plein air painting

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

If you happened to catch a segment about the John Denver hit “Country Roads” on CBS Sunday Morning the Sunday after Christmas, you may have heard the word “hiareth”.  It caught my attention and I had to explore it a bit more.  Hiareth is a Welsh concept that means a deep longing for something, especially one’s home.  As used in the CBS segment, it reminded my of another term, “Spiritual geography'” that a good friend uses to describe the place or type of geography that makes one feel most at home, where one belongs.  That sense of belonging or home happened for me when I moved to the mountains over 25 years ago.  Of course,  I will always call Erie, along the shores of Lake Erie, my home, but something different happened when my address changed to the Appalachians. A new sense of home emerged.

It seems we all yearn for that sense of home, whether it is a a specific place or a kind of topography or maybe a particular room in one’s home or neighborhood. I recall so vividly and sadly how my Mom, in the throws of Alzhiemers would beg my Dad and I to take her home, while all the while she was sitting in her favorite chair in her own living room.  The medical folks explained that she was really asking for that comfort and peace we feel when we are truly at home.  It surprises me that the mountains have truly become “home” for me. since the mountain landscape was not part of my earlier years.

So, how does that influence my painting?  More and more, I find myself desiring to paint or draw the landscape around me.  I tune into the changes of the seasons more.  I watch my garden grow.  I nurture birds and butterflies.  Perhaps “home” has little to do with this place, but more the opportunity my current life affords me to see and experience the life around me, to be aware and to cherish simple things.  Or perhaps I am at that coming-home age, midway through my seventh decade.  It’s a good place to be.  I have a working theory that I am drawn to paint that which brings me that sense of home.  And I falso think that when a viewer finds a painting “speaking” to them, even enough to make it their own, it is because it reminds them of the “home” in their own hearts.

Yes, home is where the heart is and there is nothing like it.

 

en plein air

 

“Spell check” may not like the expression “en plein air” very much but for some reason artists today still use this rather antiquated phrase for painting outdoors.  The term originated around 1800 and is attributed to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819)  who first expounded on the concept in a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape.   The concept is what I am most interested in and what I have finally come home to.  Years ago, I would ONLY paint from life either outdoors or in the studio.  When I think back to some of those paintings, like the ones I did on Presque Isle near my earlier home, I can feel a presence that I don’t  often feel from paintings I do from photographs. When I paints outdoors, I have to paint fairly quickly as the conditions can vary greatly within a short period of time. The light changes; bugs bight; temperatures vary; wind blows. Because of that I can’t get hung up on details.  I bring to the painting, not only what I see but also the smells and sounds and feel of the whole environment.  All of the senses become part of the painting.  Over the summer I was invited by a new friend and watercolorist in the area to join her and others at a plein air event.  I put it off until one day the group was scheduled to paint literally in my backyard, on the other side of  Sugarloaf Mountain, MY mountain.  How could I say no?

We painted along the Ocooee River for just a couple of hours and I fell in love again with plein air.  For the past few months I have been setting aside at least one morning a week to paint outdoors or  (if weather prohibits that) in the plein air state of mind.  It has become a weekly meditation.  The paintings are not necessarily spectacular but the experience definitely is.  When I draw or paint this way–outdoors, surrounded by the sights and sounds of flora and fauna–I am transported into another universe, no background music but the songs of the birds; no “breaking news” reports other than the breakthroughs of mindfulness. My preference is to paint alone.

One Sunday morning recently,  I spent close to two hours sitting and drawing near Cookson Creek.  I know the cooler months will not be conducive to sitting on a stool outside, so I  wanted to experiment with drawing and taking notes and then working from those to translate them into a painting back in the studio, kind of a hybrid of plein air plus studio work.   I wish  I could bottle the peace that came over me. Cookson Creek, which flows into the Ocoee River, goes right under the bridge on our quiet country road. The sun shone brightly filtered by thickets of trees just starting to turn to fall colors.  Carolina wrens sang.  Woodpeckers pecked.  Crows cawed.  Leaves fluttered and walnuts dropped noisily.  The slightly chilled  fresh air smelled of decaying leaves.  The drawing came easily.  My goal was to paint from the drawing, only using this short video to remind me of those peace-filled sounds and, to some extent, the scene itself.

 

This is the painting that came from that experience.  I called it “Remembering The Sycamore”.

Autumn scene
Remembering the Sycamore

That slanted silvery tree that is reflected in the creek is a sycamore, reminding me of my once Sycamore Gallery and this blog, too .  (Why “Sycamore Notes?” she said….)  My personal goal is to do more plein air painting as circumstances allow.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever work from photos.  There are a lot of times when that works best.  It also does not mean I won’t experiment with combining media in my work or trying new surfaces to paint on.  But this old-but-now-new-again way of painting mindfully is what my soul needs to keep my work fresh and authentic.  My hope is that it will touch your heart as it has mine.