Plein Air Painting: Re-do in the Studio

It’s always a toss up when you make a decision to repaint a study done in the field. I think every painter must decide the method and restrictions to place on the work. A purist would “say leave it alone” . A pragmatist would say “Change the damn thing if it needs changing”. I do respect my “reactions to the outdoor experience which are very different from painting inside so I don’t want to “loose” that something that was reactionary to the landscape experience. That really is the exciting thing about painting out of doors is that you get this response from the elements that is really tangible in the work.

The thing that impresses me with really competent painters is the ability to “control” the work and not let the work control you.  There are some exceptions to the rule but for the most part the artist must be in control of the painting.  It is important to have a “focus” and to know exactly how to support that theme.  Nothing else should matter.  

Working outside in the field , the very nature of being out of doors changes our perceptions and focus. Our senses are pulled in many different directions.   In fact, for me it is hard to stay focused at times.  There is that one moment which draws my eye to the scene but within moments the sun or other weather conditions will change that.  What do you do?  Do you keep changing the painting minute by minute or do you stay focused with “one idea”.  

Now that I am a mature painter (I use that term loosely) I have a stronger sense of what it is that I want out of the painting.  I am able to sublimate unecessary details and accent important ones that will support the initial idea or as some call it “the first fire”.  I still don’t change nature much.  I usually end up painting what is before my eyes but since that statement is an impossibility I really am editing whether I care to admit it or not.  The ability to challenge and change what is needed in the painting  is an important step to take in any painter’s life.  You have to be your own best critic even if it means wiping out and starting over.

In this little study I was mesmerized by the reflections in the stream.  There were so many lovely deep emerald greens and golds in the water against a myriad of rocks and branches on the violet bank it was really hard to “pull out” the necessary information to support the idea of focusing on the theme of the emerald reflections.  

Here is the painting  in the field.  

I liked what was happenning while I was painting  but when I returned to the studio it was clear that I lost the theme:  the emerald reflections.  In fact, I lost much of the definition in the foreground that fascinated me and drew me to this spot.  So now I have a choice to make.  Do I  live with this study as it is or do I change it.   I chose to re-do., to develop the area that  originally interested me and I think the results are much better now.  The subject of the painting which is the foreground emerald reflections in the stream and the supporting bank is much clearer and makes for a more interesting painting. 

Stage one Re-do  goal:  Redraw the forground.  Emphasize reflections and foreground river bank.   I redrew the areas concentrating on an interesting shape that would describe the reality of the forms but also create an interesting abstract shape that would read better.  Before this area was jumbled and very hard to read.  At this stage the shape is too insistent.  I will let the paint set up just a bit then soften the edges.  I also added a few more rocks and detail on the stream bank and softened some of the background forest area so as not to compete with the star of the show.  

I darkened the background.  Added a little more deep green and defined and darkened the foreground large tree.  I broke up the line along the bank and heightened the golden greens in the reflection.  All of these adjustments were done in slow increments.  I like the result and re-named the re-do painting  “Emerald Forest Stream” Oil on linen board (11×14) available for puchase at

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