Years ago, my painting mentor Robert Mayo asked if I ever tried to paint from memory. Rather than copying nature, have you ever just painted what’s inside of you?
Mmmmmmmmmmmm. I still recall the feeling of puzzlement at his question. I had never considered such a question. He’d handed me a new coat inside out and I didn’t know what to do with it. How would I use such a thing? What is it for?
Plein Air or Memory Painting?
This question has lived inside me for 30 years. Now I find myself exploring some memory paintings. This one, like others in this series, comes from memories of painting en plein air at Bethel Beach.
Which way are you creating? Are you copying something out there? Or are you letting your heart and soul speak your own truth?
I remember another question put to me by my painting professor at East Carolina University, Ed Reep. Ed set up two studios for us. He had a still life in one. We put our easels in the other. He asked us to paint from the still life in the other room. Awkward and impossible, as I recall.
In a dream, rooms can represent states of consciousness. In these examples, I was being asked to go back and forth from one to the other. Stepping back and forth is good training for dancing with the creator.
In this painting, I began with my feelings of earth and sky. Drawing from memory of the feeling of being out there with my feet in the sand and my head in the clouds, I mixed a big brush full of Holbein Blue Gray with a touch of Gamblin Quick Dry White and laid in the sky. Going back for more paint, I switched to Ultramarine Blue.
Mixing Cad Yellow Deep with Manganese Blue, I answered the sky with warm green earth. I really wasn’t trying to do anything more than block in the color shapes of earth and sky. I was thinking I might take the earth sky block in on the beach to paint.
Before I knew what was happening. the landscape on the canvas was speaking to me. I slowed the process down. Sitting in the chair across the studio, I stopped to listen. That’s when I began to see the pink lights on the cloud. I painted them in and sat back down. Still thinking I would take the canvas out on the beach.
That’s when I saw the inlet. Lightening the sky color, I floated it in below the cloud. Then a line of light sand along the far shore appeared in my mind’s eye. Mixing ochre with white and a touch of red, I rubbed it out beyond the inlet. Creating the far shore. Did I get the symbolism at the time? No.
Back in the chair. It was quiet for awhile. Then I saw the nest. Right at the axis. A tiny vertical rising from the sand on the far shore with a y-shape at the top. Of course. I mixed Alizarin Crimson with some of the left over green. With a small palette knife, I scratched in the lines.
The Nest. I had put on the strange coat without a thought. Had the coat been turned inside out? Or have I? This IS my nest. Do I get the symbolism now? Yes. What does it say to you? Which way are you creating? Are you copying something out there? Are you letting your heart and soul speak your own truth?