Painting, Planning, and the Process

Group editor, Jean Denney, discusses her plans for getting through the winter and finding inspiration for a spring garden.

By Jean Denney
Winter 2018

I’m a plein air painter, which means I paint outdoors, directly in nature. Painting this way means I have to work quickly because light often changes faster than I can set up my paper and palette. It’s frustrating and rewarding. When the landscape proves too challenging, I’ll turn my attention to minutia; a sprig of something close at hand or a small clump of wildflowers.

Watercolor painting in nature, like gardening, requires patience and planning, but at its most successful, it requires flexibility. Both processes can be a bit counterintuitive. Painting requires that you think ahead, leaving space for light colors and highlights – the touches that make objects take on three dimensions. Once you add a dark, it’s difficult to remove it. It’s a process of add and subtract, plan and improvise, make and unmake. For me, it’s just like garden planning and growing.

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh.

Why do this when I could just as easily capture the beauty that surrounds me with a camera, especially when so many fantastic images have already been rendered—particularly botanical illustrations? I’m in it for the process, the experiment, the excitement. Failures can produce our best work, and while I can be disappointed if I’ve ruined a perfectly good pack of seeds, I know I’ve learned something invaluable for my next attempt.

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