This winter when we started getting consistent snowfalls I got excited. Maybe it was growing up in northern Minnesota that has made snow appreciation such a deeply rooted part of my psyche. The American impressionist Willard Metcalf painted snowy New England landscapes that are among my favorite paintings of all time. They are a delight of delicate brushwork and beautifully observed color modulations (you can see one at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira–it’s lovely).
This fresh snow needed painting. One chilly day I set out, new camera in hand, to capture it.
Flakes were falling with a definite purpose, the light absolutely even with no shadows in sight. It can be harder to create an exciting landscape, I think, without strong contrasts of light and dark. But those premonitions of trouble to come are the sorts of thoughts that are easy to sublimate when you’re caught up in the excitement of the moment.
So home I went with my camera full of snowy landscapes. When it came time to paint, I went to work with determination. It would be a subtle landscape, a scene with tiny shifts of color, a delicate, not to say sensitive, piece….I conveniently forgot that I almost never can leave a painting like that. I spent about three hours on it, showed it to the family, got a fair amount of approval, and then watched it for about a month. It didn’t change, didn’t improve. No spark, no excitement in the paint or color! Dang! Something had to be done.
Here’s where the “pushing beyond reality” title comes in. Most of us reach a point in painting where we have to put our literal interpretation of what we see aside. Sometimes the faithful depiction of exactly what we see isn’t enough. Our impression of how the scene first looked to us can be much more forceful and full of life than the careful replication of the subject on the canvas. When I look at winter foliage against snow I am often struck by how rich the colors are, the dead yellow grass waving above the drift, the red-hued canes of dogwood glowing over the bank, the golden orange of willows hanging against a lowering winter sky. But I am not sure that a photo or even long and careful perusal would return to me that first, vivid impression. And that’s when I push the color, try to recreate the vision, despite the proof of reality in a more subtle scheme.
I’ll go for subtle next time.
——–Posted by Anne L. Bialke