Art of the Fox Blog: A Way In


Welcome to the Art of the Fox blog!  I’m Joel Sheesley, an artist who is working with The Conservation Foundation and their Fox River Initiative to promote awareness of the environmental importance of the Fox River through esthetic appreciation.  For the next year or so I’ll be travelling up and down the Fox painting it in all its moods and seasons.  What a river!  As it runs through urban and rural settings, through city “river- walks,” past farmers’ fields, and along beautiful palisades, the Fox is full of enchantment.  It’s a storied river whose story is getting better and better as more people realize the benefits of restoring its natural ecology.  In this blog I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the river, art, and our mutual task of preserving this great resource.  Feel free to return to this blog as new material will be added often.



A Way In – From December 2015

I’m working on a painting that, in spite of early promise, just won’t seem to “come ‘round.”  It does everything but invite me in. So I look at it as a stranger, a visitor to my studio who I keep thinking that I should know, but whose visage I can’t quite penetrate.  We keep at arms length in a somewhat uncomfortable alliance.  Now I’ve hung the painting near the kitchen table so I can keep an eye on it.  I confront it directly in the morning when I make my breakfast; I give it a sideward glance throughout the day.  I’m determined to find my way in.     

What I’m working on here is a compositional problem, the most obvious task for a landscape painter.  To compose a picture is to design the sequence of visual elements through which it will be seen. One of the finest compliments a student can give her painting teacher is, “Thank you for teaching me to see.”  What I think is meant by “teaching me to see” is that the student has learned to find her way into what she otherwise perceived as an undifferentiated optical expanse, a kind of visual noise.  Being taught to see means that she can now discriminate variety in this hitherto homogeneous expanse. Now she can discern its different parts and can discover an interesting visual path into the expanse.

Just as we learn to see a pathway into the expanding world around us, a landscape painter is obligated to organize the composition of a painting so that it also offers a visual way in.  We’re not only required to identify an intriguing landscape feature, we also have to show the viewer how to get there. And that is the problem with the painting I’m working on now. I have painted a prospect that lurks off in the distance but I haven’t designed a visual pathway to reach that prospect.  The painting lacks a sort of visual breadcrumb trail, a trail of consistent visual markers that draws the eye through the foreground into the middle ground and far distance – into the heart of the matter.  So, I keep working.

Written by Joel Sheesley

Click here to learn more about Art of the Fox.


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