One Way To Know When An Outdoor Painting Is Finished….(You’ll Never Guess)

Notice the little drawing of a plein air painting setup, circa 1914

“But how do I know when it’s finished?”….is one of the many plaintive cries of the painting student.

There are probably almost as many answers as there are painting teachers.

And I think it depends on how far down the road of understanding an artist has gone. I know it has changed for me over the sixteen years that I have been painting.

These days, I have a pretty good idea of what problems I need to solve and how I’m going to do it. Once I have, voila, the painting is done.

However, as students and new painters are battling on many fronts at once, it’s easy to keep going and going and going…..until, well, It’s Dead, Jim.

F. Hopkinson Smith

But, once again, dipping randomly into one of my old art instruction books, this time “Outdoor Sketching” by F. Hopkinson Smith, I find another method, effective but probably not well known. The book is a presentation of four talks that he gave at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1914. Wish I’d been there. This excerpt is from his talk on Composition.

“The requirements are thoughtful and well-studied selection before your brush touches your canvas; a correct knowledge of composition; a definite grasp of the problem of light and dark, or, in other words, mass; a free, sure, and untrammelled rapidity of execution; and, last and by no means least, a realization of what I shall express in one short compact sentence; that it takes two men to paint an outdoor picture: one to do the work and the other to kill him when he has done enough.”

Hopkinson Smith may have written the most interesting and witty book on outdoor sketching that most artists have never heard of. There will be more….

But in the meantime, here are some of his sketches from “Gondola Days”, which is in my personal library. As you will see, he knows whereof he speaks:

Lovely old cover with wonderful typography

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