Many people assume that outdoor paintings are always done alla-prima, or all in one session. There is an undeniable beauty to a painted surface that is kept all wet together. An efficient painter like Bierstadt, Church, or Sargent could interpret a whopping amount of information in just one sitting of an hour or two.
But I believe that many of the legendary studies from nature that we associate with artists like Asher B. Durand were created in two or three consecutive sessions. There would be no other way to complete a study of this complexity. Durand’s letters and journals make a few references to returning to a given location to continue a previous day’s work.
This 18x23 inch study entitled “Study from Nature, Stratton Notch,” appears to be a composite view, combining separate elements from separate locations. We know from his son John’s reports and from his own writing that he often extracted elements from a given scene. I believe in this case he painted the distant mountainscape in one location and then overpainted the backdrop with a fallen log that he found somewhere else.
In my experience, a two-day motif is one of the most satisfying and productive ways to work. As one example, here’s a 10x8 inch study painted on a narrow sidewalk in the city of Clonmel in Ireland. I worked for two hours on the first day to establish the basic drawing and to lay in the sky and the big tones of the buildings. By then the light had utterly changed, and there was no point going on.
By using Liquin as a medium, the oil paint surface was dry within 24 hours. I came back the next morning to find the sunlight just as it was at the beginning, and spent the next two hours working my way from background to foreground through the complex details of the scene.