A Plain Trap . . . .

 "Natural Bridge"
Watercolor 15 x 22 inches

"The Big Lump"
Actual Photo

After spending hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of hours painting outdoors, en plein air, I have come to know the traps.

The biggest trap is the distractions, of course.   Huh?   What do you mean, Mike?

Notice the photo.   This photo seems rather pedestrian in terms of a ‘beautiful scene’ already set to paint.   I just is NOT one of those scenes.

This is what I saw when I first came onto the beach yesterday. . . . .   And noticed, immediately, the blast of light between the two “Lumps.”   Of course, I decided to explore the area more to try to find that perfect scene to paint.   I walked all over the area, spent a good 45 minutes trying to find that perfect spot, with the perfect point of view of the big rock that has a tunnel through it.  

No matter where I went, I wasn’t enthralled with what I was seeing.    That “lump,” as I call it, was nothing more than a lump with a hole through it.   It wasn’t a nice shape, it had no character, it just wasn’t what anyone would call inspiring or spectacular.

So, having exhausted the possibilities, I decided to go near where I had entered the beach and where I had seen that blast of light.   I could make a painting that emphasized that wonderful light and not worry about finding the ideal scene.   But then . . . . .look at all the pelicans on the rock!! (lump! ) . . . .what if I painted the pelicans? . . . . .and look at that shadow being cast on the sand and into the water . . . . .Oh!   There’s a wave crashing against the “lump” and making a spectacular slash of white foam . . . . and what if I painted the sky orange . . . .could I make a sunset scene?   So many possibilities came to distract me from my one idea of the blaring light between the two big rocks.
I was being tempted by the biggest trap of all:   All the other possibilities.   And, I must say, some of those possibilities were very alluring.   But I have learned . . . . .oh, yes!   My lessons have been hard won by sooooo many painting failures . . . .all of which failed because I didn’t focus on ONE IDEA.   I have made so many paintings in which there was too much included.

So . . . . .I set up my gear slowly, while I contemplated what I was going to do with this painting.   Then after the equipment was in place, out came my sketch book and pencil.   I made four different value sketches to determine how I was going to achieve my goal of telling the story of that light between the rocks.   Oh!   I almost forgot to mention that the first sketches immediately showed poor compostition.   I needed to find the right layout . . . . .the right positioning on the paper for that big shape of  the land jutting onto the beach.   What’s more, I realized that making an active water painting, or including exciting splashes and waves would be another distraction from my singular idea:   The light between the rocks.
Obviously, dear reader, you get the idea here.   The trick to making a lot of successful paintings in plein air is to ignore the distractions and stubbornly stick to your single idea that you want to emphasize.  

It seems so simple!!  Doesn’t it?   How could anything be more simple???  

Well, I am here to tell you . . . . . . .it ain’t!   But it is terrific advice for ALL paintings.   Make up your mind about what you are going to paint (that is the idea, not the all encompassing subject) and don’t be dissuaded from it.   Stick to your plan.   Commit to your plan.   Ignore the distractions . . . or save them for other paintings.