Above: A plein air oil painting on gessoed board, somewhere in Utah, ©2009 Diane Wesman.
Yes, I profiled Diane Wesman in the fall of 2008. No, I’m not repeating myself, because Diane is not repeating herself. Diane is doing something exciting—breathtakingly exciting. She is branching off into a new medium: oil painting. (She did work in oils briefly when she was a young student, but oils were replaced by acrylics and then later by watercolors and pastels.)
For the last several years Diane, who is a landscape artist who works plein air, has worked primarily in soft pastels. She has created lovely landscapes which capture the light and sense of the outdoors. But she’s also had a lot of pastels to carry out into the field. (It was kind of a standing joke when we would sketch together. I can carry everything I need in one hand—she has a James-Bond-metal-suitcase and a host of other tools.) And while she never complains about the special handling and framing that goes into protecting her pastel art, I know it’s an added headache.
I wasn’t totally surprised then, when she called one day this summer and told me she was going to start working in oils. She had been reading a ton of books and had signed up for a class with a local artist, Marc Hanson, whose work she admired. (You can read about this adventure on Diane’s blog.)
Well the class came and went and Diane is still producing several small oil paintings a week. She’s working out brush handling and is familiar with her new palette of colors, getting ready to add new colors, and generally glowing when you talk to her about the venture into oil painting. It’s actually kind of funny to see how she shuffles the paintings around with abandon because they aren’t as delicate as pastels!
It may seem that this is a small change. Artists are always evolving (or at least that’s what we hope for them). But the reality is that artists aren’t always evolving. They play safe. They stay comfortable. And it’s rare for an artist to switch media when she already has a presence and following, not to mention a total comfort and ease in handling, in another medium. All of us as artists can smile a little more broadly at Diane’s courage in pursuing what she felt would be a good shift for her. Will she continue to work in pastels? Probably—Diane loves the impulse and movement of drawing, and pastels are uniquely suited to capture that action. But for now she is focusing on capturing the landscapes she explores physically with oil paints.
Left: Diane holding her journal. Both are a bit fuzzy because in all three of the photos I took we were both laughing. I have to say I'm thrilled when an artist fills a journal I've made, but I'm down right giggly when it's chockful of wonders! Here we see the title page which she covered with a map, and the inside front cover which contains a CD of all the digital photos she took on the trip, as well as scans of her paintings. (Don't even ask me why there is plastic around my bookshelf in the background.)
Part of Diane's journey into oil painting included a fall trip to Utah with her husband Eric. While Eric practiced catch-and-release fly fishing at various locations on their trip, Diane would set up nearby and paint with her oils.
Before Diane left on her trip I gave her a small (6 x 8 inch or so) journal, sewn on the spine (this structure accommodates collaged ephemera without stress on the spine), with Strathmore Aquarius II for pages. Diane enjoys working on this watercolor paper with watercolors and gouache.
Diane graciously allowed me to take photos of pages of her journal so that you could all have a peek in the travel journal of a working artist. What follows are some of the pages and brief notes. What you will see is how Diane took in the quality of light on the new landscape and translated it into a visual vocabulary in her journal, and then in her oil paintings. This is exciting stuff. Much of it is a direct look into Diane’s artistic brain. You can see what is important to her editing eye. You can see how she technically adapted to new vegetation, and to mountains (which we don’t really have in Minnesota). Even while Eric drove along the highway, Diane was busy riding "shotgun," catching glimpses of the surrounding landscapes. Here we see the ideas hatching, the glimpses not just of travel memory, but of possible paintings.
(Note the following images may be out of order through my fault. Diane
isn't obsessive about dating and timing her journal entries like I am. A good reminder that you need to take the approach that suits you.)
Above: Landscapes made (while traveling at 60 miles an hour),with a Niji waterbrush and gouache as Diane's husband drove. Also a note about pillows. Diane carries rubberstamps along on her trips. ©2009 Diane Wesman.
Above: On some pages Diane collaged photos from travel brochures she picked up at various locations (verso page) and then accompanied those images with her own paintings (recto page.) ©2009 Diane Wesman.
Above: Diane's sketch captured the main shapes and contours of the mountain range before her. There are small color notes added with color pencil, here and there, to save as reminders of the colors she was seeing. ©2009 Diane Wesman.
The final pages of Diane's travel journal contain notes about her paintings and a small print of each one made and attached to the page after she returned home.
On this trip west Diane didn't just work in her travel journal. She used her travel time to work on more oil paintings. The final image I'm sharing with you is a group shot of 14 paintings that Diane made while she was in Utah (I think it was 5 days). Even though I shot the paintings laid out on my studio floor in poor light, you can see that Diane has captured the unique qualities of light and landscape where she visited. Her values are right, and the masses and recession all work. This was definitely a working vacation.
Above: the 14 oil paintings Diane made in Utah. Even in the poor lighting conditions I shot these in you can see how Diane made the paint work for her to capture the light and landscape surrounding her. These are all on gessoed board, with a height of about 8 inches and various widths. © 2009 Diane Wesman.
When Diane stopped by (at my pleading) to show me all this artwork I can’t tell you how happy I was. I smiled excessively the rest of the day. It's exciting to see someone whose work you love take off in a new direction. And it's always fun to look into someone's travel journal. I'm so glad Diane let me share all this with you so that you could be inspired in your own work—to take your own risks.
I think Diane is always going to love pastels, but I think she is going to continue to do exciting work in oil paint. I'm happy every day that I get to see this happening.