Am I Beating a Dead Horse? Or am I trying to make it stand up and behave?

Once I have started a painting, I will finish it, one way or another.  And when I say “finish”, I mean I make it as good as I can, or I paint it out.  Usually.  But I admit that my best stuff seems to the stuff I have not fussed over, my “premier coup” stuff, my “alla prima” stuff.  Well, that’s great when it works out, but unfortunately, not everything comes out just wonderful in only a few hours.

But a few years ago, at the end of one of his Snow Camp workshops up in Sugar Hill, Stapleton Kearns was finishing up his critique of my first painting of Franconia Notch.  He had a number of suggestions for making it better that I agreed with.  I wanted to implement those suggestions when I got home.  He advised against it.  He said, “Put the painting somewhere where you can observe it, but don’t touch it.”  I think the idea was, in its unreformed state it would better serve as a reminder of my mistakes, so that I don’t repeat them.  But I couldn’t take that advice.  No way could I live with a painting that needed help without helping it.  So I make the changes to that painting that he had suggested and few more that he hadn’t suggested.  (If you want to check it out, follow this link to my webpage with NH plein air paintings–it’s in the first column, about 13 down.)

Nothing I did last week in Bartlett was perfect.  In fact, most of them were far from perfect.  The biggest problem was that uncharacteristic difficulty I was having with the greens.  So I have fussed with all of them.  Now, today, I am going to be able to compare the before to the after, and judge whether it was worth it.  And even if I could not end up with a painting that I am proud of, did I learn something by trying?  At this point, before loading the pictures, I don’t know how I am going to answer that.

Here is the first one, the one that I accidentally dusted with sand and grit:

The effect of sand, dirt and grit

The Saco River in Bartlett









  • The sand and grit did not brush off as easily as that sounds, but I was able to remove most of it without damaging the painting.  The sky required some touching up and is, as a result of inclusions, a little lumpy now.  I also tinkered with all greens.

The second one was the Jackson Falls one.  You’ll notice I put back in a few elements that I had removed before (trees and guard rail), but I put them in much less prominently.

Path at Jackson Falls–Version 1

The Path at Jackson Falls

This painting looks quite charming in person;  maybe you can get an idea of it by enlarging your view of it, which I believe  you can do by clicking on the image.

No. 3 is the railroad bridge with the impossibly green trees.  The actual painting did not look as extreme as the photo, but I still amended the greens.

Lesson in greens

RR Bridge over the Saco River in Crawford Notch

In addition to working on the greens, I added the darks in the lower left corner and in the sand line on the right.  I think that decision had something to do with composition, maybe.  I make my compositional decisions by instinct and thus cannot articulate reasons.  Reason and instinct are opposites, right?

My last effort had been the most successful–Lower Ammonusuc Falls.  But still not perfect.  However, I never intended to to anything to it except make better marks defining my figures, but one thing led to another and virtually every square of it got painted over today.  It is sometimes gratifying to see what the combination of a little bit of memory and a little bit of perspective can produce.

Another kind of green

Lower Ammonusuc Falls 2012

Was any of this useful?  Now that I have been able to examine the Befores next to the Afters, I didn’t ruin anything, and I think I improved all of them.

Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:

at the Hatfield Gallery in Manchester; at the Bartlett Inn in Bartlett; at the Library Arts Center in Newport; and at her studio by appointment.

Link to website:

3 responses to “Am I Beating a Dead Horse? Or am I trying to make it stand up and behave?

  1. This is another interesting post! It is always tempting when I get home from outdoor painting to have another go at it. I think generally it works (tidies things up or increases the tonal drama), but still the best results come from the ones that work when you are out there – a bit like your nude in the Tuesday class. Where does the time go though?