Monday, 28 February 2011

Heading back out....

I thought it was high time I headed back outdoors to do some painting having spent the last couple of weeks 'wrestling' with some studio pieces. For me, painting outside is the ultimate in being connected to the moment. In the studio it can often feel like the plug has been disconnected. It's as though I need the energy of the subject to feed. It feels much more natural, instinctive and things seem to 'flow'. I'm looking forward to heading out more and more as the spring weather improves.

This was done in the rain yesterday on the bank of the river Ouse at Buckingham. I thought the weir was interesting but knew it would be tricky to make it balance with the rest of the piece. I searched for a spot that wasn't dependent on the sunshine as I knew there was some wet stuff heading in. It started raining after about 20 mins so I left the painting by a tree, went back to the car to get the easel umbrella and came back to carry on the session.

Passers by kept looking down at me from the bridge. 'Look at that crazy guy trying to paint in the rain' I could imagine them saying. One had a lovely red umbrella which I couldn't resist. It's such a great thing when little incidentals like that pop up. Little did they know they provided a nice focal point :o) I had to be careful with values and temperature. The balance is much more refined in overcast conditions. The trickiest part was probably the bridge, owing to the local colour of the bricks which were warm but in the cool light had to be carefully controlled. I wanted it to sit comfortably within its surroundings and try to say something about the moist veil of atmosphere.

The foaming water was also interesting and I was surprised by the amount of yellow there was under the frothy waves. It must come from the base of the river. I was pleased in the end that the painting had a coherence and I'd avoided the dreaded 'drabness' that can easily descend. This, unlike some of my recent studio pieces, will thankfully not be filed in the bin :o)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Reading and reflecting

I've recently been using the winter weather and new studio as an opportunity to focus and reflect on my studio practice and work up a few pieces from my plein air studies. I should be able to post up some shots fairly soon. I think it's useful to balance studio work with painting outdoors as they can be quite different experiences. Outside, you end up getting absorbed in the motif and the moment and (for me anyway) the empahsis tends to be on observing the subject and translating into paint. It's important to have an idea or 'spark' though so that it's not just an exercise in copying what's there. Otherwise the results will sometimes be quite dull.

I've been reading a quite brilliant book by John F Carlson recently ( and in it he says:

"We must not train our eyes to copy tone for tone but think of the bearing of such colors and harmonies upon the main idea of our picture"

This perhaps seems obvious but it can be easily forgotten when working on a painting, especially in the heat of the moment on location. Studio practice always seems to be more reflective wheras plein air painting is more instinctive. However, I think it is the quality of thinking that underpins the quality of the outcome in both cases. Technique almost becomes secondary, a tool to be used when called upon. Of course, good technique is important but I don't think it should be the entire story behind a painting. If the right thoughts can inform the right decisions then a better outcome is much more likely.