As part of this summer’s Finger Lakes Plein Air Festival, I had the honor of attending a workshop from Sara Linda Poly, an artist I sincerely admire.
In her workshop, she asked us something that I’ll carry with me forever:
Are you trees dancing?
It was one simple question that suddenly gave my entire subject matter a new life and energy; a brilliance and vibrance. Having painted en plein air for many years now, I thought I knew what it was to take in my surroundings; to see the light; to capture the scene.
But were my trees dancing?
What I hadn’t fully, consciously realized, was that in painting en plein air, we are capturing more than just scenery and light -- we’re capturing life and the energy that gives substance to even that which is inanimate.
Sara challenged us that day with a project: Armed with only a palette knife, we had a small painting with five areas to focus on, and just 50 strokes to give it. It was a challenge that I took on with excitement.
Yet here I was, well-equipped with the boost I’d received after winning an award during the Community Paint Out the day before, and with new inspiration from Sara to make my landscape dance.
I gave the project my all, using broad swashes of color to make the most of my 50 strokes. It was exhilarating. Inspiring. Curiosity-inducing. Expressive and experimental, at the same time.
I went on to explore the rest of my painting that week with a childlike exploration I hadn’t experienced since I was young, and a freedom I hadn’t felt since I was a high school student with so many unmarked avenues ahead of me.
My paintings that week are some of my best. They’re infused with life, with energy, with a brilliance and vibrancy I didn’t realize was missing before. They’re encouraged by years of learning; of filling my technical toolbelt. They’re energized by decades of witnessing; of taking in the beautiful, curious world around me.
It’s taken years and years to find this place -- a place informed with not just technical training, but childlike exploration. A place that truly invites life into painting. A place that makes trees dance.