I am endlessly attracted to the mysteries of light and atmosphere, where light and shadow are nature’s
selection and editing tools. Nature’s paintings are an interactive, real-time canvas of shifting values, colors,
edges, shapes, and I feel compelled to record and arrange bits and pieces of what I see.  

These paintings begin as plein air oil sketches and drawings from mountain lakes, piazzas, deserts,
badlands and canyons.  The diverse terrain of Italy, ranging from the Northern Adamello and Dolomite
Mountains to Central and Southern cities, villages and archaeological sites, have provided me with limitless
visual material.   The Arizona desert, especially The Petrified Forest - Painted Desert National Park and the
red rock of Sedona have been equally inspirational to this body of work.  

At first glance, Italy’s urban landscape would seem to be in striking contrast with Alpine mountainscapes or
American Southwest canyons, but there are architectural equivalents in earth formations and parallels
between those structures crafted by human hands and those by natural forces.  Both lands contain
protected phenomena: sacred ground to some, and to others, buried clues about ancient and even
prehistoric life.  Just as subterranean temples, burial grounds and basilicas sit below Medieval,
Renaissance and Baroque churches, layers of sediment and fossilized natural artifacts rest above and
below the sand, stone and soil.  Petrified wood, mountain peaks, mesas and chinles rise up from the
eroded land in formations that evoke pyramids and bell towers. Minerals in these formations are some of
the very same minerals that comprise our artist pigments.

When I set out with my easel and oils, I aspire to paint not only light patterns, but the less tangible: time of
day, temperature, a breeze, moisture in the air.  In the sketchbook, I compose shapes on location or in the
studio, with light and shadow, work out drawing and proportion, or shift focal points in the design.  The
sketchbook drawings here have been done independently from, prior to, or in support of various stages of
the paintings.  Sketchbook and plein air paintings provide me with an inventory of possibilities to be
revisited in the studio. As with the sketchbook pages, my plein air work may be complete, or developed into
more complex work; at times the formal and thematic focus may shift subtly or completely. There is not a
neat distinction between my sketches and finished works.  While my plein air process is primarily
perceptual, my studio work is analytic and exploratory, guided by sketches, photos, memory, and the
creative process.   Here, gouache is often my medium of choice, because the rapid drying forces decisive
value and color choices.  Without racing to keep up with fleeting atmospheric conditions, I can explore
seemingly infinite possibilities and combinations of value and hue contrasts and transitions.

                                                                                                              Susan Cottle Alberto