Last weekend in the UK we had a mini TV Bowie Fest , it being five years since his death and, presumably, a nod to his Ziggy classic. I sat on the sofa with a sketch book idly doodling during one of the programmes. This wasnt one of the doodlings, I`m not that fast. After the lead on my pencil had worn down I got the camera out and, later, worked a few shots up in pastel just to do a portrait – I`m not doing much figurative/portraits these days and I thought that it was a good opportunity.
Five years, that`s all he got – well there was some remission for good behaviour.
Looking over recent output I realised I hadnt done a pastel in a while, so here is another view of the River Wear, in Durham. This one was glimpsed as I was hurrying past to do some painting in fields alongside the river, downstream. I suppose I could have done this scene, but it would have meant sitting in the road – and whenever I do that a lorry or tractor comes along, so I took a few photos and proceeded onwards.
I was struck by the light on the grasses and foliage which made them stand out against the shadows and reflections of the trees. I did some thumbnails of this and decided on a portrait format, but now its done perhaps a landscape format would be better.
In this painting I blocked in the darks with acrylics before starting out on the pastels. It does save a lot of time, and pastel, getting variegated darks in with paint and gives a great base to build up texture.
With the morning light on the dunes the marram grass glows and glistens and cajoled me into working up this view of the beach at Birkdale where I live. I had forgotten I had done a very similar piece before in April and it was only as I was storing this painting that I saw the earlier work. I had forgotten it, probably as I wasnt too taken with the regularly repeating rows of grass I had managed to get on that one. So I got the old painting out again and gave it a dose of reworking and here it is:
On the top painting I blocked in the dark areas with dark acrylic paint before applying the pastels and that saved a lot of time and layers of pastel in achieving the shadows and darker passages, In the lower painting darks were built up with pastel alone.
It’s a while since I last had the pastels out and I wanted to do some paintings of the Sefton Beach, so I thought that they might be just right for the marram grasses.
This is the view where the River Alt empties into the Mersey Estuary and in the distance the Wirral, across the estuary. On a good day you can see the Welsh hills. Just around the near headland is Gormley’s, Another Place, which has the figures looking out into the blue of the distance.
I was trying to capture the essence of the low-lying and fertile area behind our coastal sandy belt and decided to give it a go in pastels. I initially blocked in the dark areas with acrylic paint: a practice I had read about recently and wanted to try.
I am a bit ambivalent about the result, but it made a change from the watercolours.
A change of pace here. With not much life drawing going on, I had to make do with the materials I had at my disposal. Apologies to any startled horses.
Though here in the UK, the BBC presented a life session last week – a few hours of models posing on live TV, though drawing time was curtailed by presenters adding their bit and analysis of studio participants work – including the mandatory celebrity. I suppose it was trying to get people to take up life drawing, rather than pander to my needs, but it was also hindered by the small images they presented – panning back from the model to take in the surrounds. On my TV it looked like the model was in another room, which is another barrier to success. At least they tried and I got a few loose sketches.
On Monday morning I decided to try and lift the lethargy I described in the previous post, by getting out on my bike and seeking out new material. Normally I would have taken my painting gear, as it was a bright, if blustery morning, but I felt that that might upset the locals, so I put a camera in my pocket instead, and headed off along Plex Moss Lane – the lane defined by the posts in the watercolour above, past the farm you can see, and across Halsall Moss. Taking pictures as I went.
The land rises as you come off the Moss and there was a line of trees.
I did this one in pastel, of the trees bursting into leaf.
And I got a few more images that I can work up during lockdown.
As well as collecting images, a trip like this also allows you to pick out some possible places to paint when life does return to normal. I can waste a lot of time finding an interesting subject when I go out. If I have a few possibilities in mind before I set out it can set me off in a much better frame of mind when I settle down to paint.
I think this is the beach at Birkdale, but it could be anywhere north of Liverpool from Crosby to Southport as the morning light catches the marram grasses and the birds glisten out on the sandbanks.
I would like to get down there and get another piece of driftwood to modify my fish mobile, as with time on my hands, I have been looking at the mobile I posted a while ago and decided that an adjustment is required, but with restrictions getting tighter that can wait.
The final life session finished last week, so here are my last live figurative paintings for a while.
I have been alternating between pastel and acrylic of late rather than sticking to one medium and have ground to a halt developmentally. This imposed hiatus might give me time to work up some of these images.
Developing images I have produced at these sessions is something I have always meant to do, but never got around to doing. It might also allow me to explore some different styles as the fast pace at these sessions doesnt leave much time to ponder and I would like to try other approaches to figure painting.
The closing down of these sessions will also leave many of the models without this source of income and some are quite economically vulnerable. There are a number of life groups around where I live so the good models can do two or three sessions a week. The girl depicted in the first sketch, Eve, even runs a group herself, as well as modelling.
I painted an identical scene in watercolour and posted it on this blog a while back. In this version I wanted to see if I could enhance the textures of the vegetation using pastel and hopefully have got more variation with this media, even if the image is pretty similar.
The view is one of the many drainage channels that criss-cross this low lying marshy area which is now prime arable land. I originally sketched it one morning last year and during the painting the mist broke and the morning sun illuminated the fresh vegetation picking out the greens and yellows.
Hopefully I will soon be able to get out in the open to gather some fresh material to paint again, unless the government confine us all to barracks.