Diary of a Painter - David Schwindt

"Intuition in art is actually the result of prolonged tuition."

– Ben Shahn

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Many painters will tell you that the process of creating is most successful when one is not conscious of the process, when he or she is able to work intuitively. This does not, however, acknowledge the long hours and years of study, trial and error, and hard work that precede those intuitive moments!

Edgar A. Whitney, watercolorist and teacher, addressed the question of the creative process in this way:

If, facing the paper, your thought is "I am an artist," you have no clue as to what to do. If the concepts of your functions are "I am a shapemaker, an entertainer, an expressive symbol collector"
. . . then you have an explicit roadmap.

There are, of course, as many "roadmaps" to a painting as there are painters. No one individual can speak for all. So, in wondering about the creative process, we looked into the pages of the sketchbook journal of one artist who struggled with nature, and himself, to come to an understanding of his own creative process.

A Spring Day
I discovered the peach tree in bloom. An accident of time and place, for I had only set out to paint the mountain and get away from the stress of the city. I started a painting and snapped a few slides, then finished the painting in the studio.

Over Several Years
I went back several times to the Sandia foothills in Albuquerque but failed to find the peach tree blooming.

Early Spring
I'm determined to watch it bloom again and am setting out earlier this year.

Storm Clouds and Peach Tree

Studio painting from a field study
"Storm Clouds and Peach Tree"
Oil 12" x 16"

March 29
There are only a few blooms. The rest of the tree is a deep magenta texture of budding branches against the blue-green texture of fading chamisa. A spring storm has covered the mountain and I hope for the effect of the sun's spotlight through dark clouds as I had seen in 1981. The sun doesn't come and I fear we will lose the blossoms to a freeze. Already I'm obsessed with the idea of seeing the peach tree in bloom!

March 30
The morning light makes the mountain softer. The storm is still there. I've painted an oil study that's a bit crude and hard.

April 4
A clear day; no storms, snow or clouds. The light changes quickly. Colors must be mixed quickly; I don't dare focus on any one thing, instead I'm always trying to catch what's between two moments
. . . painting relationships.

April 6
Another storm gathers against the mountain. Each day this week I've gone out expecting to find the buds of the peach tree withered by cold. Instead, each day has brought a few more blossoms. I paint the peach tree and the rhythms of clouds rolling off the mountain. Twice it has snowed, once long enough to force me to close the paint box and head for the van. But day after day I've come home with another variation of pink peach tree and Sandia Mountain grey.

Pattern studies

Pattern studies in watercolor for
"April Morning"

Late in February
I'm anxious for spring, and begin to process the peach tree material from last year. I bring out the watercolors for a wet-in-wet storm against the mountain. I work up a 12" x 16" oil from the watercolor study that was rigid from too many interruptions in fleeting snow storms. I have the rhythms of those storms flowing through me now, because the same spring storms are against the Sandias again this year. The new studio oil also has the rhythms of the storms that flow through the foothills and the peach tree.

Now is the time to do small abstract studies of pattern and color to explore other interpretations of the subject. The process of writing descriptions reinforces my memory and the slides that I took echo ideas that raced through my mind while I painted the original field studies. Now there's time to explore other approaches.

The concept of atmospheric perspective dominates my work . . . it recreates the sense of time and place. "I've been there!" Atmosphere also creates the mood of a painting . . . and to paint atmosphere/mood is technically challenging. I find that it requires considerable control of value and color. Every object is affected by the air around it, and the light bouncing off the air is just as important as the light bouncing off the object.

While I do respond to, and paint, the subtle colors of the mountain, I am inclined to use brighter colors in the studio, just to explore pattern possibilities. Pattern is the underlying concept that is the skeleton for all my other ideas. The watercolor studies completed in my studio are small vignettes painted to examine forms and patterns.

Contours, shapes, details and rhythms come from pencil sketches . . . they make a diagram, they separate elements. It is in these studies, these explorations of pattern in dark and light that the painting is born. If a work is successful, it is because I have felt or recognized or created the concept of pattern in the subject before painting it.

Over a period of ten years I've watched, sketched, painted and come to know the peach tree. Now, for me the little tree represents the fact that an artist does his best work with a subject that he knows well . . . and that such knowledge doesn't come to us instantly.

April Morning

"April Morning"   Oil   24" x 48"

Thanks to David Schwindt remote for allowing us to peer into his painter's diary and for these photos.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to the Albuquerque Metro Area - Volume 6

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