Some images aren’t meant to be painted


I remember walking along the banks of the Englishman River on Vancouver Island with my friend and art mentor, Paul Kuzma. He is a fabulous watercolourist and illustrator working in the school of Realism. We hadn’t intended to go sketching, so we were without our art gear. He pulled out an envelope already marked up with notes to remember and drew a general rectangle to make a thumbnail sketch of what had caught his eye.

A shaft of brilliant blue sky came zig zagging through the clouds, acting as a bolt of lightning, an arrow, drawing the eye into the centre of the image. His thumbnail sketch was dynamic and balanced at the same time.

He counselled me that if the sky did not work in a painting, you might as well give it up and start over. They sky was what made the painting exciting. I started looking at sky, then, and noticing the clouds. I watched how, without any linear references, the perspective of the sky was formed, with tonal changes from light to dark. Or with clouds receding.

We stopped by some shallow pools in the gravelly edges of the pool and were swept away by the awesome visual impact of the reflective pools where you could see what was on top of the water as well as a reflection and the underneath of it, below the water, as well. I eagerly thought how wonderful it would be to have the skills to express the multiplicity of this watery image but when I mentioned it, he said “Not everything is meant to be painted. ”  That was a long time ago, and I’ve painted a good twenty five years since. It took me a long time to understand how true that was.

“How could I preserve that moment, that particular image, if painting was not the means?” I wondered. But now I understand. One can never, never capture the wonder of nature exactly as it is, especially in painting. Even the most “Realist” of paintings will not capture that. Every painting, no matter how “Realist” has been interpreted by the artist’s eye. Any painting that needs that very special talent of precise painting as if done under a microscope becomes tawdry and awkward with the hand of a painter given to even the slightest degree of impressionism. Painted by an amateur, it becomes clumsy and defeats the purpose. Photography is now our best resource for capturing such complicated, detailed and subtle images.

That is not to say that painting is dead nor that we can all turn in our paint brushes. Rather, I feel that when one has a particularly complicated image best suited to photography, then chose that as the means of capturing the image.

It is much better to paint expressively and surely than to copy nature slavishly. For me, I find that each image I desire to paint is best expressed by a particular medium. Some adapt or are better expressed by the transparencies of watercolour. Other images will be better represented through the opacity of oils or acrylics. Some need the layers of glazing that is offered in oil techniques. Others are more matte in nature and cry out to be expressed in chalk or oil pastels.

All that, to say that, this morning as the rains abated and the last of the autumn leaves clung to the branches of the Japanese Maple just outside my front door, I stopped to photograph the star-like leaves in reds and oranges. The branches still kept rain droplets hanging tenaciously on the delicate fingers of the twigs. I found it exquisitely charming and was happy to know that my camera would preserve the image for me to enjoy again and again, but I knew for sure that any attempt I made to paint it would end in destruction of a dismal piece of art work. I was not meant to paint it. But photograph it? Yes!



One Response to “Some images aren’t meant to be painted”

  1. rené desor Says:

    nulla dies sine linea – even the great german perfectionist J W Goethe
    failed in his attempt to draw the branches & leaves of a tree & noticed resignedly “there´s no need to add anything to the appearance of a tree by human means”

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