Aside from the plain and simple truth of ‘spend more time painting’ – the single most effective thing I could do to improve, is to spend more time painting on location, plein air. Unfortunately my circumstances – primarily work and family commitments – make this difficult. I was however recently inspired to make an extra effort to accept a call out invitation from the artist Roberto Ponte. I follow Roberto on Instagram and on a recent post, he said that he would be painting in Brighton and Hove in May and June and would anyone like to arrange to go out painting. I spent a bit of time deliberating on this before putting my insecurities to one side and responding to Roberto’s invitation.

We arranged to meet up at the end of an afternoon on Hove seafront and fortunately the weather was glorious. It was a bit like going on blind date for painters – all I knew of Roberto was what I’d seen on Instagram, which in itself was enough to make me nervous as he’s a far more accomplished artist than am I! I arrived a little early at the café we’d agreed to meet at, took a seat outside and began to seek out what on earth I may paint in this vicinity. I was all the while keeping an eye out of for anyone that looked as if they may be carrying an easel or other obvious artist’s paraphernalia. After mistakenly accusing one very confused passer-by of being Roberto (his bag certainly looked as if it might contain some artists’ materials!) I decided I’d best make my identity more obvious and started to tape up a quarter imperial sheet of paper onto a board.

This must have done the trick as a few minutes later, Roberto appeared and introduced himself. Conversation flowed quickly and we set off towards the setting sun in search of a view. Roberto’s skill and experience was immediately obvious as he asked what or where I’d like to paint as he could paint anywhere! Fortunately the strong light suited some of the contre-jour (against the light) paintings that I’ve been working on recently so we took a stroll along the promenade in search of a view. This is an area that I’ve been keen to paint for a long time as I like the contrast between the genteelness of the seafront promenade in the foreground, set against the backdrop of the more industrial buildings, chimneys and cranes of Shoreham Harbour.

I’d also earmarked some time ago the distinctive seafront shelters as potential subjects. Anyone that knows Brighton and Hove would most likely recognise these and I’ve gradually been trying to build up some reference photos for future use. Here are a couple of examples just to whet the appetite!

Once we’d found a suitable location, Roberto positioned himself on the beach with the sun behind him, looking along the beach, while I set up nearby facing the opposite direction. We’d only allowed ourselves a few hours and what with meeting, finding a location and setting up, I really felt the need to get my head down. It felt strange to be working outdoors, and very publically so too, which added to my sense of feeling quite exposed but once I got going I soon began to lose my inhibitions. I found my little adjustable viewfinder invaluable in selecting my view and composing it. Usually, I’m working from photos where I’ve already got the view composed – or I’m restricted by what’s on the photo. I find one of the greatest challenges of painting plein air is narrowing down what’s in front of me so the view finder really is a great asset and money well spent. Once I’d got something loosely sketched out I was really impatient to start painting! I’d already told myself that this was much more about the sheer act of doing, rather than expecting to do anything ‘finished’ but nevertheless, with passers by stopping every few minutes to look over my shoulder, I still felt quite pressured.

Every now and then, we’d both stop and have a quick chat but we were both quite focused on the job in hand! The photos I took at the end don’t really do the view justice but hopefully this gives a brief impression of what I was basing my painting on.

The view
Plein-air in situ

And here’s the finished sketch:

A plein-air watercolour study of Hove seafront by John Haywood
Hove seafront plein-air study

Back in the safety of home, I was really pleased with this – and particularly he simplification of lots of information down to this level and, overall, the tonal values. I was tempted to continue to play about with it but decided to resist and keep it as is. I think a good next step would be for me to try to do another painting based on this sketch. Actually strike that. My next best step will be get out again and do another painting on location!

I regret not having captured better pictures, both of the view I was painting but also of Roberto and his oil painting. Hopefully, we’re going to try to squeeze another little painting jaunt in together while he’s still in the area and I’ll do my best to get some better pictures next time! Meantime, with the British summer time spluttering into action, I really hope that this will have been the first of many plein-air adventures.

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14 thoughts on “Plein air painting

  1. I just found your blog and I can’t stop watching these amazing art pieces!
    Not only your paintings but the way you write and how you express your feelings makes me want to read more and to know more about you! Keep it like that, you are doing amazing! Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Mar! Thank you! I think that my painting and writing have developed side by side through the blog, each informing the other so to receive such great comments means a lot to me! I really appreciate you taking the time to visit (and write such wonderful comments!) 🙏🏻🙏🏻

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    1. haha yes, I know what you mean! In the brief discussions I had with Roberto, I got the impression that although he enjoys painting in watercolour (and many his watercolours on Instagram are stunning) he’s increasingly focusing on his oil painting. I definitely agree with you about painting on location taking your work to the next level (even if it sometimes feels like one step forwards and two steps backwards!)

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    1. Hi Ruth and thanks so much for your kind words about my work, I really appreciate it! I use the Winsor and Newton Professional range. I know there are lots of other choices out there and I may venture towards them sometime but to be honest – I still feel that I’m learning what’s possible with the relatively limited palette of colours that I use!

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  2. Written with warmth and I love that you are not afraid to show your human side, worrying about the meeting and comparisons. It takes a brave person to sit out where they might be approached by anyone; it makes a person quite vulnerable. I am so glad you did it though. The work is quite lovely. You captured the day really well.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind and generous comments about both my writing and my painting – it really does mean a great deal to me and I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’m much looking forward to spending some more time exploring your website and blog too – both of which look great! Thanks again Bella.

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    1. Thanks Margaret and me too – I really hope to get some more plein-air painting under my belt this summer! This painting is on a quarter imperial sheet of saunders waterford rough which is my current paper of choice!

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      1. I’ve been using it for a while and, on the whole, really like it although I am tempted to try (in a grass is always greener way) an equivalent Arches paper!

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