by Armand Cabrera

(All Images by Armand Cabrera)

If you should ask me to define conventionalism, I should say it is the substitution of an easily expressed falsehood for a difficult truth.~ Asher B. Durand ~

Those words by Asher Durand were spoken over 150 years ago. Unfortunately, many painters today have fallen prey to exactly what Asher Durand was cautioning artists about in 1855. To avoid this sloppy approach to painting, I recommend painting studies directly from nature.

My definition of a study is a painted statement of a particular thing or group of things. A study ignores complex, picturesque composition in exchange for a sharper scrutiny of a single item or group of items. Keeping Durand’s statement in mind, a study seeks to capture an uncompromised, truthful depiction of the thing observed.

Studies were popular in the 19th century by artists who created finished works in the studio. They collected their studies of trees, rocks, and other topographic and meteorological information and composed a larger painting from them.

Studies are an excellent way to improve outdoor painting skills. Regrettably, artists often bypass these studies and their work is sad evidence to this shortcut. If done properly, studies can quickly help you to get the desired results. Studies give an enhanced understanding of the thing or things depicted. They help to focus all your attention on some fleeting aspect of nature—completely avoiding ‘an easily expressed falsehood’.

A study can also be used to hone some aspect of painting that you might find difficult. Try painting a simple statement of an object, just using a handful of brushstrokes. Alternately, you can practice painting the object using a more deliberate approach to drawing. The idea is to focus on one thing at a time, until you solve that particular challenge.

Paint studies and I know you’ll find greater facility of painting and a resultant truthfulness in your work.

5 thoughts on “THE VALUE OF STUDIES

  1. There is a sense of genuine inquiry and generosity about the American artists ,good enough to share their insights online,the practical no-nonsense approach is very refreshing to a European .
    Paul Howlett Gubbio Italy
    PS, paintings no1 and no3 are really impressive!

  2. I know it's been some time since this post, but being new to the world of plein air/painting in general, and coming across this, I can't thank you enough for it. I'm in that spot where I have to decide for myself what to do with the precious few hours I get out in the world to paint. And there's such a range of thoughts on that! But this speaks to me… I hope I can stick to my guns, stop biting off more than I can chew, give myself a break, and study the world…

  3. Derek,
    Sounds like you are on the right track, we first have to acknowledge what we want to accomplish it. Like the old fable of the tortoise and hare; sometimes slowing down is the fastest way to achieve your goal.

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