Staying in the Moment: Capturing my Vision of Nature

Posted by Charlotte Belland on
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California.
Photo by Nutopia Ltd
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author. 

Distilling the complexity of nature into a “vision of what we would like it to be” is a life-long quest for me as an artist. The beauty of this task is that even when I successfully capture a vision of nature, it is only one moment, one breath, on an infinite journey of discovery. The natural world is in a constant state of change, and my task as an artist is to capture both the immediacy of the moment and the time just before and after that moment. 

I accept the fact that if I am trying to capture nature, it is nature that often guides my success.

“Paradise on Earth” opens with the moments just before Ansel Adams established the iconic scene from Yosemite National Park. Capturing nature is often at the mercy of the environment and the accessibility of your artist’s tools. While Ansel Adams’ resulting image, “Monolith, The Face of Half Dome,” (1927) was absolute and historic, the experience of the hike that didn’t go according to plan, the light fading, and the two remaining plates left to exposed, resonates with me as a common experience to nature artists. I accept the fact that if I am trying to capture nature, it is nature that often guides my success. The immediacy of a moment can be one of the greatest forms of motivation!

The episode’s juxtaposition of Ansel Adams’ statement “he wanted it for everyone,” with the people taking selfies at Half Dome was an amusing moment in the episode. More often than not, when I am drawing on-location, people will come up and watch me draw. Some will even take a selfie with me in the background. I’ve learned to welcome these interactions as a part of the environment. But inevitably, someone will take his/her/their phone, snap a picture of the scene and turn to me and proclaim, “This is way easier than what you are doing!” Most often, the interaction ends with that proclamation. Occasionally I get to follow up the statement with, “we are all capturing this moment. I prefer to use ink.” It’s inspiring to think of all the different ways humans can capture a natural scene. And does immediacy change the value of the resulting image? Can it still resonate with everyone who views it?

Working exclusively with ink has taught me two things—commit to the line and what you choose to leave out has more of an impact than what you choose to make visible. The selective choice to render a complex form with a single line of varying thickness lets the subject become the ideal vision of that space. Li Cheng, “A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks” (10th century) resonates with every detail of a connected world. It catalogues a balanced landscape of activity and aspiration through the use of selective editing. Each area of the scroll provides a wealth of information and when we look closely, we can clearly see that Li Cheng made every ink-stroke count. Cheng used just enough to make us see more. The details omitted let us see the details rendered more clearly and authentically.

Capturing just enough with my ink-lines is key to my favorite subject in nature: animals. While a landscape is constantly changing through light, wind, and time, animals in those landscapes are rarely at rest. To capture the ink drawing of an animal is to accept that I will make decisions about what to omit and what to commit to paper. The drawing is an amalgam of several moments—it is an idealized version of the actual animal. When drawing from life, one of the best tools I use to judge the success of the process is if I am suggesting detail or if am I cataloguing detail. If I notice that I am spending effort rendering a portion of my subject (an eye, and ear, a toe) this tells me that I have lost the moment. The gesture of the animal is broken because I have hyper-focused my ink into one spot. Rendering the face first is the fastest way to destroy an ink drawing. The ideal is found in the gesture, the swift moment-in-time. If I can capture that first, then the suggestion of details is all the drawing needs. What I choose to omit will allow the idealized animal to be captured in ink.

To capture the ink drawing of an animal is to accept that I will make decisions about what to omit and what to commit to paper.

My Paradise on Earth is a combination of immediacy and ink. It is reassuring to know that I am part of an artistic path that spans thousands of years and millions of interpretations of nature and landscapes. I can share my vision of what nature can be through gesture and volume. Just like the playful parrot peeking back at you from the grandeur of Paolo Versonese’s Villa Barbaro, my wish is to provide an animated connection between the viewer and the subject. A place where ink can imply details and provide a deeper appreciation of the natural world.

Charlotte BellandCharlotte Belland, BFA, MFA is an Associate Professor and Chair of Animation at the Columbus College of Art and Design. Her artistic practice focuses on capturing the immediacy of animal movement with ink drawings.

“Working with ink is foundational to my process because the quick, permanent medium keeps me focused in the present moment. Even though my ink drawings are a single moment in time, the energy of the gesture that leads and follows that moment must resonate in the lines. This energy honors the essence of the animal and encourages viewers to pause and appreciate the beauty of the animal realm.”

Belland graduated with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Computer Animation from The Ohio State University. Part of her creative habit is to post a daily animal drawing to Instagram. Those drawings can be viewed on Instagram.

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