Wednesday, 11 December 2013

ROI annual exhibition 2013

Just returned from the private view for the 2013 annual exhibition with the Royal Institute of Oil Painters at the Mall Galleries in London. Great to see everyone there and chat with fellow members, friends and visitors. It really is a superb show this year and I'd thoroughly recommend a visit (runs until December 21st).

The exhibition was offiicially opened by ROI President Ian Cryer and Dr David Starkey.

Dr David Starkey giving his opening speech to a packed out gallery audience

I have five paintings on show, as shown below.

'Punt station, Magdalen Bridge, Oxford' (22x28in)

'Mill Lane, Stony Stratford' (11x14in)

'Royal Palace of Alcasar, Seville' (12x16in)

'Barge at Heybridge', (12x16in)

'Blue boat, Brancaster Staithe', (10x8in)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Late autumn

I've managed to grab a small handful of outdoor sessions recently and tried to take advantage of the decent light/sunshine we've had over the last couple of weekends. It certainly makes all the difference when the sun comes out at this time of year, especially in rural landscapes. Most of the leaves have dropped now and the landscape has veered into winter mode.

I enjoyed this one on Saturday, painted at about 11am for a couple of hours on the edge of Ravenstone, a nice Northamptonshire village with sandstone cottages that glow when lit by the low winter sun. I was conscious of the dangers of the 'chocolate box' cottage scene and the raking shadows provided enough abstract interest to make it worth a shot. I really wanted to nail the warmth of the light contrasted against the cool shadows and had to focus hard to manage the tones. The gable end of the house was fully lit by the sun buy when you compare the tone with the window sills it's lower in tone than you'd perhaps expect. The central telegraph pole was darker at the top and the one on the right was lighter, offering a bit of counterchange. Nice little puzzles to solve as you go along. I liked the dark punch of the shadow side of the roof and a post van drove up and parked on the drive at one point so I grabbed it as a nice little shot of colour.

'Late morning winter light, Ravenstone' - 12x16 in - oil on board 
(click image to enlarge)

Another one from Northamptonshire, this time the village of Everdon. I had less time with this one as it was about 1:30pm and the light was shifing much faster than I imagined. Within minutes of starting the shadows started to creep up the front of 'The Plough'. Again, I wanted to try and capture the sense of light and the colours contrasting against the shadows. The building really was quite a strong orange/yellow. Interesting how the wall on the right, although in shadow, had a fair bit of warmth coming through and I was conscious of not ending up with a muddy mush by mixing the warm/cool transitions too much.

'The Plough, afternoon light (Everdon)' - 9x10in - oil on board

Late autumn trees

I just about managed to catch the tail end of some autumn colours but they felt a bit like snatched moments. The light seems best later in the day but by that time it shifts at such a rate it can all be a bit of a blur when trying to paint something. The simpler the subject the better really, there's no time to fiddle or spend ages details. It's more the overall effect that's interesting so I'm keen to try and tune into what is the 'essence' of the subject in front of me.

I must confess I can sometimes spend too much time looking around for something that catches the eye but I struggle to paint something if there isn't a spark there. The difficulty is that the best 'views' don't necessarily translate into the best paintings and it's often the incidental, stumbled upon moments that can be the most interesting to work with. Here's one such subject of 'nothing in particular' but I saw something in the rhythms of the shapes and way the sky interacts with the ground via the water tracks in the mud. There was a vague hint of light but it was essentially quite overcast.

'Mud tracks, Grandborough' - 9x10in, oil on board
(click image to enlarge)

Another aspect I enjoyed about this was that it was painted over an old dud which freed me up a bit. I think if there is something underneath it forces you to make more forceful marks in order to conceal the embarrassment that lies beneath! I actually returned the following weekend as the sun was fading and painted over another used panel. This time I had barely half an hour to get something down before everything was in shadow. It was more a case of making quick colour notes and jotting down the general feeling. I probably could have done with working the water tracks a bit more but it was best not to fiddle and end up with a mush.

'Afternoon light,wet field near Grandborough' (8x10in - oil on board)

Another one caught right at the end of the afternoon and rapidly painted as the light disappeared. Nice simple subject, nothing to get too fussy with and the water tracks brought a nice element of contrast into the darker tones of the muddy ground. If I did another version I would probably go easier on the orange and perhaps refine the distant area, possibly a subtle church spire to help things along. It's useful to have the colour and tonal references from the spot as a firm starting point. Photos (with my camera anyway) would be hopeless and besides, painting from photos isn't something I enjoy doing. Much prefer being there and soaking it all up.

'Last light, Northampton Lane (Rugby)' (8x10in oil on board)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Quickfire ROI portrait session

Last week I spent an enjoyable day with some ROI members and friends at the Winsor and Newton HQ in Shepherd's Bush. We had the added bonus of getting a tour of the development labs where new colours are researched for various product ranges. Interesting to see how some colours fade in the ultraviolet ovens!

Anyway, Ian Cryer (ROI President) steered us towards a speedier format with short poses.The half hour window proved to be an interesting challenge where we had to be sharp and incisive in both observation and execution. I think with all of them I could have done with an extra few minutes to pull things together but I guess that would then defeat the overall objective so the portraits will remain in their somewhat sketchy state. Overall, I really enjoyed working in this way and hope to do more of it in future. It's refreshing to work in different ways and step out of your comfort zone. Nice to meet up everyone and great to see the mix of styles and approaches too.

'Ian Cryer (PROI)', oil on board (10x12in)

I liked the way Ian created a sort of 'distinguished' pose with the walking stick so I opted to focus on the bigger, overall shape rather than doing a head study.

'Tim Benson' (VPROI), oil on board (10x8in)

The good thing about the quicker poses is that you're drawing more directly with paint, making all sorts of instinctive marks. With that if often brings a unique sense of energy. There isn't the time for too many misplaced or misjudged marks so the emphasis turns towards making each mark really count for something.

'Tim King', oil on board (10x13in)

Tim happily acknowledged how everyone had successfully captured his 'comb over'! I try to use notes of contrast where possible, thick/thin, hard/soft, dark/light, cool/warm...all useful in constructing the image

'Adebanji Alade (AROI'), oil on board (10x13in)

Great, intense pose from Adebanji who threw down the gauntlet with a head tie and the use of hands in the pose. You were right Adebanji, it did make it more challenging!

'Pauline Hazelwood', oil on board (8x12in)

I liked the way Pauline had her arms folded so I went for a longer format to make the most of the diagonals created by the pose. The green neck scarf brought a nice note of colour, along with the touches yellow.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Another day in paradise (North Norfolk in the sunshine)

Another quick jaunt up to the North Norfolk coast and I managed to get four paintings done, accompanied by some unusually hot sunshine which I've been trying to make the most of over the last few weekends. It's hard to find anywhere shady along this stretch of the coast so I knew I'd be needing plenty of water and sun cream. I also took my painting umbrella which I had clamped to a second lightweight tripod which I have standing next to the main one (which holds the pochade box). I then tie the umbrella stem to the main tripod with a shoelace for extra support! Seems to work if it's not too breezy.

'Blue boat, Brancaster Staithe', 11x14in - oil on board (click images to enlarge)

I was rather taken by this boat in the sunlight and and the winding path of posts that served as a nice lead in to the distance. I fancied attempting something a bit different so thought it was worth a go. The shadows seem to get better as the session progressed although there was some high cloud which muted the effect at times. The building in the distance had a nice orange roof which sits well against the blue boat. I had to work fast on this and focused more on the light effect than trying to nail every detail with the boats. I took care to suggest a bit of foreground texture without making it too distracting so as to pull the eye down to the bottom of the painting. I might be tempted to do a bigger version in the studio at some point, perhaps tweaking the composition and refining the drawing.

'Late afternoon, Morston Quay', 10x13in - oil on board

I love painting at Morston. It's pretty quiet (apart from the squawking seagulls) and the rhythms of the boats and water are very appealing. This is a 'classic' view (above) I guess, looking towards Blakeney in the distance. It's important to make the composition work with the position of the boats and the flow of the water pattern so I mapped these basic elements in early on to ensure that the design would hold together. There were some nice shadows to work with on the foreground boats.

Below is a piece done at Blakeney. I was a little hot and bothered at this point, having set up along the quay front but abandoning the attempt after finding it too congested (with people) and the boats were spinning round in the tidal flow. I opted for a quieter spot, looking back at the town with a couple of boats moored on the bank in the foreground. The boats were still moving a lot but I though I had a better chance with the grounded pair in the foreground. Again, something a little different I thought and a nice moment when a nice chap came past and started picking something from the wet mud. I asked him what he was collecting and told me it was samphire. Apparently, it is quite a sought after ingredient for fine dining. Anyway, I knew I had a title for the painting!

'Samphire picking, Blakeney' - 8x12in, oil on board

After painting the first piece at Morston I turned round and spotted this subject which I felt had potential. I moved the boats around a bit but at least they weren't going anywhere! The biggest factor here was the quick pace at which the light was shifting. I had to work fast and tried to keep the tones crisp and the colours as fresh as possible. The shadows were lovely, particularly the one raking across the foreground from the boat on the right. The sky, whilst having a blue component, was warmed by the light and needed to be harmonized with the overall colour scheme to make it work as a whole. Enjoyed painting this and it may well have some potential for a larger piece in the studio. Apparently you can take a boat out to Blakeney Point from Morston and get off at the museum which is housed in the old lighthouse building. From there you can walk to a rather picturesque beach. Tempted to give that a go on another visit.

Another enjoyable outing to Norfolk, albeit a brief one. Hoping to be back again soon!

'Morston watch tower, evening light' - 11x14in, oil on board

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sunshine from North Norfolk

At the weekend the forecast was so good I decided to head for North Norfolk and soak up the sunshine by the sea. I set off at 5:45am to beat the traffic and squeeze the most out of the day ahead. The plan was to paint at Morston quay and I was glad to find the tide heading out when I arrived. I enjoy painting the boats amongst the wet mud and sand and it was a real bonus having a cloudless sky to flood the subjects with light. Colours and tones of the boats were crisp and it was a nice challenge to work these in with the more muted and subtle colours of the surroundings. Really, I ought to have started off small but in order to make the most of things I decided to wade in with a 12x16in study of the boats resting in the wet mud as the tide receded (forming a nice S curve as it did so). The mooring posts reflected nicely to provide a bit of structure and I enjoyed painting those blue cast shadows from the boats!

'Receding tide, Morston Quay' (12x16 - oil on board) - click images to view larger versions

The next piece was done from the vantage point of the mooring posts seen in the first painting (for the first painting I was pitched in what turned out to be the middle of the second painting. Again, I liked the rhythm of the water channel, the activity of the boats and the distant horizon with Blakeney church tower on the right. As with many of these scenes, there's often a need to shift things around to try and make the composition work. This can be tricky to do plein air as you don't necessarily have the time to plan the piece as much as in the studio. I find it's more instinctive on location and you get a feel for how things might work best. The same goes with the water and I shifted the areas around a bit to try and make the design backbone hold together. I enjoy using the notes of colour but try not to get too carried away with too many bright accents. 

'Towards Blakeney, Morston Quay' (8x16, oil on board)

I spent a bit of time in the afternoon trying to find a B&B (everywhere seemed be booked!) and managed to squeeze in a study of Cley Mill in the evening sunshine. I've attempted this before but wanted to really try and nail the colours in a fresh, economical manner (just as well because there was no time to hang about with the late sun).

'Cley Mill, evening light ' (6x16in, oil on board)

Day 2 (Sunday) and first up was Brancaster Staithe. I initially thought about painting the boats but turned back to view the boat house and liked the contrast offered by the jetty. Again, a nice cast shadow from the boat and a family paddling in the water made the ideal note of interest to link from the distance to the foreground. I would actually have considered a wider format, taking in more of the boat house and the water on the right but settled on 8x16 as more sensible first attempt of the day

'Sunday morning paddle, Brancaster Staithe' (8x16in, oil on board)

For the next piece I ventured up onto the walkway which heads out towards the creek linking to the sea. I was struck by all the activity of the boats and people, it was a a classic summer's day scene. Lots of happy family sounds, kids and dogs splashing in the shallow water, people messing about in dinghies, I find the sounds can become a memorable part of the painting experience with the senses firmly tuned in. I had a job knitting all the elements together, shifting the people, boats and water to try and make it work as a whole. The light moved round quickly and almost became contra-jour by the end of the session.

'Summer Sunday, Brancaster Staithe' (8x16in, oil on board)

The third painting was done at nearby Brancaster. I was rather taken with the old boat sheds and with the water at low tide I thought I'd take advantage. I like the contrast of the busy shed area with the quieter foreground elements. The tonal structure was important in this one so I paid particular attention to judging those as accurately as possible. Nice to have the ping of the blue boat to work against the warmer colours in the buildings.

'Old boat sheds, Brancaster' (12x16in, oil on board)

After this I headed back to Brancaster Staithe in search of my flask (which was still in my bag all along....I blame the heat!). Whilst there I bumped into my friend Graham Webber (purely by chance), who I'd been painting with down in Essex the previous weekend. Small world indeed! I summoned the energy for one final study back at Brancaster and found a nice spot to the side of the old boat sheds where the late evening light was catching the side of a boat. It was too good to resist! Only enough time/energy for an 8x10 though, barely 40 minutes or so in fact. The note of orange worked nicely against the blues of the water and without wanting to get bogged down in detail it was all about creating the right notes of colour/tone to get to the essence of the subject. After initially suspecting it could be a wiper I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. Nice to end the short trip on a good note. I'll certainly be heading back to North Norfolk again for more easel action, it really is a great place to paint.

'Late evening light, Brancaster' (8x10in - oil on board)


Just over a week ago I spent a mostly sunny Saturday painting with Graham Webber down at Heybridge in Essex. Graham is a very talented artist who knows the area well and we both share a passion for painting outdoors. It was great to find a place where there is plenty of water, boats, mud flats and other marine subjects that I love to paint. Living in the land locked Midlands, there is a predominantly green theme going on at this time of year and it's nice to have a break from it all and find something a bit different to work with.

We found an interesting barge which was made all the more appealing with the surrounding mud and puddles of water. Out came the 8x16 board for the first effort. In the distance there were a couple of 'Seagoesque' barges with the angled masts. Lovely! With the letterbox format I wanted to create a more dynamic composition and the ropes were very handy in softening the lines, accentuating the curves of the boat and linking everything from left to right.

'Blue barge, Heybridge' (8x16in - oil on board)

Next up was a slightly different angle, perched down some steps making the boat more prominent. What I liked about the hull of the boat was the colours, muted purple/grey towards the back and stronger blues towards the front. The shapes of the boat were quite hard to judge, almost defying what you 'think' they should be...'paint what you see' I reminded myself. The mud was nice although quite tricky to judge the relative colour, tone and temperatures. The aim was to have enough detail to maintain interest but keep it as clean and fresh as possible, otherwise the greys would just become muddy (but not the kind of mud I was trying to capture!).

Resting barge, Heybridge (11x14in - oil on board)

Graham and I scouted around but came back to the boat for a final attempt, this time with the tide back in to create a different element to play with i.e. the reflections. We both really enjoyed having the sun fully out (check out the tyre shadows) and the colours heightened by stronger light. Despite there only being one main boat there's a lot of drawing in this subject. I was conscious of not making it into a 'boat portrait' though so tried not to get too wrapped up in the technical details

Sunlit barge, Heybridge (12x16in - oil on board)

As I was painting the last piece a rather majestic looking boat came past us and had it not been moving so speedily I would have been tempted to make something of it

All in all, an enjoyable days painting with a touch of sunburn for us to take home as souvenirs (even though I slapped on the factor 30 but about an hour too late!). Graham produced three cracking paintings on a wider format which I'm tempted to experiment with sometime.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Seville 3

The urns in the palace gardens made great painting subjects. My first attempt was an 8x16in, focusing exclusively on the urn and framed nicely by the dark foliage. The sun couldn't decide whether to stay in or out but I opted for a 'sun in' rather than 'sun out'.

'Urn study, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (8x16in, oil on board)

'Fountain and urns, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (10x14in, oil on board)
It was the sense of light/heat that I wanted to nail in this piece and I was lucky to find a spot where I could paint in the shade. I liked the contrast of the architectural structures with the more organic elements of foliage. Once again, palm placement needed to be thought out and close observation of tone/temperature was needed. The sunlit paving area in the foreground was surprisingly cool compared to the path in the middle distance. It was nice to have the complimentary blue/orange notes from the urn pillars and benches. Quite a lot of drawing too for a subject that appears quite simple. 

'Garden fountain with urns, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (10x14in, oil on board)
I was so taken with the urns I fancied another shot and this was my last painting in the Royal Palace gardens. I thought the tall hedges and palms made it sufficiently interesting to warrant another attempt.  Notice the hint of warm reflected light on the underside of the fountain. Light seemed to bounce into all sorts of places and it was great fun to paint. I decided not to put in the lady with an iPad who decided to sit against the urn pillar for the best part of 20 minutes.

'Plaza De Alianza, Seville' (9x10in, oil on board)
Another one that was too good to resist having a go at. The light moved so fast but those cool shadows on white walls were irresistible.
'Puente De Isabel, Seville' (10x13in, oil on board)
Eric and I wanted to try this mid morning view across the river and we found a handy spot of shade behind a large sculpture. There was a loose wooden cycleway over the cobbles behind us and a constant rattle as cyclists went past on their bikes. Still, we didn't have much trouble focusing as it was such a good subject. The light shifted surprisingly quickly and by the end of the session the yellow side of the tower facing us was almost entirely in shadow. It's amazing how many people you see rowing on the river. Apparently it's used as a training destination for many athletes so it seemed wrong not to put one in!
Eric Davis paints the bridge in the relative cool of the shadow from a piece of public sculpture. Eric and Tony kindly treated us all to a barbeque on Eric's roof terrace one evening which coincided with a freak thunderstorm! A quick dash inside and we all had a good laugh :)

'Palm, Evening in Cathedral Square' (8x12in, oil on board)
This was a 'bonus' study, done after a full day at the easel but just enough left in the tank to have a quick go. Behind me were several wedding processions, outside the gates of the Royal Palace. Not a bad place to get married, I'd say! I enjoyed painting palms, they can add quite a dynamic element to the design of a subject. Even though the building on the right is in shadow it was quite light in tone. The palm trunk brought a nice dark punch to the proceedings. The smaller distant trees are Seville orange trees which were dotted around in many places.
It was a great trip with great company/hosts and I now have a real taste for painting in the sunshine. I really wanted to try and capture something of the essence of Seville and say something about the light, colours and atmosphere. I didn't wanted to get too fiddly or fussy with detail and since much of the subject matter demanded plenty of drawing this approach was better suited to the slightly larger formats (mostly 10x13in and 11x14in). I would certainly recommend Seville as a fantastic place to paint, especially this time of year when the temperatures are so pleasant.
The fantastic view from David Bachmann's roof terrace!

Seville 2

We spent a fair amount of time in the grounds of the Royal Palace of Alcazar and despite it being busy with tourists it still felt like an oasis/sanctuary. The Moorish influences are quite evident in the architecture and there are some really impressive plants including palm trees.

'Royal Palace of Alcazar', (12x16in, oil on board)
I really wanted to try a 12x16in of this subject as it allowed for plenty of breathing space with the foliage and foreground fountain. David had painted from the same spot earlier in the week and done a cracking job and I was keen to have a go, albeit with a slightly different light. I really enjoyed it and was conscious of not messing about too much with the colours on the building, especially the shadow colours/tones. The notes of interest/colour from the ceramic work add an extra touch to the subject. It was nice when Tim came to have a look and said I'd captured the sense of heat/light and we departed contentedly for coffee and cake :)
'Royal tennis court, Alcazar' (10x13in, oil on board)
I found a shady spot under the arches of the royal tennis court which was the first tennis court ever built in Spain. Today, you wouldn't know it had been a tennis court but I liked the dappled light, arches and the glimpse of the Giralda behind. It was quite symmetrical so I tried to position things slightly off centre whilst attempting to keep everything balanced. The two palms were positioned either side of the fountain but I shifted them slightly to avoid a 'prison bar' effect! I also played down the red flowers as they would have been too dominant. The notes of red complimented the green foliage quite nicely.
One of the many elaborate courtyards. Our pass allowed us to paint in the gardens but it was nice to wander round the palace every now and again.

I'm actually quite relieved we didn't have to take on some of those complex arches!

David Bachmann and Tim King enjoying their painting in the grounds.

The statue of Mercury is a lovely feature and was painted by Sorolla. It was VERY busy around the water tank and I managed one early morning study before the masses arrived. I would've liked to have painted it in the evening light (as per the photo above) but that'll have to wait for another trip.

There were amazing ceramic tiles throughout the palace grounds. This is one of the benches!
Another lovely urn in the early morning sunlight. If it wasn't for being one of the busiest spots in the palace I would have stayed to paint this.
'View from raised walkway, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (8x10in, oil on board)
The piece above was painted from a narrow, covered walkway which gets extremely busy with tourists. I managed to get something down before it got too crowded. I moved the palms a bit to improve the composition. There was a water organ below where I was standing and it kept repeating the same tune which I couldn't get out of my head for hours!
'Cenador Del Leon, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (10x13in, oil on board)
I liked the way this pavilion nestled amongst the foliage from this angle. The cloudy conditions allowed me to focus on the subtle range of greens and the earthy red on the building contrasted quite nicely against this.

'It's not supposed to rain in May, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (10x13in, oil on board)
Well, the title sums up this session. In fact, I quite enjoyed working with the closer tones and trying to pull everything together. I was conscious of not wanting to have a forced tunnel composition so I used the figures and foliage to try and break things up a bit. Owing to the conditions it's not quite as finished as I like and I might need to tidy up a couple of areas but I prefer not to fiddle once away from the subject.
Once the paint started to emulsify it was time to get the umbrella out!

'Statue of Mercury, Royal Palace of Alcazar' (8x15in, oil on board)
Back to the sunshine! It was quite a challenge judging the colour of rendered walls in shadow. The more you looked at them the more they changed! The deep, naples yellow glowed in sunlight and the shadows had an unusual warmth and even greenish tint. You can just make out the cascade of water on the right which came from a raised outlet and dropped into the tank. For some reason it got switched off later in the day but it did make for some nice ripples on the water surface. There were other times of day when it would have been good to tackle this subject but the early morning slot provided some shade and a quiet hour or so before the tourists flocked in. The shadow behind moved very quickly indeed. At the start it looked like this:
Quite shady and the patterns on the wall were too 'messy' for my liking. The statue would contrast better against a brightly lit wall (and we'd clocked that the sun would do exactly that within the hour).

Towards the end, after about 1.5 hours...a completely different scene!
This was one of those subjects where it made more sense to map the drawing in with a bit more care at the start and then work in the colours and tones once the light had settled to the ideal level.