How to paint a landscape? There’s a line in an old cookbook, in a recipe for rabbit stew: “First, catch your hare.” Maybe it’s the same with landscape painting. First, catch your landscape.
I started wondering how to paint Grasslands landscape the month I moved here, to Val Marie, SK, gateway to Grasslands National Park, in late 2009. I’d never been a landscape painter. Oh, I’d painted land forms as background. For people, flora, objects of various kinds. I’d never painted them without some other purpose to tie them to. But here I was living near one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, and walking in it often, and wanting to understand it. For me, understanding means describing, in pictures or words. I began to wonder.
I paint from photographs. Maybe if I could see this new world with the camera’s lens, I could see it with my own eyes. So a camera began to accompany me on my walks. I loved the walking. I loved the photographs. Sky, horizon, Earth.
But there were no paintings in those images.
If at first…I tried to see things differently. I lay on my stomach and photographed foreground. Lichen-covered rocks. Grasslands plants. I even took a symbolic-looking silk rose into the park and tried to see this new world as I had seen a previous one. It made cute photos with no meaning at all.
I didn’t stop thinking about Grasslands landscapes, though. Not knowing how to catch a hare doesn’t mean you don’t want rabbit stew. Then one day in 2012 I was flipping through an Irish art magazine and saw a reproduction of a painting by Padraig McCaul, an Irish artist whose work looks nothing like mine, and I thought, “That’s it.” I didn’t know what “it” was, but I knew I’d caught my Grasslands landscape.
So I painted one tiny picture. Colours, brushstrokes, apply and repeat. Then I painted two more. After the first three, I knew what I’d caught. In my other projects, a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Regina in 2014, and most artwork since then, the images are frontal, muted, often sorrowing. Grasslands landscape isn’t like those images. It has space. No intrinsic emotion. And any kind of intensity it wants to on any given day. To catch it, I had needed to let the landscape be itself. That’s what McCaul had done. That’s what “it” was.
Which I guess is how you catch a landscape. Let it be itself. Don’t try too hard. Let it come to you. How to paint one? Make sure your paints are ready when it gets close.
Now there are four more of these tiny Grasslands landscapes – those shown in this post – ready to go for sale at Prairie Wind & Silver Sage here in Val Marie. All the paintings are in oil on board, 5″ x 7″, matted and framed simply in white to 10″ x 12″. PWSS doesn’t do e-commerce, but you can phone them between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm CST daily at 306-298-4910. Or you can contact me directly.
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