With so many ‘firsts’ to relate – I’m not entirely sure where to begin.
I feel I should probably begin with an apology (certainly not my first and definitely not my last!). In last week’s post, I said my next entry would focus on taking an oil painting, doing a preparatory tonal sketch then putting aside the source image and painting from the sketch. And I promise I will do this – but just not for this week! Instead, events overtook me a little and I was presented with an opportunity to do my first plein air painting of the year so this alone was a big event in my painting calendar. In anticipation of this most auspicious occasion, I had for been preparing for some months: what will I need, how much will I need, what can I leave behind, how am I going to carry everything etc. So another first for this day was my whole easel set up. One of my past challenges has been how to travel lightly and transport paper, board, paints, tripod etc but, after much agonising, a modicum of preparation, and a small dose of DIY, I think I may have cracked it!
I recently made myself a new drawing board inside which I’m also able to store about ten sheets of quarter imperial paper. On the rear of the board is a Ken Bromley Camera Mount that allows the board to be attached to a camera tripod. The board in these photos is shown in portrait position but, on the left hand side of the board you can just make out a handle for carrying and, on the opposite side, there’s a hook to a hang a water container on.
Purely by coincidence, this drawing board is also the same size as another bit of 6mm board that I’d made previously that I can attach to my easel with a couple of bulldog clips to provide me with a handy shelf. This is so I can have brushes, tissues, more water etc to hand, plus a place to rest my palette when I need a break or to step away from my painting.
With a collapsible water container, my Barry Herniman Cloverleaf palette, brushes, water and tripod and other assorted bits’n’bobs all fitting snugly into a camera tripod bag – and my drawing board, paper and portable shelf in hand – I was all set and ready to go
I’d spotted this scene on a recent day out and earmarked it as an ideal subject. It’s very much in the Seago ilk, plus it’s delightfully remote as right behind this viewpoint is a steep bank leading up to a busy road. Aside from the odd dog walker, jogger and horse-rider, I was completely alone and didn’t have to contend with anyone looking over my shoulder – which I’m just not ready for yet! I was able to park a short distance away and try out carrying my kit and I’m delighted to say it was all light and easy to carry.
I was little disappointed that the weather was so depressingly grey which made the landscape look very flat, but I was determined to make the best of it!
I got myself all set up, and spent a good few minutes moving the easel around, trying to identify the best spot, and here’s when yet another of my ‘firsts’ occurred. Some time ago, I think when I ordered the camera mount from Ken Bromley, I also ordered a ‘view catcher’ that is supposed to help you identify or frame a scene. I’d yet to have occasion to use this and, to be honest, I was quite sceptical – but no more.
Without the view catcher, I was trying to include far too much of the view than was possible. Using the view finder and slightly adjusting the distance I viewed it from, and taking a few steps to each side, I found it really helpful in pinning down exactly what I wanted to paint. It also helped me mentally compose the picture before even putting pencil to paper.
The image above shows my viewpoint and how my new ‘shelf’ was holding up! After doing a very loose sketch of the main components, I started to lay in some initial washes, beginning with the sky and it’s reflection in the stream:
Followed by a first wash to indicated the distant hills and then moving into the foreground fields:
Now by this stage, I’d already decided that this was heading towards being a disaster and that I’d just use it as a quick loosening up exercise, after which I’d do another, proper version.
By now however, I was also totally consumed by what I was doing and didn’t really manage to take any more ‘in progress’ photos. I felt I was fighting tooth and claw to save this painting, putting one wash over another in ever more desperate attempts to portray what my eyes could see. I was unexpectedly struck by just how much I talk to myself too. I was providing myself with a constant commentary, encouraging at times, chiding at others, blaspheming all too frequently. I felt completely powerless to stop myself gabbling away and decided that for this reason alone, I’d probably never be able to paint in a more populated setting. This continued right up until I decided to call a halt to the whole debacle.
Now the funny thing is, I distinctly remember saying in a recent post that one of the bits of advice that I cherish most is not to compare any of my efforts with their source – whether that’s directly from nature or from someone else’s painting. Well. I’d like to make my first exception to this rule of thumb! My favourite image from this painting expedition is where I can see the painting in-situ and in the context of the landscape and prevailing light conditions. On it’s own and close up, I think this painting looks a little dirty and heavy handed (most likely because it undoubtedly is both of these things!). Shown from a distance against however, and in the landscape that inspired it – I’m a little more please with the results and excited about doing many more paintings on location.
I think that this image also clearly demonstrates the benefit of using the view catcher too. I wasn’t intending to create such a precise window onto this view so I was really amused when I saw how closely the distant hills, stream and river banks etc matched up.
So, all in all, this was a really pleasing first effort of the year, and a good test of my kit. It was great to be painting outdoors and wrestling with all the challenges that it presents. I also feel that the work I’ve been putting in recently, emulating the likes of Seago and Wesson and becoming more and more familiar with my palette, brushes and how to wield the two together – is really beginning to pay off. Now if only I could stop my constant jabbering!