This is a view from the East Hill in Hastings, over the West Hill and town, and out towards Beachy Head in the distance. A view of my youth, and one I always try to see when I am in the area. As I walk over this sandstone butte, which marks the eastern end of the town, I have John Martyn’s song ‘Over the Hill’ ( from his Solid Air album which contains the song May You Never that Clapton later recorded) in my head. Martyn lived at the foot of this hill and he is referring to the walk over the West hill – seen with the houses in the middle distance, which he had to negotiate getting from the railway station to his home.
Martyn had a reputation for altercations with the local fishermen who frequented the many pubs at the foot of the hill in the Old Town of Hastings.
I recall an instance of him, in the mid seventies, taking over the local folk club to try out one of his albums – probably One World, before going out on the road with it. The club featured quite a lot of traditional A Capella, hand to the ear, singers and to walk in to see Martyn with his amplifiers and synthesisers was a pleasant surprise. I had an enjoyable evening at least.
With a fine morning forecast for Tuesday I checked the maps and headed for some lanes I had not visited before. They were behind the small village of Haskayne around six miles from where I live in Southport. I had no idea what I was going to find to sketch. The first subject was a rickety footbridge over a drainage ditch. I liked the way it was partially in shadow and the intriguing view between the branches into another field. Nothing much, but it was a pleasant way to sit on a sunny morning, listening to birdsong between the silence – this time without the passing crowds.
I eventually found a second subject – a magnificent tree standing serenely alone in a wheat field with the morning sun illuminating its trunk and leaves. It had the shape of an oak, but the leaves seemed to be fine like an ash, I couldnt get near as the foreground grass and plants covered a deep ditch.
I had to get back early as the plumber was coming to sort my boiler out – but it was pleasant few hours on a sunny June morning.
I was a bit low after my last plein air outing and the resulting paintings produced (last post). Wanting a change from another landscape, I rummaged among my pile of the incomplete and abandoned paintings in search of fresh leads. This one above was an abstract attempting to recall the wonderful colours seen on a visit to Corsica a few years ago. The trouble was, I wasnt getting the deep blues and clear turquoises I was after and the whole thing looked a bit sombre and so it got abandoned. I decided to lighten it up and add flecks of colour. The process lifted my spirits and it occurred to me that it was like coming back to the familiar, a return to comfort and I thought about the effect of the sight of harbour lights for a crew returning in the evening gloom. So I had a title. The process opened me to similar themes on the subject and to the possibility of repurposing old paintings. I have another one on the go at present.
Over the last few weeks I have been wanting to get outside painting, but the mornings have been unpredictable. They forecast cloud, so I don’t make plans, and when I wake up it’s bright sunshine and, conversely, with all my gear packed, I wake up to cloud. So, the other day, I decided to change tactics and go out to the beach one sunny afternoon. Once there though, it seemed like everyone else had decided that the beach was the place to be (though not to paint) and it was crowded. I did this in acrylics, above, when I got home.
Despite the crowds and interruptions I did a few sketches in watercolour. I wanted to get material for some more finished pieces.
I’m not sure I got much material. I might have a look at the sand besieged pines on the right, but I was working directly into the light on this one and the contrast is perhaps too much. It wasnt helped by a trail of passing sunburnt and sand-covered daytrippers, children and dogs knocking over my water pot and covering my palette in sand as they wended their way back to their cars.
I have painted poppies before, and some might say too often, but spotting the setting sun on the oriental poppies in my garden drove me to having another go. It was only towards the end of the painting that I realised that the stars of the show aren’t the gaudy flowers but the tousled mass of spikey leaves that snatch the attention away from the flowerheads.
In the past I have been taken by the sculptural forms of leaves in strong light but have felt that they wouln’t make a good painting – clearly I must take another look.
Last month I posted some sketches for this painting. Since then I have developed it further and it is now on this 50x76cm canvas. Running liquid acrylics about on the canvas opened up other possibilities but I have generally built on the sketches rather than altering them. I’ll leave this alone for a while before making any assessment of it. One thing I am conscious about is that changing the scale of a piece can make a difference to how I feel about it and, for me, many times I have found out that bigger isnt necessarily better.
I decided to work up one of the plein air sketches I recently showed on the blog. I had a tussle with the spring leaves on the trees against the dark buildings. I initially splattered masking fluid in the area and then proceeded to paint mixes of burnt sienna, um blue, alizarin and a few others into the area to imitate buildings and dark background foliage. When I rubbed off the masking fluid and applied foliage colours it looked laboured, despite softening edges. So off it all came and I repeated the dark building colours, but then added white gouache mixed with lemon yellow and some blues. I was pleased with the soft effects it gave. I am reluctant to use gouache as I consider it a bit of a cheat, but I dont think I could have got these glinting leaves better any other way.
On Saturday a friend of mine organised a life session and I took the opportunity to get back into the life room. It must be 15 or 16 months since I’ve done a live session with a model and despite the stolid poses it was good to get back. There is something about working under a time pressure – trying to get finished before the session moves on.
You can see the yellow throw served a number of purposes.
In the lockdown I have tried to develop drawings from sketchbooks, but I find that quick sketches lack information that a more developed painting requires, so I did try to focus on key shadow forms in some of my pencil sketches on the day so that I could take them further in the future.
I must see if other local groups have started up as despite all the angst I suffer with poor poses and indifferent lighting the sessions help to speed you up and get an image down quickly and the human form is a great measure of drawing accuracy.
On my last post I showed two sketches I did on a morning painting trip near Burscough in Lancashire. Here is a scene I saw on the way between those sketches. The old cottage and canal boats caught in the sunshine, contrasting with the shade of the bank I was cycling on. This was the reason why I didnt paint it at the time – being in the shade, the paint would have taken an eternity to dry and I would probably be still painting it.
Presently I am debating whether to go in darker with the overhanging leaves on the near bank: I was taken by the gloominess and darkness of the bank compared to the brightness on the other side. Perhaps a metaphor for life – though it looks like the cottage needs a lot of work doing to it and I’d much rather be out painting.
May has been uncharacteristically cold around here – not the kind of weather to dry your watercolours in when painting outside. Being of an impatient nature, waiting for paint to dry is just too hard for me. But yesterday the weather changed, with southern winds and bright sunshine. I got up shortly after 5am and headed towards the canal. OK, this first one isnt of the canal, but the canal was close by. The silhouetted shapes caught my eye and I thought that it would be a good one to start with.
Later I did settle down by the canal at a place called Parbold and painted the canal boats moored by the village.
It was great to get out in the morning. Hopefully there will be a few more mornings to come. Apart from these sketches I also took some photos so I have plenty of material for further paintings.