Monday, 1 August 2011

Whaddon sunset studies

I've been really busy lately getting work prepped for upcoming exhibtions so I've not been able to post much onto the blog. I have been trying to get out when I can with the easel and started a little series of paintings from the same location in a nearby village called Whaddon. The view looks west and across a valley and I'm particularly interested in trying to capture the different stages as the sun sets.

I knew it would be tricky because the light moves so fast at sunset. It's a reasonably simple subject in terms of the drawing so that makes things easier to handle. For now I've been starting from scratch on each study but I might be tempted to map out the basic compostion on future efforts to save time when in front of the subject. Apart from the time issues, one of the hardest things is trying to find an equivalent in paint for the brilliant light and colours. I end up having to work part observation and part memory as the subject changes so rapidly. What I try to avoid is 'chasing' the light but it's inevitable to a certain extent. In some ways it's not such a bad thing since I want the painting to serve as an account of the whole experience of being there, not merely a snapshot. It's a fine balance. After about 30-40mins the subject will have changed so much it's probably best to start another one but I'm sometimes guilty of carrying on a bit longer than I really should!

Anyway, the three the order they were painted (each done on separate evenings after work):

First effort above, earlier in the evening, not so exciting but it got me familar with the scene and the light was a bit more steady compared to later on.

This one above was done earlier in the evening with a higher sun. I don't know what possessed me but I went with an 8x20in board....rather ambitious for such a fast changing scene and it reminded me to keep things smaller for next time!

This was a better size (about 5x13in) and worked out quite nicely in terms of composition and balance of light. I was guilty of chasing the light a bit in this but it seemed worth it as every time I looked up the scene just got better and better!

Detail showing brushwork and sky colours of the above painting

All of the above are as they were when they came off the easel. As you can see, they're rough around the edges but far more valuable in terms of information than any photograph could give me. I might be tempted to do a larger studio piece based on these 'sketches'. I put the detail shot in as it shows  the marks, colour choices etc. I couldn't really look at the sun as it was so bright so it's more a case of trying to make a judgment whilst it's in my peripheral vision. Clearly, the sun is many times brighter than the yellow paint I used so it's interesting to see how an equivalent is arrived at. It's important to try and keep colour mixes clean so I get through plenty of brushes (saves time on cleaning them whilst in action).

Reference photos:

My palette for this one had less cadmiums as the colours in the early evening were less intense

I had the idea of doing two in succession but only managed one on this occasion. I'll use the spare as a starting point for next time.

See how the camera lies!! 


  1. David I'm glad to see you posting and painting again. All very nice but the last is my favorite. Your brushwork is very nice as are your colors. Doug

  2. Thanks Douglas! I think I'm going to approach most of these in the series as sketches so I don't get too hung up on trying to finish them off (and killing them off as a result). I've got an itch to do a big one in the studio at some point as there's a limit to the scale that can be used on location with this sort of subject. Hope you're well and getting plenty of summer painting done.

  3. Very nice David. I think It pays off to paint the same place again and again as one can feel that you really know and feel the subject. I think my favourite is actually the 8x20 because of the golden quality of the sky. I think it would look great framed. Well done for working on a big format in plein air!

  4. Thanks Valerie. Yes, it's 'big' by my usual outdoor standards, especially for something so fast changing. I've got a darkish frame with a nice gold trim that might just suit that one! I went out last night for another go and will post it up when I get the chance. No excuses now....I should have enought material now to have a go at something bigger in the studio :o)

  5. I like them all and I really like the composition and can see why you keep going back. I seem to like the 8 x 10 at top the most. The hills have more texture and I like how my eye travels around. It also puts more emphasis on the tracks in the grass. Good job!

  6. Thanks Randy. Yes, now you mention it I see what you mean. Compositionally, the first does have a bit more breathing space and the far distance is slightly less compressed than in the others. It's a nice simple subject to work with and one of the main things I was trying to avoid was having an equal split between land and sky. It can work on occasions but in this instance I think it's more interesting to have an unequal balance. I often wonder why our eyes/brain prefers something that isn't perfectly symmetrical...I'm sure there's a theory for it somewhere!

  7. A successful outcome to a very ambitious idea. I think they are all terrific, but prefer the first and the last. Re 'chasing the light'. I believe the attraction of plein air is the opportunity to capture the best of a scene over a period of 1-2 hours. I'm not sure it matters if you have the trees in the early light, to capture the richness of their green and the sun from the later light. The viewer doesn't really perceive the incongruity of the light, but the picture is all the better for the slight incongruity.

  8. Thanks Ian. Yes, I think you're right. The painting does (and perhaps/rather should) reflect how the artist inteprets the subject over the whole session. I've done plenty of paintings where certain elements might come from separate moments during the session. The tricky thing is then to pull them all together so they make sense as a coherent whole.

  9. Hey David,
    I read about your recent sales on Valerie and Tim's blogs. Congratulations. If you have a chance I'd love to see images of your paintings that sold.

  10. You are a master landscape painter. I love this sunset. The streaks of orange over the cool blue are so beautiful.