Saturday, 26 November 2016

Royal Institute of Oil Painters annual exhibition - 2016

I'm looking forward to this year's annual exhibition with the Royal Institute of Oil Painters which opens to the public on Wednesday November 30th at the Mall Galleries in London. As usual, there are a host of interesting events lined up during the exhibition which runs until December 11th. I hope to make it to the paint evening on December 6th which is always good fun.

I'll have the following five paintings on display at the exhibition:

'School trip, Sennen beach' - 8x12in, oil on board

'Surf's up, Sennen beach' - 8x12in, oil on board

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

'Bright sparkle at Cowbar Head, Staithes' - 6x8in, oil on board

'Low tide, Gweek' - 12x16in, oil on board

Friday, 28 October 2016

Venice 2016

At the end of September I spent a fabulous few days painting with friends in Venice. Amongst the crew were David Bachmann, Herme Bachmann, Tim King and Wyllis Heaton (all the way from California!). It was such a good trip all round and I hope the paintings in some way reflect the impact that Venice had on me this time.

The weather was a startlingly sunny contrast to previous trips and we were blessed with almost constant sunshine. Venice really does sparkle in the sun and I've always wanted to experience it in those sorts of conditions. I decided to try and explore some different parts of the city that would be a bit off the beaten track and less flooded with crowds. We now have quite a good knowledge of where might be best to head for (and best to avoid) and that certainly helps when it comes to the paintings.

The subject for the painting below was a real find in Dorsoduro and the yellow house with that punchy green tree was too good to resist. It's nice to see Venice when there are trees with foliage as there aren't that many and they make interesting contrasts with the architecture.

The yellow house, Rio Del Carmini
Oil on board, 10x12in

There was a nice warmth to the subject for the painting below and a I wanted to try and capture the subtle harmonies of tone and colour that seem to bounce around the buildings and into the water.

Late afternoon, Rio De La Panada 
Oil on board, 8x10in

I've always wanted to paint the facade of the Salute close up and I've long admired the works by the likes of Sargent and Seago who I think painted it from boats on the Grand Canal. You'd need a small mortgage to paint from a Gondola in Venice these days so I settled for this spot on the Dogana instead. The light moved very quickly and after about an hour the whole facade was completely in shade so I focused on capturing the lighter passages early on.

Morning light, Santa Maria Della Salute 
Oil on board, 8x14in

The painting below was actually a second attempt at the same subject (the first attempt was a wiper from the previous day). Having had a 'trial run' it was actually useful in getting to understand what the light was doing and the nature of the tones and subtle colour temperature shifts. There was a facade to the right which was in full sunlight which bounced a fair amount of seemingly impossible warmth into the shadow areas which made it quite a challenge to pitch at the right levels. The light moved quickly so once again I went for the light parts early on before they disappeared into full shadow. It's a fascinating subject though (with some complex shapes in perspective to decipher) and I was happy to have got closer to what I'd aimed for with this piece.

Early morning, Scuola Grand Di San Rocco 
Oil on board, 11x14in

After painting the front of the Scuola and fuelled by a 2.5 euro 'cappucino & pan au chocolat' I went round the back of the building to paint a nice little view from the small bridge overlooking the campo. The sun created a nice shadow on the columns on the right which I wanted to include in the composition.

Late morning, Campo de Castelforte
Oil on board, 8x12in

The Ospedale is another subject that's been on my 'must paint' list and thankfully we were there when the light seemed pretty good. Tim and I stood side by side on the bridge painting this one and we worked at some pace to capture the fleeting light as the sun sunk at great speed. The marble facade has some unique tones and colours in the shadow sections (lighter in tone than I expected) which contrasted quite markedly with the warmth of the sunlit sections

Fading sun, Ospedale, Campo Giovanni E Paolo
Oil on board, 8x10in

Tim and I chanced an evening sortie into the somewhat unknown area around the Madonna Dell'Orto and were rewarded with this subject below. The colours really are quite something when the light is like this.

Evening light, Rio De La Madonna Dell'Orto
Oil on board, 10x13in

David and Herme went for an explore along the Zitelle and recommended that I join them. I was delighted to find they had discovered this subject and I didn't hang about having a go myself. It also had the added bonuses of being a blissfully quiet spot and standing in the shade too.

Afternoon sun, along the Zitelle
Oil on board, 8x12in

We all headed down to Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro on one morning and our intended subject was off limits so we pitched up in the main square and I opted to paint Wyllis who was stood under a cluster of flags across the canal.

Artist at work, Campo St Barnaba
Oil on board, 8x10in

At the end of the first day we'd all gathered on the Riva in the evening so I had a go at a little 6x8 to try and capture the light effect looking towards the Salute. The sparkle was bright so I spent most of the session squinting hard! I wanted to make sure I identified and included the critical elements to define the subject without getting bogged down with unnecessary detail.

Evening sparkle from the Riva
Oil on board, 6x8in

I was determined to paint Colleoni statue at some point. It was the last day and I was running out of gas so it took a couple of attempts to get something worth keeping. I ended up with quite a tiny panel (5x9in) and it was nice the way the sun was starting to dip. The marble on the statue is a tricky colour to work with and has a cool, greenish tint in certain parts which are amplified (but still quite light in tone) when in shadow.

Colleoni Statue, Campo Giovanni E Paolo
Oil on board, 5x9in

We managed to find some nice subjects in the San Toma area and this is a subject looking back up the Grand Canal towards Rialto. The Gondolas have such distinctive shapes and made a nice feature in the foreground. The Vaporetto boats are such a part of the hustle and bustle on the canals and they often make good focal points since they follow the same path so you can get a reminder of how they look every few minutes or so.

The Grand Canal from San Toma
Oil on board, 7x15in

A thoroughly enjoyable trip to a remarkable city.

Sunday, 17 July 2016


Earlier in July I joined EAGMA members for a few enjoyable days painting up in Staithes. The weather wasn't very kind so painting opportunities were a bit hampered but we all made the most of things and it was good to see a part of the UK coast I've never explored before. Everyone made me feel very welcome and we stayed in an excellent Georgian apartment just a stone's throw from the harbour.

I tended to work small as the weather was so changeable. I often think the rapid switches from sun to heavy cloud/rain are some of the most difficult to deal with when working outdoors. It's comparable to painting a still life and having someone keep turning the lamp on and off....infuriating!!

Anyway, here's a few that made the trip home....

Almost got blown off the harbour wall by the incoming squall whilst painting this one below and lost a couple of brushes and my turps pot into the rocky depths below. I was perched on some giant boulders to get the elevated view of the 'sparkle' and nearly got blown off. Those distant clouds were actually heading straight towards me and I was rather taken by surprise at how quickly and violently it suddenly whipped up. At least the painting survived...just!

'Bright sparkle at Cowbar Head, Staithes' - oil, 6x8in. 

Small size was the only option here really as the light/shadows moved so fast....

'Evening light looking down the Beck, Staithes' - 6x8in, oil on board. 

'Morning light towards the harbour, Staithes' - 8x10in, oil on board

'Artist painting at the Smugglers' - 11x15in, oil.

This one above is my friend Andrew King who kindly let me paint him whilst we sheltered from the deluge. We had our fair share of wet weather and I got thoroughly soaked painting this one below.

'Low tide and drizzle, Staithes' - 8x10in, oil on board. 

I had to work lightning fast for this one below as the light was fading. Managed to capture something which was a relief as I'd spent most of the day wiping off disastrous efforts in the pouring rain!

'Late light on the terrace, Staithes' - 6x14in, oil.

'Cowbar wharf, Staithes' - 8x16in, oil on board

'Down in the Beck, Staithes' - 11x14in, oil on board

'Odin, Port Mulgrave' - 12x16in, oil on board

Below is the abseil route I had to take to get down to paint the boats and clutter at Port Mulgrave!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Cornish trip (part 2)

Port Isaac offered some shelter from the less favourable weather and the harbour area has a small number of boats which seemed to be positioned in exactly the same spots as where they were this time last year. These two boats were tilting nicely and I was rather taken with the wet puddles in the sand

Boats at low tide, Port Isaac (10x14in, oil on board)

I'd spotted the subject of the hillside (shown below) and returned when it was raining to find it actually had more appeal in the foggy murk. Quite tricky with a narrow tonal range and subtle colour shifts but an interesting subject to tackle. I needed the umbrella up for this one! 

Nestling in the mist, Port Isaac (8x12in, oil on board)

Another rainy day, this time at Newquay harbour. The harbour is like a little oasis against the more commercial/modern backdrop of the rest of the town....a good option for the damp/grey days.

Three boats, Newquay Harbour (10x9in, oil on board)

Incoming tide, Newquay Harbour (12x16in, oil on board)

A few from the cliffs/rocks which are always impressive (but difficult to paint, especially when it's breezy!)

Early morning, Bedruthan steps (12x16in, oil on board)

Beach at Bedruthan (11x14in, oil on board)

Headland at Bossiney (11x8in, oil on board)

I had a go at a couple of larger ones (14x18in) at Bedruthan, trying to focus on the moments of sunshine and the dramatic effects it has on the rock formations. I struggle more with cliffs when there isn't much sunlight to work with as everything can end up quite dark and drab. I've always fancied painting a really big cliff subject to give the sense of being there, perched on a cliff edge, looking down in wonder at the water and rocks. It's not an easy thing to do though and I've yet to achieve it but might try something in the studio based on some of these works.

From the cliff, Bedruthan (14x18in, oil on board)

Rocky headland, Bedruthan (14x18in, oil on board)

Back to the beach for some brief sunshine, this time at Polzeath where the runs of water in the sand made some nice patterns to work with. Enjoyed working on a slightly larger (8x20in) letterbox format.

Low tide, Polzeath (8x20in, oil on board)

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Recent trip to Cornwall (part 1)

I recently spent a very enjoyable week with friends painting along the Cornish coastline (Padstow region). Amongst the crew were David Bachmann, Mike Richardson, John Stillman and Karl Terry. We stayed in a nice place at Trevone Bay and whilst the weather was somewhat mixed there was still a feast of great subjects to get stuck into.

I was glad I had a chance to catch the evening light just a few short steps from where we were staying. The view had tempted me on a number of evenings but the weather & tide wouldn't play ball (figuring out what the weather's doing is one thing but the tide adds another layer of complexity!). I do enjoy these sorts of subjects when you have to work quickly and with an intense focus to try to capture the essence of a fleeting moment. Some tiny figures popped up on the rocks and I gently hinted at them to help with the sense of the 'bigness' of the subject, even though it's done on quite a small panel.

Evening light, Trevone Bay (6x14in, oil on board)

A similar sort of experience at Treyarnon Bay, ideal for a smaller format (6x8in) since the scene changed so rapidly!

Evening light, Treyarnon Bay (6x8in, oil on board)

In a similar vein, another moment of sunlight was grabbed at Trebarwith Strand with this rapid 8x10 study. I tried not to muddy the colours, taking care to focus on the tonal variations.

Silvery light, Trebarwith Strand (8x10in, oil on board)

I think because the weather was so mixed, when the sun did appear I was often inclined to focus on the effects of the light. It makes such a dramatic difference when the sun comes out! A couple more from Treyarnon bay where I spent an enjoyable few days with my family last year too, giving it an extra special fondness as a subject :)

This one was a more subdued light but it meant I could work on the more subtle colours and at a slightly less frantic pace.

Low tide, Treyarnon Bay (8x14in, oil on board)

A stronger light in this one below, throwing up broader tonal contrasts

Sun sparkle, Treyarnon Bay (8x14in, oil on board)

We half dodged the rain to try and get something down at Daymar bay. I had an umbrella to stave off the worst of it and right at the end the red barge peaked round the headland with impeccable timing and positioning!

Daymar Bay (7x14in, oil on board)

It's useful to have beach figures to provide a sense of scale against slabs of rock like the ones at Trebarwith and Constantine. I found the 'letterbox' well suited to a number of subjects but I like to mix it up with other formats always so end up taking far more boards than I need. My kit is never light!

Trebarwith Strand, (8x16in, oil on board)

Incoming tide, Constantine Bay (6x14in, oil on board)

A slightly larger piece (12x16in) in a more conventional format from Constantine. With the way the light and tide change (amongst other things), I find 12x16/18x14in are pretty much the largest I can manage in a single session. I'd love to try bigger though, perhaps over a couple of sittings but it's rare to get the same sort of conditions and I often feel the 'vibe' has changed when I return to something a second time.  

Rock pools, Constantine Bay (12x16in, oil on board)

Below is a photo overlooking Bedruthan - from the left Karl Terry, John Stillman, myself, David Bachmann and Mike Richardson.

More from the trip to follow.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Wet panel carrier

Using variable sizes of panels when out painting can cause a few headaches in terms of storage/transportation. There are a few commercial options (mostly seem to be available n the US) but nothing seemed to be quite what I was after. In the end I decided to make a custom carrier that will hold my favourite sizes in one box and after plenty of head scratching and multiple visits to the DIY store this is the end result.

It's 16in tall and has widths for 12in, 11in and 8in. That seemed quite a nice combination as I can store 12x16, 12x10, 11x14, 8x16, 8x12, 8x10 & 8x6 so that would hopefully cover enough formats to work with. 

It's a bit heavier than I'd imagined but I think anything that size will have a bit of weight whatever the material (if it's going to have some strength too). I used corrugated plastic sheets and the plastic panel holding grooves seemed worth trying as they had the right shape for the sort of panel depths I use (3mm mdf). I'll need to make sure the panels are cut to the right widths as the ridges are only 4mm deep but that should be enough to allow for minor variations on board size. 

I opted for a hand carrier strap (as opposed to a shoulder one) and attached it with lots of glue/strapping to secure it. It's got a velcro fastener so it can be undone or adjusted if necessary. The variable widths were built up with strips of foamboard glued together into solid blocks and on the outside I used plastic edging strips wherever two edges meet to provide more strength.

Lots of gaffer tape to seal everything up! 

I think it'll probably be too bulky for foreign trips (I usually use matchsticks on the backs of stacked boards for those) but it should be fine for domestic purposes and will hopefully make the carrying of wet panels a bit less problematic when using different sizes on a day out somewhere.