Cliffs, Water and lots of Trees; recent paintings and the stories behind them.

Rough surf at Seaton.


Hi folks,
I hope this finds you well.

The above painting was done recently as a demo for Seaton & District Art Society.
When possible (which is not always) I arrive early at a demo location and find a local scene to do as my ‘main’ painting, usually done in the second half of my presentation. Arriving at the seafront of Seaton I could see this part of mostly chalk cliff at the west end of the bay.  It looked good, so I walked along the beach a fair distance until I found some great views of it in relation to the surf and more distant headland. That half-dead tree on the right  was also somewhere along this stretch, but I pulled it in to my composition. I took lots of photos as I went, using the camera to compose, stood and memorised colours and key tonal relationships, and enjoyed the atmosphere and weather a great deal. It was windy, and drizzling (the clouds were more of a blanket than I’ve portrayed them here).
Then, getting a bit damp, I returned to the car (just in time as the rain came heavily down), viewed the photos and sketched a ‘composite’ composition at 4 inch size. It includes a few words about my colour palette also.  The latter is helpful in advance of a demo when the subject is very new to me, as in this case (I’ve hardly painted surf – and virtually never chalk cliffs). During the demo I refer occasionally, and just for a few seconds, to my camera/photos as well as the sketch, for example to see the particular details about the leftmost section of the main cliff, which really needed observing fairly well, because it was so good in reality and crucial to the focal point of the painting.  I explain all of this to the audience while I’m doing it.  Most demos these days are enlarged onto screens, so I can also hold my photo and the sketch up the camera when helpful.  In fact Seaton’s demos are held in the local theatre, and it was the biggest ‘big screen’ I’ve ever seen!
I don’t often show my demonstration paintings on social media (or here) partly because I’m not often very happy with them as paintings but just as much because I want the ‘demo experience’ to remain an alive one.  My demos are not just about the quality of the final painting but about the process, the strategy, psychology, techniques employed, energy and the full and rapid communication of all this!  But I felt in this case the 45 minute madcap fling of paint (which is how it always feels to me) worked out okay – on the whole – for the painting as well.  I hope to be painting a lot more sea, later this year.


Plein air by the flooded river Windrush at Burford.

This was just a couple of days before Christmas.  It was unseasonably mild and the sun was out (dare say we’re heading for ‘the warmest winter ever’, in my part of the world anyway).  Well, the sun came and went, being low in the sky and therefore at this time of year very liable to disappear behind cloud for prolonged periods, but I was lucky to see it a fair bit.
One of those where you know not to make the paper wetter than necessary, as it won’t dry out much.  But in fact I regretted it in a couple of places where I’d have preferred some softer edges.  A challenging situation though, so can’t complain too much – and it came out a bit better than I thought.  Returned with muddy but dry feet, and very happy not to have been in the supermarket.

Walking boots are the most vital piece of a plein air painter’s kit!  Seriously.


Tree near Windrush Gallery.

Perfect.  Stood on a damp, but still day in a damp grassy verge in the Cotswolds.  I could barely be happier.  And sharing a morning’s plein air painting with David Curtis, Chris Robinson and others (some of the UK’s most admired landscape painters).  I was fortunate to be here as a guest, as part of a larger group exhibiting at Windrush Gallery, and this view was just a five minute walk down the lane.
The exhition was of the Pure Watercolour Society, a small informal society founded by James Fletcher-Watson (info here: and I was invited to include a couple of my paintings in the show.

Exhibition of The Pure Watercolour Society, at Windrush Gallery


Exploring potential subjects in early morning. A good dilapidated barn; one for next time.



Trees and chickens near Whitley, Wiltshire.

An opportunistic plein air painting, combined with visiting a friend, making the most of some winter sun.  I found this very tricky.
I spotted that tree from the road as I was driving to my location.  Always got to be careful to keep the eyes on the road, when there are trees around!

Just a scene on a footpath, as per usual.


The Welcoming Crow Tree and River Windrush

A tree and scene that seemed to me to be welcoming the sun, and Spring (wishful thinking) as well as the crows.
The water was just about overflowing the river banks, and down into the fields below it, and my feet were dangerously close in order to take some photos here.  This was a studio painting – rarely truly satisfying to me – and I felt the usual struggle with authenticity.  Hard to explain, but without seeing and feeling everything closely as I’m painting I just don’t believe enough in what I’m doing.  Having very high res photos enlarged onto a huge screen might improve things a little bit, but it still wouldn’t be the same.  I don’t want to just ‘make pictures’ and that seems to be what it is reduced to, rather than participating in something with the landscape.


Return to the Tree near Kelston Round Hill

This one was a return to a subject I’ve painted more than once.  Done for inclusion with a two-part article on Composition, to be published in Leisure Painter magazine later this Spring.  On this occasion I’ve chosen an alternative vantage point, then made quite a few adjustments to the reality of how things were, to illustrate various points about Composition and artistic licence.  Thomas Schaller commented to me on this one (via Twitter), remarking on an ‘unusual and successful composition’, so that’s alright then.


Top of a Hampshire hill, with crows

While visiting an art group in the area for a demo I had some time to explore some nearby fields and came upon a great old tree right at the brow of a hill.  Clearly a favourite again with crows, though possibly the field beyond also.  In the field beyond were a group of detectorists (of the metal variety), which made an unusual scene.  The farmer, perhaps already on alert for suspicious behaviour, called over to check me out.  Well, I was taking lots of photos of his tree from different angles.  I’m quite used to feeling like a bit of an oddball, explaining that “I’m an ‘artist’; painter – of the landscape variety, and I really like your tree”.


By the railway line, Flax Bourton


Another studio painting.  I quite enjoyed this one.  A scene of not a lot again, but another nice old tree and large patch of sky.  From photos on a damp walk back in late summer, out looking for plein air opportunities along footpaths.  There wasn’t much, as is quite common on monoculture farmland these days, with barely a hedgerow tree or much ‘nature’ at all, but by the edge of railway lines can often be a bit neglected, which is always good for nature by comparison.  The trees were cast under cloud shadow, hence why they are so dark.  I only hope it reads that way.  I’ve been experimenting a bit with Burnt Sienna instead of Burnt Umber for my darks.  In fact it is easier to obtain a clean (‘transparent’) dark with that combination, but the colour just doesn’t fit with the rest of my palette so well, so that’s being a bit of a struggle.  In fact I’ve been through all this before, many years ago, but I’m doing it again…


Happy painting until next time.




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