Warm autumn sunshine is too good to waste and yesterday morning I got up, rather later than normal, and went to a place I had spotted when returning from my last local plein air trip. It is of a cluster of farmhouses I have passed many times, but the newly mown field and an opening onto it gave me a different view and the crows also thought the same, between eating what the mowers had missed.
And then turning around, and looking in the opposite direction. I got a contre jour view of some cottages I have painted before, though, this time, with the hedge obscuring most of the view. There was still a slight mistiness which, earlier, may have completely obscured both views, this being a low lying marshy area. So it was a productive lie-in – As I’ve heard say, it’s not the done thing to arrive too early.
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 wasnt prepared for Thursday dawning without a cloud in the sky and by lunchtime it was still cloudless so I decided to get out and do some painting. Unfortunately I hadnt made any plans, so I headed off on a well worn route, hoping to spot something new of interest. This, above, was a view across to farms on the moss with the remains of last year`s bramble and undergrowth in the foreground.
I continued up Clieves`s Hills – the only bump in the Lancahire Plain around here and close to the top, I took the opportunity to get off the bike and sit down to paint this house. I liked theinterchange of light and shade on the walls and the tree just coming into leaf, all set off against the recently tilled soil.
And finally another drainage ditch. Again I liked the light and shade and the way the banks zig-zagged like teeth of interlocking cogs. In hindsight, there is room to play more on the light and shade of banks and I think the water close to the bottom of the painting was wider then I have it which would add to the contrasts. But by then I had cycled twenty miles and was on my third painting – concentration was beginning to sag – but a great afternoon, nevertheless.
We have been getting some decent weather of late, even though it has got colder. On Saturday it was still warm enough to get on the bike and do some more outdoor painting. My plan was to attempt more complex subjects – subjects I would normally attempt in the studio. The one above is of a small bridge over a drainage ditch. I liked the counterchanges from light to dark and back again. In the end I had to to the railings in gouache when I got home – as I didnt take any with me. Whilst the gouache was out I added some stalks and grasses on the near bank. Despite the austere subject it made an interesting painting and might be worth doing bigger.
The next subject was daffodils in a small coppice. The flowers were away from the trees, but I wanted to use the darker trunks as a foil for the flowers. Normally I would use masking fluid, but outside, without any, I had to work around the flowerheads. I find daffodils difficult at the best of times because the yellow isnt a very imposing colour. In hindsight I should have pushed the flowers back further against the trees and used the contrast for all it was worth and, at the same time, reduced the complexity of the background – but that is what sketching is about – working out the best options.
Whilst I sat working on this picture, at the edge of the wood, a hare came slowly towards me. It got to within about 5 feet. I wanted to photograph it, but reaching for the camera would have disturbed it. In the end it realised I was there and bolted off into the woods.
A few fellow bloggers have shamed me by getting out and doing some plein air painting, even in the chill depths of February. So, this week, when the sun shone and the temperatures rose I got on my bike and tried to find some suitable subjects.
So here they are; the first of this year, from around the lanes close to where I live – even managing to get a March date on my sketchbook page. Above is one of the many drainage ditches which run along the lanes and keep this old marsh area suitable for agriculture. This one might be worth working up into a painting.
This second one I have done before, but with the trees in full leaf. The shape of the trees reveal the prevailing winds.
As I work fairly fast I need sun and warmth to get the washes to dry, otherwise shapes just become amorphous and the paint too thick as you put one wet wash on top of another – even tricks like painting the sky, then the foreground and dodging from one dry area to the next waiting for the first wash to dry dont work – and then there was the day that the washes froze on the palette; that`s when I took a vow to stay indoors on cold days. But Wednesday was a very pleasant day to be out in the open.
A couple more sketches taken from photos, but painted in one sitting, quickly as if I was on site. This is a path I’ve been along many times, cycling to work. The photo was taken a few weeks ago when good weather coaxed me back on the bike. I am a sucker for puddles and here they are in bucket loads. It was painted in three main washes. Sky and puddles, then land and the blocks of trees and finally all the left hand trees, house details, shadows and fiddly bits. I feel I went in too dark with the muddy track and that limited my options for building up texture there.
This is an image from late summer and it started to get a bit overworked trying to get the tufts of seeding rosebay willowherb ( I think) in shadow. This one probably needed masking fluid, but as I dont use it in the field I resorted to scratching back with a scalpel to get the delicate fronds of decaying flowers.
If nothing else it was a good exercise should I want to paint a bigger or more finished painting.
I posted a version of this painting in early January. At the time someone commented on the bottom portion of the painting; that it needed reducing. I had to agree with this useful suggestion and decide to extend and expand the narrative of the passing places down the canvas.
In the end I reworked two thirds of it, making it look like a collection of snapshots along this single track lane close to where I live – a record of a journey perhaps. The passing places, emblematic of how we have to compromise and defer on our journey through life – well, most of us anyway.
I certainly like the idea behind this painting and how the greys characterise the place and the vibrancy generated by this colour against the oranges and yellows in the sky and fields.
I have struggled with this painting and have decided to stop and have a rest. Publishing it will allow me to create some distance and ponder. I need the space: of late I have found my painting getting slower and slower and decisions taking longer and longer to make.
This painting comes from an old photo of a country lane near to where I live. I love the incongruous angles of the posts. The photo is below along with marks and water stains made by me.
I wanted to break the image up and decided to do this in a landscape format, like the photo. I did some thumbnail sketches.
And off I popped on a 75x50cm canvas. Before too long doubts crept in and out crept the gesso. Well the gesso came out after I had completed a new acrylic sketch over an old painting, which retained a lot of its original colours.
I thought that this format might be better so then the gesso did come out and I completed the painting at the top of the page. I thought that the notion of the painting being in three parts, with each part slipping past the other, echoed cars on this track having to negotiate past one another. I was reminded of that piece of performance art – Imponderabilia” Marina Abramovic where visitors had to squeeze between the naked artists stood at the only entrance to the exhibition. I apologise that this piece isnt as unnerving or erotic – but then that’s what you get on a Monday morning.
You may have picked up a certain dissatisfaction with my previous post and I did manage to find the gesso – so here is another version. I wanted colour and it is needed on this, our shortest day. A blast of summer.
The flattening of the perspective gets the viewer closer to the action of the switchback road that can even make the sedate cyclist queasy. It also clears space for a rush of colour for the sheer sake of it. Even if it isnt the finished article, I am closing in.