Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Setting Fireball Over the Mill

Oil on Board, 10x14 inches

I've been meaning to paint this view for ages. It's a scene I see when driving home from Stamford. The distant trees are blue in the distance and the ancient old mill, stripped of its once magnificent sails, stands proud, a relic of bygone days.

The straw was still lying on the field, waiting to be collected and spewed out into roly-poly bales, and this added another texture and interest in the foreground of the painting. The station cottages (there's a railway line that's hidden behind them) added a nice bit of extra interest and gives some scale to the mill.

The main problem with painting a red fireball of a setting sun, is getting it to look really bright as it appears. No paint is anywhere near that bright, and painting the sun crimson, which it was, makes it look dull, so I painted it orange with a thick blob of Cadmium Yellow Light and Permanent Rose with a touch of Titanium white, and toned down the surrounding clouds to accentuate the sun's brightness.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Sharp Light, Wing road

Oil on Board, 9 x 12 inches

I painted this one en plein air near the village of Manton in Rutland, looking down the hill. I drove around for a while, looking for something to paint and was attracted by the billowing clouds and the sharp sunlight silhouetting the big Ash tree. I loved the brilliant light bouncing off the road at the bottom of the hill and the blueness of the distant tree forms.

I parked the trusty Berlingo with all my gear on the grass verge and swiftly got set up to take advantage of the gorgeous light. After a few minutes I had sketched in the main elements and set to by blocking in the darks and the rough tones throughout. About this time I felt something crawling up my leg and on glancing down I noticed (could hardly miss!) several hundred angry red ants swarming over my jeans! I quickly brushed off the tiny beasts, throwing off my shoes to bang off all the backup of armies following their scouts, and figured it best to beat a hasy retreat, or at least, advance, and moved the easel about 10 yards down the hill. This meant I had to alter the drawing somewhat, but hey-ho, it's all part pof the fun of working on site!

I worked for a couple of hours in situ, then got back home to finish off the painting in the studio, using a couple of reference photos as an aide memoire.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Serene Eyebrook

Oil on Board, 7.5 x 10 inches

Eyebrook Reservoir is a beautiful lake near Uppingham in Rutland - much smaller and prettier than Rutland Water. I started this little painting back at Patchings Art festival in June and put it on my small pile of 'to be finished' paintings, so here it is, duly completed.

I changed things around a little to show a bit more of the lake, which was almost like a millpond, with gorgeous reflections, disturbed only by the Swans and the gentlest of breezes.

The road provided a convenient 'lead-in' for the eye to travel into around the big tree, explore the lake and on out into the distant hills.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Steamy Road

Oil on Board, 6 x 8 inches

I based this little painting on a photo I took on a track near home, just after a shower, on one of those steamy evenings. I painted in the 'steam' hanging above the road with a very dry brush, scrubbing it in over the dry paint to get the effect I wanted.

I've long wrestled with the way I paint trees and foliage, compared to my colleagues. I paint them using my 1" decorator's brush, which, for me, describes a lot of apparent detail with little effort. However, I also strive for a more painterly look, which that technique doesn't give. With this painting, I used a hog brush, the more usual tool used by fellow painters, which indeed gives a looser feel. You can see this looser approach in the upper edge of the big tree, and in the bush on the right and the little bluer distant tree. I couldn't resist my usual technique to describe the bulk of the big tree though!  

Tussles with the mind - do I continue in my normal way, or do I strive for more looseness? Often folks post a comment on Facebook saying "wow, it looks like a photograph!" - a well meaning compliment, but not one I want to hear. I would much prefer "great brush technique", or "wow, so painterly". I'll have to try some more loose brushwork with my plein air efforts and see what the comments are...

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Quiet Corner

Oil on Board, 6 x 8 inches SOLD

Titles for paintings are one of the most difficult things to come up with for an artist. I always try not to repeat a title, but when you've painted for over 30 years and completed a few thousand paintings, it becomes ever more difficult to think of something new.

This was one of those benign, quiet summer days, with no piercing blue sky, but a quiet, slightly overcast one, with almost no breeze and all was quiet apart from the occasional swirl of a rising Chub...yes, all was quiet...ta da - Quiet corner!

Harvest Bales

Oil on Board, 7.5 x 10 inches

I started this one on site on Sunday evening at 6pm, having seen the arrangement of the roly poly straw bales on a bike ride. I dashed back with my gear and quickly got set-up and drew in the composition, then started to paint. I quickly realised within half-an-hour that this was going to be too ambitious to complete en plein air with the swiftly changing light - not only was the sun moving, which it has an annoying propensity to do, it was going down too, so the shadows changed fast and so did the colour of the sky. So, I took a couple of reference photos and finished it off in the studio.

What initially drew me to paint this was the one bale at a different angle to all the other ones, just behind the one in the foreground. Because of its quirky angle (I think it was a maverick, like me), it had that gorgeous flash of sunlight on its top, which I couldn't wait to describe with a thick slab of Titanium White and a touch of yellow, red and blue. Again, it was one of those fleeting light effects that was gone in minutes, and very few of us are capable of painting en plein air, certainly not me. So, I unashamedly put it in in the studio, with it fresh in my memory.

Painting stubble is another fascination for me (I'm easily pleased) - it has a multitude of colurs, not just Yellow Ochre as you might suspect. I painted it with thick mixes of paint using my 1" decorator's brush, using Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber, with Titanium White, of course, in fact, almost every colour I possess, apart from Sap Green and Viridian.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Four Way Junction

Oil on Board, 6 x 8 inches SOLD

I was determined to get out and paint something on Friday, instead of being tied to the studio. The weather was uninspiringly overcast, but I drove deep into the Rutland countryside, not far from home, and decided on doing a little painting of a junction, with four choices for the eye to wonder what is out of the picture plane! You can go down the road around the corner, go through the gate and round up the sheep, turn sharp bottom right through the white spots on the road, or sharp left over the stile and see the horses - such a lot going on in Rutland!

It rained on and off throughout the painting, which was a little challenging - water doesn't mix with oil and the palette ended up with a sort of emulsified mix of strange, bubbly-looking pools of paint. I managed to back my car with the big boot lid up and almost over the easel as a canopy, which helped a little, but rain does't always fall in a conveniently vertical fashion!

Whilst driving to the site, I spotted something moving on the road ahead of me, an injured animal I thought. Slowing down, I realised it was a pint-sized Weasel, tugging like mad at a squashed Magpie - tiny predator pulling a bigger arial predator for his supper. He scampered off as I drove slowly past, ready to rush out and drag his prize into the undergrowth. I love the countryside.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Welland Willows

Oil on Board, 7.5 x 10 inches

Here's one of my local river, the Welland, which meanders through the lovely Rutland countryside. This spot is actually over the border into bandit country, just outside Uffington in Lincolnshire.

Essentially a fairly close-toned painting, with a slightly overcast sky, I had to pay attention to the subtle variations of greens throughout, and that is the one thing that can make a painting more interesting and have more impact. If all the greens in a painting like this are painted with one proprietory green, the result will be boring and not at all life-like, regardless of how well the trees are painted. I use Sap Green as my basic green, but almost never is it used neat - I mix it with Cad Yellow, Permanent Rose, Cobalt and Ultamarine Blue, Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber, with varying amounts of Titanium White, so that every hue is mixed for the job in hand.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bedruthan Steps, Evening

Oil on Board, 7.5 x 10 inches

This was a delightful subject with the evening sunlight bathing the distant cliffs a golden colour. These distinctive sea stacks, each with their own name, are famous landmarks off the north Cornwall coast, and this isn't the first time they've been painted!

I don't often employ the use of a palette knife, but I found it very useful to describe the jagged rocks, dragging lighter colour over a darker underpaint to create the broken effect required. In fact, I used three different knives; a long, flexible, narrow-bladed one, a square ended one (which I generally use to scrape off the unused paint on my palette at the end of a session), and a short, narrow-bladed one. The addition of the gulls on the shoreline and flying around, and also resting on the stacks helped to give the scale of these giants.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Off to Work at Dawn

Oil on Board, 6x8 inches

Another little painting from my current marine theme. I loved the plain simplicity of this subject, of fishing boats off out for the day's catch early in the morning at Mevagissey.

The sky was predominantly grey, with one or two breaks in it, but by gum, there were SO many subtleties in it - just the sort of sky I love to paint, with a lot of concentration required. Painted with just three colours + white throughout the entire painting, all manner of greys, blues, greens, purples and yellows were mixed.

To paint the sea, I painted horizontal bands of darkish grey, then painted in the vessels, did a little more work in the sky, then when the under-colours were becoming sticky - a great asset of Alkyd Oils - I was able to drag more greys and the bright sunlit area over the top.

Friday, 22 August 2014


Oil on Board, 6x8 inches

Anyone who'd found my Blog recently would think I only paint when I do demos!  This one isn't, for a change. It's St.Athony Head in deepest Cornwall on the Roseland Peninsula. 

What really attracted me to paint this was the way the white of the top of the boat stood out against the muted tones of the calm sea and distant hills - I'm easily pleased!  The angled rocks provide a nice 'pointer' to the main boat and the moving boat in the mid distance helps take the eye through to the grey far bank and on to the distant hazey blue land behind.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Midday Shadows, Mousehole

 Oil on Board, 10x14 inches

Here's another demo painting I did last week on the same day as the 'Windrush Willows', this time at the Sundon Park Art Society, again finishing it off in the studio today. 

This was much more an exercise in drawing than 'Windrush Willows', with so much more going on; the placement of the harbour walls - observing their respective horizontal levels, then the relative positioning and tilt of the boats. 

I liked the composition, with the ropes giving convenient radiating lines for the eye to wander out through the gap placed left of centre, after looking at the gorgeous light on the boats. The gulls on the left added a bit of life to balance the weight of the interest on the right of the painting. 

The shadow sides of white boats are always tricky to assess, and I made a point of mentioning this in the demo - never spend too long on any one part of a painting, because if you paint something in isolation, it can look right, but when you then place the colour next to it, it will be altered and you may have to repaint the area you've spent ages on and were pleased with - soul-destroying!  So, although we know the boats are white in this painting, the shadow sides are relatively dark - darker than the sunlit mud beneath them - and are difficult to get right without painting all the surrounding tones. It's a classic case of painting what you see, not what you know, ie, we know the boats are white, but they won't 'read' right unless we observe the true dark tones of the shadow sides.

I used my palette knife to depict a lot of the wet mud in the foreground, paying close attention again to the tones in the shadows cast by the boats. Altogether a complicated painting really - I like to torture myself!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Windrush Willows

 Oil on Board, 12x17 inches

I painted this one as a demo to the Shefford Art Group last week. It's very much my meat-and-two-veg sort of subject. With only two hours painting time, it necessitated fast drawing and no-nonsense blocking in the main elements and dark tones, then layering the lighter tones on top to simulate the various mixes of greens for the vegetation - the trees, bushes and bankside grasses. You can see how far I got in the photo below.

Finishing the piece off in comfort of the studio, without fifty pairs of eyes staring over my shoulder (!), I reassessed the painting, refining the water and trees to exhibition standard. I also popped in some sheep in the distant meadow to add a bit of life.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A Bend on the Nene

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 13x19 inches

My last Pastel for a spell - I don't like to do too many pastels at a stretch because of the dusty atmosphere produced, which isn't very healthy!

This is another I did as a demo a while back, finally finishing it off in the studio today. The view is of the River Nene close to the old Waternewton Mill, which was a working watermill built in 1791, but converted to flats and a shop in 1986 - what a gorgeous place to live! 

Having done a million oils and a few thousand pastels in the last 31 years, i'm getting the urge to have a go at some watercolours, which, when I started out in this wonderful vocation, consisted of about half of my output. So, it's time I had a go after I've framed a bunch of paintings, so stand by your beds.... 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Working Morning, Brancaster Staithe

Pastel on Clairefontaine Pastelmat, 13 x 19 inches

I painted this one as a demo for the Horncastle Art Group last Friday, just finishing it off today in the studio.

The place is one of my favourite marine painting venues - Brancaster Staithe in Norfolk - which offers a wealth of subjects for an artist. Being a working harbour, there are lots of fishermen's sheds with all the attendant paraphernalia scattered about.

Painting in soft Pastels, I find the finished painting has a 'softer' quality to it than one done in oil, or at least one done in oil by me! Using a photo I took some years ago for reference, I moved the yellow boat in the foreground to the right a few feet, because the composition didn't seem quite right as it was so far over to the left. Here's how far I got in the allotted two hours of the demo:
I managed to place in the main shapes of the mussel sheds and boats, paying particular attention to the relative tones - always the most important part of any painting. Colour can be out, but the painting still lives, but if the tonal balance is out, the painting just won't stand up and loses impact.

To finish off the painting and to add some life and balance, I put in the figure carrying nets to the left, and one in the big red vessel on the right.