Here is my most recent painting, “Fall Fishermen,” 9″ x 12″. I took the photo last year; we had a remarkable foliage season, with very bright colors that lingered longer than usual. This year is shaping up a bit differently. We had a few days of wind just as the leaves started turning, which means that we lost some of them. And we are not quite at peak color – at least not here in Central Vermont – which means that the season is unusually late for us.
I have exaggerated the colors of the foliage in the painting, but not by much. I enjoyed the symmetry of the reflections in the water. Interestingly, on a still day such as this, reflections can be very detailed, almost mirror-like. But if you paint it that way, it looks false. Instead, I blurred the shapes just a bit and darkened and muted the colors – again, just a bit.
Art is odd that way. To paint well, you need to learn to see, meaning to really observe color and shape and the reality of what is in front of you rather than your mind’s representation. Most people who say that they cannot draw really are saying that they have not learned to see; they are drawing some internal template of a tree, for example, rather than the unique (and usually flawed) tree in front of them. On the other hand, if you paint exactly what you see, it sometimes looks artificial, as with the reflections on the pond. Also, in most cases, reality is better represented with at least slight exaggerations to color or light.
Fall foliage in Vermont gives the impression of fire, of a wash of hot colors. Yet, if you look at any specific scene, even at the peak of a great year’s foliage, in fact many of the trees are a little muted, or still somewhat green. It’s the task of the artist to show the viewer what foliage looks and feels like, not the photographic truth. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that it is the task of this artist to do so!