I forgot how much I love painting outdoors! For most of the year, I paint indoors and work from photographs for my landscape paintings. And I always enjoy that just fine. But during the summer, when I have time and the weather cooperates, I work on paintings from life, outside, on site. I’ve only been able to do a couple like that this year, but it’s always a great experience.
Last month I did a small palette knife landscape of the beach at Arlington Reservoir, which is a popular summer destination for kids and families. I had so much fun talking with the kids who came up to me to ask me about my painting, comment on the colors I was using, and tell me how they thought I could do it better. Then while I was in the process of packing up, some sand got kicked onto the still wet paint, which actually ended up adding a really cool texture and color and the perfect amount of messiness to the finished piece.
Currently, I am working on a commissioned piece on campus at Tufts University. One of the days I was onsite working recently was freshmen move-in day, which was a lot of fun–so many enthusiastic new students and their parents to talk to! This is a larger piece which will take several sessions to complete, so it feels like a chance to be an ongoing part of the community.
What I love about painting on site in a public place is that it’s a unique opportunity to interact with strangers in a very positive and warm way. I’m sure there are people who don’t like my paintings, but usually the people who stop to talk to me are the ones who do like them. So it’s always encouraging to have positive feedback from strangers. But it also makes a connection–the fact that I’m painting bridges the gap of silence that is usually present between strangers (at least in Boston). People ask me for directions, talk about what they like about the place where I’m painting, or talk about their own artistic experiences. For me, all those conversations and interactions get embedded in the painting itself in some way. The finished result feels like a collaborative work, rather than something I created out of my head, in isolation. When I look at the painting, I see something layered with experiences that much more fully sum up the sense of place in the landscape than a mere two-dimensional image. I also imagine and hope that for the passersby I get to talk to, seeing me painting in a location helps to deepen their experience and appreciation of it as well.
For me, on site landscape paintings of urban spaces are special because they both celebrate specific settings and communities, while also helping to create a sense of place and community.