A common practice for outdoor landscape painters, is to use the initial outdoor sketches as inspiration for larger studio pieces. These are typically painted on canvases that would be too large to haul outside. It would also be difficult to capture a moment in time on a large canvas. With a 5×7 canvas up to about 11×14, the artist can quickly record the colors, light and atmosphere of a place at a particular moment. Then these quick oil sketches are used in the studio along with notes, pencil sketches and sometimes photographs to create a larger version.
Plein air paintings are charming in their smaller size and often portray an energy in each brush stroke that is difficult to reproduce in a studio painting. For me this is the biggest challenge- how do I infuse the studio piece with that same energy and powerful statement of being present in the moment.
I found that what inspires me in the studio is first the colors of the outdoor painting. I don’t think I could come up with such vibrant, truthful colors if I were working from a photograph (I’ve tried). A nice benefit of reworking a composition in the studio is that there is time to critique what didn’t work in the original outdoor sketch, and improve problems in the composition or even details that could be corrected like figures or buildings. Most important is to use the elements in the plein air painting that did work and highlight these in the studio piece. When I spend more time thinking and contemplating the subject while I’m painting, it’s always a surprise when the canvas displays an emotional effect that I didn’t realize was there. A large canvas inevitably says about the artist, “Here is my statement. Here is what I want to say with paint. Here is what I think is important about life.” My outdoor study, “Afternoon Swim” was a 2 hour oil sketch of the beach, one lone swimmer who braved the cold May ocean water, and of course the ever-present ship in the distance. It was a light moment, captured on a fun afternoon. But when I brought the composition to a larger canvas, a deeper message started to reveal itself. It was more accidental than anything, that there was a message or feeling being conveyed on the canvas. And so the new title of the studio work became “Contemplation.” The viewer can’t help but look for a deeper meaning when observing a large painting, which in turn gives the artist an important job- making a statement.