After leading tours recently, I spent some time in the galleries at SAAM,
and was moved by this small painting by Asher Durand.
As a tour leader (docent) at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), I have the opportunity to visit the museum on a regular basis. Fortunately, NPG shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). When time permits, I visit that area of the museum to get some inspiration.
Years ago I considered concentrating on portraiture, which is why I began my tenure at NPG.
It didn't take long for me to realize that portraiture was not my calling, but the landscape was pretty much shouting my name.
Little did I know that one of the artists that has inspired me went through a similar change of subject matter.
Asher Durand began his art career as an engraver, but also made many portraits before finding his way to the landscape. It’s safe to say that Durand adored the landscapes that he painted and studied. He could determine a species of tree even from a distance, a skill I admire greatly.
We can learn a lot from artists of the past. Durand was an avid plein air painter, which is a great way to improve as a landscape artist. Another way to improve is to dedicate time to sketching. Durand was devoted to sketching.
Years ago I was told that the best way to improve as an artist was to sketch. I agree.
Part of my process includes making sketches to establish the darks and lights prior to making my final painting. In fact, I feel as if I am driving without a seatbelt if I don't make a sketch prior to beginning a painting.
Asher B. Durand, Woodland Glen, Oil on Canvas (and black and white sketch I made of same)
Take a look at the simplified black and white sketch of this painting by Durand above. You will see that this piece would work well as an abstract artwork. The shapes are interesting and there is a clear dominant value.
Durand’s larger academy style paintings inspire me less than his sketches and smaller paintings, because I tend to lean toward a more expressive, contemporary style. That said, there is much to enjoy when looking at Durand’s work.
When I look at his Woodland Glen, I want to be in that location. Viewers of my work kindly say the same thing.
Durand showed much more detail in his work than I ever want to show in my own, but I can truly appreciate his compositional structure here. The large trees in the foreground give way to an opening that allows the viewer into the picture plane. This is a compositional consideration that is beneficial in many landscape paintings, and one that I am itching to explore more.
Below is an example of a recent painting of mine with my simplified preliminary sketch. Here you can see how I established my composition prior to making the final painting.
Bluebells & Friends, Oil on Canvas, 12x9 inches, ©Lynn Goldstein