I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Autumn. The invigorating cooler–but not yet cold–weather. Nature’s changing colors. The fluttering of leaves as they fall. The sky’s twists of blues to grays. The solitude of the beach with tourists gone. The ocean churning up piles of drifting seaweed–the sand no longer manicured by tractors for tourists but just allowed to be. Walks there, or on rocks, or in the woods, in autumn’s perfect air. Apple cider from the orchard down the road. Full harvest at the farmer’s market. Vivid pumpkins on every doorstep. Indian corn and mums. The promise of and preparation for coming holidays (my favorite: Thanksgiving). Fires in the fireplace. Homemade soup on the stove (tonight a cheddar-and-ale and next week Erwtensoep, a Dutch friend’s recipe).
An artist appreciates all this but there’s even more for her. She hears Autumn’s call to paint, to get outside and capture the bright yellow, orange, red and gold leaves swaying in the wind, to reveal what she sees and feels about this special season.
The minute I step outside to walk the dog or run an errand, I feel compelled to paint instead. In Fall, even on an overcast day, I want to grab my easel and paints and head out to find the scene that captures how I feel. The Impressionists understood this call. In all seasons they knew the importance of plein air painting–standing out in the air where colors and their complements rise to a pitch not caught by camera.
I’ve been painting in plein air for decades, all seasons, though Autumn is especially alluring, mainly for all the reasons mentioned above.
Last week the view from my driveway called me. We are surrounded by tall pines and bright-hued maples. The contrast of the two is splendid, each complimenting the other. When light slants through the woods it is magical. I ignored the day’s to-do list, and painted. I painted in the light until it became cloudy and rains came. But I got what I wanted and was able to finish the piece indoors (yes, rain is inevitable in autumn, but it doesn’t spoil the beauty–it actually makes colors deeper, richer, and I like its quiet mood).
But one Autumn painting isn’t sufficient. So I did another–an abstraction of leaves. I like it as much as the more realistic first one of pines, maples, and diverging roads. And a third has followed though not yet finished. This is what happens to an artist. She can’t stop making art! One good idea leads to another and she is merely the obedient servant of good ideas when they come. They have to happen before making the bed or doing the laundry. Those things will filter into life eventually. But when the light is right and the call comes an artist has to be willing to drop everything else for the creating she’s being asked to do. It is her reason for being.
Try your hand at it while Autumn remains. We are all meant to create. After all, even cavemen could draw and paint (I might more correctly say, how magnificently they painted). You are just as capable. It’s merely a matter of grabbing colors and a painting surface, and getting outdoors where you can be guided by Autumn’s beauty. I tell my students: “If you listen to your painting, it will tell you what it needs.” Painting en plein air is like communion–communion with nature, with spirit, and sometimes, even with God.
Artwork: Two Roads Diverging by a Yellow Wood, framed oil on canvas, 14 ” x 11,” $575.
I just finished this oil, early November 2021. The dark shadows and bright light filtering through the trees intrigued me, plus the way the roads met each other.