I’ve managed a pretty wild and wonderful autumn this year, though it has left me breathlessly out of kilter on the blog-writing front, I’m afraid. How I wish there was more time for writing, which I love, but sadly in this robotic world there are so many threats to writers and their writing-time. For eample, in New Zealand their libraries archive has intended to put thousands of books’ contents onto the internet, but it seems that after world-wide protests they’ve just realised there’s a thing called copyright involved!
We’ve been blessed with a gorgeous little grand-daughter by the name of Beatrix, and look forward to meeting her on the run-up to Christmas. Her Dad’s going to be performing in pantomime at Margate, so it’s going to be a bit riotous, Covid-permitting, of course.
This is a watercolour sketch of Gordale Scar in Yorkshire, carried out on a beautiful calm, sunny afternoon in October while sitting in a most uncomfortable position on extremely steep ground high above the valley. The light falling on the limestone really made the rock stand out, particularly against the shadowy parts. It is deliberately overworked so that I have all the details to produce a large studio watercolour, and my awkward position didn’t help. This is actually only the right-hand half of the composition and the cartridge paper has been left unpainted where the sunlight is hitting the limestone.
There is too much green for my liking, but grass growing on limestone has that intense colour, and I wanted to record a faithful rendering. In a studio painting I will doubtless take more liberties, lose a lot of hard edges and make other adjustments, but my point here really is to show how working out of doors like this is to me not just a means of acquiring the information for a finished painting, but also of observing how the traditional approach will appear, so that I can see where I need to be more creative in the later attempt.
I hope during this lengthy lockdown you are able to get out for exercise, fresh air and perhaps a little sketching, as these things are so vital to our well-being. Although it’s quite cold today, these winters are pretty mild compared to what it was like when I was a youngster, so there are many occasions when it is fairly comfortable to work outside. I live at the foot of vast moorlands, so I get up there as often as I can. In mid-January I sat on a rock painting distant snow-covered mountains in warm sunshine, in more comfort than many a summer day.
Today I have a winter scene on the Sussex Downs, which I did many years ago. A light coating of snow gives you the opportunity to bring in some colour while retaining the white of the paper where you wish to indicate pure snow. Keeping the landscape light in this way gives you the opportunity to make the most of cast shadows which will stand out strongly. I have cut a little off the left-hand side so that the details are not too small, although this does make it look as though I’ve plonked the farmhouse in the centre. Note the intermittent lines of ploughed furrows, which keeps it from being an overwhelming foreground. The massed trees in the distance have been enhanced by touches of highlights in places and the closest edge stands out where I have described one or two individual trees. The painting was done on Saunders Waterford NOT 140lb paper.
The second workshop is on Thursday 25th February at 3..30pm and lasts 2 to 3 hours, for which there is a fee. Again, all the details are on the Shopkeeparty site. I hope to see you there. In the meantime, enjoy your painting.
Sketching moving objects can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s an enormous tank churning around in mud with bits of earth flying in all directions. Vehicles make for complicated subjects, and tanks are no exception, but when they are moving across rough ground they often throw up a lot of dirt, dust, smoke and all kinds of things that are very handy for losing parts of the vehicle and giving a strong impression of movement.
This sketch of a Soviet T-72 tank of the Cold War era was done with a 4B pencil. The cloud of dust behind it and the loss of detail in the lower wheel and track suggest movement. I’d already sketched one coming directly towards me as I tried to capture the sense of atmosphere and a fast-turning tank, but in this view I wanted to bring in more detail as it moved broadside on from my viewpoint. The advantage here was that it paused enough for me to render a lot of the detail before it resumed a steady progress to the right.
Simply suggesting some of the wheels helped to give a sense of a moving vehicle and of course it made my task easier. To indicate greater speed I would normally lose more detail at the rear, but here I wanted to include detail I might need later. Spattering more muck around at the rear would also emphasise this effect.
Whilst you may not wish to sketch in the middle of tank manoeuvres these points can help when you are painting a scene with moving tractors in a field, or excavators digging up your local green space, and it makes quite a change from a still life after weeks of lockdown!
I will be doing a free 45-minute online demo at 2pm on Tuesday 4th August which you are welcome to join in with your own painting at the same time – details are at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses
and on Tuesday 11th March at 3.30 pm I will be doing an online watercolour masterclass details can be found at https://www.shopkeeparty.com/artyclasses Both will be live online so you’ll be able to ask questions.
The recent Patchings Art Festival in Nottinghamshire was something of a whirlwind for us, with almost non-stop activity on our stand, and interest in my new book, Seas & Shorelines was astonishing. The book sold out and that was not including the other books. Having meetings with a number of people, I really didn’t manage to see even half the show this year, and had to miss out meeting many artists, but as usual it was a fabulous show, easily the best in the UK. It was a delight to meet so many students even though I was torn away so often by sheer numbers. I did three demonstrations in the St Cuthberts Mill marquee on their superb Waterford and Bockingford papers, and had the privilege of being accompanied on stage by some local wildlife: at the rear of the marquee a nest of bees became interested in the demonstrations. Having these massive bees circling round your head as you paint away does tend to inject a real buzz to your work!
Getting back home was no picnic. The next day my two-year-old grand-daughter arrived and more or less took over the place, causing delightful mayhem and scattering my toys all over the place. About a week after returning from Patchings things returned almost to normal and I decided to go for a hike in a local gorge. Unfortunately it was massively overgrown with vegetation and I’d forgotten my boots and stick. It took some time to break through to the lip of the gorge, but once there I managed a couple of pencil sketches, one of which appears above. I had to leave out most of the background tree detail.
I continued upstream, high above the rocky course of the stream along a slippery, eroded pathway, but by now armed with a sturdy pole I’d found lying on the ground. Under some cliffs and round the corner I descended into the undergrowth from hell. Nobody had been this way for years probably. I was confronted by a dense area of briars, nettles, branches and other vegetation, all covering many fallen tree-trunks. I didn’t want to return the way I’d come so I literally thrashed my way through the undergrowth, mounting each tree-trunk and attacking the undergrowth beyond before leaping down the far side. This took ages and in the heat the perspiration was running off me. At the far end – some 70 yards or so – I looked back and realised it would have been better to have jumped into the river and waded up, thus avoiding the undergrowth.
There was much more to the day, but I shall pause there. I returned home happy with a brace of sketches and having had plenty of exercise. Just being in such a marvellous spot and enjoying the natural environment is something really special. Even for a few scratches!
Signed copies of Seas & Shorelines are available from my website
Maintaining morale when out sketching on location is vital, and while some might find a whisky flask useful, I generally rely on tea. Sadly last week in Pembrokeshire the cottage where I stayed lacked that vital ingredient, the teapot. Naturally, this was pretty disastrous, so when out and about I made the most of any such facilities. In the sketch below the right-hand building is a superb tea-shop selling the most delicious cakes, and this is why you might detect a certain hastiness in the rendering of the pencil-work.
However hasty we may be in sketching, it pays to consider the composition carefully when creating a painting from the sketch or photograph. Unless the subject is quite a simple affair I normally carry out an intermediate studio sketch to work out where I wish to place the important elements and the main emphasis, together with the sort of atmosphere I wish to convey. In this instance I would move the composition to the right a little so that the left-hand house did not appear in the centre of the composition, as this would be my centre of interest. I would need more detail to be included above the left-hand wall and figures (detail missed because of the urgency of the tea situation), so I would have to resort to memory, a photograph, or the good old imagination. The main figures would be placed further to the right, a little closer to the centre of interest, and I would make full use of the dark runnels of water descending from the centre right – I have already bent them slightly to come towards the viewer as a lead-in. These are the kind of thought processes that go through my mind before I begin the painting.
Don’t underestimate the value of tea for the artist. I’ve even used it on a painting outdoors on occasion. Last autumn while I was running a landscape painting course a lovely German lady was painting a cottage, which filled her paper. When I asked her what was her focal point she replied, “The tea-pot.” Sure enough, there was a teapot in the window. Such observations may not only bring a smile to your viewers, but might also result in a sale.