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Seeing 1,000 Items And Creating One Picture

Aug 17, 2007
When you get ready to paint your first picture, a great thing to bear in mind is that you are working in a specific and defined space or shape. You have, not infinity to deal with, but a canvas, measuring so many inches wide by so many deep. Into this given space, this little world, you are going to put your whole conception of the landscape before you.

So something must go, something must be overlooked or done away with. That is the point that so many people, who do not understand the technique of painting, overlook. They expect the whole gamut of the things they see to be transferred to the canvas, whereas only a very few of the things can be given.

Remember, therefore, that your canvas space is your own world and not the world of actuality. You are going to create in this world, this small confined space, a picture of something you have clearly visualized from the great world of facts and fancies, which lies outside you. To do this you must condense, you must emphasize, you must suppress and you must exaggerate. So the artist does not faithfully follow the actual facts, but he creates a new thing by adapting and translating the facts into the terms of the medium he has chosen.

Now, can I help you to compose a picture? All I can say is, feel the general rhythm, place your masses in a relationship one to the other but not in set proportions. Get the "swing" of the landscape, the trend, the essential underlying structure. Exaggerate as hard as you can, dance round your canvas, let your arm be moving from its whole length, and step back constantly, so that you are not close up and just nervously putting on little dabs of paint. Let your brush be full of paint, full to overflowing, don't work with niggardly little dabs of color.

Please do not get set in your notions. Do not on any account be hidebound. Let your imagination have full rein. If you see a tree as "a man walking" - then let your tree be as a man stepping out. Do not be obsessed by accuracy, for that is the end of all creation. You can leave out anything that is not of sufficient interest to hold your thought or your feeling.

The necessity for elimination of extraneous detail is one of the great discoveries you must make. Your medium cannot possibly translate all the detail of nature, and therefore you should try always to make a synthesis, a summary of the things before your eyes.

A wall of a building can be without all its window spaces - you can see it as a shape and leave out all the little details of the doors and windows - that does not mean that you are "faking" the subject: you are making a synthesis which can better explain your whole conception than by putting in all the details, which would only end by distracting interest from your main theme. Painting a picture in oils is like telling a story, you must make your point, but you must not get lost in a multitude of unnecessary facts and overpowering details.
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