After all the restrictions of working on the perspective of last week’s train station painting, I was keen to liberate myself with something altogether more free and easy this week.
A weekend or two ago I had to return north to scatter my mum‘s ashes. One of my favourite parts about returning to the ancestral bungalow are our trips to the sand dunes between St Annes and Blackpool. They’re a wonderful little range of dunes and, in such a flat landscape offer one of the highest vantage points for miles around.
Beyond the dunes, especially when the tide’s out – which is more often than not! – lies an enormous expanse of flat sands that serve to accentuate the scale and the drama of the sky.
The skies were marvellous during our last trip so they seemed like the perfect opportunity for some free and easy painting!
From the outset I knew I wasn’t going for the traditional composition based on the rules of thirds or fifths. I knew that I wanted a very thin strip of land at the bottom of the painting, with the suggestion of cloud shadows scudding over the surface, while the main focal point would be the sky.
I did a few very minimal outline pencil marks to indicate the main cloud formations. I ran a strip of masking tape across the horizon to ensure I got as straight and consistent a line as possible.
To paint the sky I first turned the board upside down along with my reference photo. The aim was to allow me to focus my efforts on painting the shapes I could see within and around the clouds, rather than trying to ‘paint clouds’ – which I hope makes sense?
It’s definitely something I’ll try again. While you’re painting upside down you’re only focussing on the shapes and not on whether they look like clouds. I really enjoyed the sense of the ‘reveal’ when I’d finished the sky and turned the board round the right way. Only then did I see the clouds!
The sky was painted wet into wet and all in one go. I started at the horizon line and gradually worked my way down the paper. I kept my board flat as I didn’t want the paint to run down the paper. I did use a water spray every now and then, just to prevent the paper drying out too much which would have risked sharp edges when I wanted softer diffused edges.
Once the sky was complete it was left to dry and I resisted every temptation to go back in and overwork bits of it. I couldn’t help but feel that my meddling would most likely make things worse rather than better.
I removed the masking tape and re-applied it over the top of the horizon line, again to try to keep that straight edge.
The sands were done in couple of quick washes. I think that these could have been done a little better/more successfully but again, I didn’t want to risk overworking them by continuing to play with them. I would have preferred to capture a little more light and shade to give the sense of the clouds casting the shadows.
Finally I put in a few tiny figures to help with a sense of scale. I enjoyed painting this and it made me think I should do more of them . I think there’s something wonderfully timeless about these big sky paintings.
Another train station painting
Whilst it was nice to work on something more loose and free – I also had another train station image that was rather ‘burning a hole in my brushes’.
This was from another one of my reference photos that I recently sourced when looking at monochromatic images of stations. As with the painting that I did last week unfortunately I have no more details about which station this is or where it is in the world.
I had to spend a little time sketching this out to try to ensure the perspective was correct but, once I started painting, this came together surprisingly quickly.
There are still some parts of it that I think could do with some further refinement but, as with the sky in the first painting, I thought that any further meddling might end up distracting from what I think is quite a powerful and dramatic painting that captures the atmosphere of the sunlight flooding into the station.
I’m really enjoying these station paintings. I think they make great subjects and I’m particularly enjoying the challenges that these images present. They need to be accurate from a perspective and drawing point of view, but I want to try to paint them with a loose approach and with energetic brushstrokes.
It can sometimes be a tricky tightrope to walk but I’m pleased with the results of these recent station paintings.