The purpose of my project was to embark on an artistic journey; to follow in the footsteps of the great French impressionist artists. I have always had a special fascination with impressionist art, the expressive brushwork and joyful scenes cause impressionist works to be uncontestably considered some of the most aesthetically beautiful artwork. I had studied French Impressionism in the spring and learned all about the art and techniques of artists like Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne, and many more. As someone who loves to paint and is very passionate about art, I used this opportunity to conduct an art project in the typical fashion of impressionist artists, painting en plein air, or painting life outdoors. To do so, I used my STEP funds to buy camping and art supplies. I then spent a long weekend in the woods painting and drawing the nature just as artists such as Monet or Bazille may have spent in the Frontenac Forest.
I have always been very involved in the visual arts, but my course load makes it difficult to pursue personal creative exploration. This project was an especially significant act for me as a STEM major, with only rare occasions in which I may expend any time or effort in building my portfolio. One of my favorite artists is Claude Monet who is widely known for his paintings of water lilies. In Monet’s lifetime, he went through several stages in his work, but the overarching theme to his work and artistic identity was based upon religiously painting outdoors. In his final decades of producing work, Monet stopped including figures and modern references in his paintings, focusing solely on nature. It is speculated he did this due to a conflict within the French government which made his ashamed of his country, and therefore discontinued his nationalistic, figure-ridden paintings of modern Paris. He focused on nature, and came to prioritize the aesthetics of his artwork over the reality of the scene leading him to fantastically colorful works of art. I wanted to follow his traditional painting style in order to understand the world through his eyes, and become more educated in the technical aspects of his style.
Artwork has the ability to transmit emotion, and whenever I look at a piece of art I try to understand the thoughts and emotions the artist is trying to convey. I had previously related to Monet simply through viewing his art, but now I feel a deeper connection to his message as I have experienced firsthand the steps necessary to create his pieces. It was definitely eye opening to understand what Monet put himself through on a daily basis to create his art, and I became inspired and motivated through my deepened understanding of his work. The transformation I experienced by completing this project was a progression to an ideal level of comfort in my artistic self and my relationship with and appreciation of nature.
In all seriousness, painting outdoors is much easier said than done. I found the practice to be difficult as it requires a special balance of mental engagement within an uncomfortable and distracting environment while accounting for all of your belongings. In addition, although I have moderate artistic ability, I found it very difficult to paint from life, maintain loose brushwork, organize my color palette, and successfully organize my composition simultaneously. My paintings did not turn out as well as I would have liked them too, however the struggle was well worth the dissatisfaction for the added practice. I was able to test my abilities as an artist and really push myself technically like I have never been pushed before. This was a great opportunity to build on my skill set and challenge myself. Additionally, I know this practice led to an improvement in my painting skillset. I found that I ultimately enjoy painting outdoors and hope to include aspects of plein air painting in my future artwork.
Camping was the second component of my project which affected me. I used to camp a lot with my family as a kid, and so the practice had sentimental value to me. I had not been in a while, and I have never been camping so rustically or so much in solitude as I did over the course of my project. The campground had no cellular service, no electricity, no running water, and was only accessible by a mile hike. Unplugging myself from society for a few days was incredibly refreshing, and now I know I will be less reliant on my phone or social media. I was reminded of how great it is to be immersed in nature and I discovered that I am remarkably self-sufficient in the woods. It was nice to reflect on the fortunate lifestyle I live.
This project was quite significant and relevant to my life for several reasons. I think it is important for everyone to strengthen their relationship with nature given the current mistreatment of our planet, and unprecedented disbelief and lack of preventative action with respects to global warming. To spend as little as a weekend away in the woods does so much for one to feel closer to the Earth, and more in touch with oneself. At least it did for me, and it was a much needed unplug from my busy life. It is important to me to advance as an artist not only because I love art, but also because of my professional goals. My professional goals are to become a conservation artist with a specialization in paintings. This field requires an expertise in chemistry, art history, and technical art skills for this field. It is imperative to have a base skillset in artistic abilities to be trusted in repairing or conserving old art, especially valuable pieces of history. A project like this may be especially applicable to my future work if I were to conserve a piece of impressionist art as I have much more context for the origins of the artist’s efforts and practice in recreating impressionist brushwork. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have ventured on this artistic endeavor. Many thanks to the STEP programs for providing me with the means for completing this project.