Dawn Whitelaw
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Painting In View

When working from life, especially outdoors, it had been my practice to use a viewfinder to isolate the elements that I wanted to include in a painting. While this is not a bad practice, I recently had a real breakthrough that made me throw away my viewfinder.

On a painting trip to the central California coast, my painter friends Frizbe, Laddon, Boyd, Saunders and myself spent most every evening painting on the beach as the tide came in. The waves were in motion and the color changed with every minute in the evening light. My practice was to select a small part of the vast scene in my viewfinder and paint it on a small canvas.

 

Pictures taken on the California coast with painter friends, Paula Frizbe and Jason Saunders.

 

I had no success at all for several evenings. One evening, in frustration, I stopped staring at the small section of rock and ocean I was trying to paint and took in the whole scene. By looking all around at the coast, I started to get a feel for the bigger picture. I began to understand the scene I was painting by understanding it in context of everything around it.

For the first time I understood that it was exactly like painting a portrait. I needed to see a subject talk and move about the room, to begin to sense their character. The portrait, in the end will show the subject from a particular angle, in specific clothes and lighting, but should reveal more about the subject than how they happened to look at one moment. The same approach was needed at the seacoast. Just as I wouldn't want to paint a portrait from a single photograph, decisions about elements of a painting needed to be based on a larger impression.

Well, I did not master the coast, but I left with a greater sense that I, as the artist, have to take in the whole with some measure of understanding, then pick carefully which elements will best tell the story.


Dawn's painting, "Sea-Carved" won the Award of Excellence in the Oil Painters of America 2002 East/Southeast Regional Juried Exhibition of Traditional Oils. Held by Brazier Fine Art in Richmond Virginia, the show included 89 selected pieces. Additionally Paula Frizbe and Jason Saunders each recieved Judges Honorable Mention for their works from the same one mile stretch of California coast line.


The Oil Painters of America (OPA) is the largest national organization in the United States dedicated to "preserving and promoting excellence in representational oil paintings."

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