Like most art forms, drawing and painting have their own purists who insist that “true” art must be done from life. Landscape art, in particular, should be completed “en plein air” or it isn’t lifelike, lively, or even a real landscape. If you look through art instructional books, you’ll see the same rationale – if you work from photos, your colours won’t be true to life, your lights and shadows will be inaccurate (because most photos exaggerate one or the other), your depths will be flattened, etc.
For years I struggled to live up to that thinking, only to end up frustrated. The weather didn’t cooperate, everything outside was a distraction, I had difficulty planning a scene (even with one of those viewfinders you have to hold up), and worst of all, people passing by seemed to think I was offering a show. I once was sketching in a park, with my back to some bushes, only to have a woman crash her way through this dense shrubbery so she could look over my shoulder and comment. And of course, if you’re out hiking with a group, no one is willing to stop for extended periods while you sketch a scene.
Finally, I found a few artists willing to admit that they worked from photos, who offered advice to get around the drawbacks. Always use your own photos – because you’ve been there and will remember what you saw and how it differed from the photo you took. Observe carefully while you’re there, and mentally note interesting details. Take multiple shots of a scene with different settings, to get a better sense of the lights and darks.
So now I sketch, draw and paint at home, where I can be free of distractions (and audience!), bad weather and bugs, and work at my leisure. I take a lot of photos during my hikes – wildlife (try getting animals to stay still while you sketch them!), closeups of flowers and plants, and vast landscapes.
Last year I ventured into the Bryant Creek area, just past the turnoff for Karst Spring in Kananaskis. I wanted to go look at something new, and ultimately ended up at the spot where the creek flows out of Spray Lake. On the way, I saw a chipmunk, lots of wildflowers, and some great scenes of the creek with bridges. So for this blog post, I did a number of sketches from my trip.
One final note on the tyranny of working en plein air. Some years ago, a friend and I went to an art show, the first for this artist. After looking at the entire display, we stopped to chat with the artist. She told us how she had been working to improve her art by working plein air, on the advice of a mentor. She asked us which had been our favourite piece – both of us were in love with this one piece we saw, with the colours and depth and detail. Ironically, it was the only piece in the show that she had completed entirely in the studio. And that’s when I finally let go of the idea that I had to work from life. I still try occasionally, when the circumstances suit me, but I don’t try to force it.
If you enjoyed the artwork, some of it is now available for sale on various products on RedBubble.com Please follow the link to see what’s available: https://www.redbubble.com/people/DrawnMountains