“Probably the purest exposition of what Impressionism is all about, in terms of the painter actually confronting his subject, is contained in Pissarro’s avice to a young painter, Le Bail, written about 1181: ‘Look for the kind of nature that suits your temperament. The motif should be observed more for shape an color than for drawing ... precise drawing is dry and hampers the impressions of the whole, it destroys all sensations.
‘Do not define too closely the outlines; it is the brushstroke of the right value and color which should produce the drawing ... Paint the essential character of things; try to convey it by any means whatever, without bothering about technique. When painting, make a choice of subject, see what is lying at the right and left, then work o everything simultaneously. Don’t work bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere with brushstrokes of the right color and value, while noticing what is alongside. Use small strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately. The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything, while observing the reflections which the colors produce on their surroundings. Work at the same time on sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis ad unceasingly rework until you have got it. Cover the canvas at the first go, then work at it until you have nothing more to add.
‘Observe the aerial perspective, from the foreground to the horizon, the reflections of the sky, of foliage. Don’t be afraid of putting on color, refine the work little by little. Don’t proceed according to the rules and principles, but paint what you observe ad feel. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression. Don’t be timid in front of nature; one must be bold, at the risk of being deceived and making mistakes. One must always have only one master-nature; she is the one always to be consulted.’ “
Painting Methods of the Impressionists, Bernard Dunstan, R.A., Watson-Guptill Publications, 1983
I write this reflection to narrow down what school of art I really fit into, what traditionally best describes both how I work and what results from my methods. Turns out, all along, I really have been an Impressionist all this time. I thought I was one, just one that likes to do alittle finer detail than the master Impressionists did. And sure I usually work from photos but occasionally I do work from life, but my approach is the same. I am impatient, and I work fast, and I go in sweeps across the canvas, working in stages that I deem are achieved each time I have added a new layer of paint or detail across the entirety of the art. This doesn't mean I have to make a new solid coat each time, but it does mean I have to give proper, even distribution of attention across the whole piece before I check off that stage as "done." Part of this is due to the type of formal instruction I've received over the years, but part of it comes from me. I've also long been in small-scale rebellion against art theory since high school, when I asserted to my art teachers that Impressionism was a form of Realism because, like a camera, it focuses on the image, as seen by the artist, as it is, unfiltered, and translated to page or canvas, literally "what is seen." How realistic can you be than to want to recreate something exactly as you see it? Of course the debate often went in circles, as teachers profess that traditional Realism by definition is about the details, details even that often don't make it into an Impressionistic work, but again, I refute that to being more about the artist's attention and intentions. If we can't recognize the reality of photographic type painting (I don't claim to be a photo-realist painter, because I simply don't have the patience, but some of my work comes close), then I think we have a problem defining Realism and defining what is really seen.
So long story short: If you're curious and want to be able to label me, and my work, as I did, I am more definitively what I have always been: an artist trying to depict what I see, with as much honesty as I can, and with as much patience as I can muster. The result is my merger of Realism and Impressionism.
Sonia J. Summers
Sonia Jackson Summers