I have been stricken again by another a passage in Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: A Conversation with Andrew Wyeth by Thomas Hoving. Since my father mailed it, I spend periods immersed in the book followed by period immersed in memories of my own past. I’ve always been attracted to Andrew Wyeth’s work because of the variances between his pencil, watercolor, drybrush and tempera sketches. Also, many of his moody paintings echo the thinly inhabited openness of my childhood in Maine.

“And I’ll get this idea, this emotion that I have been thinking about for a long time, perhaps something has sparked it off, it’s a feeling I’ve always felt about something, and I’ll say ‘Jesus, this is terrific’.” (24 Wyeth)

Mr. Wyeth has expressed my same idea why “High Side of the Canoe” has few details outside the canoe. Because my painting is more about the bright summer day feeling of the memory, when my grown daughter was young and we spent weeks on end each summer camping with grandpa. I feel what I felt when I look at it, so I have succeeded in painting a distant and long ago feeling that I remembered so strongly. Sometimes when I start, I do not know exactly what needs to be in the painting to call up that emotion. That elusiveness may be because I have only recently gotten reflective enough to linger in the feelings instead of fleeting by on my way to something else, or it may be that finally my skills have begun to mature enough to capture the subtleties of those thoughts.

I am currently working on a companion to “High Side of the Canoe” which I sketched awhile back – my toddler son enthralled with a fish that grandpa has conjured from the lake. The set is jointly about my father’s joy at sharing his love of nature with another of his grandchildren. I am still sketching and experimenting with the thoughts; I do not know if it will spontaneously spill out one day (as some paintings do) or gradually build until the thought is magically implied almost like an optical illusion.

Another quote from Wyeth’s interview with Thomas Hoving struck a chord with me.

“But all these changes happened in my brush as I worked. I felt I had to let myself go and felt also that I had to record memory and the present and perhaps a bit of the future.” (62 Wyeth)

I am halfway through this book, and love the questions Thomas Hoving asks Andrew Wyeth, and I love Mr. Wyeth’s answers. I have re-read passages from this book over and over because they impacted me so much. Andrew Wyeth has validated some things that had bothered me about my artistic process: the many sketches and studies it takes me to develop an elusive thought, the time an idea sits in my mind gathering essence before being painted, the satisfactory moment when an emotion or memory has lodged itself in the painting. I feel more courageous about proceeding with my art. I better appreciate Andrew Wyeth’s process, while reading this book and looking over the many preparatory sketches for the artworks being discussed.

If you are also interested in hearing some of Andrew Wyeth’s own thoughts about the way some of his paintings developed, this book can be purchased from Amazon and Google Books, my father found it for less at a yard sale (a rare find), but I haven’t seen an ebook although Open Library has other books featuring his work.

I strongly recommend this book and can’t wait to hug my dad for giving it to me!

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5 thoughts on “Learning, Remembering and Creating

    1. so much for complaining about the model mvnoig! think there is something in one of Robert Hale’s lectures where he jokes about students complaining the model was breathing! Seriously i do think one captures something from that slight animation that one cannot get from painting from a photograph

  1. I agree, sort of. Trying to remember the depth of the original subject with only sketches or photo references as reminders is elusive, but some artists apply years of experience to remembering and attempting to recreate the magical bits that didn’t make it onto the references. Most develop highly individualized methods of translating the unique way the original scene interested them. The rest is in observing something special and having it in the mind to frame that somehow.

    If I am working on a painting and it seems dull and lifeless, I keep at it or start anew. I expect my skills to grow in the process, which has nothing to do with whether I stay on location or sketch it or photograph it. It is a part of me developing my abilities to communicate what was special about the scene.

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