I have no studio.
I haven’t had one for over a year now. Trying to paint in a dining room with constantly shifting light proved to be too much. And after what has been a soul crushing year that continues its punishing stress, I needed a shift in perspective.
Extreme stress has a way of killing the creative impulse and squeezing the muse out of the room. The desert is a place people often use as a metaphor for the loss of creativity. What I know of the desert contradicts that notion. The desert has cycles and lush spring blooms are a reminder that life is always just below the surface. Even in the Sahara you will find oases. Somewhere, there is water…
In search of water, I climbed a mountain.
I was invited to join the WNC Plein Air Painters on an early morning paint out to Craggy Gardens in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a little over an hour from where I’m living. I hauled myself out of bed in the dark and started the long drive nearly straight up the mountain. Light diffused through clouds and fog, wisps of gold and twilight until I climbed above it all (see photo above). This is where I sat to paint.
Nothing of note came out of that first try for many reasons, including the fact that acrylic with no spray bottle in the sun just isn’t any fun. But the adventure of it – the drive, the location, the hike – changed something. The idea of making the studio outdoors stuck.
A month later I signed up for a workshop switching to oil, which was definitely much better for outdoor painting, but came with the struggle of relearning how to use the medium. I used Holbein Aqua Duo, a water soluble oil paint. I highly recommend this for acrylic painters who want to move to oil, either in general or for plein air. No solvents required and it was pleasurable to work with. It behaved well when thinned with water for the drawing/underpainting and it dried relatively quickly. When undiluted, it behaved like traditional oil.
I bought a small sketchbook for quick studies in gouache. When pulling out the oils is too much trouble or the hike to a location is too long for a heavy kit, this is a good solution. (below right)
These studies allowed me several things:
- to detach from the outcome
- stop thinking about a finished painting
- learn to see without the still frame of a camera
- use mediums I have not engaged in over a decade or longer
- learn to work more quickly because light changes so quickly
Colour is much better live and so is value. For the first time, sitting in front of the lily pond, I saw colours that made me understand Monet’s obsession.
It may be some time before I have a studio, but the outdoor season here is long. I hope the muse will find me wherever I happen to be. And perhaps for a couple hours at a time, I can forget what an awful year it has been and find the space inside my head to create again.