…a little rain must fall, as the saying goes.
Open air painting depends on what the atmosphere happens to be doing on a given day, and it's common to wait days, or occasionally years, for the conditions one wants to repeat themselves. I have a nice early November painting from last year which needs finishing, but I have to let it rest until early November.
Sometimes conditions are so fugitive that the effect that you started with is gone after a few minutes, and then you have to decide whether to paint what attracted you in the first place, or chase the new effect.
For example, almost exactly two years ago, I happened on a late April vista with hazy skies and saturated color. The weatherman said something about rain the next day, but things seemed clear and dry enough when I began.
So I went at it, using a small, failed canvas.
This was rubbed in over the course of forty minutes or so, but in that time, the skies were already changing.
Another half hour and I was able to begin refining shapes, particularly in the trees and bushes, But by this time the sky was really changing. Moisture in the air was beginning to lighten darks, darken lights, and bleed away saturated color. It was at this point that I figured you can't fight City Hall. I painted into the scene what now lay in front of me.
The more one loses contrast and saturation, the more the sense of moisture in the air is brought about. This wasn't an aesthetic or intellectual move on my part. I just copied what lay before me the best I knew how.
Come the end of the session it was beginning to drizzle. And my little pastoral scene had become a rainy day view. Corot made a fortune on vistas like this.
This sort of thing is the exact opposite of Robert Beverly Hale's concept of picture making, but Hale made no pretense of being a landscape painter. Although as the curator of American painting at the Metropolitan Museum, Hale must have been familiar with the great American impressionists: Metcalf, de Camp, Beaux, Twatchman, et al. He must have realized that none of these people could have approached painting with mass conceptions and conceived light.