A Sense of Place | A Place to be Sensed : Vol. 1 – Unpainted Spaces
Arthur Shilstone’s prolific career as a Master of Sporting Art produced a vast and diverse inventory of watercolor sporting scenes. Any Sporting Art enthusiast can find their sense of place within his body of work. With such a huge inventory, however, we recognize the potential challenge of pinpointing that one exact scene (or 2, or 3…) that brings a distinct ‘place to be sensed’ to a collection. We’ve decided to break down the collection into a few distinct categories and dive into the sparkling waters and abundant forests of a few select pieces. Today, we’ll be focusing on Shilstone’s tactical employment of the white paper beneath the paint – in other words, the unpainted space in his paintings.
Anticipation – a sensation with which any angler is quite familiar.
Anticipation – a sensation that, when capture accurately and honestly, jolts a painting to life.
In the case of Arthur Shilstone’s ‘Anticipation,’ that feeling is all in the stance of the angler (and his four-legged friend.) While that feeling of anticipation may be what initially draws you in, Shilstone’s portrayal of sunlight is what snaps the trap and allows you to fully immerse your senses in the angler’s world.
As the eyes move through the painting, they focus for an instant on one of the more prominent foreground features – the tree. The bare limbs and extremities not only provide visual intrigue to the foreground and help us place ourselves in the scene relative to the angler, but they allow the early spring sun to bathe the angler and his boulder in a bright white heat.
Just as the deliberate presence of paint brings the tree to life, the deliberate absence of paint brings the boulder to life. So we have this tree (a ‘paint-positive’ area) helping bring the angler’s boulder (and ‘paint-negative’ area) to life. The crisp white highlights, courtesy of the paper, provide a rock-solid foundation for sharp contrast, allowing us to feel the intensity of the sun’s bright white heat on our cheeks.
As the eyes move further into the painting, past the angler and his boulder and into the sparkling water, we find more paint-negative areas helping create this place to be sensed. The soft gurgling of the stream, speckled by the early spring sun, swiftly turns into an urgent rushing of the rapids just downstream of our angler and his boulder. Beyond the river, we can hear the forest’s fauna basking in the sunlit flora, undisturbed by our unassuming angler and his loyal companion. Beyond that, the imagination can run free. Maybe we can smell the early spring earthiness filling the air, intensified by the moist soil of the riverbank and the churning river water. Maybe we can feel the freshness of the still-icy-cold water as we move further into the scene, from the crystal-clear pool in the foreground to the white rapids below the angler’s cast.
Maybe you’ll sense all of these things, or maybe you’ll sense entirely different things – the true magic of Arthur Shilstone’s creations comes from a moment frozen in time, brought to life in the viewer’s eye by the elements and sensations that build the bridge connecting our world to Shilstone’s world on paper.
Here are a few more of our favorite watercolors by Arthur Shilstone, showcasing this same technique of unpainted spaces. Pay close attention to how the paint-positive spaces play with the paint-negative spaces, and how they work together to create a sense of place, and a place to be sensed.