"Forgetting about Art" / by Jeannine Cook

John Constable, the consummate English Romantic observer of nature and artist of magnificent landscapes, once observed: "when I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture."

I was thinking about this remark of Constable as I settle into my newly furnished studio in Spain and decided I wanted to inaugurate it by painting whatever my eye lit upon as I looked out of the windows. It was an interesting exercice, as in truth, there was a lot of beauty, but nothing that especially spoke to me as potential subject matter. Too many leaves, too much tumbling brilliance of bougainvilleas - in short a jumble of shapes. But I decided I would press on. The result was this small watercolour, From my New Studio Window, a study of the nearby fig tree. I had deliberately tried to blank out any preconceived ideas of composition, colour, etc. and just let the scene guide me through the painting.
Another remark Constable made was equally relevant to this watercolour exercice. Only someone who has worked a lot plein air could have such accurate insights. He said, "No two days are alike, nor even two hours; neither were there ever two leaves of a tree alike since the creation of all the world; and the genuine productions of art, like those of nature, are all distinct from each other."
He was right about the fig tree having a wonderful diversity of leaf forms. He was equally so about the every-changing light, the fugitive shadows, the change in intensity of flower colour... But it was fun to do this study - in a brand new and lovely studio.