"[Hibbard] has something that the other American painters of these snow scenes, able as they are, do not possess – a superior subtilty (sic), a sense of values, a faculty of lifting the work above the plane of stark realism, and giving it the look of a higher kind of truth than literalism can compass....in the final refinements which give distinction and beauty to the landscape of midwinter we believe Mr. Hibbard has no peer."
Boston Evening Transcript, April 18, 1922
|"Hibbard has never left anything to chance. A snow-filled landscape is not just one moment arrested and|
put to canvas; it is the product of hours of work outdoors backed by drawings made while he was in
love with the subject." –Aldren A. Watson¹
Aldro Thompson Hibbard is one of America's greatest plein air painters of the snowy landscape. Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1886, Hibbard was possessed of a drive, discipline, athleticism, and love-of-the-outdoors, which made him peculiarly well-suited to representing the cold Vermont winters on canvas. Though he excelled at figurative work during his studies under Joseph De Camp, Ernest Lee Major, Edmund C. Tarbell, and Frank W. Benson, Hibbard knew early on that he could never tolerate being a portrait painter. "My forte is being in contact with the outdoors," Hibbard was quoted as saying. "That's where most of my life has been spent, by choice. That's where you get the stimulation and the excitement of the unexpected. Nature, you know, is constantly changing, offering fresh challenges. She won't come to your studio; you must go to her."² The following quotes from John Cooley's biography on Hibbard offer an insight into the working methods Hibbard adopted through his training at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and at the Boston Museum School of Art, and which he supplemented through experience gained during a career which spanned half-a-century. These were the lessons he passed on to his own students when discussing the landscape:
|"If you want intense color, go out before 9 and after 3, not at midday when the sun is bleaching everything."³|
Be a close student of Nature. Make mental and written notes on what you see outdoors. Remember, there can be numerous color values in a single snowbank.
I have always found it exciting to work outdoors where things are happening. Inside, you lose the challenge, the stimulation.
Associate with your material, aesthetically as well as physically. It's impossible to do that in a studio.
Beware of too much studio landscape painting. Direct contact gives you the rare elements, moods of short duration.
Avoid using Nature photographically. Many adjustments are usually necessary. They should make the painting more successful as a work of art.
|"You see why I was never a watercolor artist," said Hibbard. "You just don't use water outdoors in January and February in the State of Vermont."⁴|
Something is always happening outdoors. Be on the lookout. Take notes on the spot – what you see may happen only once.
My landscapes are not what the camera sees, or what you would see, but what I see. I cater to myself, not the public. I try to paint interesting subjects.
The foreground of your picture should be a lead-in to what is beyond.
Study the effects of moving light, which can cause cloud shadows on the landscape. Shadows are very valuable – your best friends. A cut-and-dried landscape is dull.
Striking the right key is difficult. The palette has its limitations in high color pitch. Experiment with your equipment to overcome this problem. Your palette should be a guide. Reflected light is troublesome.
|Hibbard would shovel through the snow and plant himself on the bare ground, using the snow-shelf as a support|
for his palette and easel.
Once his equipment blew away and was lost; he found it in April, the paint still usable.⁵
Too much white weakens your sketch. Get color and vibrate it, without over-mixing.
In sketching outdoors, first get the essentials that mark the time of day. Details can come later.
Paint fast. Time is always against you. Use up your nervous energy. A morning's painting should wear you out.
Focus on a dominant part of your subject, whether sky, distance, middle distance, or foreground.
Don't forget that being an artist isn't just painting what you see; it's interpreting what you see. Otherwise, better study photography.
Snow is the most sensitive subject, subtly influenced by sudden changes in light. It is never dead white!
The glory of winter is that you rarely have two days alike, and that's a challenge. Summer, on the other hand, can be less interesting because of the surplus of greenery.
Too high a key in a picture often sacrifices color and strength, and the painting becomes diluted. We must lower Nature's key which many times is quite beyond the capacity of pigment.
Only experience will teach you what color can do. Try constantly to improve your seeing-power.
In moving Nature to canvas, you must transform the material. The difference between the actual scene and the finished picture is the painter's own self, his reactions, his purposes, his attitudes, and of course his ability to carry out his ideas. That, incidentally, takes a lot of hard labor.
"Hibbard is a realist; you feel the reality of everything he paints, but the sentiment, the poetry is there also. Others paint snow that looks like white paint streaked with blue and yellow. Hibbard paints snow that never looks like anything else but snow...he is... more subtle and more penetrating in his observation of delicate nuances of gray, the phenomenon of light on snow."
Boston Globe, 1918
In 1996, the Rockport Art Association, in celebration of their Diamond Jubilee, republished the excellent biography on Hibbard written by his long-time friend, journalist John L. Cooley. Hibbard's advice to students, of which the above is just a humble portion culled from classroom notes and interviews, is only a small part of this interesting man's life story. A.T. Hibbard, N.A. Artist in Two Worlds is available for purchase through Amazon.com, or directly through the Rockport Art Association Gift Shop, which also carries other books on Rockport artists, including the reprint of the acclaimed Gruppé on Painting. [see Underpaintings: Color Palettes: Emil Albert Gruppé (1896-1978)]
*The Rockport Art Association Gift Shop portion of the website appears to have undergone some upgrades in the past year, but is not fully functioning for online orders. Operators of the gift shop are very helpful, however, and can easily accept phone orders. 978.546.6604.
¹Cooley, John, A.T. Hibbard, N.A.: Artist in Two Worlds, second edition, (Rockport Art Association, Rockport, MA, 1996), p. 172.
² ibid., p. 25.
³ ibid., p. 100.
⁴ ibid., p. 63.