ON SATURDAY, November 16, Linda Feltner, artist, naturalist, and teacher, came up to join Tumamoc sketchers on the Hill with some of her students for an all day outdoor drawing session. Linda was guest teacher for the day and she used that to give out some assignments.
The focus was “Extreme Cropping.”
To show what she meant, Linda handed out old cardboard slide mounts that had been taped off to show a long narrow opening. When you look through one of these, it becomes a window, helpful in choosing various compositions from the wild, complex, and confounding Sonoran Desert landscape.
It’s true, the little mounts did force you to crop the view in extreme ways–long and narrow, tight compositions. And simple ones because you had to hold the thing out in front of you in your unsteady hand while you looked. You could make it a vertical or horizontal snippet of the landscape.
A Conversation with Linda Feltner:
Drawing on Tumamoc
I asked Linda to explain her thinking behind the little slide mounts and also what she liked about working on Tumamoc. After all, this was a a trial run for some future art workshops we had in mind.
TUMAMOC SKETCHBOOK: Can you talk a little about you assignment this morning and how it relates to seeing and sketching the landscape?
LINDA FELTNER: Many of the people that come to a group like this have some experience, some are extremely experienced. We who have lots of experience get into our comfort zones, and keep doing the same things over and over. So what we need is a different perspective. By taking the little 35mm slide mount and taping some of it off, it forces us to assimilate information differently… Our brain is processing the design differently.
So for people with advanced skills, this can be very challenging. but it’s just a spark to try something new… People jump right into it and you can see with the sketchbooks that people put up, they’re just snapping to the challenge. They get it and are intrigued, they are excited about this new wave of ideas.
And I think it’s the same with photography, as we take pictures on vacation and we come back and put them up, we get used to a particular scale and size and proportion of things and we start composing like that in the camera. People who paint from photographs do the same sort of cropping based on how they hold the camera. So they’re pre-cropping the view and it becomes a habitual way of seeing things. So this gets them out of that comfort zone.
Maybe it’s better to say that they get to look with a new perspective from trying to push the composition to where it’s stronger. And that makes us work harder for better paintings.
TSB: And how do beginners tend to react to this assignment?
LF: I think they have to process it, and work a little harder. Sometimes they just need a fixed object to start with. It’s a little hard to hold the mount up, it’s wiggling in your hand and you have to go back to it from looking at your paper and it’s moved. Sometimes just taking a photograph and moving the crop around is good for beginners, to find the most aesthetically pleasing composition. That’s an easier step.
Most of the people here are my students and I know that they are comfortable accepting this on either a beginning level or an advanced level.
Good composition is such a core concept. Sometimes people get so good with technique and details, and learn how to handle the tools, but what I still see missing is good composition, good value studies. So in places like this, away from my technique workshops, I like to encourage thumbnails and value studies because people can take them home later and build a good picture from them.
TSB: I have to same problem just focusing sometimes. The view is often so complicated, and it’s 360 degrees all around you, and in 3 dimensions, that something like that little slide mount just me focus and decide, “OK, that’s what I’m going to do” and I just get busy getting it on the paper.
LF: The whole day could be spent out here just finding your subject. The slide frame just narrows it down really quickly. It speeds up the process and you see it more quickly.
TSB: How is being up here on Tumamoc different from working in other places where you teach.
LF: I think it’s more challenging. It see kind of two points: First it’s a wild landscape. It’s not a groomed botanical garden. I like it because of its wild state. You find odd things juxtaposed with one another and that’s a new challenge. The plants are not already planted for you so you have to go out and find them. Or you can take this barrel cactus and put it next to this rock, next to this paloverde and make your composition. The elements are all here. As an artist you can push and pull things and build that design a little better, but to start with, this is wild, and I think it’s really important.
The second thing is that Tumamoc is a good place, people love it here. People that have problems walking on rough ground–there’s paving here. There’s the indoor facilities. Water–the hardest thing for for watercolorists taking a pack into a landscape is hauling the water. Those are some of the things things that sparked me to come up here.
It’s a good art laboratory as well as a good science laboratory. It’s wild yet accessible. You can be challenged, yet be quite near the buildings. You don’t have to hike for miles like if we went out to gates pass or Tucson Mountain Park. You can hike a long way before you find something interesting and here there’s something interesting right there in front of you. Someone wanted to know how to do creosote bush, there’s a perfect demo right there.
And the buildings are wonderful. It’s not just botanical subjects. The buildings are such great backdrops with the textures and the shadows. The paving tiles! Any level of artist can enjoy the patterns and the play of light. The old panes of the greenhouse, now that’s challenging.
TSB: Yes, beside observing the place here and now, I find myself researching the history of the place, the Carnegie Lab where scientists first started asking the questions that formed the next hundred years of learning about deserts. Some of the poets working here last Spring did a lot of reading in the Tumamoc technical literature. Then if you go back further to the prehistory, you find the mysterious, almost unknown cultures who lived on the hill. All this seems to be a sort of a prerequisite to doing art work up here. It seems almost unlimited.
LF: That’s what makes this place special to me, and it’s what caught my eye when I first came up and visited you. It’s like an island of history within a city, with both cultural and natural history. It’s a little preserved island and it’s a delight to be here. You’re up high, you have the wind, the clouds, the sky; the monsoon skies must just be awesome.
TSB: Yea, I just stand up here a lot and watch the sky during monsoon season.
LF: I think there is a lot here for an artist, on many levels, whether they’re a landscape painter or into bugs and beetles. Ha. And it’s nice to have Owen to offer to take artists on specific hikes, to give those are interested and are physically able to walk that much, an even more more in-depth and private view of the mountain.
TSB: For me, knowing about the layers of science, the geology, and history give more meaning and depth to artwork I do here. It’s more than just the visual scene. There’s a lot to think about. I spend more time doing that than doing artwork.
LF: Yea, I’m that same kind of artist as you are. I resonate with that. I like knowing the back story. What goes on with an animal in a landscape, for instance. It’s not just the visual of portraying a furry thing on a page. I really like knowing what he does, where he lives, what he hunts, who hunts him, (or her). There’s a connection with the habitat and the animal, so I’m a researcher and you’re a researcher. I totally get that.
In a future post, I’ll show some of the finished artwork from that day and identify the artists. Here are a few samples from the lunch-time discussion.