A photograph offers so many (and so obvious) advantages as a source for painting as to raise the question: why would any responsible person even consider painting a landscape outdoors?
I’ve been thinking about this while painting outside lately. I think the answer comes down to this: I need to ask, what is it that I am painting when I paint a landscape?
Is it the landscape?
Or is it my being there, my reaction to the landscape?
What I realized, thinking about the question in these terms, is that there is one place that photography fails predictably. Photographs record what a place looked like at a particular moment. They don’t record what it felt like to be there. This is a very big difference.
If my goal were to record the exact position of the trees or the particular pattern of the clouds or the blur in the distance when I focused on a dandelion nearby, the photograph would be the right choice for source material. If my goal were to convey the type of aesthetic that a camera offers — entirely different from natural vision, if you consider the question — the photograph would be the right choice. But those aren’t my goals. My goal is to paint in the context of my reaction to the landscape itself. I’m sure of that part. So for me, the answer is clear: paint in the landscape itself, paint outside, get wet when it rains. That’s the way I need to do it.
To paint outside is to accept some severe constraints: paint during the day (if the subject is daytime), in the right kind of whether, deal with the people who pass by, paint not too far from home as to prohibit regular work, etc etc etc. It helps to think of these constraints as choices.