Tuesday, November 29, 2011


At a certain point in my career as an artist I wanted to paint landscapes in a more or less impressionistic style.  From an artist's perspective I've always enjoyed observing nature, but I've never enjoyed setting up outside to paint the interesting landscape scenes that I found.  I tried painting from photographic references for a short time, but found that rendering visual representations caused me a lot of anxiety - that is, I cussed a lot.   I found that I enjoyed photographing nature much more than painting it.  At about the same time that I stopped using visual first-hand and photographic references in my painting process, I began seriously taking photographs.

This is a very old (40 years) plein air drawing:

Florida Scrub Oaks, circa 1971
charcoal, pen & ink on paper

These are older paintings from photographic references:

Valley Overlook, circa 2003
acrylic on stretched canvas, 22"X28"

The Marsh at Veteran's Park, circa 2004
acrylic on stretched canvas, 22"X26"

Up until a couple of years ago I was taking snapshots with a point and shoot camera.  When I retired from my job in June of 2009 I decided to move up to a DSLR camera.  At the time the Nikon D5000 was relatively new and being promoted heavily, so that's what I bought.   I've found that the learning curve for the camera and photography in general is pretty steep.  I shot in auto mode for at least the first year and a half.  I found this web site, Digital Photography School (DPS), and it has become particularly helpful as a tutorial and reference tool.

Early examples from the Nikon D5000:

Winter Tree, circa 2010

Valley Farm, circa 2010

I'm finding photography to be much more demanding technically - that is, I find it to be much less intuitive than other visual art mediums.  Most of the process of photography seems to be in the "getting-ready-to-make-the-picture" and once you're ready to shoot, if you're lucky, you'll still have a subject to shoot.  The natural world slips in and out of moods with the blink of an eye.   At some point I would like to be technically proficient enough to be able to focus more on the subject than the camera and not be so dependent on post-production software to save a poorly shot picture.

Whereas my painting method is almost totally right-brained, I find that photography is a close harmony between the left and the right brain.   I've also found that what I do with a camera and what I do with paint are almost completely opposite in terms of subject and style.  The camera is filling a hollow space in my creativity.  It allows me the contact with the external natural world that is lacking in my current painting process.

These two images illustrate the vast difference between my photography and painting styles:

Shenandoah River, circa 2011
HDR photograph

acrylic on stretched canvas, 12"X12"

I hope, one day, to be able to confidently call myself a photographer as well as a painter.   Bear with me while I grope my way to that goal.

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