A couple of weeks ago I went to an outdoor painting exhibtion where artists were invited to paint in a local boatyard harbour here in Le Grazie in Italy that was hosting a weekend of Regatta of Classic boats. It was great fun to be able to see so many beautiful classic sail boats. The weather was fine, the wind was good for sailing and the people friendly – it was a great weekend!
I dont really have much experience in painting boats and every boat I chose to paint in the foreground disappeared after half an hour so I never got to finish the masts and the rigging, a bit of memory was needed and also the help of the camera to remind me where to put the rigging was extremly helpful. It made me wonder how marine artists in the past were able to paint every little detail, it was either from memory or very careful sketching over long periods of experience spent in the boatyards. Mastering the art of human anatomy is probably the same sort of thing I imagine you would need to paint a boat.
During the time I was painting I tried a new medium for oil paint: Poppyseed Oil. The advantage of this oil is that it doesn’t yellow like linseed oil and it dries very slow which was an advantage when I added the rigging to the boats back in the studio because the sky hadn’t dried and I was able to work wet into wet. When using poppyseed oil the painting should be finished all in one go instead of waiting for layers to dry as it will crack if the layers havent dried properly and used underneath linseed oil should be avoided. Linseed oil dries much faster, the only weak point is that when dry it tends to yellow or darken the whites and paler colours unlike poppy oil that is transparant.
One of the most exciting things in Spring is waiting for the Wisteria to burst into cascading purple flowers (yes, my life is pretty exciting 😉 ) but after painting this I am pretty glad to wait another year until it flowers again.
Apparantly purple is a colour linked with royalty and mystery and it is also a difficult colour for our eye to discriminate because it has the shortest wavelength in the light spectrum. I definently found this to be true while painting and comparing the flowers to the green grass!
What I find interesting in painting outside is for example what happens when the sky blue, why on sunny days are the distant hills purple, and the closer ones blue/green etc? Trying to understand the answers helps me paint more quickly instead of guessing which colours to put where.
Most of the time I begin or end up painting the sky too dark, forgetting that it is the lightest value in the landscape even when it is bright blue like this or overcast. The sky is really important, once you paint in the right colour then it will help anchor the rest of the painting. There is no such thing as flat tone in nature even though the sky may seem to be just blue, infact it is a huge space with more than just one value which changes towards or away from the sun and from the horizon to the zenith even on a grey cloudy day. As you go closer to the sun you are faced with a colourless glare, and then across the horizon in the opposite direction the blue gradually gets darker. The horizon being the farthest away point from us is lighter because there is more atmosphere to see through and the zenith above our heads is the darkest area as it reaches into space.
Here is a grid with the mixed blue values I used in the sky above:
Horizon = cerulean blue, white
Zenith = Ultramarine, cobalt blue light, white
Left = cerulean blue, white, cobalt blue light, white
Right = cobalt blue light, ultramarine blue, white
Whatever we paint is lighted according to the time of day and the weather because the particles that make up the atmosphere surround and affect everything we see. I did this painting at midday, there were no green leaves on the trees so the scene cast an overall blue hue because of the sky colour that was reflecting off the ground, rock and trees etc.
Sometimes when I get stuck I find it helps to take a photograph of the painting and then change the photo into black and white. If it is too grey and lacks contrast then the values do not have weight, most of the time it’s the sky that is too dark so I try and remember why it is and how it is and then next time it might help me paint more quickly and without guessing where to put the colours!
Painting children from life is difficult, I guess you need a good memory to finish any details incase they move which they do all the time so I decided on a longer pose using Winnie as she slept as an excuse but then again a true portrait of her would be bouncing and running around…..but that is easier said than done!
How did Sorolla paint the finest details in blinding sunlight as the children he painted ran along beaches and splashed in waves? He definently had magic in his paintbrush!
Tip of the day: When painting in the English cold or any cold weather keep moving your feet or they will freeze to the ground. Tried and tested while painting here!
Luckily I had wollen fingerless (cashmere wool which I couldnt get dirty because they were my sisters’!!) mittens for my hands which kept them warm enough compared to my feet. I also read that to keep your hands even warmer you can wear a wool sock with a small hole in the end which allows you to hold a paintbrush with your bare hand and still have all the control you need, while the paintbrush tip pokes out from the end with no mess. I am looking forward to trying this as I am not sure how tricky it would be changing over brushes.
Also standing on a piece of cardboard can keep your feet from touching the freezing cold/snowy ground whereas helping to keep your whole body more comfortable which leads to longer comfortable sessions…but I guess hand knitted 100% woollen socks could help too!
Lambourn and the surrounding downland is a really pretty area best known today as a major horse racing centre and the Downs have many nice views to paint.
Painting outisde in the winter is almost my favourite time of year as the woods are richer in colour especially after a rainfall, last years twigs and leaves decomposing with earthy umber tones, yellow, reds and grays . Enough of green which i find hard painting!
This river is actually a torrent and so it fills up pretty quickly and the water level is always changing, I painted this view from a window inside because outside was wet and cold, the sensible descision was to paint near a warm radiator at this time of year!
In the garden during a summer morning is a distant memory with all these autumn rainy days! The darkness of the trees contrasting against the sun shining on the stone walls was helpful in this painting as it set off the dark and light values.