Oil on Panel
(c) Kelly Medford, 2011
When I was in Charleston last month I did quite a few paintings that I left unfinished or wrote off as duds, this was one of them. Then, last week after painting almost every day at the beach, I realized that I learned something about the light and colors of the ocean and the beach, so I went ahead and finished this painting in the studio based on what I remembered. I took what I had learned and memorized and put it into this painting to redo the water and beach (I left the sky as it was and how I had painted it at the time) and I was able to finish it.
This is exciting to me, as I was never really able to do this before, this is a kind of new step that I am happy about. I realized that all of those hours of study really do pay off! And my brain just needs some good old fashioned repition of painting the same subject matter over and over (no matter the result) to remember and learn what a place is like (the light on the water at the beach in the afternoon or morning, etc.).
I like the power of memory over the use of a photo because it's all about the artists' interpretation. I can just paint the things that really stick in my memory and emphasize them, whereas a photo is a sterile reproduction including everything. Even though I am painting from life, I want some intepretation, I just want what was important to me in that moment, not a photo. And that is what the memory seems to do naturally (and we're not just talking about painting here!) we remember the things that for whatever reason seemed to be the main idea or theme, the highlights and those little dark places, but we don't necessarily capture every little detail and we certainly do not capture an unbiased and complete picture.
As John Carlson so gracefully said on the subject of painting from memory: "In memory work we relive our experiences and the effect they produced on us. We enthusiastically endeavor to put on canvas what we saw and felt, and in this way also unconsciously employ an original handling. The mind is dealing more with expression of thought than with the clever application of paint, and we now enter into the realm of true art."
(- taken from Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting)