When I returned to making art a few years ago, I was driven by the desire to convey the emotional, ethereal, spiritual experience of swimming with wild dolphins. Words did not suffice, I had to express visually. Initially, I used colored pencils to sketch the dolphins in their oceanic playground. That was my most comfortable medium, stemming from years of using them to draw abstract, geometric mandalas.
It was good to begin with a familiar medium. It allowed me to focus on composition and the accuracy of the dolphin’s anatomy. But, I wasn’t able to capture the feelings of my wild dolphin experience with colored pencils.
A friend suggested that I try chalk pastels, and she loaned me a set of Rembrandt sticks. That was a turning point. I had used oil pastels, but never the soft, chalk pastels. Their vibrant colors and wonderful textures brought me right back into that ocean world as I painted. Soon I was led to paint other “landscapes” in nature that moved and inspired me.
Pastels are smooth and luscious, easy to blend, highly saturated. I feel freer and looser with them. I usually start out with a somewhat “accurate” portrayal of my subject, then move into a deeper immersion that is peaceful and meditative. My rational mind gets quiet and my spirit directs the art. I am most satisfied when I look at a finished painting and see what is in my heart.
Old Stumbling Block Returns with New Terrain
Having moved to Florida last year, the terrain, flowers, and animals are all new and unfamiliar to me. I found myself once again getting caught up in depicting things accurately. Maybe it’s a phase I needed to go through: imprint the novel wonders of this natural world so that I can more confidently paint them later with my spirit.
I wonder if this is a phenomenon other artists experience when facing unknown subjects.
During a recent visit to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, while painting at Lettuce Lake, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of green in the surroundings. The trees, plants, waterlilies, reflections… so many hues to consider!
Some commonly seen plants found at Corkscrew include: cypress, slash pine trees, wax myrtle, cabbage palms, saw palmetto, red maple, goldenrod, swamp lily, bushy bluestem, wiregrass, tickseed, sawgrass, live oak trees, resurrection fern, pond apple trees, and many, many more.~ Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary website
After 2 hours of plein air painting, I stood back and examined my artwork. It was good: representational, hushed, and calm. Yet it was also unmoving. There was nothing evocative of the wildlife activity and the feeling of being there. It needed energy. My overriding impulse was to insert color, lots of color, explosive bursts of it.
Following My Heart
I set my intention about what to do next with this piece. I actually declared it out loud, and realized it was the beginning of re-discovering my “voice”, where I playfully explore tones, textures, shapes, and light. The completed painting is much brighter:
In the landscape below, the tree started out with totally green leaves standing tall in a swamp of green vegetation. When I returned a few weeks later to finish, I leapt right in and changed the tree’s leaves to purple. Exhilarated by new blooms of Swamp Lilies, I inserted bright reds and other happy colors into the grasslands. Hope you like!
Painting en plein air has its challenges. It involves shlepping art supplies and dealing with outdoor elements. But, when I follow my voice, my sense of time fades and the pure joy of creating art fills me. It’s such a fun way to spend time in nature. And totally relaxing.