Creative History

 

 

﷯View a scene painted by Oregon landscape oil painter Laurel Buchanan and your attention might first be drawn to a beautiful field, appearing gold in color. Examine the canvas more closely and you will discover that golden field to be of many colors: green, pink, red, and more - because those colors are actually there in the field which she has painted. Laurel sees, and paints, all the incredible beauty, intricacy, and glory of nature that very often is unnoticed by observers of the great outdoors. Laurel’s understanding of, and passion for, nature began at an early age. Her father, an accomplished multi-sport college athlete and one of the early, avid surfers in southern California, was also a citrus farmer, a high school biology teacher and athletics coach, a scholar who earned a doctoral degree in philosophy of science, and an outdoors nature guide. For Laurel, that meant many childhood days spent with her family at, and in, the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada mountains; an entire summer camping along the California coast; and another full summer camping on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan. When at home in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, Laurel roamed about, and worked in, the family’s citrus groves, and often hiked in the nearby “wash” (a stream bed that is dry much of the year, but that funnels water down from the mountains during the rainy season). She also raised, trained and rode a horse of her own, and enjoyed helping to care for both the traditional and non-traditional “pets” kept by her family, including an owl, a﷯ possum, and “Alli George,” an alligator that grew to be over six feet in length in her back yard before eventually relocating to the Los Angeles Zoo. All of these experiences led Laurel to a deep love of the natural world, but also to a great appreciation of the brilliant complexity of nature. Early on she developed a keen eye for the vast number of both obvious and subtle colors and forms that appear in the flora and fauna of planet Earth. Naturally gifted with artistic talent, Laurel took up drawing and painting at an early age, capturing many of the outdoor scenes and subjects she so enjoyed as a child. After graduating from high school, she began formal training as an artist, studying first at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and then at California State University, Long Beach, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in art. Just prior to her college graduation, one of Laurel’s art professors recommended her for a job with an accomplished artist in the field of surface design, particularly the dyeing and painting of custom, high-end woven and hand-sewn fabrics. From that job, doors then opened for Laurel to work as a contract and freelance artist in the fields of gift-wrap design, graphic design, and display design, the latter at Toyota Motor Corporation’s automobile design center in Newport Beach, California. Laurel gained invaluable experience and knowledge from each of those job opportunities, but from designing gift-wrap she especially developed expertise in creating color schemes and making different palettes work together, a skill that has greatly enhanced her ability as a fine artist. ﷯ After relocating in the late 1980’s from southern California to the Bay Area of northern California, Laurel concentrated most of her time and energy on what she has always considered to be her “four most important masterpieces,” her children Luke, Timothy, John and Caroline. Yet during that busy period of mothering young children, Laurel was able to begin a transition to her real artistic passion, landscape oil painting. Laurel explains, “I took lessons from a neighbor, Linda Harris, who was a wonderful portrait oil-painter and a collector of beautiful artwork. One day we were gazing at a wall covered with gorgeous landscapes, and she explained to me how difficult it is to paint a good landscape painting. That planted a seed within me, and from then on I had a sense that I was going to paint landscapes.” Several years later, after all her children had reached school-age, and following a move further north to the beautiful state of Oregon, it became obvious to Laurel that the time had come to pursue her painting passion. She joined a local plein-air painting group, but, she says, success did not come quickly or easily. “For several years, I proved Linda right. My paintings were a mess.” But one of the benefits of growing up with four older brothers was the development of a stubborn and competitive nature, and so, she says, “I had to keep painting.” Progress with landscapes followed, and her perseverance paid off. “Eventually my paintings started to reflect the love I felt for nature.” While developing her skills as a painter of landscapes, Laurel also began to understand why she is a dedicated plein-air painter. “I realized how important it is to paint outside where the sun is radiating, plants are growing, streams are flowing, clouds are forming, and creatures are living. I have experienced the amazing beauty of nature, and it is important to me to share it with others. I see so many people spending most of their time in a car, in an office, and at home, and I want to take them outdoors to see the beauty there. Of course, I can’t actually do that in person, but maybe through my paintings I can. And for those who do get outdoors and appreciate nature, my paintings can capture a scene for them in a way that a two dimensional photo cannot. A painting is a more subjective interpretation of a place, and can convey the very sense and feel of a scene in nature. That’s what I strive for when I paint landscapes.﷯ To achieve that goal requires a great deal of effort. Laurel writes: “With each painting, the process for me is intense. I struggle like I am giving birth. First, I have to choose among many options where I will go to paint, and then whether to dress for hot or cold, rainy or sunny weather (not always easy to predict in the Pacific Northwest.) On location the challenge from the beginning and onward is to keep the sun off my canvas and the rain off my palette. The fun begins as I determine my focus, but I still have to narrow a 360 degree view down to fit a small piece of canvas. Fifty miles of expanse might need to be portrayed by one stroke of the brush. And always I am tempted to paint more of the beautiful scenery than I should, so I have to leave out much of what I have fallen in love with at each site, while hanging on with all my might to one or two subjects. It’s painful, yet also joyful for me! “But even more important than what I choose to paint is the way I paint it. I am determined to have the components of a good design. Are the values, the temperatures, the masses, and directions within the painting balanced? Does the painting convey the freshness and vitality of the outdoor scene? “This last consideration is crucial. I have noticed that some successful contemporary painters that create lively field studies leave all of the life out of them when they complete the full-size painting back in the studio. Painting out of doors is crucial for anyone painting a landscape. To carry the vitality of nature to the viewer the painter needs to immerse in nature. Of course, good landscape paintings can begin or end in a studio, but the artist needs to keep going back to outdoor painting regularly to not lose the immediacy of that impression.” ﷯ Laurel’s “immersion” in a particular outdoor location begins by walking the area far and wide, gathering extensive knowledge of the setting, and taking time to build a personal connection to it. Along the way she considers various images worthy of painting and then later settles on the one image that she finds most striking. As she paints a scene, Laurel follows the practice of the early impressionist painters, placing opposite colors next to each other in order to create vibration, and a heightened awareness of light. She also continually custom-mixes colors from her palette for each brush stroke, often dipping her brush into four or five colors consecutively to make just one thick and uniquely colorful stroke at a time. This brings out the true colors present in nature - colors which casual observers often overlook, such as purples, greens, and blues in a variety of vegetation; red earth showing through weeds; and grasses reflecting sky blues and﷯ greens. The outcome is a painting that awakens the viewer to not only the literal look of the landscape but also the transient feel of nature. Most always, Laurel also works to overcome the limitations of pigments to convey the range of dark and light values in the great outdoors. “The shortcoming of paints to accurately show the amazing aspects of nature,” Laurel says, “drives me to study the works of the masters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as contemporary artists who are painting outdoors. From them I learn about how to paint depth and atmosphere into my paintings by careful use of values and colors. But all the while I am keeping in mind that the ‘freshness,’ the feelings of immediacy and life, are the most important considerations for a landscape painting. That is my fingerprint, and I keep going outdoors to be sure that that is the gift I give to viewers of my work.”