6x6" oil on Gessobord
Thanks for the thoughtful comments and emails yesterday. It seems a lot of us have similar feelings on the issue. For a different perspective check out Kathleen Dunphy's blog. She has a well written post on why she feels plein air painting is essential in achieving the results she's after.
I gave some thought as to why my plein air paintings rarely worked out and concluded it was primarily due to poor composition. In my rush to get to work I usually made a quick decision about composition and then dove in. Why was I in a hurry? Well, chances are I'd already spent a lot of time driving around "in search of" so when I finally found something to paint I was in a panic to set up and capture the scene before the light changed.
Looking back at my early work it's clear that I should have spent less time driving around and more time developing my compositional skills. My time would have been better spent shooting a ton of digital images, downloading them and then experimenting with the cropping tool in iPhoto. That's mostly what I do now.
My sense of composition is constantly evolving. I look at both paintings and photographs for ideas and inspiration. One thing I've discovered is, if an image is strong as a thumbnail it'll usually make a good painting. That's just an observation, not a rule. There are no rules!!