Sitting on the side of a hilltop at dawn, I listened to the creatures wake up. Birds came first, then a cacophony of animals I could barely identify, all greeting the new day.
This is how I spent my mornings in France, listening while trying to capture that soft fleeting morning light falling broken along the far hillside.
I would set up in the dark, sometimes using a headlamp and wait.
Dawn comes fast.
I found it all so peaceful and beautiful but what I loved most were the sounds.
Here in Rhode Island animals greet the morning as well.
This morning egrets flew away squawking. They soon returned to their stealth fishing, ignoring my quite presence. I listened to the bay lapping on the beach and the variety of birds calling. Sometimes I heard a scuttle or a plop. All the while I tried to capture the changing colors and shapes before me. The tide moved fast filling the inlet, the shadows shortened, the sky brightened increasing the color intensity of all that I saw.
I try to hold an image in my mind and not chase the color changes. It takes concentration and commitment to this moment and to the moment just before, when I put down that first mark.
These are the things I love about plein air painting: the sounds, the sights and the intensity of focus.
Sometimes I paint outside later in the day, when people are about.
I love talking with people about my work and I love it when someone likes what they see. But I don’t love it when a person requires my attention while I’m working.
Imagine this: You are writing an essay on the sunset in front of you. You furiously write down your thoughts as they come with the changing scenery.
Then someone walks up from behind and asks to read what you are writing. They tell you how they too write and what a great writer their Aunt Sara is. Then they tell you they think you are doing a fine job, good work!
This won’t happen of course because when a person sees another person deep in concentration writing they would never interrupt or have the audacity to ask to read the work.
Oh, but the plein air painter is a whole different kettle of fish! Over and over I have people aggressively interrupting me. They ask if they can watch, or what kind of paint it is, or if I teach, or even if I offer a wine and paint night.
To be honest most people are either too respectful or disinterested to interrupt me. But a few need to engage. Now, some artists are fine with that. Maybe they actually enjoy it. Perhaps they can easily regain their concentration, even with a slew of eyes watching from behind. But I think I’m correct that most artists stumble, the light changes, the tide goes out, they can’t get their focus back. The spell is broken.
Sometimes lately I just put my brush down and chat with my new friend. After an interruption, I might not be able to make the best choices, so it’s better to just stop. Maybe finish it back in the studio. I give the person my card and hope that somehow a sale will make up for the aborted painting.
Some artists wear headphones in an attempt to stave off intruders. The “I can’t hear you!” approach to privacy. My kids have suggested I do that but what would my painting look like without the sounds of the birds?