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Is It Better to Paint Things as They Are or as They Are Becoming?

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

When the cherry trees framing my house formed into billowy white clouds this week, I took inspiration from Mitchell Johnson to capture the abstract essence of my front yard. I just love how he distills the essence of the landscape into a few elements. As I reflected on his painting North Truro, Green Tent 2018, I wanted to edit my own front yard in the same way. (You can learn more about his work at mitchelljohnson.com.)




I loved how the shadows on our lawn offered geometric blocks to hold the house and trees.




The white trees looked fluid, waving the creamy white blossoms in the air. The fluidity with which I painted the trees spurred a number of conversations with Tom and others about the value of painting the scene as it realistically appears. Is it better to paint things as they are? Clearly the trees are not as liquid as the flowing strokes make the white blossoms appear. When I focused in on the specifics of the blossoms, the trees seemed fussy. Each looked overrun with thousands of tiny buds and petals. Upon close inspection, the details of the trees erased the way I saw them as billowy white clouds in my mind's eye.


Do I have the patience to draw/paint all those tiny petals? Would it make a difference?


I didn't know, so I set out to try the next day. I squinted in the blazing sun, trying to draw one of the cherry trees as realistically as I could. Within a few hours, I was cross-eyed and exhausted. The tree was transforming before my eyes, and I couldn't keep up. White petals turned pink, pink petals withered, and green leaves emerged, pushing petals loose to float to the ground.


The tree seemed to be exploding. I can't yet paint such an ephemeral scene realistically, so I'm unable to answer whether there is more value in painting things as they are. I'll return to that question later. Given my current abilities, I turned my attention to the transition happening in my yard. I attempted to paint my tree as it changed, as it was becoming...


Could I paint what it felt like to watch my cherry tree explode? I switched to pastels--and eventually a rolling pin--to illustrate the active transformation of my cherry tree from a puffy cloud of white blossoms. Becoming: I like how the word can be both a verb and an adjective for my tree.





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