Last week I managed to get out for a sunny early morning session in Lydiate, close to Maghull, a suburb of North Liverpool. From the roadside I spotted this wheat field with lovely tractor tracks disappearing into the distance towards some houses. I found a good spot beside the quiet lane and started my task. Later, a woman who lived in a nearby house came out to see what I was up to. She told me the houses were gamekeeper’s cottages, four in all. This one might make a nice pastel painting- perhaps one for the winter months.
The canal runs through Lydiate, and this bridge – Pilling Lane Bridge – is just around the corner from where I sat doing the previous painting. Perhaps a little too much green – it might be worth coming back in the autumn when the leaves start changing. Still, it was a pleasant hour painting in the morning sunshine.
Cycling back to the car I spotted the ruins of St Catherine’s Chapel set in a copse back from the road. It was built at the end of the 15th century for the Lord of the Manor. A pleasant place to paint in the dappled sunlight serenaded by birdsong. I find painting crumbling ruins difficult at the best of times, and beginning to tire on the third sketch of the day, my mettle was tested and similarly turned into a crumbling ruin. Anyway, it is an approximation of what was there. It might be worth exaggerating the colours of the stones if I were to have another go one winter’s evening.
Nothing for a month and then two commissions turn up in quick succession. So I’m a bit busy at present. This is the first one which I am handing over today. It is of a local church close to where the customer lives. He had seen something like this view as he travelled home and asked me to look at it. I’ve painted this church a few times, but not from this angle and distance.
Last week I went over to reacquaint myself with the view. Sitting down the bank by the roadside, with passing cars whizzing past my head, I produced this watercolour.
This is a fairly faithful version of the view. The trouble is the hedge from the road runs right across the base of the church and there were no decent trees or hedges to break the vertical plane. The customer specifically didnt want a watercolour, so I then produced two acrylic sketches which introduced some hedges and created zig-zags to inject energy. The customer had seen another painting of mine and wanted the stylised wheatfield in the foreground, which I had used.
I did one version in a landscape format.
And another in portrait format. The customer originally wanted it in landscape, but I managed to persuade him into a portrait format, which allowed for a greater depth of field and allowed me to increase the size of the church without losing the context.
I must admit that I am pleased with the final piece, as is the customer, and the series of sketches helped in getting to this resolution.
It has been a busy weekend, a life session and the weather was good enough to get out painting. With the plein air painting, I had decided on the canal, but despite it being bright where I live by the sea, there was thick fog at the canal. So, I headed for the hills, but even up here the fog was clinging on. I was deciding to head back to the coast when I spotted this view and decided to stay on the hill and persevere. I loved the way the layers of background were being revealed as I painted. Maybe one to work up as a larger piece.
As you can see the mist cleared as I worked and was pretty much gone on this second piece. This is an old favourite subject – Aughton church – seen from a different angle as I explored a new path, down between some farmhouses.
Just turning on my stool from the last sketch I saw this intriguing view of a farmhouse obscured by foliage and barley. I was taken by the tonal interchange.
So despite the the shaky start chasing around, avoiding the fog, I got some pleasing sketches. I’ll show the life painting on my next post – bet you cant wait. Anyway, the fine weather’s set for a few days so I might get out some more.
Yesterday we took a walk along the Dee Estuary from West Kirby to Neston. The forecast was promising, but the early part was overcast, as you can see from this sketch – at least it wasnt raining. Here we sat down at the foot of cliffs facing out over the estuary to Wales. As I painted this I noticed that the sandbar I had sketched, just behind the boats, had disappeared. That caused me to accelerate my painting. Not knowing the area, I didnt want to be caught between the rising tide and the cliffs.
I needn’t have worried – maybe I’ve watched too many lifeboat programmes of late. We continued on along the beach, but later picked up the Wirral way – the route of a long defunct railway track. The trouble with this track was that for the most part it ran between hedges and was set back from the estuary, so the views of the river and the low hills of Wales beyond – the reason for coming on the walk – were lost. Also, without sunshine, you didnt have the dappled effects you get from treelined walks.
Later, the day did get brighter, as you can see in the sketch above, and here was a glimpse of the Dee, peeping from behind someone’s sheds. I was able to worm my way between a couple of oak trees to get this view, with again, Wales in the distance.
On Monday we decided to visit a hill called Rivington Pike. It is on the western edge of the Pennines and is visible from where I live in Southport. I’ve never been there before because, even though it is fairly close, the roads to it aren’t direct. So here is a sketch from the top which will save you the effort of scaling it yourself, even though it is only 1200 ft high. This view points to the direction of Southport, but with the clouds on Monday, you couldnt see too far.
Above is the Pike viewed from Southport on a sunny morning from a painting I posted in January. In the first painting we are sat on the purple point at the top on this view.
The strange building you can see on the first painting is part of Lord Leverhulme’s ( Billy Lever of yore – founder of what is now, Unilever) country getaway, built on the side of the hill in the early twentieth century with ornamental lakes, gardens, bridges and a bungalow; somewhere the poor man could wander around and think undisturbed. This strange, incongruous tower was built for ornamental pigeons and doves that roosted on the first two floors and as a sewing and music room, for his wife, on the top floor. Whether he locked her in there wasn’t revealed. That may have been what he was thinking about – where he had left the key.
When you descend from the pike you go through Lord Leverhulme’s Folly and into a country park. In this park I was taken by the lush, verdant greenness enhanced by the sunshine. I thought that I would pause and paint the path leading down to the carpark. However, once I got started the clouds came over and ruined the dappled effects created by the sun and foliage and trunks of the oak trees which lined the path. I managed to get some of the shadows in on this one.
I took the opportunity to play around with colour on this painting of a country lane close to Little Crosby. Blocks of discrete colour arranged according to tone. In the shadows it allowed some quite diverse and strange selections which added punch and when completed, surprisingly, looked quite natural.
I was also pleased with the feeling of light I achieved which reflected the the bright summer’s evening with the wheat ripening in the field beyond.
The process is quite time consuming. Normally I can cover big areas with quick brushstokes – but not on this one. The methodology slowed me down and made me consider the placement of colour more analytically.
I added the dogwalker at the end as an afterthought, subsuming them into the landscape as I had been that day, painting in the evening light.
This is the approach to a village close to where I live. I wanted to paint it in situ last summer but to get this view I had to stand on one leg with a hedge pressed into my back. So I took a few photos and looked for somewhere more comfortable to paint – perhaps it’s an age thing. The low morning sun coming in over the unkempt field and the row of half illuminated houses appealed to me. So many times have I found the best views are in the most inaccessible of places.
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.
I did a version of this in pastels a while ago. I regularly go through my painting portfolios in order to cull them and spotted the first version of this and thought I could improve it in watercolour. So off I went. In the end I think it came out a tie. I love the rich energetic foreground foliage illuminated by the low sunshine against the calm river below, pausing before it goes over the weir.
Perhaps it is the trees and their branches on the right which unsettle me. The actual branches did stretch out and disappeared into the sun, but in the painting they seem ungainly and clutter the place. In contrast the group of trees on the left provide a good coda and, as such, maybe I should echo them on the right and let the eye wander down the bank of trees that line the river.