Last Spring Term, shivering students stood outside at easels around campus during a spring snow shower. It was for the Landscape Painting class, which required students to brave the elements in order to paint the Knox landscape.
“Last year it was basically snowing for the first four weeks and we were still going outside anyway,” post-baccalaureate Fletcher Summa‘18 said.
The snow and cold were not the only tough weather the class endured. When it became warmer, painting through snowflakes made way for painting through swarms of gnats.
“There were these gnats in the grass that were just everywhere! In my paint, in my painting, and like flying on my face and stuff,” post-baccalaureate Iman Ghosh‘18 said. “And I remember looking at the painting afterwards and there were like dead bugs on my painting. That happened a lot.”
The unforgiving Midwestern elements didn’t only make it harder to paint, but also directly affected the materials the students were using.
“That was a different challenge in itself because the paint like froze sometimes and sometimes just melted so we had to understand the paint through that,” junior Sachika Goel said.
Not only do the elements make landscape painting difficult, but the time and dedication needed is immense, spending many hours outside trying to capture the scene.
“It was kind of a big endurance event … I would spend most of my weekends doing landscape painting,” Summa recalled. “I think the longest I ever spent outside was probably six hours straight, from beginning to end.”
Summa believes that in all the classes he took during his time as an undergraduate, besides maybe Organic Chemistry, Landscape Painting was the most work and time he had to put into a class.
“I think the thing about being outside is that, I’m going to say it’s less mediating. You are out there and thinking on your feet,” Professor of Art and instructor of Landscape Painting Lynette Lombard said. “I think that it really demands that you work with your whole self … They give off the life and the energy that you put into it when you are out there and that’s interesting to me.”Lombard notes that when painting outside requires giving oneself up to weather, insects and other challenges. This allows students to become more innately aware of the elements and your reaction to them. She wants her students to work with their whole bodies so they can translate what they are feeling into their art.
Goel finds her energy through color choices, depending on the temperature she is feeling at the moment. When she is painting under the hot sun, the grass becomes tinted with reds, yellows and oranges. But suddenly a chilly wind blows through and a tree branch develops shades of blue.
Even the direct emotions of the artists affect the painting styles, such as during a class trip to a Knox alumni owned farm where students painted next to a rather intimidating bull.
“I know they were a little freaked out by the bull. I just remember this energy that was in the paintings because of the presence that bull being nearby had,” Lombard recalled.Ghosh credited the class for not only changing how she approached art, but also changing how she viewed the world.
“In the studio, if you have a still life or something, the depth of the field I am looking at ends very soon. Whereas outside obviously it goes on forever,” Ghosh said. “It helps me to understand depth a lot more and like perspective.”
Lombard also stresses the importance of landscape painting in a world where the environment is vastly changing and that it is important to capture the moments in the landscape before they are gone forever.
“I think there’s a real urgency painting landscape today and it’s part of the reason I teach this course,” Lombard said. “We are witnessing nature changing and I would say in maybe five years time, we won’t see that nature we are seeing now.”