Sunday, March 15, 2009

Painting is a Memory Exercise

“Winter Dogwood”
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It is time to register for this year’s Spring Workshops in Mt Shasta. Space is limited, and information about the workshops is on our web site at or call me at 800-511-1337 anytime.

As a steady snowfall covers The Grand View ranch, winter, though late in arriving, is finally here. Dogwood boughs, laden heavily with snow, bend downwards towards the earth. Oak trees struggle to stand upright against the howling, gusty winds. Between the storms, the forest is silent as the deep snow deadens all sounds in the woods. As the season’s storms cross in waves over the great Cascade Range, Mt Shasta appears in her majestic winter coat beaming through the dark clouds like a glistening jewel in a royal crown. I am inside painting what is out of my studio window, but really, I am waiting for a moment between storms to put my paintbrush down, and hurry outside to shovel snow and free us from the frozen hillside.
This painting, “Winter Dogwood” is of a view from of my studio and is a subject that I have painted many times in all seasons; but winter is one of my favorite. Earlier today, the storm broke and the morning light beamed across the freshly fallen snow. I painted quickly before the warmth of the light melted the winter’s frozen veil.
Most paintings are in some way created from our memory, and if we paint on location, what we are really doing is painting what we remember. If we could control the environment, we would have little problem recreating our experiences; but every moment while we are applying paint to canvas, the subject is continually changing. Light and shadows change, as the subject reveals new and different insights and appearances as the minutes pass by. We must observe what is transforming before our eyes without attaching too firmly to each changing aspect of what we see. An artist must rely on remembering what the location looked like at the moment that he or she started painting it, rather than paint what it becomes. For example, when I started “Winter Dogwood,” the storm had just lifted. For an instant, a ray of sun light beamed through the clouds crossing the forest and catching the edges of the freshly fallen snow. Most of the branches were hidden from view by the snow itself and the background trees were black against the white snow. This painting took about two hours to paint and during that time, the snow melted off the branches and the Dogwood trunks bounced back to their vertical position. I wanted to capture the moment when winter had just blanketed the forest, and I had to rely on my memory to recall what it looked like at that moment when I started painting it. The layout of the landscape was painted during the original moments of inspiration, as were the color references that were noted and committed to memory. As I went along creating this work of art, the overall impression came from the memory of what it first looked and felt like to me.
Memory is one of the secret keys to painting successfully on location. All artists have the ability to use their memory, but few rely on it. Like any muscle, with training and exercise, memory can become an accurate and trustworthy resource that is vitally important to artists who want to paint from life.
If you are interested in experiencing a breakthrough weekend that will take your art to the next level, visit our new website at,

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I hope to offer more painting tips as this conversation continues. If you have questions that you would like me to answer, please don’t hesitate to email me anytime.I welcome your feedback.


Blogger Gexton said...

awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!
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