Monday, May 16, 2011

Class 8--May 19 - Memory Painting

Nighttime City, 18" x  24, pastel

How's your memory? They say if you exercise it, it grows stronger and more acute. Do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku every day and your memory stays sharp. 

How about your visual memory? Are you relying too much on the photograph as a visual guide? There's nothing wrong with panting from a picture, but you have more stored in your visual memory banks than you believe. I created 9/10 of the painting at the top of this blog, Nighttime City, using only my visual memory. It's very freeing and fun to do!

Bring a photograph of any subject you want to paint (8x10" or larger suggested.) Compose it well, so that you really like what's showing. We'll paint with the photo taped to the wall or easel across the room, working as we walk back and forth from the photo to the paper. Any size or kind of paper is fine, but I think you'll find it much easier to use the same format paper as your photo (i.e. a long rectangular photo on long rectangular paper, or a square photo on square paper), and if you feel the need to simplify even more you might make the photo and your paper the same size, as well.

This exercise is a good test of how long and how accurately you can remember a visual image, but it's also a way to strengthen your reliance on what you already know. You'll use skills you've already honed to make an effective painting. I think you'll find the painting you do this way will be simpler, using beautifully distilled shapes that effectively represent what you see. It frees you to enjoy making the photograph into your own rendition of the painting, not slavishly copying it because "that's how it looks."  

We'll do this exercise and then paint for the remainder of the class. Next week is our final critique, so you might want to finish up a painting or two. 

See you on Thursday!


  1. This is an excellent exercise and should be employed to some extent in all painting; and you are right: it is more freeing than you might expect!

  2. I couldn't agree more, of course. Thanks so much for commenting, Cindy!

  3. I have to try this and use this exercise at home. Maybe not the getting up to walk around part, but turning the reference over while I paint instead of staying on my feet too long.

    I would love to be able to paint some things I've seen from before I got a digital camera, or scenes that I lost the photos for. If I get enough practice, even old memories may become clear enough to inspire a good painting.

  4. The inspiration for this lesson came from Marc Hanson, who was having his plein air students set their easels up 180 degrees from the view they were painting. I think having a photo turned over is about the same, except maybe put it far enough away that you have to reach a bit for it, Rob. That way you aren't just flipping it over casually any time, but have to think and decide... Go for it and let me know how it goes!