Some artists primarily delight in great drawing, some in form, and some in color itself. What was it that inspired Frederick Carl Frieseke as he sought to create his work? Here is his answer - and one of the great secrets of his style of painting:
Frederick Frieseke's Second Secret: Paint the Light
“It is sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine, which I have been principally interested in for eight years, and if I could only reproduce it exactly as I see it, I would be satisfied,” he said with a sigh.
Picturesquely gowned women in this garden, serving tea, reading, sewing or hanging up bird cages, often shadowed by Japanese parasols, flitted before me all enveloped in sparkling light and executed in vivid color.
“Speaking of gardens, have you any preference?” I said. “And do you make careful studies of flowers?”
“No, I know nothing about the different kinds of gardens, nor do I even make studies of flowers. My one idea is to reproduce flowers in sunlight. I do not suggest detail by form..[I make] strokes in oil to produce the effect of vibration, completing as I go. I cannot scrape down or repaint a canvas. I must take a new one.
I usually make my first notes and impressions with dashes of tempera, then I paint over this with small [strokes] as I have to keep it as pure as possible or the effect of brilliancy will be lost. Of course, there is a limit to the strength of pigments, and one can but relatively give the impression of nature. I may see a glare of white light at noon, but I cannot render it literally. The longer I paint the stronger I feel that we should be more spontaneous."
A swallow skimmed across the pool, the flowers gave out their perfume to the heat, the sound of a peasant's cart passing down the lane came over the wall. My hostess sat sewing on a chaise-longue and often looked up to make suggestions or to quicken her husband's memory. Mr. Frieseke, a short, stout figure, clad in white flannel, lounged lazily before me, smoking, while I incessantly prodded him with questions.
“If one realizes the effect of sunlight in a room,” he continued, “and by studying finds out how many changes there are in sun and shadow in the course of a day, think how much there must be out of doors with the myriads of scintillating lights, their reflections and shadows, and the interplay, too, of each on the other. It is impossible to paint everything one sees, but one must give the effect of having done so.
If you are looking at a mass of flowers in the sunlight out of doors, you see a sparkle of spots of different colors; then paint them in that way. I do not believe in patching up a picture inside after beginning it outdoors, nor do I believe in continuing a study from memory in the studio. No one has a good enough memory, and often obtains accidental notes out of doors which really construct the picture."
"Then I infer you are a true impressionist?"
And he replied: “Yes, I believe I am. No artist in that school has influenced me except, perhaps, Renoir. Him I admire the most of all. I laid aside all accepted rules of painting when I began, and went to nature. The only study I have had was a short period at Julien's and with Whistler.”
“Yes,” I nodded, “and with the result that you are distinctly individual in style.”
~ the above is excerpted from an interview with Frederick Frieseke by Clara T. MacChesney (1914)
The idea of painting light was new to me a few years ago. I could paint things: a nose, a a book, and a shoe with light falling on them, but that's not the way Frieseke approached painting light. My teacher explained that one should think of light as water. Imagine it in reference to a head...spilling down upon the hair, over the forehead and down under the brow, then up over the nose, and up and down over the lips and gently over and around the chin into the dark chasm of the neck. Now as you paint or draw a picture, create the light on the objects with that imagery in mind.
Then answer these questions: Is my painting affecting my eyes the same way my subject matter does? Does the light smack me in the eye in the same way or does it glow like the original? Are there other light effects that I need to create?
I know that much more could be said about painting light, but I am still learning, and it is helpful looking at someone's work who clearly made it his priority...