I always work on my landscape paintings from numerous photos in the warmth and shelter of my studio, but I had often felt a bit guilty about this as it seems that so many artists made a big thing of working en pleine air. But then I reprimanded myself because that is their thing, their process. Do I have good reasons why I do what I do in my process? Yes! So, stop belly-aching about it and just do your thing!
That was my telling-off done then!
Again, this goes back to the concept that, as an artist, you need to work in the way that is you and not criticise yourself or judge yourself because people create art in different ways. Certainly learn from others and try things but don’t feel bad or doubtful about your own process once you have established what it is.
Although I work from my own photos I like to really explore the landscape in question, often returning to it numerous times if I can, at different times of day or different types of weather. I like to really experience it and spend time being part of it so that I really get a feel for it and my relationship with it.
Another way I explore the landscape in the initial stages is to use the wonderful world of google maps to research where I want to explore, particularly the satellite function, and the street view and photo views function. This helps me to explore from home where I want to go next. Because I like to paint scenes that are a bit more off the beaten track, I can explore areas on google to plan where I specifically want to go, where to park, where there are good paths, and how long I might need to trek to get where I want. I sometimes spend many hours doing this to get an initial feel of what I might want to explore.
I used this process recently before we went on holiday to Lanzarote and the research paid dividends in the end. The holiday was like a transition for me from paid work in the NHS into early retirement so I can focus on my art. It was a wonderful 2 weeks in the sunshine (just to rub it in!). By doing a bit of research before we went I was able to find a lot more about the island to give me better ideas of where I want to explore. We also found some good walks on line and were able to plan our own a bit from what we could see on google maps. It meant that we were able to explore a lot more off the beaten track, and a bit away from the core touristy bits.
The island is covered with hundreds of volcanic cones and ‘out of this world’ landscape forms due to previous volcanic activity, but also beautiful beaches, coves and cliffs. Early in the holiday I read an account written by a monk recording what it was like during a more ‘recent’ but very prolonged period of volcanic eruptions (1730 – 1736) which completely changed the landscape and topography of the island and, whilst visiting the areas mentioned, it really brought home something of what is was like during that time for the people living on the island. We also learnt about the slow process of nature taking back and claiming the land in new and strange ways, and how the local people had to adapt their farming approaches to survive.
We walked around volcanic cones, around the rim of craters, and into the heart of craters. It was good to be able to feel the rocks, to see the effect of different types of lava flow, to walk across a very different landscape and to see the different colours of the landscape in different light conditions. We even went for a bit of dark sky hunting late at night.
I think it is really important in adopting an authentic approach as a landscape artist to develop your processes from a deep knowledge, understanding and relationship with your chosen subject. Of course, for some that is totally about painting outdoors, on location, in all sorts of weather. For my process, I like to take my time, develop many layers and have time to reflect on how the painting is working with me.
Yes, I do work from photos (and sketches). They are all my own photos and I take zillions of them when I am out on a walk / hike. I like to really experience the landscape and explore it to find that spot or point that says to me ‘paint me’. Even then I don’t work from just one photo and often just use the photo initially to remind me of shapes, form, colour and texture, but often move away from the photo as the painting progresses and I start to react more to the painting and my feelings of being in that landscape.
Because of this my painting of that landscape becomes my interpretation of the landscape resulting from my interaction with it and my relationship with it.
You can see more of my sketches during the holiday in the portfolio section.