Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Weekend sunshine

I managed to get out a couple of times this weekend in the sunshine. It feels like Spring already! On Friday I took the day off work and headed into Oxford for a spot of urban work. In the morning it was overcast and half way through the painting the sun burst through. Yes, I was the insane guy in the street shaking make fist at the sun :) I decided to leave that one and come back on a cloudy day but was determined to get something 'in the bag'. I headed to a nice spot outside the gates of Trinity college where I've painted before. This time round I focused on a slightly different angle which made use of the dark tree to frame some of the architecture. That sandstone really glows in the full glare of the sun and I wanted to capture something of it whilst it lasted.

Gates of Trinity College, 10x13in, oil on board

The clouds came back after an hour or so which meant for the last half an hour I was pulling things together and working partly from memory. I figured it best to do this on the spot though whilst it was all fresh. I liked the contrast of the feathery little tree on the right with the solidity of the stonework (admittedly the little tree is further to the right but I wanted it in the painting). 

On Sunday I opted for the open countryside at Ivinghoe Beacon. I'm quite taken with the airy atmosphere you get on clear days and wanted to see if I could get a sense of being perched up there and looking into the distant haze. It's not easy finding a spot where there are enough compositional elements to latch onto but after wandereing around the slopes I settled on a portrait format.

West from Ivinghoe Beacon, 8x14in, oil on board

The tonal range was quite narrow and I didn't want to destroy the 'cushion of atmosphere' as Ken Howard calls it. There's not a huge amount to latch onto but I like the challenge of working with the open space and the subtle shifts in tone/colour. The rhythms of the roads and fields is quite tricky to manage and I move them about to try and make the composition work better. If nothing else it's a good learning curve that might open up other avenues. Maybe the clouds need a bit more tonal adjustment but I'll let it rest for a while. I still haven't decided if the foreground trees would be better in or out......

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

VERY, VERY cold!

It was -11C when I stepped out of the door on Saturday morning and there was freezing fog everywhere. Eventually it cleared to leave a brief window where I could catch the remaining snow and a bit of sun. By this time I was getting a little cold but thought I'd give it a go and lasted just over an hour before common sense got the better of me :)

Snow remains, Stony Stratford (13x10 - oil on board)

The painting has certain things that work and others that I'm not happy with (some of the colours/tones bother me and the composition could be better) but hey ho, that's the way it sometimes goes with plein air in those sort of temperatures I can perhaps cut myself a little slack :) Perhaps a bigger studio version with some amendments will be an option. A few useful lessons learnt during the process though and useful to have the reference from direct observation. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Snowy Sunday

We had a decent covering of snow on Sunday which allowed me to spend much of the day out with the pochade box, trying to capture something before it all melted away. In fact, by the afternoon it had already started thinning out so there was no option but to seize the moment! I set out on foot around my local area (Stony Stratford) at around 9:30am and finally got home to defrost at around 4:30pm. Luckily I had plenty of layers and a flask of milky coffee to keep me warm.

Anyway, the first effort of the day was just down the road at Passenham Mill.

Red Door at Passenham Mill, 12x16in oil on canvas board

I had a go at this in the snow last year but this time went in for a closer view. I really wanted to avoid making it too 'twee' and thought the strong note of colour offered by the door would lift an otherwise generally grey scene. The mill is actually the sandstone building on the left but I really wanted to focus on that door! The surface was a rather absorbent stained canvas board so my initial strokes seemed to barely register. Somewhat discouraged I thought about stopping but decided to push on with juicier strokes of positively applied paint. I enjoyed working in this way and liked the handling of the surface once the oil started to build up a little.

I find the problem with using oils too thinly on an absorbent surface is that the surface becomes lifeless once it has dried and the colours sink in, losing their initial vibrancy. I still reserve a thin application for the extreme darks though as a degree of transparency gives them more depth and interest. I could smell the wood burner smoke coming from the chimney (actually it was coming out of the other one!) and there was a blissful air of silence. The painting is still wet and I'm inclined to leave it as it is....of the moment and nothing more.

For the afternoon's effort I wandered back into Stony in search of more colour to punctuate the prevailing greyness. I quite fancied doing something with the Victorian red brick stonework and liked the way it constrasted with the snow.

Mill Lane in the snow, Stony Straford 10x13in, oil on board

The snow was already starting to melt as you can tell by the foreground slush in the road. I liked the sharp contrasts thrown up by the white roof, the cars and the figures and tried to hold onto this tonal clarity in the painting. I wanted to keep the colours as clean and decisive as possible too. It was interesting to see an evergreen plant in full bloom and whilst the leaves were quite yellow but I decided to play this down for the sake of retaining an overall harmony. I may need to tidy up a couple of the figures (I was starting to flag a little towards the end) and sort out one or two wayward verticals but again, would rather keep this to a minimum.  More snow is a possibility for the weekend so fingers crossed for a fresh covering :o)