Out of the Studio and into the Light

DAY ONE - New England Painting Tour
by Seth Ruggles Hiler (MFA 2005) 

I traditionally am a studio painter, working from my own digital photography of people and places. My daily life-drawing and painting at the New York Academy of Art has packed my toolbox with anatomical knowledge and an understanding of light that only the naked eye can teach. The memory of such life-lessons inform my daily studio practice, but refreshing unfiltered observation makes all the difference in the world.

My last landscape series, "EarthScapes," is comprised of several small and medium-sized oil paintings which I completed at the Vermont Studio Center and in my own NJ barn studio this winter. There is a vast difference in process between painting inside and out. Painting indoors is comfortable, temperature and lighting-controlled. Reference photos safely provide the information with which I paint. Plein-air painting is a whole other animal all together. Weathering the elements, which burn the artist's skin and constantly topple his or her canvas, is a minor problem compared to the overwhelming panorama provided by Mother Nature. But in this frenzy comes calm and SO many more possibilities.

My instructor for the week, Jon Imber, encourages the openness forced upon us by such monumental vistas. There is no view-finder, locking our eyes into one limited composition. So this challenge excited and inspired me on my first day out. Our group of twelve unloaded our supply-packed vehicles on the side of the road, in front of a lily pond on Deer Isle. Paints laid out, turps wafting in the breeze, I pondered my composition. A tree stump in tones of pink grew at the bottom left quadrant of my 30 x 30 inch canvas and would remain there throughout the phases of the day.

The rest of the painted scene, however would be a clumsy evolution. When not satisfied with the image as a whole, I broke for lunch. Upon my return, I decided to rotate my easel 45 degrees to the right.

This is the great thing about plein-air painting, explained Jon, you can take a branch from here, a beaver dam from there, and perhaps move the split rock over a bit. Well, I followed such sage advice and continued reconstructing my composition to a point with which I would be satisfied. Ironically, I will need to finish my painting back in my studio from a combination of memory, digital snap-shots and invention. But, I would not have felt the freedom of composition and the expansive color opportunities, from which to choose if I had not exited the sliding glass doors of my studio, into the light.

Seth Ruggles Hiler


Seth Ruggles Hiler is an artist and arts educator from Boonton, NJ. He received a BFA from Syracuse University in 2002 and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2005. He is a portrait painter at heart, but landscape is his mistress. Grab your French easel and enjoy the ride!

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