6″ x 6″
If you find something you want to paint, don’t bother taking a photo. It’s a waste of time. Instead, settle into a spot and make a nice sketch. You may think that’s the real waste of time, because it definitely takes more time to sketch than even twenty photographs, but there is something about the image you create, the blending of you and your subject upon the paper, the quality of attention a sketch requires. All things that make for better source material than a photograph.
I found these ferns on a hike in De Leon Springs State Park in Florida. My friend Whitney was with me. Whitney is a very patient person. This is important. She waited serenely while I sketched these ferns. Even a little tiny sketch can take some time. Time enough for the mosquitos to find us. Had my son been with me, things might have turned out differently. So on your expeditions be discerning in your companions, and bring bug repellant!
Here, for contrast, is the photo I took of said ferns. I didn’t look at it until just now. That’s because in my experience, painting from a photograph is tricky business. The photograph can rule the painting, like an overbearing advisor leaning over your shoulder, telling you how things should be. A sketch, on the other hand, will have you remembering certain aspects of the object of your attention, and forgetting things that aren’t relevant. There is more imagination at work, and more movement. Photographs can be handy for reference, when used with caution, but I no longer take photographs with the intention of turning them into paintings.
There’s something ephemeral and utterly blissful that happens when you become quiet and focus upon something, when you give it your undivided attention. Some aspect of it really does join you on the page. It’s a mystery, but it definitely happens. And it’s definitely worth the time.