Playing God

"Painting precise locations is irrelevant; simply keep the character"
Joseph Zbukvic, the excellent Australian watercolourist, has this posted on his website under an atmospheric watercolour of a wide, glare-filled street.  European?  Australian?  Imagined?  It doesn't matter.  The character is there.
This is a difficult mindset to get into at first.  Essentially, he's saying that you don't have to paint exactly what exists; you can change it up.  Just keep the flavour, the essence of the place. 
For students, this liberating idea can be intimidating.  They want to render every mountain peak and the reproduce the location of each stand of trees.  It's an impulse toward honesty that struggles with the impulse toward artistic interpretation.  When they do embrace the power that they have to edit the world to suit the needs of their paintings, there's a huge sense of relief.  They stop saying," but there actually was a tree right there" and start to say, "there was a tree right there but I moved it to make a better composition" or "I moved it to emphasize its isolation."  This is the moment when they start to focus on the character of the scene and not the literal scene itself. 
For me, this is also when their paintings go from depictions to pieces of art.
Happy New Year to you all and Happy Painting!