Provence lavender lay-in (W.I.P.)

This has been my first real opportunity to paint in over a week. It has been really hot, muggy weather lately, so I've decided to stay close to the studio and scour some of my old photo archives for landscape subject matter. In doing so, I came upon some of my images of an area of Provence that I visited in lavender season almost 10 years ago (!) called La Drome Provencal. Here's a 16x20" composition I've mapped out:

Provence lavender landscape painting by Jennifer Young

I have more to flesh out in terms of both shadow/highlight and detail, but I've started with a basic block-in to nail down my composition. Up to now, I've used the same color palette as the previous painting I posted of Lake Como. But when I started to lay in the lavender I had the overwhelming temptation to reach for a cooler, more transparent red (like alizarin crimson) to add some brilliance. I have held off up to now.

What I aim to see is if I can acheive the proper color relationships in the painting without having to resort to any other colors than the three primaries I've chosen. Alizarin Crimson (permanent) has long been my default red when I paint in a single primary palette. While it is a beautiful transparent color, I sometimes feel it is almost too garish in my mixtures.

So I feel it is worthwhile to try and acheive a luminous, vibrant quality to my paintings without having to resort to over-the-top color. Being somewhat of a color slut, this is not an easy challenge for me! We'll see if I can hold out to the bitter (better?) end!

Shadows of La Crete

I achieved my goal of finishing up this painting last week, but it left no time to post. This is the final product of the resurrected work-in-progress I last wrote about.

 Tuscany landscape painting by Jennifer Young

"Shadows of La Crete" Oil on Linen, 24x30" Contact me for details and purchasing info!

The Tuscan region known as La Crete is known for its dramatic undulating hillsides. I loved the way vineyards and olive groves were cultivated clinging to the slopes. One afternoon while we were staying in southern Tuscany near Montalcino, my husband and I took a drive through the winding roads of this stunning landscape. We spent the day driving, stopping to walk around, lunching and sketching (well I did the last bit). No plein air painting there, but it was still such a great day!

Now that I have the wee one and I'm on a very different (but awesome) journey, I am not sure when I will get back there to La Crete. But I'd really love to go back and dig into some plein air painting one day. Nevertheless, I am grateful to have been able to go at all, and to have taken so many good reference photos for my studio work.

Over the years I have learned how to take better reference photos. When I first started landscape painting I'd really be disappointed by the lack of information I'd gathered from a trip. It seemed like I'd take a ton of photos, but often what I found when I came home was that I'd only have one shot of the most intriguing scenes. I learned from those experiences to take a number of shots of each location, from several angles, at several exposures. I also took close up "detail" shots of foliage, flowers, textures, etc. It still does not compare to the information that becomes seared into my brain whenever I can photograph and actually paint on site at a location, but it helps a great deal. My photos don't really do justice to my memory of this beautiful land, but hopefully through my paintings (if I do enough of them) I will be able to express how I feel about this place.

A small commission, with just weeks away...

Given how long it has been since I've posted anything new here at all, I am almost embarrassed to write another "yes I'm still here" post. But here goes! The baby is now less than a month away from her due date and I am finally feeling as if I have gotten our household in some kind of order to prepare for her arrival. Unfortunately, now that I'm getting a little respite from the baby books, the shower, the classes, and prepping the nursery, I am, in this final trimester, also feeling my least energetic and creative. In truth, I don't think I was prepared for just how exhausted I'd feel throughout the pregnancy. But now that I'm getting really big, I can't really seem to do any one thing for very long before I start to feel quite uncomfortable. So needless to say, painting has pretty much taken a back seat during most of my pregnancy, and it's hard to say when that will change to any great extent after the baby comes. However, I do have one new little piece to share. It's a small watercolor/pen and ink painting  (8x10" on 11x14" paper) that a client commissioned to commemorate her daughter's upcoming wedding:

watercolor tuscany painting by Jennifer E. Young, all rights reserved.

"Flavor of Fagiolari" Watercolor and Pen & Ink on Paper sold

The scene is of a B&B in the Chianti region, not far from where I myself have traveled a number of times. It's a special place to the betrothed because they met in Italy and stayed at Fagiolari during their travels through Tuscany together.

When I paint from photos, I prefer to work from my own references. I just have a much better feeling for the place if I, myself, have traveled and painted there, and my photos serve as a trigger to call forth those experiences. I also take several different viewpoints of a given scene, plus a number of details, so that I can have as much information as possible when I get to work. So it's always with a bit of reservation when I consider working from a client's photo, which is normally more of a one-off tourist snapshot.

But this commission was actually quite a joy for me. Not only was it great to be doing something in the painting realm again, but the photos provided were excellent. Having also traveled the area fairly extensively myself helped a good deal as well.  Plus I was given much leeway as to how I wanted to interpret them (the photos) and what I wanted to include, rather than being tied to making an exact, literal interpretation  (a.k.a. an illustration) of a scene.

What was most important to the client was that I caputre the "flavor" of the place (hence the painting's title). Luckily, the client was delighted with the finished piece, and I had a good time getting my hands back in some art-making to boot. I tend to feel somewhat more intimidated by watercolors (as opposed to oils) but given its manageable size and the properties of the medium, I was able to stop and start more easily than I can with oils. It's not without reason to think that maybe I can even attempt a few more before "D-day" (or make that B-day) but we'll see. The one thing I can say about my life this past year is that it is anything but predictable!

Le Bateau Rouge

Well the week has flown by and I'm still working away constantly getting ready for the show at City Art Gallery (final touches, varnishing, framing, etc.) Meanwhile I have developed some kind of tendonitis in BOTH of my arms, starting from my shoulders and running all the way down to my wrists and hands. This has been coming on for a while but now it's raging. Fabulous. It also hurts to do any kind of computer work, so since I haven't trained any other appendages to hold a paintbrush, right now if I have to limit one activity it's going to be the computer. Needless to say, blogging may be spotty at best over the next week or two, but I will try to keep posting here and there if I can. Today's painting is again of a scene in the Dordogne. I worked from sketches and a photo. The tree in my photo was very much like a reverse version (in type and lighting) to the plein air painting I did not too long ago of the backlit willow, so I for that part of the painting, I found my plein air work to be a better reference. A little bit of Virginia in France? Hey, if it makes a better painting, I'm all for it.

French landscape painting by Jennifer Young

"Le Bateau Rouge" Oil on Linen, 24x30" sold

From plein air study to studio painting

This new painting  just flowed. I finished it last weekend but couldn't photograph it until the sun came back.  This painting is actually a larger, more developed piece derived from a plein air study I did last spring in France:

france landscape painting poppies

"The Gift of Spring" Oil on Linen, 24x36" SOLD

Here is the study:

poppies french landscape plein air painting

"Dusk in the Lot Valley" Oil on Multimedia ArtBoard, 6x12" SOLD

Even though I took tons of photographs of this beautiful spot when I was there in France, I must say, having already done a memorable study of this scene helped me tremendously. The photos, even when edited to reveal more of the depths of the shadows, could not compare with the information I got from my little study.Â

I was inspired to work this painting out into a larger format after watching a really excellent DVD by Kevin Macpherson called "Winter Escape". This is a longish, 2 part DVD that is probably only fascinating to artists. To everyone else it might be a bit like "watching paint dry", so to speak. But art videos are a great for me especially on a cold winter Sunday during football season! I have only had a chance to see part 1 of the DVD so far...Kevin really takes his time in this one. But to me, it was great to see a fairly large painting develop stroke by stroke, with good explanations of his thought processes along the way. Throughout the process, he gives good explanations of how he uses his plein air studies to capture his in-the-moment responses, notes of color and light effects on site.

 Now, there are lots of plein air painters who will pooh-pooh studio work (for landscapes). And while I do think that the best thing I've ever done for my landscapes is to take my easel outside for the direct experience, it just isn't always practical in terms of weather issues and size restrictions. An art studio is essential to me as it allows me to develop larger works and to experiment and expand on my ideas.

Macpherson seems to agree. Although he is known as a plein air painter (and rightfully so--he probably has thousands under his belt by now) he uses his studio in just this way, taking his studies and experiences he's gained on site and using them as jumping off points for his larger more fully developed work.

It was interesting though, to see how, because he has traveled and painted this landscape so often, he has so integrated his outdoor experiences to the point that he hardly referenced the photo he took. He mostly used his plein air studies (neither of which, by the way, exactly represented the larger painting he was creating on his easel.) The easel painting, was a compilation of elements from two or more plein air pieces, so I liked seeing that in no way did he feel the need to be literal. Rather than feeling bound and limited by one photographic viewpoint, he used his experience, memory, his studies, his beautiful brushwork and gorgeous color to conjure up his emotional response to the place.  Ah, now that is painting!

As for me, my painting developed pretty quickly with the use of the study. I knew I wanted more sky in the larger painting, so I used a combination of a couple of different plein air paintings, plus my photos from the site in France to determine my layout. Where the photos are useful to me is that they can help to work out composition and form. But information about the color notes and the light were gained from my plein air experience. The other added bonus was that I nearly felt transported back to my original experience, (which was a real joy) much more so than painting from photos alone. That is no small feat too, considering  I'm painting in what amounts to a glorified closet right now and outside temperatures are in the 30's - 40's.

If I were not such a cold weather wimp, I would be painting outside even now. I can usually deal with the cold okay excepting my hands. Yes, I've tried fingerless gloves (useless) and hand warmers, but the minute my hands are out of my pockets, any amount of cold is actually pretty painful, and I can't paint in big puffy gloves! But, barring travel to some warm tropical location (not a possibility this winter, I'm afraid) painting from my plein air studies is the next best thing.

Small WIP & value sketches amid the rubble

A series of wet gray days have kept me from painting outside, so I've spent some time putting my studio  (and myself!) back together in the aftermath of the workshop. For me, "spring cleaning" always seems to make things look worse before they get better.

I have little piles around me...piles of books, of paperwork, and also a small pile of unfinished paintings. Among the latter is this demo painting that I started in the workshop, which I may noodle around with and bring to a more finished state. It's small, just 12x9", so we're talking maybe just orzo or macaroni-sized noodling.

Jennifer Young provence landscape work in progress

I started this workshop demo talking about composition and values and how they related to each other. Since we were working with the limitations of photographs, I wanted to try to get folks to think about the possibility of composition beyond just what they saw in front of them in the picture. When I'm painting en plein air, I will often do a series of small value sketches before I jump right into painting. I will use this same approach too in the studio, to develop my design.

Along with a contour sketch, it is extremely helpful to do this in a very abbreviated quick grayscale, so that I can get a general idea of my value relationships and the overall design that is created not only by the placement of line but also by the pattern of dark and light:

Value study landscape painting  Value study Jennifer YoungValue study Jennifer Young

This is not a new concept, of course. Artists have forever been studying and writing about the arrangement of values (lights and darks) to compose a strong design. The artsy fartsy term for this is "Notan". Okay, it's actually Japanese. Notan sketches can be fleshed out in recongnizable contours (like mine above) or they can be very quick and gestural thumbnail abstractions created for the purpose of identifying the underlying design.

The values are generally limited to four or less.  I used 2 markers; black and light gray, deriving my middle gray from a blending of the two, and letting the white of the paper stand as my lightest value. 

Of course, in life we see a much wider range of values, but in designing and executing a painting, I'm learning that simpler is often better.  If you look at many of Monet's paintings, you might notice that many of them have a very small range of values indeed, and he used color temperature and very soft edges to add a wonderful sense of atmospheric depth to his work.

A quick Google search for "Notan" yielded some good results for further exploration:

How about you?

Scenes from the painting workshop

I'm baaaack! Fell in a black hole of the blogosphere for a while and am slooowly recovering from a very busy and intense workshop at my studio this past weekend. Church Hill Photography took some great environmental shots of one of the demo portions  of the class on the first day, so I thought I'd share them here. (BTW, Elaine Odell of Church Hill Photography also made the excellent portrait of me in my studio, so be sure to check out her website if your looking for a photographer who really knows her stuff!) While I've taught off-site at other hosted locations, this was the first time I've actually hosted a workshop myself, and preparing for it was quite a bit more work than I'd imagined because I had to prep both my lessons and the space itself.  The participants did some great work though, and were enthusiastic and so much fun. And it was really exciting for me to share ideas about color, shape, values, and composition. Hopefully everyone felt like they learned a lot. I know I did!

After a brief discussion of color mixing (and especially mixing greens) I did a little landscape demo. This is a good long shot that shows me sketching out my composition at my setup, as well as the studio beyond. The participants worked in the front two rooms, so we had to configure the space in a way that would protect those beautiful wood floors. Hence the lovely blue spill-resistant floor coverings!

Jennifer Young painting demo landscape

Here's a cool shot  through the easel. There's a large mirror to my back, which I use to check my compositions in reverse. It really does help to give me a "fresh look" at my work. That cutie just over my shoulder in the gray tee is my talented niece Molly, a fine emerging artist who I was delighted to have come all the way from Texas to take the class and visit. The "man in black" looming in the doorway is my husband and partner Dave. As always, he was a HUGE help to me, keeping everything running smoothly.

landscape painting workshops with Jennifer Young

This shot shows the demo piece, coming right along.

Landscape painting workshop Jennifer Young

The workshop was pretty action packed, but by being in the studio we were able to really focus some of the more important elements of painting as they pertain to the landscape, in conditions that were controllable. I hope to do some plein air classes too in addition to the studio intensive, as this "takes it to the next level" and throws a whole other slew of concerns into the pot (watch this page for future workshop listings). Luckily I hadn't planned a plein air class for this past weekend though, as we had some really varied weather ranging from cloudburst thunderstorms to overcast damp chill.

On Monday Molly and I took a road trip up to Charlottesville so that she could see Jefferson's Monticello. Wow! What an absolutely gorgeous day--the redbuds, fruit trees, dogwoods and tulips were going crazy. I hope I can get up back up there some time soon to paint some of it-- and paint some local plein air scenes as well. Right after I take care of a few neglected household and business matters, that is. Whatever I paint, I'll be sure to post here first, so stay tuned....

Lake Como, Italy painting 6x6" mini

When we were last visiting Lake Como Italy, we splurged on a private boat tour around the lake. It definitely was a splurge for us, but worthwhile because we took different routes than you'd normally take on the larger lake transports (vaporetti). This little painting was done from reference shots taken as we were approaching a precipice near the charming village of Varenna:

Lake como landscape painting by Jennifer Young "Varenna Vista" Oil on Canvas, 6x6" sold

The private boat also stopped in intervals so that we could take pictures without worry of camera blur. If only I could find a way to hire a boat to use for an extended period at the lake as a floating studio, the way Claude Monet did  with his studio boat on the Seine. A girl can dream.

Plein air painting tips

The other day Misti posed a few really good questions in my comments section about plein air painting. So I thought I'd share her questions and expand on my response below.

 "I have been wanting to do some plein air work but am sort of afraid of diving in. I think it is the whole finished product I am afraid of as well as the time. How long do you spend working on a painting and what do you do with light changes? or do you choose a specific time when you will have the most time?Thanks!"

Thanks for your comment. As I said in my previous response, I can really empathize with your concerns. It's common to want to feel a sense of accomplishment when you put forth such effort. When I first started painting en plein air, a lot of my studies went straight from easel to the trash heap! It can take some time to really develop a process that works well enough to capture that fleeting light and elusive feeling that inspired you to paint it in the first place.

A few thoughts and suggestions:

  • To battle with that ever-changing light, it helps if you make a decision about the light you want to paint, and commit to that even if the light changes and the clouds roll in. This is very challenging, as you have to get your main color and shadow notes down pretty quickly to commit to that idea.
  • Due to its rectangular format, a  photograph will already provide a composition for your painting. When you're painting on location it can be a little overwhelming because the scene before you is so expansive and it can be difficult to translate all of that 3-D information onto a small rectangular 2 dimensional plane. 
  • To help with this, it is a very good idea to do a little planning even before you start your painting. I like to bring a small sketchbook with me and make some very quick thumbnail pencil sketches before I commit to a particular composition. In this way I can determine where to place my center of interest and how to frame my scene. 
  • In regards to "how long," two hours has been the maximum amount of time that I've been able to paint at one sitting on location, and even then that can be pushing it. Any longer and the light has changed too drastically and it just causes you confusion. Better to come back to the scene at the same time again the next day and finish up.
  • If a return visit on a subsequent day isn't possible, another option is to take a photo when you start and when you end and use these references to make a few finishing touches to your painting. The danger here is that once you get back to the studio you can lose the information and freshness you've captured on location if you overwork it too much away from the source.
  • A better option may be to work small. This is particularly true if you are just beginning to paint on location. Working on small canvases allows you to more easily cover your canvas in the limited time frame. You may feel less overwhelmed and less worried about possible "failure" (though in reality, any time spent learning is never a failure, regardless of the finished product!)
  • As for the time of day, mornings and evenings offer the most interesting light and shadow. By noon all of the light is pretty flat and shadows have disappeared, so this is least appealing to me. I find the mornings a little easier than the evenings, simply because the light doesn't change quite so quickly. However, there is nothing so seductive as that beautiful golden evening light. And if you really want to do some turbo-charged painting, try painting a sunset!
  • Most importantly, go about it with an open mind and with no expectations other than that you are showing up to learn and to experience. With persistence your studies will get stronger, and the benefit you have gained from the experience will pay off big time for you in your studio work as well. At least, that is what I have found in my own work.

And with those thoughts on plein air painting, I am off for a week to do a little of my own. We're off to the beach and I'd be surprised if blogging will be an option. Have a great Labor Day Weekend everyone and I'll be back to posting when I return!

Art Books; Landscape Painting Inside & Out

In my last post I mentioned Kevin Macpherson's latest book, Landscape Painting Inside & Out. This is a nice companion to his first wonderful book Fill Your Oil Paintings With Light and Color. The latter focuses primarily on plein air painting, while the former encompases both plein air and studio work. In his newest book, the author does a pretty thorough job of describing his supplies and tools of the trade for both his permanent studio and his portable one. Personally I really enjoyed the photos he's included of his indoor studio, (which is dreamy!) as it gives the artist (who likes to dream) some good ideas about how to plan a good setup. It was interesting for me to see that he puts his taboret in front of his easel, so that his color mixing palette is directly in front of him rather than off to the side, mimicking the setup one would have on a smaller scale outdoors. I work in the exact same way, with a mini-taboret on wheels my husband rigged up for me using a small laundry cart.

Subsequent sections touch on the different qualities of light and their effect on your subject, as well as value relationships and shape relationships. He has an interesting way of explaining the importance of describing elements in the landscape in terms of shape rather than rendering every minute detail. Here the book shows various black and white silhouettes to explain that an accurate contour is what describes an object. For example, one should be more concerned with the shape of a tree and largely indicate this  as one mass, using details such as individual leaves sparingly and just to accent and better define the subject.

This book touches on a lot of different concerns for the landscape painter. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, the author addresses edges, color temperature, and includes a very interesting section on planning and designing the painting. Several of these subjects are covered in just one or two pages, but they are well articulated and will give the serious landscape painter a starting point for further investigation.

After this overview comes what I consider the "meat" of the book--a large section on painting outside on location and another substantial one on translating your outdoor studies into larger studio works. In these sections, as in his previous book, Macpherson provides several very well described demonstrations of his processes. These sections appeal to me very much. I personally love demos, as it is easier for me to understand visually than it is having it explained.

What is particularly interesting to me about this part is the way the author encourages experimentation. He includes a few demos using different limited palettes that give the reader some ideas-- experimenting with an earth primary palette, using a strong color palette, or using a set palette with a monochrome (grey) underpainting.

Different from his last book, Macpherson includes a final section on "The Path to Success". This is really a topic worthy of an entire book (or a series of books). Macpherson goes into no detail at all about how to manage one's art career, but merely touches on some things to think about. Largely he writes about things like being inspired, doing what you love, setting goals, blah blah blah. Sure, all of this is important, but it's dealt with in a pretty vague manner and personally this is the least informative section of the book which covers about the last 15 pages. I suppose it is really just meant to be inspiring, so as long as you don't expect more, you may really enjoy this part.

Overall, this is a very interesting book with some very beautiful color reproductions of the artist's lush, impressionistic paintings. The demos are good, and I like that the breakout topics are geared more towards experienced painters who might be looking to experiment or deepen their understanding of landscape painting.  Macpherson does do a  good bit of selling of his other products, such as his other book, video and his "Kevin Macpherson Plein Air Palette" and "Kevin Macpherson Prochade Kit".  But this to me is only mildly annoying because I'd probably do the same thing if I offered these kinds of products. ;-) And heck! It must have worked...I've ordered his Prochade Kit for myself and will probably blog about it once I've had a chance to try it out.

Painting is a response (so move the $%#! tree).

I was talking to a non-painter about painting recently and she said, "The kind of art I like is imaginative. I don't care much for a copy of a photograph or a copy of a scene even in life. It's far more interesting to me to see a painting that came from the artist's head." Well, I couldn't agree more. But I hate to break it to her; all art comes from the "artist's head." The artist is painting in response to something, whether it be a concept or idea, a story, or an observation. Even in landscape painting (or any kind of painting even remotely related to realism) I think that true artistry occurs when the artist is not copying, but painting her response to a subject, and is fully able to communicate that response in a way that is original and distills the subject to its essence.

The reasons behind my choice of subjects vary. Sometimes it is the sheer beauty of a place that triggers an emotional response. Sometimes the scene evokes a memory. Sometimes it is the light. Sometimes I respond to something as simple as lines and planes. But it is all about my response or my interpretation.

Copying a scene so that it looks like a photo, or even looks like the view in front of me in the open air, is not nearly as important to me as expressing my response to the subject. As I heard artist Kenn Backhaus say once, "I'm not interested in making historical paintings." Backhaus paints en plein air, but he also uses many different combinations of his own photos at times to inform his studio paintings. He uses these resources in order to express his unique vision, frequently with masterful results.

I work in a similar manner (but still working on the mastery part.) ;-) Sometimes one scene says it all. Other times I may combine several different elements from varying photos and studies to relay the idea or feeling about a place or experience. Even in realism, the subject matter is the jumping off point. It is subordinate to the idea --just one vehicle for the greater goal of artistic expression.

Painting on location is important for the simple reason that there is more to respond to in life than in a photo. But even painting en plein air, artists can fall into the trap of subordinating their art for the sake of historical accuracy. I was out painting with a fellow artist once and we set up in different locations to paint the same scene. I took a break from my work and inquired about my friend's progress. "It's going okay," he said. "But I wish that tree was in a different place." "Then for heaven's sake," I said. "You're an artist! Move the $%#!  tree."

Painting successfully from photos offers its own set of challenges, because you are responding to a frozen moment in time. That is not how the eyes see and not how we respond in life. In addition to painting en plein air, I do work from photos. But they are my own photos, usually taken from travels where I have made a point to also do some painting or sketching (accompanied usually by long spans of sitting and sighing and blissfully observing) on location. So even working from my photos, it is always about my experience, except that I am also having to rely more on memory than from life in the moment.

As an artist I've worked using many different approaches. Sometimes it all does come "from my head", and at other times I use nature as my inspiration. There are times when I am so seduced by a scene that I find it perfect, and I try to capture it just as I see it. But even then, I try to keep in mind my ultimate goal to make a strong painting that communicates my unique response. I may not always find success, but it's something to move towards. And if a tree gets in my way, I have no qualms about moving the $%#! tree.

Painting lavender

Here is an exerpt of a recent email I received from a student of painting, inquiring about painting lavender:  "I just cannot get the lavender/periwinkle  color  figured out. How did you make it? Do you recall? Thanks again. I've much enjoyed reading your blog and your artist's  tips.

 Cheers,  T. J."

Dear T.J.,

Well, color mixing is a very ingrained habit that happens when I'm "in the zone" so to speak. Typically for lavender what I'll most often use is Ultramarine Blue (deep) mixed with Permanent Rose (W&N) and white. Distant lavender looks cooler, so I might use a bit more blue Cerulean or ultramarine, and less rose. It just takes a lot of experimenting, but after a while color mixing becomes pretty intuitive. -Jennifer *** 

Painting lavender is so much fun, and I feel so fortunate to have traveled to Provence during lavender season. One thing that struck me was the way that lavender changes color temperature. Sometimes it looked like a deep blue jewel, other times a violent purple, and still other times the red tones would come out so that it looked more heather.

Painting of Provence lavender by Jennifer Young "First Light", oil on canvas, 16x20" Price:$1175.00 framed

As with anything in landscape painting, the color temperature of your subject is very much dependant on the light. Morning light appears warm until you compare it to light in the evenings. At high noon, the light is directly overhead, so your subject looks flatter and devoid of shadow areas. To get the best understanding of the effects of light on a subject, it is imperative (for me) to go out in nature and paint what I see. I paint from photos all of the time, but only after I have done a considerable amount of painting, sketching and observing of the subject at hand on location. Photographs are a great resource, but they can lie! It is fine to paint from photographs and study them and the work of others while you are learning. But painting from nature can be the best teacher of all.