This week’s May 31, 2019 Dan’s Papers cover art by Eileen Dawn Skretch pictures a lovely scene in North Sea. “I grew up in Southampton’s farm fields and beaches, and my work is often a way to return to the pristine vistas I remember from my childhood,” she says.
What was the inspiration for this piece?
Marshes hold a special place in my heart, with their high tide channels teeming with mussels and fish. A friend of mine recommended this location on Davis Creek in North Sea because he knew how much I love to paint this view. After connecting with the owner, I decided to bring my camera for reference photos rather than doing my usual plein air study, taking notes on light, color and atmosphere along with the photos to maintain the spirit of the plein air process. The large trees on the creek were the inspiration, while the water and marsh were the subjects.
Describe your process for this particular piece.
I paint on wood—birch veneered ply—and love to find just the right fit between the scene I am working with and the grain of the wood surface, to create a kind of conversation between the two. For this piece, I used the trees’ deep shadows against the bright lines of the water surfaces as a guide, and picked a 36×36-inch section of a full 4’ x 8’ sheet, which I then cut down. I then brace, sand, and stain the wood before starting on the painting. Since it was the time of year when the marshes are a soft gold rather than the vibrant green, I concentrated on the play of the shadows to create movement and form, allowing some the wood to come forward in the golden grasses.
Do you work en plein air in the colder months, or do you have to work from photographs?
There are always more paintings calling to be painted than time allows! Winter is mostly my studio time to work on large projects. The grays and soft light of winter call me outdoors with my camera trying to capture the long shadows and the thrill of new snow.
What are the strengths of painting en plein air versus a photograph?
I’ve worked en plein air for 15 years. Painting on-site gives you the depth a photo never quite captures. Besides a visual depth, you’re dealing with the depth of the experience: weather—sun, clouds, wind and temperature—scents, insects, tides. Part of my plein air routine has included photography. While on location there will be that moment the light and shadows align in a magical kind of way that is too fleeting for my brush to capture. But I love using my camera to extend that moment. I find the color or light in the photo is never really perfect, so the photo is really just the tool that sparks my memory.
What are your summer plans in the Hamptons?
I’m a born-and-raised “local” and so my first priority is avoiding traffic! With the warm weather it’s easier to spend days painting on the shore or in the field. But I always look forward to Friday evenings on the beach with my husband and a group of close friends for a glass of wine and some farm stand treats. And I’d like to encourage readers to stop by one of current shows to see the work in person. The interaction between paint and wood doesn’t quite come through in photos.
See Skretch’s work at The Center for Jewish Life and the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. For more, visit eileendawnskretch.com.