This particular painting is titled "Bitterroot Aspens" and although it is not an actual place in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, it could be. Every summer, my family and I fly up to Missoula to visit extended family there. Having grown up in the most beautiful part of the country I've ever seen, it's always like going home. This particular scene was painted back here in Illinois from memory of no particular place. During our vacation, we had taken a drive down the Bitterroot Valley, and had seen many hills like this covered with grass turned golden by the end of June. This is one of those paintings that really clicked for me, perhaps just because it was from memory. I think it was finished in about an hour on a day when I completed four paintings.
Over the weekend, I was reading in Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting (first copyrighted in 1941!) about how he would have his students construct a field study one day, and then the next day, they would actually paint the piece from memory. His assertion was that painting a scene from memory brought to the painting what was emotionally important to the artist, rather than making the painting a recording of every detail seen outdoors. Taking Payne's opinion and reflecting on my own work, I can see how drawing/painting from memory would be allow you to simplify your composition, since we don't remember every single detail - and it's those little details that can really make painting en plein aire challenging.
In Bitterroot Aspens, the sky and the hills were a snap, as were the fields. I remember the trees being pretty easy, too, I think because I wasn't trying to copy a particular grove of aspens. Rather, I was painting for the composition, and that made all the difference in the world. The biggest decision was deciding which color I should sign it with! HA!
Tell us what you do - do you paint strictly from memory? Are you a strict plein aire artist? Are you a studio artist who uses photographs as reference material?
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