Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Winter at Ringstead

I last wrote about painting at Ringstead here, where I explained about the temporary 'easel' I was using.

When I returned to my spot last week to continue with the painting not only had the easel disappeared, but the landscape of the beach had been radically altered by the storms.

The shingle bank on which I had been sitting has been lifted by the sea and deposited about 15ft higher up the beach. A small blue rowing boat that had been left on a chain nearby, well above the high-water mark, has been completely buried. You can see it in the background of this photograph.

Needless to say, my temporary easel has gone. The crevice where I left it cannot now be seen. It too has been buried under tons of shingle.

Because of these shifts in the landscape I have had to make some compositional changes to the painting. I'm going back there later this week and hope to complete it then.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Art Of Framing

A good frame can make or break a painting. Getting it right can be difficult and time-consuming.

Deciding on the shape, size, colour and finish of the moulding is an art in itself.

For instance, my larger 'open' seascapes, usually need to be in a softer, curved moulding. The smaller landscapes often better suit a more geometric, squarer moulding. But there are no hard and fast rules.

I work with my framer, Geraint Davies, to assess each picture I take to him. Geraint has an expert eye, and is himself a trained artist.

He is a true craftsman and his frames are beautifully put together, with enormous attention to detail. Unlike the vast majority of framers he does not simply join lengths of moulding that he has bought from wholesalers. Geraint builds up different profiles to create his own individual shapes. He also spends a great deal of time on painting and finishing each frame to give it a unique connection with the picture.

It is a real treat to arrive at Geraint's workshop to collect the finished work.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


Before the storms and bad weather of the last few days I had started a painting at Ringstead. This was the one where I abandoned a trip Osmington due to the strong winds, and the difficulty of getting down the cliff path there with my canvas.

Since then, there has been no real let-up in the weather, and I'm really keen for the elements to calm down a bit so that I can get back out there in a degree of safety, and continue with the painting.

When I finally get back to Ringstead Beach in the next couple of days I'll be able to gauge the ferocity of the storms, and the height of the spring tides by checking to see if my 'easel' is still there.

You may have noticed that I do not use a conventional easel when painting outside. This is because I frequently walk long distances over rough terrain to reach my 'spot'. An easel would be an impossible encumbrance. An easel would also put the canvas in a position that would practically guarantee that it would blow away with the first puff of wind.

I have adapted my painting style to this method of working by locating objects on which I can lean or prop my canvas. These are usually natural objects, such as rocks or fallen branches (see my video) which are readily to hand. When painting on a beach I will create a natural slope for my canvas on the ground by pushing and piling the sand or shingle with my hands or boots.

At Ringstead last week I found part of a large plastic container, which was among the jetsam on the beach. It served very well as a makeshift easel, and you can see it in position in the top photograph.

When I packed up I decided to save it for my return - imagining this would be the following day. I wedged it into a cleft in the shale and earth dunes well above the high-water mark. This is where you see it in the second photograph.

I wonder if it will still be there when I go back?

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Shape And Tone

Painting in the landscape can be a solitary experience. This can be a fascinating. You are relatively still for long periods of time in places where humans normally just pass by.

It is not uncommon to see and hear animals very close to where I'm sitting. Last time I was at the river Stour at this point a stoat ran right past me. I got the impression that it had been waiting to do so for some time – and had eventually lost patience. I also see deer, voles, foxes, jumping fish and so on. In the skies above, birds of prey constantly patrol.

Sometimes though, painting can end up being a very sociable occasion. This week, painting at my current spot on the river Stour, I spent an hour or so chatting to my best friend. Here I also frequently meet other people I know, Blandford being where I grew up.

In the top photograph above you see my painting only an hour in. It is unusual for me to photograph my work at such an early stage – but here it illustrates the foundation of how I work.

Right from the beginning I block in, with the paintbrush, the 'big' shapes – and relate these to each other. It is not until I am satisfied that the drawing relates faithfully to what I am looking at that I can build on this foundation.

The decisions I make about the relative placing of elements to each other can sometimes go on for days. The painting will emerge from this gradual process of resolution.

At the same time I am thinking about tone. But that's another post.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Life's A Beach

Yesterday was one of those days. I woke up to sunny weather, selected a large canvas, and set off to Osmington. The weather was so lovely I didn't even bother to take a waterproof coat with me.

Arriving at Osmington Mills it was still sunny, but I could barely open the car door it was so windy. Finally managing to force my way out of the car, I took the canvas out of the boot – and prepared to walk down the steep cliff path to the seashore.

As soon as I took two steps down the path I lost control of the canvas. I nearly ended up doing some impromtu hang-gliding, but I managed to bring it under control. My painting hat also blew off and disappeared. Well, I was sensible enough at that point to go back to the car and not risk breaking the stretcher bar of the canvas (which was flexing strongly in the wind), or indeed every bone in my body if I had been blown down onto the rocky beach.

Abandoning the idea of painting at Osmington, I drove the short distance to Ringstead, where the carpark is at least at sea level. On choosing my view and setting up I thought the light and colour of the sky was really interesting.

The reason for this turned out to be the almost instant arrival of a squally shower, which soaked me, the canvas, and my palette.

The first two photographs above show my brushes, and the palette covered in raindrops (you can click on them to see them in more detail). I also took a snap of myself as I arrived on the beach, just prior to the drenching.

By the time the shower was over I was too wet and cold to continue. I'd got a promising start to the painting though, which I'll continue working on later in the week.

Lesson learned. Always take your raincoat and wet weather gear.