I think one of the hardest things a plein air painter must learn to do is decide if a subject is worthy of painting.
How many time have you jumped into action only to discover halfway through your painting isn't going anywhere? How many times have you squeezed out more paint and struggled on, using up the remains of the day, only to conclude at some point whatever it was that first inspired you died a pathetic and whimpering death? Man, I hate it when that happens.
I had the good luck of running into Greg La Rock years ago one morning down in Sonoma County. We bumped into each other while scouting the same subject: Ernie's Tin Bar near Petaluma, a funky garage and bar where you can get a beer for a buck while your oil is being changed. (Not sure if that's such a great combo, but hey…) Greg and I walked around and chit-chatted for a while as we scoped out the various angles. Eventually I found a spot first and settled.
|Greg LaRock, painting a|
So give Greg's question some thought the next time you are out scouting for a place to paint. We all have to choose a subject at some point, and our choice can either be a help or hinderance. Years later, Greg's question has become the first thing I ask myself when evaluating a subject.
Here are a few more questions I ask:
1. What is it about this scene that made me stop and look?
and its corollary...
2. Is it something that will make someone else stop and look after it is framed?
3. Will the light remain stable enough to pull it off? Or, instead, can I come back and work it over several sessions – yet still create the impression it was merely 'dashed off'?
4. What do I need to modify… no, wait, let's be honest here – I mean how much must I edit/change/add/reinforce/alter/switch/finesse/and yes, even lie about this subject to turn it into a painting?
and its corollary…
5. Am I willing to do all of that or should I simply move on…?
Silly and imprecise questions to ask, perhaps, but in my experience there are no hard and fast rules you can apply to guarantee a successful choice. No formula, method, or check-list. Just your own intuition and that doggone nagging question:
"But is it a painting...?"
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