The Freshness of the Study

I feel that the freshness of the image that is captured truly speaks to me

I saw an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. of John Constable’s six-foot paintings and studies. For the first time, his studies and the finished paintings were shown side by side. It was a revelation: The studies were the same size as the finished paintings, and they showed the immediacy of the artist’s hand with their brush strokes and the drama of light and darks and swirls of colors.

The finished paintings were more rendered with the color more tonal and the light less stark and the brush strokes less brazen. I found the studies more powerful, and they appealed to me more. It was still somewhat amazing that he started new paintings rather than use the studies as “under paintings” and thus refine and paint them until he considered them “finished”.



Several times while painting this winter I liked the “starts” so much that I would stop and begin another painting, leaving the “start” as a study. I feel that the freshness of the image that is captured truly speaks to me; so rather than continue and refine and complete all of the canvas, I would leave it and being another that I’ll take to completion. I can always cite Constable as the reason why.

I have seen paintings of friends and say it has everything—don’t touch it—but they weren’t satisfied because it didn’t respond to some lesson or such that they had learned, and then they would end up slaving over their painting. I was even present once when a couple was ready to buy a painting but the artist didn’t want to sell it to them until he had worked on it some more. I thought that it was foolish of the artist not to sell it then and there because it obviously captured something that spoke to these art lovers.

Spring is here and soon the landscape will be speaking to the artists who are inspired by nature; and I hope that they will listen to their inner voices, stop, and keep the study as it is when it captures the essence of what the artist wishes to capture. If you feel strongly enough about the study, let it be, put it aside, keep it as it is and then start another painting of the same view. Keep painting that one until you feel that it is “finished”. It is your painting, your hand and your vision that is being manifested on canvas, and if the painting speaks to you unexpectedly but it isn’t “finished” in the way that you would normally finish a painting, then feel free to keep it as a study, think of Constable and consider him your guide.

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