John F. Carlson interview: From plein air to studio

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John F. Carlson (1875-1947) was born in Sweden. His work is admired by many; the list of prizes and museum acquisitions of his canvases would fills a long column in “Who’s Who in American Art. His clear and excellent teaching has helped many an artist interested in becoming a better landscape painter. If you want to become a better landscape painter, you’ll learn a lot by applying the lessons taught in his famous book, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting, published by Dover Publishing, Inc.

I am fortunate to own a December 1942 copy of “American Artist” magazine in which Carlson was a featured artist. Parts of that article I wish to share with you over the next few weeks, because of the direct interaction with Carlson himself. In this third installment, he discusses the use of plein air studies to create studio paintings.



“There is nothing very unusual in my method of procedure,” says Carlson. “I never push myself into a decision as to what to paint. During the year, and especially in winter, I make numerous sketches outdoors – in Vermont, New Hampshire, and upper New York State. I do not make these trips to ‘find pictures’ but to freshen myself physically and mentally. I sketch both in oil and in pencil but never paint a large canvas outdoors.



Using Outdoor Studies  to Create Studio Paintings

“In these studies I strive mostly for the color relations of the large masses. Of course I try to compose as well as I can in the limited time but the real composition study for my pictures comes later. I draw as well as I am able but do not worry a great deal about that, for I can always go back with pad and pencil if more facts are needed. What I do worry about are the big forms or shapes, but even these can best be mulled over in the studio – and they require plenty of mulling!”



“Back in the studio the real creative work begins. The impressions gleaned from my study in the woods begin to crystalize. A picture finally springs into being, takes shape in my mind quite completely. I don’t start to paint until I can see that picture with my mind’s eye as clearly as though it were before me on the canvas. Thus it will be understood that the studio-painted canvas is in no sense an enlargement of an oil sketch painted outdoors. Sometimes, to be sure, such a sketch becomes the basis for a picture but only when a picture concept has built itself up around that sketch, developing into something quite beyond the content of the small study. The mere enlargement of a sketch results in areas of emptiness and a dull canvas. The larger the extent of the canvas the greater the art required to make the picture vital.”



“Having thus created the picture mentally I begin work on a large canvas. I work deliberately, very slowly in these later years, especially over the organization of my composition. First there is the consideration of the shape of the canvas. Will the particular theme be best exploited in a longish, squarish or upright canvas?”


I am very pleased to announce the release of my first instructional DVD, Limited Palette Landscapes, professionally produced by Liliedahl Art Videos. The video contains over 15 hours of instruction and follows my painting process from selection of the canvas to the final brush stoke. For a detailed description of the video contents, including a short video…and order instructions…please click HERE. Thank you in advance for adding this DVD to your video library. Upon viewing, if you would kindly share your comments with me, I would greatly appreciate it. THANK YOU.



John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE



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