Friday, 23 October 2015

Venice 2

Continuing the contra-jour theme, here's one from the Campo Santa Maria Della Formosa that I managed to grab when the sun came back out on the afternoon of the penultimate day. I enjoyed this one and was glad I went with a larger board (12x16in) so that I could 'go for it' with broader marks. I was fired up by the fact that my previous painting had been wiped since the sun came out after half an hour into the session, changing all the tones and colours completely. Happy with the tonal range and colour harmonies on this one.

'Cafe culture,  Campo Santa Maria Della Formosa' - oil, 12x16in

The one below is from a similar sort of position in the same square but the rain had arrived and transformed the subject into something quite different. For some reason I decided to work quite large at 12x16in but I think it was worth a gamble otherwise things can all get a bit fiddly. The pavement reflections now replaced the raking shadows but it was still an interesting subject and I was glad I had the umbrella. I debated as to whether to put the pharmacy sign in and decided it was worth including. Poor Tim left his back at camp and got rather more damp but he soldiered on with admirable plein air grit :)

'Rain and reflections,  Campo Santa Maria Della Formosa' - oil, 12x16in

Below is an early morning rainy study of the Piazetta San Marco and was an enjoyable subject with subtle tonal/colour variations. Luckily we were pitched up under the arches so the worst of the rain avoided us. Towards the end of the session the tides had risen and we had to escape before the water had a chance to soak our shoes.

'Rainy morning, Piazetta San Marco' - oil, 10x18in

Below is from the same square but I was positioned further forward towards the water and it was an incredibly awkward spot since the temporary walkway had been hastily put up right next to me and half of Venice seemed to be queuing up alongside. I eventually caved in and went for a hot chocolate.

'Rain and reflections, Piazetta San Marco' - oil, 10x14in

I got completely soaked painting the one below. It started raining after about 15 mins and then just got heavier until it turned into a monsoon! I figured since I'd got all my kit out and was wet anyway I may as well persevere. The others had more sensibly found places to pitch underneath the archways rather than looking across to them from an open spot!

'Archway, fish market - Venice' - oil, 8x16in

This little video snippet pretty much sums up the situation after 3 days of rain. Tim and I were not too enamoured with the deluge but our spirits raised when the sun appeared later in the afternoon

It was nice to end the last day with a final flourish from the sun and a quieter spot to paint from along the Arsenale. It's much less crowded up at that end of the city and there are nice open views across the water with the sun setting behind.

'Towards San Giorgio, evening light' - oil, 8x10in

Finally, here's one I rather enjoyed painting of Tim on a day when the rain was so heavy we found ourselves heading back to Ken's place to escape it all. Tim was tinkering with a couple of studies and I decided to paint the studio setup with all the interesting furniture and equipment that adorns it. Ken's red cap was even perched on the easel on the left for a nice little note of colour :) It's a fascinating subject to paint and no umbrella or crowd avoidance techniques were required!

'Tim, painting at Ken's (as we shelter from the rain)' - oil, 11x14in

All in all a really enjoyable trip and great company to share it all with. Roll on the next one!

Venice 1

Not long back from an enjoyable few days painting with pals in Venice. Among the line-up were David Bachmann, Karl Terry, Tim King, Tony Dakin and myself staying at Ken Howard's impressive studio and we were also joined by Paul Rafferty, Robbie Murdoch and Eric Underwood who stayed in nearby hotels for a few days.

Out of the 5 days of painting we had about 3.5 days of heavy rain combined with a high aqua alta that cut parts of the city off so we needed to be careful where we ended up at the high tide point. The city seems to take the flooding in its stride, shops open with 6 inches of water etc but it's not ideal if you don't have a pair of wellies! On previous occasions I've visited in the winter but this time we were hoping for better weather in early autumn. We made the most of the cameo appearances from the sun with frenetic bursts of activity. I was quite surprised at how much busier it was but after a day or two you start to become immune to the mayhem to a certain extent.

Anyway, onto some of the fair weather paintings. This one above was my first painting, well, actually it was the second but the first was of the same view but with less width and got wiped (no sense wasting a good board!). The weather wasn't too bad on day one so I tried to capitalise whilst we had the chance. To our immediate right was the bridge of sighs so you can imagine it was a busy spot with everyone jostling to take a photo right next to us.

'Towards the salute from the Piazetta' - 6x14in, (click image to enlarge)

David Bachmann and Tim King setting up before the hoardes arrived.

Next one for keeps was the main square and I quite liked having the scaffolding on the right as the asymmetry is quite appealing and it helped emphasize the cast shadow from the Campanile on the right. I wanted to keep everything as crisp and fresh as possible so kept the marks clean and direct. I remember a couple having what seemed to be a brief wedding photo taken on the left and the bride had a lovely yellow dress which I noted down before they swiftly disappeared. I love those little incidental things that bring a subject to life when you're working on location. The light moved so fast it was like watching a sundial with the shadow moving across the screen on the right before it became fully lit in next to no time.

'San Marco, afternoon light' - oil, 8x11in

'Salute from the Accademia Bridge' - oil, 8x10in

I seemed to choose all the busiest places on the first day and the Accademia bridge was no exception. Barely room to set up the tripod but I found a pitch and got stuck in with less than an hour of decent light remaining. Working fast seemed to give the painting an energy that I was keen not to overwork, just aiming to capture the essence of the moment really.

'Rio Del Tolentini, early morning' - oil, 11x14in

Another tantalising glimpse of the sun in this one of a canal near the Scuola Grande di Dan Rocco (a building masterfully painted by the likes of Sargent and Seago). I had to tidy this one up a bit at home afterwards as it was done at breakneck speed with the light all over the place. Managed to get the key tones and colours down on the spot which helped. 

'San Marco, afternoon shadow' - 12x16in

I had another go at St Mark's in the sunshine but this time making the most of the shadows being cast across the square. It was bigger too at 12x16in and I was in two minds as to whether to paint from this spot (standing next to Tim who did a very nice job of the same subject) or stand so I was looking through the arches at the fully lit Basilica. I think this works better as the dark tones of the shadowy arch would probably have spoilt the overall effect or light.

'Bright sunlight, Looking towards the Salute', oil, 8x10in

I was lucky to find a perch on one of the spare walkways used when the city floods and this meant I was blissfully separated from the deluge of tourists passing me on the bridge to my right. It was handy being slightly elevated because it meant I could see more of the water rather than just a sea of people. The light was superb (pretty well contra jour) and I tried to capture it with as much economy as possible.  

More to follow, including the rainy ones!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Buxton Spa Prize - 2nd place prize winner!

Last night I travelled up to Buxton for the show opening and prize awards for the 2015 Buxton Spa Prize. It's an open competition designed to celebrate the heritage/culture of Buxton and invites artists to paint a location from a ballot draw along with one other location of the artist's choosing in the town. There's also a unique sketchbook prize which invites artists to submit their sketchbooks, along with awards for children, young artists amongst others. What a great idea for a competition!

The prizes are very generous and this year both Ken Howard RA and Peter Brown NEAC were amongst the judges (both artists I hold in very high regard) so I opted to give it whirl. Not only that but I've not visited Buxton (or even the Peak District as far as I can recall) before so it was a good opportunity to explore the town and the surrounding area.

I was extremely chuffed to win second prize with this plein air painting done on the Broad Walk in Buxton (my allocated location). A real bonus to find it had sold almost as the doors opened too!

'Evening stroll, Broad Walk - Buxton' (9x23in, oil on board) 
2nd Prize for the Buxton Spa Prize 2015 (click image to enlarge)

I was thrilled to win a prize and to have the judging panel give it the thumbs-up! When I came to get my board stamped in May I chose the spot where I thought it could work as a painting and decided what time of day the light would work best. Late evening seemed to offer the most potential with the opportunity for some long shadows.

My other entry was of the Artisan Market in the main shopping area known as Spring Gardens. I was quite fortunate to have both the market and the sun in town on the weekend I was there painting. It's e a larger canvas by my own plein air standards (18x24in) so I did all I could in about 4 hours on location and then some final tidying up back in the studio. The two paintings were placed in my hand finished frames which seem to take forever to do!

'Artisan Market, Spring Gardens (Buxton)' (18x24in, oil on canvas)

I did a third plein air painting over the weekend whilst I was painting there in June but had to decide between that and the market so I opted to hang onto this one (below) of the Opera House and enter the market scene instead.

'Ice cream at the Opera House, Buxton' (12x16in oil on board)

It was a great evening, meeting judges, organisers, fellow artists and gallery visitors. The standard of entries was very impressive across all categories and it's a great exhibition to go and visit, lots of diversity and the sketchbooks on display add an interesting element to the show too. The overall first prize deservingly went to Rob Wilson and third prize for a super painting by Michael Ashcroft.

Rob Wilson (above) with his vibrant and sensitively worked entry done in mixed media, fully deserving of the first prize.

Michael Ashcroft's lovely third prize oil painting (looked very good in that black/gold frame too). Julie Cross was the winner of the sketchbook prize with an impressive and very honest collection of work.

The awards ceremony above with Trevor Osborne (competition sponsor) on stage along with other members the judging panel which included Ken Howard RA, Peter Brown NEAC,Viscountess Cobham, David Mellor QC, Louise Potter and Ros Westwood. The gallery was packed out with guests/visitors and there was a lively buzz all evening.

Afterwards the prize winners were invited by Trevor Osborne to join the organisers, judges and sponsors for a very impressive dinner in the Old Hall Hotel (apparently it's the oldest in Britain). It meant I had a late night journey back to Milton Keynes (arriving home at 1:30am) but it was certainly worth it. 

The exhibition runs from July 17th - August 31st at the Green Man Gallery in Buxton. Do go and visit if you can.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Cornwall (part 3)

Here are the remaining paintings from the recent trip down to Cornwall. First up, a slightly larger piece (10x18in) from Sennen beach when there was an enticing mix of rain clouds and bursts of warm evening light. Within minutes of starting the sun disappeared so it was a case of half working from memory until the sun popped back again. It took me a while to find a spot where I thought the composition worked with the rocks and I wanted to try and emphasize the way those houses on the hilltop made a dramatic punch against the passing darker cloud. I was quite pleased with how it turned out given the conditions with the light at the time.

'Early evening, Sennen Cove' - 10x18in, oil on board

This was a bigger piece (12x16in) attempted in the force 7 winds we enjoyed down by the jetty in Sennen. After a little surgery back in the studio it seemed to hold up and capture something of the energy from the moment. I really liked Tim's and Mike's paintings of this subject.

Force 7 waves, Sennen jetty - 12x16in, oil on board

Before returning home I happily spent a few days with family up near Padstow and enjoyed exploring new terrain along that stretch of the coast. I was perhaps a little ambitious attempting a 16x20in at Bedruthan given the speed at which the tide and light were shifting but I got the essentials down and tidied things up a bit afterwards. Those rocks can be tricky in oils (I was conscious of not making them too dark so they they end up drab/murky) and they are quite distinctive shapes too. 

'Bedruthan Steps' - 16x20in, oil on board

Port Isaac was a pleasant find and once I'd negotiated the Doc Martin crew (they were actually filming about 50 metres away) I found a spot standing rather precariously on some slimy seaweed down in the harbour. Luckily it was low tide and there were a couple of nicely placed boats to work with.

'Boats at rest, Port Isaac harbour' - 10x14in, oil on board

My least productive day was when I ventured to Polperro. It was quite a long drive and we had that sort of 'in a cloud' sea mist/drizzle most of the day. Greeted with hoards of tourists I struggled to find a secluded spot and after a couple of wiped efforts settled on this arrangement, attempting to hone in on the subtle shifts in tones and colours. At least I could to head back to camp with something worth keeping anyway!

'Boat study, Polperro harbour' - 8x16in, oil on board

I had a very pleasant morning painting at Portcothan Bay and despite the sun not making much of an appearance there was a nice offering of subtle colours to work with. It's a popular spot and the bustle of people brought lots of energy to the subject. I was standing on some elevated dunes to paint this (you can see the fringes of grass in the foreground).

'Portcothan Bay - 10x13in', 10x13in oil on board

Another one from Portcothan Bay, this time pitched up against the headland in the painting above and looking across to the other side of the bay. I liked the shape of the rock and the surfers were very obliging in bringing a bit of interest to the subject. I made use of the reflection of the headland in the wet sand in the foreground too. I quite like the simplicity and directness of this piece and I'm tempted to leave those grains of sand in the foreground too!

'Surfers at Porthcothan Bay' - 6x14in, oil on board

A very enjoyable trip, painting with pals and spending time with family down in Cornwall. Itching to get back there already!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

More from Cornwall

It's always a challenge to try and paint those dramatic zawns from a lofty perch on a cliff edge and this was no exception. I was safely within range of the footpath but the high wind meant I couldn't even use the tripod sitting down so I had the paint box wedged in my lap. Even then it was a bit of a struggle and I was pleasantly surprised the final result wasn't full of wayward marks. Needed to pitch the tones of the water and rocks as accurately as I could in order to make it work and avoid ending up with drab/muddy rocks. I'd been hunting for a spot to paint for about an hour and had almost given up the hunt before settling on this spot. Almost threw it in the sea at one point, convinced it was a wiper but looking at it now it seems to hold together.

'Pendeen Zawn', 8x10in, oil on board

Some respite from the elements was found over in Mousehole but in actual fact the painting was in some ways more challenging with a mass of detail, tourists and the ever present danger of a descent into something twee to negotiate. I chose to tackle the cottages at the far end on the wharf as I was drawn to the range of tones in the flat light.

'Cottages from the wharf, Mousehole' - 10x13in, oil on board

The second effort (after a re-fuel with much needed tea & cake) was done from where those surf boards are resting in the background in the first effort. It was quite difficult judging the tones as the shifts were very subtle in places.

'Towards the wharf, Mousehole beach' - 12x16in, oil on board

Tim and I weren't sure what the weather was going to do and whether it would hold at Pendeen so we squeezed in a small boat study, thinking it would be a simpler and more relaxed way to round off the afternoon. Anything but in fact! The light was in and out, tide rushing in, awkward angle to draw on the boats and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a beach birthday party of about twenty or so 4 year olds with a heady blend of frenzied excitement and explosive tantrums in the air. Mayhem! 

'Boat study, Mousehole' - 9x10in, oil on board

Carrying on the boat theme, I found a more unusual angle looking down the slipway near the lifeboat house at Sennen. After an initial wiper I shifted a few of the elements around to try and make a tidier composition and allow the viewpoint to make some sort of visual sense. 

'Looking down the slipway, Sennen - 8x16in, oil on board

A later afternoon visit to Penberth allowed me to paint in relative shelter after being windswept on Porthcurno beach. Just enough energy left to do a small 8x10 of a fishing boat on the slipway. The background is actually bit darker in the painting than the photo suggests.

'Boat at Penberth', 8x10in, oil on board

More paintings from the trip in the next post, including those from my stay in the Padstow area where I spent an enjoyable few days with family before heading home. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Trip to Sennen

Not long back from a lovely painting trip to Sennen with painting pals. Amongst the crew were Tim King, Mike Richardson and Mike Worthington. We stayed at Atlantic Lodge which sits above the cliff overlooking Whitesands Bay and the weather was pretty well behaved for most of the week.

There's something about Cornwall that really captures the imagination and I'm like a child in a sweet shop whenever I visit. I was really inspired by the colours in the water and waves this time round. Here's a small study of the waves, an enjoyably simple subject using the rhythm of the waves and rocks to construct a composition. The channel of middle distance rocks are apparently known as the Tribbens.

'Towards the Tribbens, Sennen' - 6x8in, oil on board

By contrast, we painted the waves in a testing force 7 gale on two occasions and it was something of an adrenaline rush to say the least. We all found it pretty exhilarating and had that lucky combination of high tide, high wind and early evening sunlight. The waves tend to form a repeated pattern which you can hook into and I aimed to keep the colours as clear/fresh as possible. The hardest part is keeping your hand still in the high wind to apply the strokes. Fortunately my tripod has a hook which I hang my heavy backpack from (not travelling light does have its advantages!)

'Force 7 waves, Sennen' - 9x10in, oil on board

More delight with waves and colours in the water on Porthcurno beach. I've never painted on this beach and the colours were too good to resist. It was really windy though and I got caught out by the tide when a freak wave rolled in and soaked my kit. I had to move my pitch twice to stay ahead of the water. The wind blew sand all over the painting but I've left a few grains in the sand area as a little momento :)

'Wave watching, Porthcurno' - 8x16in, oil on board

I enjoy trying to capture the essence of a subject in a small painting and they are quite a nice option to paint at the end of the day after trying some bigger pieces. The surfers and body boarders were keen to take advantage of the waves too.

'Evening wave catchers, Sennen' - 6x8in, oil on board

I found a slightly elevated spot to paint the bay and that helped make the most of the reflections in the wet sand. It was very windy though and the sun kept popping in and out. I opted for sun 'mostly out' and tried to memorise the tones/colours so I could carry on when the sun was in. The figures/flags (needed a steady hand to paint with the wind) help give a sense of scale.

'Bright and breezy, Whitesands Bay (Sennen)' - 10x13in, oil on board

Another small evening painting done on a hill top looking back towards Gwenver beach at Sennen, It was so windy I had to sit on the ground with my paint box on my lap. It was high up so the figures looked like tiny ants!

'Towards Gwenver beach' - 6x8in, oil on board

One sunny day I headed to Porthchapel with Tim King and Mike Worthington. We all had an enjoyable session and did our best to find sheltered spots away from the high winds. Fortunately the sun was shining which brought out all the colours in the water. When painting this one towards Hella point there were lots of wild flowers in the foreground but I ended up being very restrained with them as the colours would have been too much.

'Towards Hella Point' - 7x15in, oil on board

'Porthchapel Beach, midday light' - 10x13in, oil on board

Tim and Mike, contentedly posed after an enjoyable session at Porthchapel Cove

Just finished! At the end of the paint session at Porthchapel.

I went back to Porthchapel another day to catch a favourite view of mine perched from the cliff top looking down on the cove. I've painted it a couple of times on previous trips and couldn't resist a return visit. I like the way that finger of rock at the top juts out into the water which forms some nice patterns on the sand. The sun went in (and the tide quickly receded) about half way through so the last half I was part painting from memory. 

'Looking down, Porthchapel Cove' - 12x16in, oil on board

There's a nice view looking down towards Sennen from a spot near our accommodation and I decided to have a go with a larger board (14x18in). The sun was in and out but there wasn't much wind to contend with and I tried to make something of the cloud shadows on the hillside to add some interest. I liked those spiky fronds on the trees and decided to use those as a foreground interest rather than the row of houses which sit just behind them (you can see one rooftop in the bottom left) and they make a forceful diagonal line with is quite tricky to manage in a composition. A hint of the dusty path in the foreground helps to break up the greenery.

'Towards Whitesands Bay, Sennen' - 14x18in, oil on board

More paintings from the trip to follow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Marlow and Henley

The weather's been good recently and I spent a nice couple of days with David Bachmann and Tim King down in the Marlow/Henley area. Although sunny, the conditions were quite testing with a biting wind whipping up along the river. The rather civilized subject matter is a marked contrast the painting battles that took place! Fortunately my tripod has a built in hook which I hang my backpack from to weigh it firmly down.

The first was done in front of the boat house of the famous Henley rowing club, looking across the river. I wiped this twice before finally getting something worth taking home. The wind was high, full 'sun on board' and the light/water kept changing every time we looked up. I plumped for the darker water effect when it went a deeper blue/purple with brownish ripples. Nice the way the wind creates those ripples on the surface although it means there isn't much reflected in the water.

 'Boathouses and rowers, Henley on Thames' - 8x14in, oil on board

Below is a small 'colour sketch' where I wanted to try and focus on the colours/tones, working quickly and avoiding unnecessary detail. This sort of study can make useful reference material to work from. I also wanted to experiment with a composition where the pathway on the left create a different angle.

'Sunshine and breeze, Marlow' , 6x10in

This next piece was done from almost the same spot as the above but I'd stood much closer to the water's edge. I wanted to try and get the whole of the spire in and make use of the sweeping line from the river bank up to the bridge.

'Sunshine and breeze, Marlow' , 8x16in

The piece below was done later in the afternoon when the light was quite rich/warm. Admittedly, it's a bit twee for my liking with the swans but they were part of the scene and provided a bit of tonal contrast (that's my excuse anyway).

'Sunshine and breeze, Marlow' , 12x16in

Whilst in the area I also dropped eight paintings off at the Hawker Gallery in Amersham and they will be shown over two exhibitions running from May 9-23rd (including work from ROI members) and June 13th-27th (Artfest in aid of local charities).

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Charity sale - the clock is ticking!

 I've put two new paintings onto eBay in the hope of raising some funds for charity. As with the previous attempt, all proceeds will he heading directly to  Macmillan Cancer Support ( and the Artists General Benevolent Institution (

These are the last ones I'll be posting up for auction at this time so if you fancy bagging yourself an original oil painting and helping others in the process then go for it. I've taken a bit of a risk because the start prices are way too low but that's all eBay would let me submit! Don't be shy with your's all for good causes.

'Between showers, Whaddon' - 6x8in, oil on board.

'Sennen, towards the Brisons', 8x16in, oil on board