I hope you are well. I’ve got a lot here this time to share with you. It’s a long one, including:
New 50 minute Youtube demo, new competition (win the original watercolour featured in the demo, plus all entrants get their painting featured in my blog with a ‘positive critique’) many recent plein air paintings, painting course news and an appearance by a local art critic (with wings). I will intersperse new plein air adventures with bits of news & info. Please, make yourself comfortable!
I’ll start with the above painting, which was a m*agnificent plein air adventure. I went out on a mightily windy day. Up there with the windiest I’ve ever painted in, if not THE. I walked out optimistically but half expecting it would be impossible. I’ve been out quite a bit since my last post, and now it’s approaching winter I’m not keen to stop whatever the conditions.
This derelict cottage is about twenty minutes along the coast from Crail, where I live, and always worth the walk on its own. Always good to see a good subject again too, in different light, weather, height of tide, etc. On arrival I spent at least half an hour exploring all around the cottage, wading through long grasses, on slidey pebbles, slippery wet rocks, etc. I wasn’t sure for quite a while whether I’d paint, though I’d gathered some useful photos and ideas perhaps for another time. Such as:
Then, when I hit the exact right spot for the easel, suddenly that inspiration hit me and despite the ridiculous wind (and constant, not just gusts) I put up the easel in excitement. I had to use tent pegs (always worth carrying) to hold the easel legs to the ground. This works, though the board still wobbles around like crazy and its essential to have the board set totally horizontally. It wouldn’t last a second at any kind of an angle.
Here’s the scene as it looked while I was setting up – what gave me that hit of inspiration –
Wonderful light, with a sea haze, but strong darks in backlit close up areas. Of course, this was always going to change and it didn’t take long. The wind moved everything quickly throughout and soon I was under cloud.
As I drew the scene I increased the size of the cottage (a simple shape, side on as it is) and shortened a bit the distant hillside and rocks to bring in the sea. I marked in other key features, moved slightly where helpful. When painting, I kept in mind this initial lighting scenario, so had to work a bit from memory as light kept changing. As for the buffeting of the wind; it was funny, fun, silly, difficult, and damn life-affirming! Here’s a shot at the nearly-half way stage:
And below is a very short video (something I’ll try to include more in future blogs), to give you a flavour of the brilliantly wild atmosphere. But I swear it doesn’t seem as windy here as it was in reality:
Considering the situation I’m quite pleased with the outcome. More to the point, I like the painting because the experience of painting it was magnificent. It’s one I’ll treasure. Being in – and working in – extreme or ‘bad’ conditions (for painting) is something I’ve written about in my slowly developing ‘book’. But this painting is also now to be featured in International Watercolour Society Magazine. This is a big honour; the article will include examples of my best work, explanation of my ethos and motivation, plus two step by step paintings, both of which I’ve done as plein airs, since that is mostly how I operate.
Just before I explain the competition, I have in fact now painted this derelict cottage three times. Here are the other two:-
Competition Time! (and new Youtube video)
Right, who’s up for a painting challenge?
I’ve put a new 50 minute demo video on youtube, HERE – Right-click to open in new tab
Your mission, should you fancy one, is to have a go at the same scene, then email me a photo of your painting.
You have a deadline of the end of February. In March I will do a blog post featuring all entries I’m sent. I’ll also write a brief ‘positive critique’ with each entry displayed, and pick one winner who will win the original 32 x 52 cm watercolour featured in the demo. So, er, I hope someone will want it.
Stick to the basic composition, but – as I do myself in the demo – feel free to use your own references, such as an alternative tree, sky, building or type of field. That’s it. I’m keeping it fairly simple this time. View it as a bit of creative fun, and be bold!
I would add: You certainly don’t need to use the same colours as I did (note, they are just my version of red, yellow and blue – info is provided with the video on youtube). And work at whatever size you like. Any questions, please ask here in the comments. I hope you will enjoy having a go.
Here is the main reference for the composition. Right-click and ‘save as’ to download the image file:
By the way, I don’t like to ask and never have before, but I’d be very grateful if when you watch the video you give it a ‘like’ and subscribe if you would like to subscribe to my youtube channel. Then you can also choose to be ‘notified’ when I upload a new video. I dislike this modern thing of asking people to ‘like’ what you do, but I’ve got to overcome that as it is totally normalised on youtube. Also totally necessary in order to build an audience, due to how it works. Refusing to play the game, as I tend to do, doesn’t do you any favours in the harsh reality of our economic existence. Back to painting….
Pittenweem harbour, October morning plein air – Description of the process
If it isn’t raining and if I’m free I now have to take every opportunity to get out. This was a pretty cold morning, but mostly sunny, after a while. I had seen this composition before and knew I wanted to get there when the tide wasn’t too high, and with light/shade in this position. I have apps on my phone – ‘Suncalc’, a tide times app, plus four weather apps, and maps – which are all very useful when planning which location to choose for any particular occasion.
Though natural landscape is more my inspiration, a good composition with interesting old buildings and other good content also attracts me and I thought it was about time I committed to one of these kinds of scenes. Lots of initial drawing, but it went smoothely (the first observations accurate, the biggest shapes in the right places (mostly) so it was relatively quick. As I began I got a feeling I was being watched, and turned around to instantly see someone sat at a nearby top floor window with a cup of something. Possibly another painter, as there are a lot around here. Back to my own business, I worked quickly on the painting:
Sky first: I knew I needed a tone all over the sky to throw up the white of the sunlit background building. At this point it was cloudy in front, which worked for the painting. I made sure to get some warmth in, as observed since it was a low sun. This would also tie nicely in with the pantiled red rooftops.
Harbour walls with boats: Fiddly areas with so much negative painting; I really have to commit to what feels like quite an effort that may not pay off… Concentrate, and it might. My Black Sheep brush is not ideal for working with accuracy on ‘detail’, but it has a way of just about coping, if I focus and have faith in how I build up my marks. Also some scraping out for some of the negatives in this painting. I do a part of such areas in one go, move along to somewhere else, then return later to complete them, building up ‘detail’ gradually and as a whole.
The closer areas of boat, fishing paraphernalia and the old fish market building on the left: Focussing on careful observation for the tones, of sunlit and shaded parts of the building was vital, also in relation to the sky already painted. If this is far off at all the whole effect of light will fail. The boat reflections and water through the whole harbour I’m pretty pleased with. Continually changing as it does, there’s a lot there, plus it’s not a subject I’ve yet painted that much, so some positives here for me.
Colour is key in this painting. I knew from the start that I had to make the most of the red pantiles at my focal point, but this was always going to work well with the main boat, and so this was one where I used my most expanded palette of 8 colours! Cobalt Turquoise, tiny bits of Winsor Lemon (from a dried bit in the palette) and a scarlet red (buoys on the near boat) in addition to Thalo, French Ultramarine, Light Red, Indian Red and Raw Umber. The additional/’bright’ colour helps convey the (fairly low) sun that is lighting the scene.
The painting was completed pretty quickly. Often a scene like this’ll take me a couple of hours or nearly. This was 90 mins max including the drawing. There are a couple of issues with the drawing, and some marks a bit ‘wonky’ in perhaps a not-great way. But I learned many years ago that it generally pays NOT to change such things. It’s one of those fine lines. I recall wise old Mr Andrew Pitt (better not tell him I called him that!) referring to the ‘redeeming defects’ in a painting. That’s nicely put, and I do know that I often see and even enjoy the odd defect in the work of painters I admire. It can be as if the artist knows it isn’t important and trusts the viewer to overlook it. Something I think I learned particularly from viewing Wessons, whose work, done so quickly, does sometimes contain a bit of shoddy ‘drawing’ before he whacked down the wet stuff in a genius fashion.
Personalised painting courses
Interested in a painting course/holiday in the East Neuk of Fife? Please contact me if so.
Next year I have booked my first personalised ‘course for two’.
This is a new idea, whereby I spend a week (though the length can be arranged to suit) like on any residential course, but entirely personalised to suit the wishes of the students, based around my knowledge of my local area and the wonderful subjects it has to offer.
This time I’m being joined by a couple who’ve attended one of my previous courses. I’m looking forward to it a lot.
Knowing the locations, tide times, direction of sunlight to show each location at its best, and so on, we can structure a painting week to your own desires. Want to do a full day on Tuesday, but half day on Wednesday? Want to arrive on a Monday? Want to paint a particular subject you’ve seen me paint? Want a day or two off to walk some coast path, visit beautiful harbours, villages or St Andrews?
Want to go on holiday just with your partner or a small group of friends?
It can be done! You organise your own accomodation (I can provide helpful starting points if useful), and we create a flexible plan. We can do sessions in my studio as desired or in adverse weather.
The ‘East Neuk’ is full of inspiration. I hope you’ll agree based on locations I’ve already painted since moving here. There are also some good hills and many subjects not far away which I’ve obviously not yet got around to (I’m looking forward to doing the Forth Rail Bridge, for example). This part of Fife is a holiday destination, so visitors are very well catered for, yet being Scotland, population density is much lower than England so it’s never that busy. It is also one of the sunniest parts of Scotland – with no midges! (Scotland is not all the same! There are more sunshine hours in this area annually than where I used to live in southwest England. Met Office facts.)
Crail village coast path, plein air
This is a scene I think I’ll be painting variations of for years. Hope so. I like painting on a coastal path for the friendly conversations with passing walkers. Always an opportunity to share a few positive thoughts along the lines of how lucky we are to be there, witnessing it all.
This spot I’ve been wanting to get to at high tide (when tide is out there are too many rocks to make the composition work), so although a cloudy day I headed out in a moment of inspiration when the sun appeared. It didn’t last, but I caught the glimpse I needed of the light I wanted. So, once I’d got halfway through the sky and the light disappeared this one was done partly from memory in terms of the light effect, including the water, which I did observe closely before beginning but which is completely different when cloudy.
I’m also actually really looking forward to painting some slate grey seas. If there’s a future, it’ll happen.
A few recent misses – all a part of the plein air experience
Towards St Andrews from the Fife coastal path
This one I was a bit happier with. Loved painting it anyway. From a location almost above the previous, failed painting, this was a warm late September evening. A good but low light did disappear at the beginning, which is how I painted it, though it would’ve been better as it had first appeared. So I’ll also return to this spot one day too. I love the content of the scene.
St Monan’s windmill, from the rocks
Another quite colourful painting, for me (with the Pittenweem harbour scene that’s two in two months!), being face/side lit. The light getting low even at mid day now, this was October the 24th and a morning of half sun, half light cloud. I had thought I’d paint St Monan’s harbour for the first time, but in the end got drawn back to this subject instead. Tide out, I saw from some distance off the reflection in a rocky pool so made my way to the spot, cautiously over lethal, slippery terrain.
The painting was speedy, but the tide came in fast, too fast! So I had to pick up all my gear and move it all several metres inland before quite finishing. So to complete it required a bit of artistic licence looking at a different patch of foreground, though pretty similar. I had painted the actual reflection early on, straight after doing the sky. There were a lot of people around the tidal pool, which is near the base of the windmill – not really visible in the painting as it’s at about my head height, though you can see the rocky wall. I think it was the St Monan’s local swimming group, plus a few coastal walkers passing by.
Cellardyke rockscape at low tide
This one was another big challenge. It was, again, VERY windy for painting in. I was also in an awkward spot, with my easel partway into a rock pool and my footing on a considerable and knobbly rock slope. But however difficult the circumstances I just can never turn down whatever view/composition is my favourite at a location. Inspiration always comes first for me, and I’m happy to take on a painting that is likely not to come off well. This time I had a huge rock tied in a bin bag I always carry, and wedged on top of my front easel leg (tent pegs don’t work on rock!)
The wind was reliably from the direction I was facing, or so far it was. The light was changing, but retained (at least for much of the painting) slightly different versions of a total silhouette of the whole scene. It was magical. My routine, after mindfully setting up all my bits as patiently as I can muster, is to set my mind thus:
1. Here we are; bloody marvellous. It’s windy. Yep. Love it.
2. Painting will be tricky, but fun. You will observe intently, you will grasp your palette very firmly against your upper arm, you will move your brush very mindfully from palette to paper, and you will love it. You will also try to keep an eye on your other bits including folder which might blow away or slide down this rock slope into that big rock pool.
3. Listen to those birds, listen to the sea, listen to the wind. Watch it all, too, and love that sea smell. Look at that incredible light effect. Try to keep that whole effect most in mind.
At times in strong oonstant wind and even more powerful gusts you also need to be ready to put your hand flat down on your painting in an instant to hold it all. But, though challenging situations, these are often those days when there is almost no one else around, in which I feel I’m so lucky to be there in all this purely wild nature that they’re missing out on! And I wish I could share it. And this is what I think the purpose of my paintings is.
A beautiful day in October, and right up on the cliffs with no wind at all! Not sure about this painting result, but again truly loved being there. The light was quite blinding, which is tricky when both observing and painting. Trying to guage the right tones on an equally blinding white bit of paper. That fishing boat was perfectly placed and conveniently went up and down in that area of sunlit water for a long time. Maybe checking a number of lobster pots? From here we’re looking down the coast a few miles towards Elie, where there’s the great subject of the Lady’s Tower that I’ve painted a couple of times so far. In the opposite direction there’s St Monans’ Old Kirk, harbour, then windmill. It’s such an eventful and beautiful stretch of coast.
Another one of my local muses, the third time I’ve painted here now. Tide going out pretty fast, great light and clouds, though changing continually…. Another beautiful, fresh slice of NOW. It’s truly this that keeps me sane, if I am sane.
This painting is the second plein air step-by-step to feature in the upcoming issue of the IWS Magazine. I can’t share the steps here now but here’s the scene at the end (different light, tide etc as always by the end), painting complete except for two things: the figure and the passing flock of birds. I knew I wanted to add both, but sometimes I want to leave a gap of time to reflect on the best placement with refreshed eyes. So at this point I packed up, went for a walk, and then homeward.
I have for some time had my painting prices much reduced on most pieces except those from the last year or so. Many are £120 – 150, (including delivery to UK) so that’s a large original watercolour at a price not much more than a print for the size. Hard times economically for many people. If you can be tempted to buy as a gift, or as a treat for yourself, you’ll help an artist stay an artist.
UPDATE: Sale now over, but still I have left many older paintings at a much reduced price.
Video on demand – My three properly produced videos are now about half their original prices, plus I’ve extended the hire period if you are hiring rather than buying. Purchased videos can be downloaded as well as streamed online. For the future, I plan to work on a new ‘coastal scenes’ plein air video next year.
If you’ve got to the end of this blog post (unless you missed out all the middle) you must be a friend! I appreciate it. I’ll post again in January, so will wish you a good Christmas/festive season, etc. Here’s something to raise a smile:
Anstruther lifeboat house on a cold November morning, with annotations from a passing art critic (white head and distinctive pink feet). Only halfway through the drawing. I mean, I was about to reach for the rubber, but I thought this was a bit harsh! Also reminds me I haven’t used Burnt Umber for about five years.
Til next time, take care – and send me your competition entry!
All the best,