Painters of the 19th century were all in the habit of making small paintings.  The Spanish painter Sorolla’s small paintings had rich colors and free flowing strokes while Levitan’s had very concise yet elegant color blocks.  Even the Russian painter Fedotov’s exquisite small portraits (6 x 8 inches) contain great use of colors and brush work.  Many of the small paintings by the great masters in Europe at the time were masterpieces in their own right except they rarely appeared in painting collections.

上个世纪的画家都有作小画的风气,西班牙画家SOROLLA 的小画色彩丰富、用笔潇洒,列维坦的小画色块极为概括和优美,就是俄国的费多托夫的小画肖像(约6×8英吋)也画得精致中有色彩有笔触,当时欧洲有许多大师的小画妙品,只是不常见于画册之中罢了。

Liang Qi-qi, my class director back in high school, had an extremely good feel for color.  He was sent to the countryside as a teacher during the Cultural Revolution and worked at the Yangchun County Cultural Center in Guangdong, China, before returning to the art institute.  He had painted many exceptional small landscapes at the time and when I visited him while passing through Yangchun, he laid them out for me one by one in his tiny studio.  His confident smile and pleasure at the time left a strong impression on me

我附中时的班主任梁器奇老师,色感极好,文革时下放干校,回美院前曾在广东省阳春县文化馆工作,当时他画了许多精采的小风景,我路过阳春去看望他时,他在狭小陋室中一张一张地摆给我看,老师那眯缝着的眼睛和微笑的嘴角露出享受和自得,那份神情使我至今难忘。

Small plein-air paintings offer only a limited amount of space and time to work with so it forces us to explore the relationship between the major color relationships.  It is therefore very effective for training “color use” and force us to see the forest, not the trees.

小画写生时间短,画幅小,逼得我们要去探索大的色彩关系,因而,是训练色彩能力的极有效的手段,是克服“土”油画的一大法宝。

Just how big is 5 x 7 inches?  It’s just about the size of my palm.  Balancing all kinds of changing scenery and managing the different spaces in such a small surface area is a unique challenge that requires its own special techniques.  It took many years of painting before I began to discover some of the principles and methods

l2x17公分(5×7英吋)有多大呢?不过是手掌大小罢了,要在这么小的面积中去描绘变化万端的景色,去经营各不相同的空间,自有其难度和学问。我画了若干年之后,才逐渐摸索到一些规律和方法。

Small Temple (Taipei, Taiwan) 4.7 x 6.7 inches

Composition

構圖

To begin with, avoid small and intricate objects when deciding on the scenery and layout such as twigs, vines, wires and window lattices.  For lawns, vegetable patches and bushes you must simplify the brush strokes and turn them into blocks of color.  When the scenery is translated into blocks of colors that vary in their color temperature and value, the painting becomes more interesting and the experience becomes more rewarding for the painter.  If you aren’t prepared to simplify the complex and try to put every little detail you see on canvas, you will ruin the small painting and end up with a mess of broken elements.

首先,小画在取景与构图上就不适宜去画一些形象细小、繁琐的东西,如细枝、纤藤、电线、窗格之类,遇有草地、菜地、树丛等亦需简化为色块和笔触,当把景物化为冷暖各异、深浅有别的色块关系时,画面就变得有趣起来,画者也主动而愉快。没有这种化繁为简的清醒认知,想将所见物象中一切细致变化的枝节都描写下来,对于一张小画,不啻是一场灾难,到最后一定是一败涂地、琐碎不堪。

Levitan believed that in landscape paintings the mission could be summed up as dealing with the relationship between the sky, ground and water. This is important wisdom from masters before us. For the first step, you indeed have to separate the sky, earth and water in terms of how bright the color blocks are and the colors used.  If you have the relationship right, the general layout for a small painting emerges.  This was what the Russian School introduced. When the “gray tone” is added, it achieves very effective results.  Back in the 1950s it quickly spread among the art institutes and added new vocabulary to Chinese oil paintings.

列维坦将风景画的任务概括为处理天、地、水的关系,是画家试炼过的宝贵经验。确实,第一要务就是区分出天、地、水的大色块的明度与色彩的关系,这个放对了,一张小画的大格局就出来了,大关系就设立起来了。苏联画派传进来的就是这个东西,加上“灰调子”,非常有效果,当年一下子就在各美术院校中流传开来,为中国油画增添了新语汇

Space is the soul of the landscape painting.

空间,是风景画中的灵魂。

Beyond space and perspective, mini-landscape paintings also have to clearly express through colors the relationship between the sky, ground and water.  Otherwise you end up with merely large blocks of color not much better than two-dimensional industrial design where the colors block the way like walls in the picture. Without the right foundation of color blocks, it’s futile to build on it more color structures. There will be a lack of sense of space, let alone sense of artistic atmosphere. This is why I place great emphasis on the perspective and spatial relationships in the image to make the painting come “through.”

在小风景画中,除了结构、透视关系外,还要以色彩将天空的上下关系、水和地面的前后关系明确地表达出来,不然,仅只有大色块的话,就会停留在工艺设计的平面组合状态,色块会如屏风般直立地堵在画面中;没有在大色块基础上再“打”进去,空间感没出来,“意境”也就谈不上了。因而,我十分注意画面的透视结构和空间塑造,努力使画面“透”起来。

Lake Luzerne (Luzerne, Switzerland) 4.7 x 6.7 inches

Brushwork

筆觸

The brushwork gives landscape paintings their charm and this is particularly true for small paintings.

笔触,是风景画中的趣味之所在,尤以小画然。

On a basic level, it “translates” the scenery that we see into impressions of different color blocks.  The next step is naturally using brushwork to express these color blocks.  While thick and broad strokes can be quite effective, if these are not balanced by subtle gradients of color then the bold strokes become primitive and simplistic.  While small paintings are usually done quickly, in my experience taking too little time easily led to them appearing vapid.  I usually allow for forty to fifty minutes, giving me time to go back over the tones and color blocks or give the key points or details some extra attention.  I try to make the small paintings more than painting exercises or records of large color blocks so they could have more of their own artistic merit.

立基于我们将眼前景物“翻译”成各种色块的认识,用笔触来体现这些色块就是顺理成章的了。固然,厚涂的、宽大的笔触易于出效果,但是,没有微妙色层的描绘作铺垫,这些笔触在画面就显得粗糙而不当。小画虽多为速写,以我的体会,时间太短容易流于空洞,所以,通常我的作法是画四、五十分钟左右,这样的时间幅度,可以有余裕回过头来调整色调和色块,也可将画面重点、精妙之处再加工。我力图让小画不停留在仅仅是习作和记录大色块,希望它有更多可独立欣赏的价值。

Process

畫法

Generally I start by using the cyans.  Sometimes I use the browns to “touch up” the dark parts. I don’t usually use oil for the block-in nor for mixing colors when blocking in.  The oil would blur the image easily, leading to faulty or dirty colors.

一般情况,我用群青起稿,有时用生褐色,并略将暗部“擦”一下。打轮廓不常用油,上色描绘一概不另调油,油一上去,画面就“打滑”,色彩反而不准和混浊。

With small canvases I like to prime the canvas with light gray-green, gray-ochre or gray-violet.  Having an intermediate tone made it easier to manage the harmony of the elements in the image.  A surface with a base coat also had a particularly good “feel” for the brush though for bright scenes it might appear a little dull.  Sometimes I use a completely white base to achieve a vivid result the first time round.  Serov for example liked to use a white canvas and he had an amazing talent for getting the colors right the first time. For mini-landscape paintings, I prefer to use a larger boar bristle for blocking-in and a small mink brush for finishing up and detailing.  If I spend more than an hour on a small painting, it’s probably overdone – either too much detailing or the paints had “congealed.”

小画板上我喜欢事先打底,常选择浅色的灰绿、灰赭、灰紫来涂底,画起来有个中间调子易于控制画面的和谐,尤其是打过底子的画面十分“抓笔”,触感很好,但画明亮的画面时会略显沉闷。有时也用纯净的白底子,第一遍上色时就很响亮。谢洛夫就喜欢白底画布,他可以如神枪手般第一次就调准色彩放上去。他画面的技法多样而活泼,有“贴”、有“堆”、有“砍”,有“按”……,比萨金特的“刷”法,过瘾多了,扯远了。我喜欢用较大的猪鬃笔画小画,再辅以小些的貂毛笔收拾和点画细节。一张小画如果超过一小时,通常是画过头了,不是细节过多就是颜料“浆”住了。

In summary, plein-air landscaping is a process where natural (objective) beauty is fused with artistic (subjective) beauty.  Natural beauty emphasizes the “feel” while artistic beauty focuses on the “appeal,” or in plainer terms, “fun.” If you become fixated on pursuing realistic details, painting becomes a chore rather than pleasure. Conversely, if the brushwork and colors depart too much from the natural scenery, the scenery itself falls apart and loses its feel.  What’s left are scribbles of brush and ink bearing no resemblance to the essence of plein-air painting.

总而言之,风景写生是自然美(客观美)与艺术美(主观美)相结合的过程。自然美更多的呈现出意境,艺术美则侧重于趣味。如果ㄧ味的追求真实就会少了描绘的趣味,反之,如果笔触、色彩与自然景物相去太远,就会致使景物解体、意境全无,而沦为笔墨游戏,也失去写生的真意。

For me, the mini-landscape painting is the best and most pleasant way to converse with nature.  I have always loved small paintings and my heart has remained true for all these decades.  Such is the magic of small oil paintings!

小油画风景是我与大自然对谈的最贴心最愉快的方式,我长久地,长久地钟爱于它,几十年来,从未忘情。啊,小油画!

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Forest (Nantou, Taiwan) 4.7 x 6.7 inches