I am delighted that Lyn Asselta has agreed to share some words with us about her process of finding views to paint among the most ordinary-seeming landscapes. I have to admit that when I first read what she wrote, I was so moved, I was brought to tears.
I came across Lyn’s work a couple of years ago and was so taken by a piece, I featured it in one of my first monthly curations. To give you a sense of what she does, have a look at this:
I love the absolute ordinariness of this scene and the extraordinary painting Lyn Asselta has made of it. This is what Lyn has to say about the painting:
In the farmlands of the South, it’s common to see these “clumps” of trees. I wonder all the time if they were planted to shade an old farmhouse or to give field workers a place to get out of the sun. Nowadays, these trees stand in the fields, proud, but no longer providing shade for anyone but each other. In this painting, I felt as though the trees and the phone poles were both obsolete in their own ways.
Lyn Asselta Bio
First, a wee bit about Lyn.
Lyn is a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America and holds Masters’ Circle status with the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS). She is an avid plein air painter and participates in plein air events as often as she can. Lyn teaches both studio and plein air pastel workshops to students of all levels. She is the founder and current co-president of the First Coast Pastel Society in northeast Florida. Lyn says, ”My artistic career took me in many directions before I settled in with pastels, but this medium allowed me to get my hands dirty, to layer and blend, and to finally have a means to say what I wanted to say about the landscape.” You can see more of her work at her website.
And now, let me hand the blog over to Lyn!
In Lyn Asselta’s Words
I’m so honored to have been asked by Gail to write a guest blog! When she asked me to write about finding the extraordinary in everyday places, I found myself thinking hard about her request. I tend to like to paint very ordinary places; places that perhaps would be overlooked, so I get asked this question quite a bit. This time though, I wanted to really take the time to consider what it is that makes these places seem extraordinary to me.
I suppose what I’d most like you to know is that I’m not trying to romanticize these places. Instead, I want to recognize them…the way one would recognize an old friend after years of being apart. I want you to see the beauty of a place, but I also want you to see its flaws, because it’s those flaws that allow its soul to seep out. We find the soul of a place in its worn spots, its imperfections, its fury or its quiet solitude. Perfection masks the true soul of a place just as it can mask the soul of a person. So, to me, beauty isn’t about perfection, it’s about that elusive “something” that makes you want to know more… the element of intrigue… the part that is just beyond the visible.
As a painter, we tend to look for interesting shapes and forms and lines. We are always composing in our heads. We look for light and shadow and contrasts. We are enamored with color and its effect on our work. We can put all of these elements into a painting and it still may not say what we want it to say. Our head knows the “rules” of painting, but it’s our heart that needs to supply the emotional context that will create a way for our paintings to speak with a voice of their own.
I tell my students to look for adjectives instead of nouns. Find ways to paint as though painting was poetry. Don’t look for a tree…look for branches made of whisper-thin threads of silver forming gossamer webs against the sky! (how’s that?!) Perhaps you’re looking at an old barn or warehouse…look for sheets of rusted, corrugated metal, heavy with the dents of countless flatbed trucks carelessly using these flimsy walls as convenient bumpers when offloading their cargo. How can you paint the way a boulder feels? Has it been worn by wind or water or thousands of pairs of feet treading over it along the same path?
Places have stories to tell!
Places that may, at first glance, seem somewhat benign can tell an extraordinary story if you take the time to observe rather than just to see. Even as a kid, I always enjoyed the stories and the histories of places I visited. They didn’t have to be grand or spectacularly scenic places… they could be very humble places. When I didn’t know anything at all about a place, I would usually look at it long enough to imagine a story about it.
I’ve had a tendency all my life to connect events and stories to the places where those events happened. Later in life, it was pointed out to me that almost every photo I ever took during a trip or even at home was of the place itself and rarely did I ever put a person in a photograph. For me, this has always been the way I see the world. The landscapes around me are important.
I love wondering what happened in a place before I arrived. I love the history that places can hold. I wonder who walked in the places I’ve walked or who chose the color of the peeling pink paint on the house that I’m driving by. Even in places that show no signs of human habitation; the woods, the coast, a field, a tidal marsh…I tend to want to sit in these places long enough to get to know them. I’ve always found that there is something incredibly peaceful about sitting in a place until you feel you belong there. It’s almost as if you will forever own a bit of a place once you’ve spent time there and become familiar with it.
I once read a quote that said: “There is a way that nature speaks. Most of the time we are not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention.”
It’s the paying attention part that we often fail to give the importance it deserves. To me, the extraordinary comes from the things we see when we really, truly take the time to be observant. The extraordinary is quite often found when we can connect something we see to the way we feel in a place. In my paintings, I try to visually describe both my physical and my emotional reaction to what I’m observing. It may be the light, but it’s not just the light. It may be the color, but it’s not just the color. It has to do with finding the element that makes a place unique…
Finding the extraordinary can come from all sorts of sources, but if you can pay close enough attention, the extraordinary often finds You. The extraordinary makes itself visible when we pay attention to our senses and when we allow ourselves the time to be observant.
Sometimes I drive by the same place dozens of times and then one day I need to pull over and stop. Why is this? I think it’s because on some subconscious level, on all those days that I drove by before, my brain was collecting information. It adds up until one day perhaps the light is a bit different, or the leaves change color on the trees, or the rain is reflecting something interesting, and suddenly that familiar scene has a new story. Because I’ve driven by so many times, I am intimately familiar with this view that has just been transformed and now it’s begging me to notice this new narrative.
So, I ask you to think about considering finding the extraordinary as a search for the soul of a place. Perhaps think of it as listening and take the time to wait until a place speaks to you. In the meantime, observe everything… be conscious of the story behind a place, or even the story behind an object or a person. Observe your senses. Remember that our work is our narrative. Painting is visual poetry. The everyday becomes extraordinary through the eyes of anyone who takes the time to be observant and to pay attention to that whisper of a voice. Remember, beauty doesn’t happen by romanticizing your subject. It happens when you recognize your subject with the eyes of someone who wants to see beyond the surface, beyond the visible.
I feel like scripting – “A Moment of Silence” – before continuing.
Are you as moved by Lyn’s wiriting as I was? Are you going to look at all those familiar places you know with a different eye when you go outside after reading this blog? Or are you already one of those who looks at ordinary scenes the same way Lyn does? We’d love to know so please leave a comment.
Again, a huge thanks to Lyn Asselta for taking the time to write this post.
Until next time,
PS. You can see Lyn Asselta giving a brief answer to this very question: