FINDING A LANDSCAPE SCENE TO PAINT
Finding a landscape scene to paint can be quite an undertaking. When I was new to Plein air landscape painting, I added way too many miles on my car. I thought if I just drove a little further, I would find the perfect spot to paint, that is, until the day I finally got smart. Most outdoor painting is about deletion, moving, and reorganizing shapes in the landscape. Not that nature is imperfect, but it is impossible for painters to paint all there is on a small 16″ x 20″ canvas. However, some insights make searching for subject matter easier to find.
First, I always make sure the car and tires are in good condition and I have a full tank of gas. If I am in unfamiliar territory, I prepare myself for the possibility of spending the entire day scouting the area so I am not disappointed if I can’t paint. But, I always have my painting gear packed and ready to go if a streak of inspiration hits me, even during scouting days. I carry a camera by my side and a pen and notepad in my pocket for documentation at all times.
Best Time for Finding a Landscape Scene to Paint
The best time to find a landscape scene to paint is early in the morning and mid to late afternoon. Photographers refer to this time as the “golden hour.” The light from the sun is at a sharp angle to the landscape. This acute direction of light offers more creative possibilities due to the higher saturation of color and a vast range of light to dark contrasts from long cast shadow shapes.
When the sun reaches its zenith in the sky during midday, the color of light becomes nondescript, and those long shadow shapes that help lead your eye from one area to another no longer exist. In short, a high sun creates more challenges when trying to build rhythmic and pleasing compositions for a painted image.
What To Look For In A Scene
I let my instincts and heart lead the way to potential painting sites rather than my head. Areas where I usually find good scenes to paint are near water and wetlands or in valleys. Perhaps that’s due to vertical shapes and colorful vegetation nearby. Objects perpendicular to the land are the staples of composition.
If I feel the need to park the car to take a closer look at a scene, I know there is something of interest. I look at the area with more scrutiny and find what exactly caught my eye. I then take a snapshot of the site, write down the site’s location, date, and time of day for reference, and continue scouting for other sites.
Sometimes I get lucky and stumble on a scene my temptations can’t resist. When this happens, the scouting trip stops, and out comes my painting gear.
Identify The Attraction And Reaction
I have to be excited about a scene I paint. When something sparks an emotional response, I find what it is and ask why I was attracted to this particular area. I also identify the feelings it evoked in me. Knowing the answer to these questions sets up my composition, and the spot typically ends up being the center of interest in the painting.
Read more about the importance of lighting in painting here. Also watch my Youtube video about Light Theory