I had this whole thing worked out in my head as I was falling asleep last night. If only there were a device that would allow you to put your ideas down as they occur so that they won't be forgotten. Ah well, I've thought a lot lately about mental painting, it's a mixture of the art of keen observation and the visualization techniques used by Olympic athletes. At least that's how I see it. When I can't get to the physical act of creating, I use the intellectual act of painting to keep my head in the game. I'm not talking about subscribing to the Harold Hill school of thought (The Music Man) where you just think about the act of painting or writing or music and it somehow manifests into ability, it doesn't work that way. As Malcolm Gladwell says you have to put in your 10,000 hours to achieve master status. But, and there's nothing like a big but, once you have gotten to a point in your creative abilities the act of intellectual painting becomes a vital part of the process. I know that when I'm doing a plein air event, I am in a heightened state of awareness, everything becomes a composition, every color relationship becomes exciting. I'm not plein air painting right now because I'm doing commission work but I'm still looking out the windows or standing in the front yard staring at the sky trying to figure out how I would tackle the thing. One of the first stumbling blocks for most painters in the 'teens of their maturity is just learning how to see. Though Sally Schisler (link to right) has the right idea of committing to the painting a day idea, and I need to get on board with that, when I really don't have time to actually paint, I practice observing, memorizing, mixing colors, concepting, translating shapes, and composing in my head until I can get my hands moving on the canvas fo' realz.
Here are some things you can do while you are sitting in your car or lounging on a hammock in Costa Rica to practice mental painting, low-calorie burning analysis;
compare the color of one thing to another, is it green? what kind of green is it? warm or cool, light or dark bright or dull.
Identify the difference between two color areas. Which one is warmer, cooler, lighter darker etc.
Squint at stuff and learn to see it in its simplest form of light and shadow.
Compare the light at one time of day to the light of a different time (this takes some memory skills)
Memorize a composition including all of the elements. When you get home or get off the couch, draw it from memory, make notes about what you remember about the colors and feelings of the day.
In your mind's eye trace the imaginary key lines of that person standing in the grocery line, sitting on the bench having a smoke, or walking their fat dog. Look for the weight and counterweight the figure uses to stand or lean, think in terms of fluid lines and not straight ones. If you are in public try not to linger on any of the torso elements for too long, people get kinda hinky about that.
Imagine how you would use your brushes to suggest a texture of one tree vs another.
Envision painting without care or concern for the result. It's an imaginary painting anyway so go nuts.
Use the cheap crop tools you have on you (fingers) to look for unique compositions.