Falling Behind

cown hill trees.jpg

I leave my glasses off when I paint, especially when I paint outside. The practice began because of the headaches I'd get sometimes from wearing my glasses. My eyes just seem to relax when not behind them, so I deal with fuzzy edges and indistinct forms instead of the wonderful detail that other painters include. This is especially obvious when I'm scrolling through Instagram. Square after square of beautifully rendered branches, flowers, animals, humans – everything – seems to drive home the point that realism is what folks respect and respond to. I feel more and more behind the curve because I produce scrubby images that require no real drawing skills.

saunders creek evening.jpg


I got to thinking about the tidal wave of classical realism and how it is, once again, the standard for quality work and how I deeply respect it. I even covet the training that people go through to learn to draw a naked man leaning on a stick. I think of this and my mind swirls into orbits that show me what I will never attain.

Then it occurred to me that we don't see a landscape.

We experience it.

If I'm looking at an images on my laptop screen, I can see many things. Leaves, blades of grass, clouds, but being in the landscape brings in more than sight. It brings in more than all the senses, in fact. There is an alchemy between nature and man when we stand quiet and grateful, humble and patient, that joins itself inside us. Details caught in time on a screen do not become alive, but outdoors, tree tips sway. Water moves and glints in bewildering ways. Birds dart through our vision. Leaves float down. Temperatures rise and fall. Our brushes move with the grasses. Our minds move with the light. Our soul moves closer to the surface.

on track studio morn trees.jpg


Somehow, I feel this is connected to rendering details in a subject. Perhaps this is why we are told not to paint from photographs exclusively. Perhaps this is why the academic renderings are not the ones cited as influences as much as loose renderings. Perhaps this is why many artists tend to get looser as they move through their careers. While there is certainly evocative, classical, personal, highly-skilled work being produced, there just seems to be something beyond the details that humans respond to.

It's like we know that life is more than facts.

This is why I have been painting less and looking more. Instead of darting for my paints, I put my hands in my pockets and look. And see. I just exist. I am being.

So, while I know for sure that regular painting practice from life is the surest and fastest way to improve my painting skills, being grounded in stillness, grounded in being present, saying to the world's voices, “This far you shall come and no further,” and incorporating memory and thought is a good way to make work that I will want to see, regardless of other peoples opinions and comparisons.


I'm very glad to see great skill when I scroll through social media, and I continue to work to be better.  However, I am losing my fear of falling behind the curve because what I am after is not a painting.

I am after Life itself.

Seth TumminsComment