Thursday, 28 February 2008

Heath Grass

This is the completed painting I was working on in the brief video, posted a few days ago.

One of the inspirations for the painting was the contrast between the blue hills in the distance with the surrounding landscape of golden heath grass. The dry winter weather had amplified this effect.

The painting had started off as a 'midday' picture, but as it progressed I found myself working later and later into the afternoon each session. The light in the painting therefore changed to reflect this over the course of its development. The midday sun can be quite harsh to work in, particularly as I was facing partly towards it. But the finished painting, to me, captures the progression of time from that midday intensity to the mellower light of the afternoon.

It is the capturing of time, as well as place, that fascinates me so much. There is an analogy here with Euan Uglow's paintings frequently being completed over long periods of time. If his subject matter was an organic object, like a pear or a flower, it would move and decay throughout the time that he painted it. His finished painting would convey this.

I have been inspired by this methodology, but I employ it in the landscape. Here the changes are constant: weather, light, the position of the sun, changing foliage and so on.

Shown above is a detail of the canvas taken with my cameraphone. Because of the way I paint, grass, sand or whatever can end up on the canvas mixed with the paint. This is never a contrivance - and in this particular case I removed the grass before it had dried on to the painting, because it was incongruous.

The completed painting is also shown. I'll put another photograph of it on my website in the next few days after it has dried and I've re-stretched it.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Getting Out There

I've been asked by lots of painters what my methods are for working outdoors. Yesterday, as I was about to prepare for a trip to Winfrith Heath (to complete the painting I show here and here) I decided on the spur of the moment that we could make a quick video showing what I take with me.

So what you see here wasn't planned, but it does give an idea of the realities of painting landscapes in situ.

Every landscape I produce is painted outside - in the landscape itself. Each mark I make on the canvas is a faithful response to what I am looking at. Even though the light, and the landscape itself is constantly changing it is these factors which test your skills as an artist.

Working from a 2-dimensional image, such as a photograph or projection, is a completely different proposition. Sometimes, when it is cold, rainy - or even in blazing sunlight - I think of those using such methods in their studios, as I lug my rucksack over a muddy field.

But the rewards of becoming part of the landscape over the hours and days I am there are immense. When I have completed a landscape painting I can be confident that it is a true and honest representation of a particular time and a particular place.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Sign Here Please

Today I was painting at Osmington. This is less than ten miles from where I live, and is not a very well-used beach in comparison with others in the area, like Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.

This is more-or-less where John Constable painted Weymouth Bay, which hangs in the National Gallery in London.

I was working on the painting I started a few days ago, and which you can see in it's earlier stages here. By the end of the day I had finished the painting, and I'll post a photograph of it here in the next few days.

Over the years I've developed the bad habit of neglecting to sign my work. This is not done on principle, or for aesthetic reasons - but simply because I'm forgetful.

Today, as a way of amusing myself, I signed this Osmington painting well before it was even finished. I think subconsciously I was aware that the bottom right of the painting needed a mark to balance the picture out.

Monday, 11 February 2008

A Monday Afternoon in February

Over the past twenty five years or so the subjects to which I have most frequently returned have been the land and river-scapes of north Dorset, and the seascapes of the nearby coast.

Since moving to south Dorset a couple of years ago I have begun to paint Winfrith Heath, near which I now live. Initially this heath landscape seemed so alien to me. But I have grown to love it - and to begin to feel a part of it.

The challenges it offers to a painter are that the heath has so much movement and activity in comparison to the rolling hills and valleys of north Dorset. There are few points that feel solid enough to fix a mark with, to provide a permanent reference for the painting. The ground seems to undulate as I observe it.

Lines of distinction between, for example, the warm hues of the gorsy grass and the purply blue of the woodier brush are frequently blurred and indistinct from one moment to another. There are no clear and obvious dividing lines.

I find the new challenges of painting here are compelling enough to make me keep returning to make sense of it all.

Usually the heath is a haven of peace and quiet, disturbed only by the occasional dog walker, and the rustle of field mice (I think!) not far from where I am sitting. It is also renowned for snakes, and is one of the few habitats for Smooth Snakes, but I have not yet seen one - nor even an adder.

Today however was slightly noisier. The heath is quite near the army ranges at Lulworth and Bovington. I painted to the sound of distant machine-gun fire.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Into The Sun

Following on from yesterday's post, showing me about to set off for the banks of the river Stour at Blandford - with a large, partly completed canvas - I thought I would let you know how I got on.

I've painted many, many times on this riverbank - in all weathers. In the summer you expect to be hot, and I dress accordingly - with a peaked cap and suncream. In the depths of winter I have a woolly hat, several layers of fleeces - and a pair of skiing salopettes.

It being early February I had my winter clothes on. You can see from the pictures in the previous post that I am dressed for warmth.

Well, yesterday I sweltered. In fact, by the time I had finished I thought I was about to come down with sunstroke - despite having shed several layers of clothing.

The sun also introduced another challenge. It was very bright and low, and without a cloud in the sky I was looking almost directly into it. This meant a lot of squinting, and shielding of my eyes with my free hand. I wished I had brought my suncream and my cap.

It was however all worthwhile. The top photograph, taken with my cameraphone, shows the painting as it about halfway through the session. The lower photograph shows it as it is now. Completed.

I am really very pleased with the colours and drawing, and I particularly like the small figures I have worked in. There were two teenagers fishing on the left bank, and a walker on the right.

As well as being productive, the painting session was also very sociable. A couple of the walkers were old friends from Blandford, and it was great to catch up with them.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Size Matters

I set out this morning to work on a painting of one of my favourite spots on the river Stour, in Blandford.

The canvas you can see above is pretty much the largest size I can use when painting in situ. This is due to the size of my car. Although it is a large estate car, nothing larger will fit in the back. When I bought the car, I compared several different models and makes - taking a tape measure with me to compare width measurements.

Whilst I do work on canvases larger than this, they are restricted to the studio at the moment. I am however looking at investing in a larger vehicle - a van, pickup, or perhaps something with a kind of prop/holder on the side like glaziers have. The other option is a trailer. The search is on.

Size also matters in respect of the preparation of the canvas. I haven't put my usual lead primer on this canvas, but I have sized it with rabbit skin glue. Hence its colour at the top right of the canvas which has not been worked on.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

No Flies On Me

These pictures show a painting I've been working on for the last couple of days.

The first picture shows it as it was after I finished for the day. It has been so windy and blustery that when I was walking back up the cliff at Osmington the wet painting was caught by a gust of wind - and got smudged against my clothes. This is an occupational hazard - and the worse the weather the more challenging it becomes to work with larger canvases.

The following day I awoke to find that the weather had changed. It was brighter and calmer. Although this made for much more pleasant working conditions, the scene lacked the wildness that had struck me so the day before. I therefore had to start to work in some changes - which ultimately meant that the painting was not finished today.

My intention is to go back to the beach this weekend and resolve the painting - particularly focussing on the complicated, stony foreground. I'm keeping my finger crossed for slightly worse weather!

If you look at the second photograph you should see lots of tiny black dots. These are sandflies from the beach that swarmed me while I was painting. Many landed on the wet paint. If the painting is still wet when I continue I will have to paint them in into the paint, mixing them into the texture. If it is dry I will be able to brush them off. This is not the kind of thing people think about when they imagine the idyllic life of the landscape painter!

Friday, 1 February 2008


I spent yesterday on Winfrith Heath again, working on the painting I started earlier in the week - and which is pictured in the kitchen in the previous post.

Here you can see it when I'd finished for the day. The low January evening sunlight can be see coming through the canvas, so you can see the silhouette of the stretcher. Sitting on the heath all day was a real pleasure. There were times when it was positively warm, it was so sunny.

Well the weather has now changed, and I'm going to have a wait a day or two before I continue with this painting. Not because I mind being out in cold weather, but because to work on the painting I need the weather (and time of day, but that's another post) to be similar to previous sittings. So now I wait for a clear February day.