About time I put together a blog post. Hopefully this sprawling post will make up a bit for a considerable period of withdrawal. It’s been a time of reflection, and there’s a bit of that in here.
I have done a couple of posts in recent months, but not sent them out by email. It doesn’t feel right to be bothering people from my irrelevant corner when there have been such goings-on in the world. Looking out at it I’ve not exactly been exuding useful positivity. I have also had to undertake some home DIY refurbishment, which is another reason I’ve not painted enough. Perhaps you’ve been encountering similar things.?
Forgive me if this one rambles a bit. I feel a bit of weight off my mind today, which has not been a common feeling in recent times so I’m trying not to worry much, while it lasts…
I was going through my pile of paintings the other day, as I try to do once a year, but have not wanted to for longer than that. It has not been a vintage painting year! But actually, for me nor was the previous year, or two. I don’t think I’ve developed enough, though I think I can see just a little bit. The main point that really strikes me is this: Most of my paintings are rubbish! At least that’s how they genuinely look to me. BUT. There were a few in the pile that I thought worked out well, and you could say I am pleased with. But with so few that seem to be winners, it does seem like it must be fluke involved in those!
Being trapped indoors over winter (even more than usual) is never the best of times. I find it hard to enjoy painting in the studio. It is true that making a start is the hardest bit, and that inspiration can often (to a degree) follow, so we absolutely should not always wait for inspiration. I know it to be true, but it’s still against my grain…
We had some snow in Bristol last week, hence this painting.
We went out for a walk early, before the sun was really up, to make sure we caught the snow before melting and here in the local cemetery there were only the footprints of squirrel and one dog-accompanied human (at times let off the lead) before our arrival.
In reality. snow-covered landscape can often look very black and white. Snow and use of colour is part of the subject in my current (part two in next issue) Leisure Painter article, where incidentally you can win my finished painting of ‘Glastonbury Tor In The Snow’ (scroll down for this, though like with every single one of my magazine articles, I don’t like the painting).
If there happens to be a blue sky, bringing sunshine and shadow, then there is more colour apparent, but it seems rare in my experience of snow in Bristol that it is accompanied by anything other than blanket cloud. If sun does appear then the snow soon melts.
My painting here has a bit more colour (though I don’t shy away from ‘black’ – in this case a mix of Thalo and Indian Red), and I changed the sky to make it more interesting. As a consequence of the latter I think I lost the real atmosphere that there was, of that silent stillness, and in fact this all has a real beauty to it, so next time I’ll not make such a change. I did resist putting in any birds. There weren’t many moving around at this early point in the morning, though by the end of our walk an hour later there were some about.
I painted with my three colours of Indian Red, Raw Umber and Phthalo (Red Shade), but used the Rembrandt Indian Red, which gives a slightly more transparent dark, though I don’t like the hue so much as the Winsor & Newton one. Should have made that front headstone soft edged, I think, but I didn’t plan this very much before enjoying it. And I did enjoy it. First time I’d wanted to paint for a couple of weeks or more.
Other studio efforts in the last couple of months, working from photos, have been very mediocre, despite sometimes feeling I was rising to the occasion at the time. You just never can tell; everything is relative. Poor studio work is very normal for me, and in part I feel sure it is the limitations of observation that you get with photos, rather than when working from reality.
Such talk brings to mind the fact that I did some concerted work on my book fairly recently. Then DIY interrupted and I lost the flow. Each time I go back to it with the intention of continuing and/or editing I just want to completely re-write the whole thing, which is one reason I’ve made pitiful progress with it over years now.
By the way, if you ARE tempted to enter the competition, don’t go thinking you won’t win! Everyone thinks that, so often competitions like this don’t get that many entries. Currently it looks like there are four entries uploaded to their website. Also, you are allowed to paint the scene in any medium, not just watercolour.
Near Warleigh Weir
At the top of this post is one of my favourite paintings of the year – that I’ve done, that is. There were parts of it that didn’t go well (well, OBVIOUSLY), including bits of the main tree that could certainly have been fresher, but then it seems to me, always, that just a few redeeming bits can make a painting despite the bad bits. There’s just a few more good bits and few less bad bits in a good one than most of the others! It’s all relative….. ‘Course that’s just my view of it.
This was the ‘product’ (along with enjoying my day) of my last plein air trip of 2020, in November, and I’d gone to a weir on the river Avon between Bath and Bradford-On-Avon, where I’ve been previously but not in Autumn.
It was wet underfoot and I slipped up, landing on my back in the mud pretty quickly. So this was painted with muddy palms. I will try that again.
The weir is at the far end of the field in this scene. It’s an impressive feature, but as when visiting before, I failed to see how I could get a composition I liked out of it, so was pleased to find this view instead. It is my kind of painting, just trees, bushes, sky, rough grasses and herbage, etc. It still has foreground, middle ground and distance, a helpful range of shapes and to me, plenty of atmosphere. The latter is always the main thing to aim for, and never easy. In this case the difficulty was partly that the light kept changing so I needed to use my memory of the light effect and shadows at many points. Thankfully things did come back every so often.
As usual, at the time I couldn’t at all tell that I’d captured anything with the painting. I definitely enjoyed being there, despite it not being warm. So I enjoyed the being there, I enjoyed the painting process, and then… I was irritated by some cack-handed bits of mark-making! Later, some weeks and now months later, despite said marks I discover that I am not disliking the painting. In fact I like it, and there aren’t very many of those. That’s how these things are.
Painting holidays / courses / ‘experiences’
Dedham Hall course/painting holiday
[NOW POSTPONED DUE TO COVID, UK GOVERNMENT RULES, just released.
THE COURSE HAS BEEN RE-SCHEDULED TO APRIL 16th-23rd 2022].
Keeping fingers crossed, as they say, that we might be able to do something ‘previously normal’ by April, and gang up for some plein air painting! Dedham Hall are taking bookings, and would obviously refund them should it be bad news, but they are as raring to go as I am. Hopefully many people will have had a vaccine by then, and we’ll not be in a lock down.
I’ll not have had the vaccine by then, and am planning to self-isolate in a tent in our garden on my return. Be assured that I am continuing to be extremely vigilant about the virus, since my partner is in the clinically top-risk category.
Some of you will know, Dedham Hall is a great base for a painting course and we have brilliant hosts in Jim and Wendy. It will be my first course there, so I’m excited about it and have lots of ideas about locations for us to paint at. I don’t know many of these very well exactly, but I will have visited and considered each one carefully, before our week. I visited in late summer/Autumn 2019 and investigated many locations of the area on foot (always checking we won’t trip over, etc!), combining with toilet, parking space, subject options, lunch provision, etc. I suppose it’s possible we’ll need packed lunches. There are some unknowns, with how things are currently. One definite (classic) location of the area that we will surely go to is Pin Mill. You can look up Pin Mill online and find no end of paintings of it, including by Seago and other well-known painters.
I’d also like to maybe take in this beautiful church (below), though there’s no toilet so that’ll be a morning or afternoon only affair (good light in the morning!). I would probably pair that up with some useful time in the studio, before of after the visit. It’s only a 5 minute drive or so from our base, and easy parking!..
And of course there are many other locations I’m trying to narrow it down from.
I’m never sure whether to call these things ‘courses’ or ‘painting holidays’. I think there is always the freedom for a ‘student’/participant to take it either way, and I am very happy if people want to paint hard, or would rather eat, drink, sightsee and maybe paint just a bit. It is an opportunity for an immersive painting experience, if you like.
In general at least, my residential courses are designed to be the following:
Good for people at all levels of painting, from virtual beginner upwards, but best for those with at least some experience of watercolour, and who are pretty serious about their painting – and who like being outdoors.
This is because I am quite serious about painting, serious about helping others improve their painting, and love being outdoors, taking inspiration from the surroundings. There’s a lot I want to pass on – hopefully usefully – but possibly talk too much and too fast. Well, I think I’m better than I was and you can always ask me to pipe down a bit.
Experience of plein air painting is not essential, but the thing is, we WILL be going outdoors for at least half of most or all days, and not just in lovely weather. Don’t worry, I’m not hardcore to the extent of painting in the rain (unless there’s a good shelter) or freezing parts of myself off, but returning from a plein air journey should involve that feeling of having earned the indoors and earned that meal. It’s part of the whole very rewarding deal! Of course I wouldn’t mind if you chose to stay back in the studio on any day. It is your choice, although it wouldn’t be much of a course in my view if missing a chunk didn’t imply… missing something potentially important! No, seriously though, stay back the whole time if you like; it’s rare I say anything important.
Please put walking boots/shoes on your Materials List if joining me for a plein air course. Or wellies I suppose, if you find those comfortable. Locations will very likely include some wet grass, perhaps damp sand and probably a bit of uneven footing by a river, etc.
Please also be prepared to do a little bit of driving. I’m not sure if it’ll be possible to car-share much .. ?
We’ll have the lovely river Stour and the village of Dedham itself all walkable from base, which I intend we’ll utilise at least a few times, but some of the coastal areas and inland villages within 45 mins (at the longest) drive have great subjects, and herein lies the sightseeing.
And finally, there will be some studio-based sessions, either morning or afternoon, where we can address some technical things, chat, debrief, look at the work of some great artists, and I can demonstrate some things more easily than when as a group outdoors.
Actually there is one more, final, important thing that I ask of anyone who comes painting with me: Please, don’t expect too much from yourself. Watercolour is difficult, doing it outdoors is difficult, and if you are quite new to it as well, well…. You WILL be learning. There will be improvement over time, but you might not see it clearly in just a few paintings. Focus on enjoying the process. Being fully involved in and committed to the process is always the most enjoyable way of being a painter, and also your best chance of a good result. I will say this.
You see, as a painter, out there in that landscape, that ‘location’ if you like, you are just being. Well, okay, we’re kind of ‘doing’ as well, but as you get better it can become more intuitive and spontaneous, if you want to be those. To me, it makes us extremely lucky, having opportunity. But to do this ‘enjoying the process’ is not easy for many people. We naturally wonder/wander forward too far in our minds at times (or right from the beginning, and all the time) , to the imagined ideal of that feeling of *liking the finished painting*. You have to not worry about that if you want to make good progress (and if you want to enjoy your life!). Most good watercolours involve ‘risk-taking’ from beginning to end. Embrace that. AND they need a little bit of magic (you see, you’ve got tto be happy in the process, rather than waiting for all this to fall into place!…). But I won’t go into this now….
If you are considering joining me for a course but are unsure or unconfident about it for any reason, please don’t hesitate to just give me a call or email and we can discuss it.
(I’ll talk about my Big Sky Art course in Norfolk later in the Spring.)
[PLEASE NOTE, news just released: THIS COURSE HAS NOW HAD TO BE POSTPONED UNTIL 2022 DUE TO COVID, AS PER UK GOVERNMENT RE-OPENING TIMELINE].
Here are a few outtake selections, which I don’t think I’ve shown before. I think I just might salvage these from the big pile and put them in the medium pile. Let me know if you might be tempted to possess one of these. I am open to offers.
These are all plein air paintings, the first a very early one.
Apart from ‘Kestrel’ these are all from pretty early in my return to watercolour, I think between 13 and 9 years ago. I don’t know if it’s interesting to see these, but I thought it might be some encouragement that we DO develop if we work at it.
I first painted watercolour landscape at around 9 – 13 years old, then only sporadically until my early 30s as life presented other distractions. I previously had no concept (regrettably) of the potential to earn a living/subsistence in the way I now just about do. Until about 10 years ago (at which point I was a member of The Bristol Savages art society and gained an insight), and a few years after that I started working towards it by doing demos for art groups, as if I was good enough! Believe me, I wasn’t, but I was so desperate to get out of the day job.
I gradually reduced the hours in said job, over a few years, before finally going for it full time in mid 2016. I thank Trevor Waugh for persuading me to finally take that leap of faith/recklessness. No regrets so far, and luckily I’m still here, so far.
These old paintings are smaller than I paint now, mostly done on ‘blocks’ at about quarter imperial size. I used to sit on the ground on a plastic sheet with the block in my lap and materials surrounding me. Travelling lighter I’d often walk for miles and do 3 – 5 paintings in a day, then either cycle or get a bus or train home. Man, I feel old now, thinking about it!
Finally, back to a bit closer to now (maybe 5 or 6 years ago) and back at half-imperial size, this one was painted in the rain:
We’d just arrived on holiday at our little hired cottage, ‘Skipper’s Cabin’, and I was absolutely raring to get out and paint this view, which is almost literally on the doorstep. We arrived in heavy rain and after a couple of hours of it continuing – very annoyingly – I got fed up of waiting and just went out there and painted in it. Actually, soon after I started it eased to drizzle and as you can tell from some bits, it stopped before I finished. You see, get out there in the rain and it stops!
The only other time I’ve painted in the rain (except under shelter or someone’s umbrella) was doing a demo at Thornham, north Norfolk – at Big Sky Art – in 2018. That one started in drizzle and ended in persistent rain! The painting didn’t exist by the end as it all dripped off the paper onto the salt marsh as I carried everything back to the car. Then we were into the pub for lunch, after which it was dry for everyone else to paint. All carefully planned, I promise you.
Here is that view above Porth Mear Cove (I went into the field in front, with the cows).
And that’s my special helper, who I’m lucky to be sharing my life with.
Have the best late-winter possible and take care.
Blackbird might sing any moment! (not happened here yet)