Relying on the Memory, Not the Photograph

February 9, 2016



When I am painting a picture it is easy for me to recall the moment I experienced that image in real life. I can't always remember exactly what mile marker or day the moment took place, but I can remember being there. I have a strong mental image of the place that extends well beyond what is captured by the photograph. That is one of the things that makes a project like this so spectacular. Instead of flipping quickly through pictures of my 2600 mile journey, I stop and take the time to relive a single moment for hours. 

Despite my strong mental image, as an artist I rely heavily on photographs. There is just some disconnect between what I see in my head and what I put down on paper. In short, my mental images put down on paper do not usually reflect reality very accurately. That said, one of my recent paintings gave me the opportunity to use my memories to show how it really felt in the moment. 

Throughout northern California and a bit into southern Oregon the Pacific Crest Trail wonders through several spectacular moss covered red fir groves. These wonderful trees self prune their lower branches once they are no longer receiving sufficient sunlight, leaving behind tall, magnificent trunks devoid of branches. In some areas, where the moisture is just right, a thick layer of yellow-green moss covers one side of the trunks. 

Again and again, over hundreds of miles I attempted to capture "THE" image of these wonderful groves, and again, and again I ended up with photographs lacking in saturation and distorted from the wide angle. It seemed I couldn't make a group of trees look straight to save my life. In real life they were straight! And that was one of the amazing things about these groves: the straight uniform columns of bright green against red brown created simple beauty. 

Luckily, paintings don't have to be exact replicas of photographs, and in this case I deviated far from. I used multiple photos from along the trail as references, to make sure I achieved the proper texture of the bark, the shape of the upper branches, and the type of forest floor debris; I used my memory for the soft light filtering through the canopy, the bold bright contrasting colors, and perspective that makes you feel like you are there, rather than looking through a lens. I think this photo captured the essence of *being there* the best out of any of my paintings so far, and maybe, just maybe, that is because it is not just from a photograph.



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