground is astounding and the landscape is magnificent. I see some superb things and I shall have to make up my mind only to do things out-of-doors."
                                                  - Paul Cezanne in a letter to Emile Zola, 19 October 1866

My studio is nice, but not this nice.
I love to paint in the studio, where the light doesn’t change and the wind can’t blow over your easel, dogs won’t lift a leg on your stuff, rattlesnakes and bulls won’t taunt you*, and people don’t come by and comment on what you’re working on or worse, blather on about whatever strange concept they’re working on; yes, I’ve witnessed all of these. 
Renny's, 18 x 24" oil on canvas.

So perhaps I complained about the challenge of the changing shadows as they fell longer through the afternoon, and my friend and painting compadre Kit whipped out this quotation as we were wrapping up a marathon day at the fabulous Hollister Ranch on the California coast.

Plenty of room: Lori & Kit at Renny's.

I have to agree with Cezanne: often you can tell if a painting was executed en plein air or from photographs in the studio. Painters who have logged thousands of hours outside can master the challenge, but others, well, not so much. You can tell, sometimes by the colorless shadows, exaggerated light, or strange details, that a painter hasn’t planted an easel in the dirt very often. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except, as Cezanne says, those indoor pictures will never be as good.

Even the best of cameras can’t capture the subtleties of light and millions of hues that radiate into the human eye and are interpreted by the wondrous visual cortex, the largest system in the human brain. But that’s not the only reason that landscapes painted in the studio fall flat.

I don’t typically paint landscapes indoors; I paint from life, real flowers, fruits, or whatever piques my interest in the garden and studio on a given day.  In spite of the changing light and other challenges, I still prefer to stand in the beautiful landscape to capture not just a picture, but the air, the breeze, the softness of dirt or the sounds of water or wind.
El Capitan, 16 x 20" oil on canvas
Yesterday in Carpinteria an osprey perched in a eucalyptus tree directly above us and seals barked at the bottom of the bluffs behind us. Somehow all of these sensations are woven into the essence of a painting done outdoors, but they won’t be found in the sterile air of the studio.

Temporary studio at El Cap.

 *stay tuned for the snake story in a future post