I always look forward to my visits to Cornwall, it really feels like a second home now. This time we’re celebrating my wife’s ‘big’ birthday, so we’re here for three whole weeks. We’re about to go into our third week.
It’s not meant to be a painting holiday, but I’ve brought my plein air kit anyway! Oils this time rather than my usual acrylics.
To be honest, since we arrived on the Lizard Peninsular from our first week on the Isles of Scilly the weather hasn’t been exactly clement. A succession of storms have passed through, including a spectacular one at three in the morning which was more than biblical in proportion. Thunder and lightning accompanied by the most severe torrential rain I can recall seeing. Not good.
So in between relaxing as a family and dodging the weather, times to set up and concentrate on painting have been relatively few. I have sketched a little, but not very much.
Here are my three 8” by 10” efforts in oils to date. The first is a view from our cottage garden. I’ve moved a few things round, but I’m still not that happy with the composition. The second is in one of my favourite spots on the Lizard, Poltesco a long abandoned serpentine works. And the third is a roundhouse from the 16th century on the road to Church Cove.
It’s been very restful using oils again. So much more time to think about colour mixes. Acrylics are very unforgiving. Turn your back and they turn into an immovable solid lump of plastic on the palette and brush. It’s nice to be able to take the generous time which oils allow.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance paint some more in the last week of our holiday. If I can, great, if not, oh well, the holiday comes first.
Remember, my FaceBook page is often updated first with snippets and odds and ends.
With my studio still stuffed full with boxes of stuff from my late Dad’s estate, apart from making occasional sketches I’ve not been at all productive over the past 18 months. I completely underestimated the sheer physical amount of personal material I’d have to pick through and the ongoing, negative emotional impact that would have. In truth, I’ve had neither the time nor inclination to get stuck into anything very much.
A new pet portrait commission…
Before I completely filled the studio, early in the year I started a new commission in alkyds, a pet portrait of a gorgeous Italian Spinone dog. As I needed to work from photos I’ve found my iPadPro remarkably useful, being able to zoom in and adjust the lighting to reveal structural detail at will.
At the moment this is on hold with my client’s blessing, but it is close to completion. Unfortunately at 70cm by 100cm it is rather large, and I’ll only be able to finish it once my studio’s clear again.
…and a Cornish break
At least my June holiday gave me time to settle and sketch. Here are a few 6″ by 8″ acrylic sketches from my visit to the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall.
And I’m off again in September. First to the Isles of Scilly for 1 week and then the lizard again for 2 weeks. A three week holiday! I won’t want to come back! My plein air kit will go with me of course. I’m still undecided whether to take oils instead of my usual acrylics. So many advantages including extended drying time and retention of brush strokes. But after a few trial runs in the garden I really need to brush up. I seem to be very good at making panels of mud!
With things as they are at the moment it’s a lot less of a faff for me to upload a post to Facebook and Instagram than this blog as I can easily do it on the fly from my phone. So, if you’d like to see more frequent updates, please head on over and like my FaceBook page.
Hello everyone. I’ve recently returned refreshed from a brilliant two week holiday in East Devon. The weather was phenomenal, sunny and dry with only one day being washed out. And we watched Bottlenose Dolphins for a whole 20 minutes as they swam in the looking- glass sea!! Sorry, just had to get that out now because, well, because… DOLPHINS! YAY!!
It’s been over six months now since my dad died, and given how I’ve been feeling I’d reined back any artistic expectations for the holiday. My life approach at the moment is to take each day as it comes. If I feel like painting or drawing I will, if I don’t, then I won’t. The muse will come back when it’s ready, and judging by this holiday that’s not going to be long.
To keep things simple I just took my 6” by 8” Guerrilla pochade box with a few basic acrylics and my trusty Saunders Waterford watercolour sketchbook and Herring compact palette. I surprised myself by how soon into the holiday I actually wanted to paint – I was positively itching on some days. By the end of the fortnight I’d knocked out four acrylics and a few watercolour sketches. Doesn’t sound like much, but believe me this has been a big step forward.
I’m most pleased with a couple of the watercolour sketches. My wife Carole was painting fossils on Monmouth beach in Lyme Regis in Dorset. The light around her head was wonderful, and I worked quickly to establish her in as few brushstrokes as possible. I think the sense of strong sunlight really comes through don’t you?
My second is a view from Lyme over the bay towards Charmouth, an iconic spot for wonderful Jurassic fossils. I’ve not got the tonal depth quite right to big up the sunlight falling on the cliffs, but it’s sparked a desire to work this into a larger piece. Fortunately I bought a bunch of panoramic canvases while I was in Sidmouth. My thought is to work it completely in oils or alykds. It’s been a while, but I do miss using them and want to start the switch back, at least for some paintings.
So, rather unexpectedly, I seem to have come back with my head full of ideas and with a generally creative buzz. All manner of projects and fancies are popping into my head, and not all are painting related. There’s the painting above of course, but I also rather fancy having a crack at making a moody painting of The Batman. I’m sure some people might raise an eyebrow or two – surely not a ‘proper’ subject for a painter? ‘Tish’ and ‘Phooey’ I say to that – in the nicest possible way of course. It’s the scope for creating a dark brooding atmosphere by playing with the light that attracts – so many levels of black; besides he’s such an iconic character.
I also fancy breaking out the Sculpey this winter to reconstruct another dinosaur, possibly a Scelidosaurus. I sculpted an Allosaurus fragilis a few years ago, something else which I’m determined to paint and finish it in the next month or two. Scelidosaurus is very much a ‘British’ dinosaur with many of its remains being found at Charmouth –now there’s a happy coincidence J
But above all these I’ve just accepted a commission! It’s going to be in alkyds, it will be big at 40″ by 30″ and will feature an Italian Spinone called Jo-Jo – a gorgeous, slobbery hairball of a dog; she’s so lovely.
My immediate issue with all this returning enthusiasm is limited time. I know I can only do so much, and I’ve been putting off clearing my dad’s house for sale, a huge, emotionally draining job. It contains the sole remaining physical traces of the lives of my dad, my mum, nan and grandad. Everything I throw away, recycle or sell dismantles a little more of the fabric of their lives, fraying their memory. It’s truly heart rending.
So, watch keep watching this space, ‘Follow’ me on Twitter or ‘Like’ my Facebook page. Progress may be sporadic, but bear with me.
Well, that’s it then, I’ve definitely had a big creativity crash. I find it difficult to understand how I can go on holiday to the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall with great weather, drop-dead gorgeous coastline, and so much to inspire and enthuse and come back with virtually nothing; just a couple of ill-judged watercolour sketches and a forced plein air beachscape.
I wrote about how much I was looking forward to this holiday in my last post, and I’d packed loads of plein air gear and panels along with high hopes of knocking out a painting or six. The reality is, once I was there, I simply couldn’t get enthused. I tried to force myself, thinking that simply pitching in would break the deadlock, but no. Don’t get me wrong, the holiday itself was a very welcome break away from everything, and yes I did enjoy the time with my wife Carole, all the walking, the wildlife and in particular the long periods of staring aimlessly out to sea on my evening walks. I got quite good at that.
There was one special highlight too: meeting talented Helston based artist Alice Hole. I’ve known Alice as a digital friend on Twitter for quite some time, and it was so nice to actually meet up over a real life coffee. You can visit Alice’s Facebook page here. Besides reinforcing my long held desire to move to Cornwall, Alice also encouraged me to start actively using my dormant Facebook account. She told me that as a professional artist she finds Facebook a very useful tool, and more effective than Twitter for encouraging sales.
Although I’m very familiar with Twitter, this was new territory for me. So, over one rainy day in our cottage I did my research and went live. You can see, and ‘Like’, my ‘Ade Turner: Artist’ page here. I have to say, Facebook really isn’t as intuitive as it could be, and there are many areas of confusion and potential for privacy slips.
For me, the main difficulty was getting my head around the relationship and differences between my personal account, and my artist ‘Page’. Naturally I would like to encourage people to ‘Follow’ my page, but you can only add a ‘Follow’ button onto your personal page.
Now, my personal timeline is filling up with the usual banter between friends, which will be of little interest to anyone looking for my artwork. So I thought, not unreasonably, I’d start a new Facebook account specifically for Ade the artist. Nope, can’t do that. Apparently it’s a big Facebook no-no, and they will challenge and close multiple accounts held by one person. That is so dumb.
The ‘business me’ is a very different entity to the ‘private me’ with distinct needs and expectations. Why shouldn’t I be able to separate and manage both while retaining useful Facebook functions across both? As long as I can prove I’m a genuine individual responsible for the content of each account, where’s the problem? I can run as many Twitter accounts as I like. Facebook really needs to sort this, as it sounds like it’s a common gripe on forums.
While I’m talking of online things, I succumbed to a spot of art-based retail therapy while I was away and bought this Guerrilla Thumbox2 pochade from Dick Blick art supplies. There’s nothing like the anticipation of new kit to cheer me up, and I’d had my eye on one of these for a while.
The American art market seems spoiled for choice when it comes to plein air gear, and their service was brilliant. We ordered on a Sunday, had an email to confirm the shipping cost was OK on the Thursday and it arrived on the following Monday morning. Just over a week from order to delivery. I’ve had longer waits from some UK suppliers!
It arrived well packed, and the quality is what you’d expect of a mass produced item. The finish is a little rough here and there, and I’ve a few little gripes like the palette extension doesn’t sit flat at 90 degrees as described and the nuts holding the tripod plate are a little intrusive in the box cavity, but these really are minor things and I love it.
Of course, now it’s arrived, I can’t summon up the enthusiasm to get out and use it…
You know, I’m pretty sure this creativity crash is all part of my grieving. It’s only just been over a couple of months since my dad died. Odd thing is, if you ask me how I’m coping I’ll probably say OK. In truth, deep down, all is not as well as it would seem on the surface. There’s an underlying numbness and disassociation which I just can’t shake. Some days even getting out of bed is a struggle.
And now here I am, back home, trying to reignite the spark. These pages may be painting free for a while, please bear with me.
Well, after a wobbly start I think I’m starting to settle back into painting en plein air. I really am out of practice.
With me, much depends on being in the right frame of mind. So I took the opportunity to go AWOL and snuck off painting this evening. It was calm, warm and overcast, and I walked down to Church Cove to set up on the wee spit of land overlooking the inlet.
I was determined to work more loosely today and I gave myself an hour limit. I’ve found that having a limited time focusses the mind and, for me, drives better results. I also resolved to use only a couple of flat brushes, 1.5cm and 1cm (ignore the fan in the photo, I didn’t use it).
Once I’d set up my pochade box I laid out my basic acrylic palette:
Yellow Light Hansa
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
In addition I added a couple of cooler blues and three earth colours:
On my 20cm by 30cm linen covered mdf panel from Jacksons I drew out the basic shapes and quickly blocked in all the features roughly before more carefully noting the passages of light and dark.
As usual I kept the acrylics open by occasionally spraying the palette with water – not too much though, I didn’t want to make colourful puddles!
I’m pretty pleased with the result, but what do you think? Why not leave me a message?
Well we’ve now been on the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall since Saturday, and as usual, it’s great to be here. This really is a special place.
Sure, the area around the Point itself can be busy during the day. However my experience is that the visitors generally stay fairly localised, preferring to drive up, park, peer, visit the café then depart leaving the wider area relatively quiet. And from around 5:00pm everywhere becomes still. Suits me down to the ground.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is first and foremost a family holiday and not purely a painting trip, otherwise left to my own devices I’d keep sneaking off…
That said I have had some opportunities to paint en plein air. Have to say though I’m feeling very out of practice, and the results have been mixed.
This is a quick watercolour from Sunday overlooking Housel Bay from rocks near Bass Point. The light was striking, fleeting sunlit patches over the cliffs, but not sure I’ve captured it here.
Today I dragged out my pochade box stuffed with acrylics and wandered down to Church Cove. I really do like the Mabef system. It provides a solid work platform, and it’s usually a comfortable platform too unless you set it too high as I did (see photo) – oopsy. I know I could’ve adjusted the height easily enough but heck, I’m not that bright!
I’d prepared a panoramic board as I wanted to take in the wider view down the coast east of Church Cove looking towards Kennack Sands. The light was very flat today and I had difficulty from the get go determining tone and depth.
Any confidence I originally felt when I set up sort of melted away. Still, I laid it out and pressed on. And by midway it was not going well at all. In truth I almost had a ‘Fast Show’ moment when I developed a steely determination to pitch it over the cliff – but I resisted.
I often find I’ll hit a low point mid-way through almost every painting. There’s frequently a disjuncture between what I see, what’s in my head and what’s actually coming out of my brush. In this case I think I turned it around sufficiently for me to want to complete it at a later date. But for now it’s going into a box for a while.
Let’s see what opportunities the rest of the week brings.
I’ve always had great admiration for those hardy artists who devote much of their painting practice to en plein air (basically painting outdoors). Whether sun, rain, hail, wind, sleet or snow they’re ‘out there’ weaving magic with their brushes. The impressionistic freshness and vitality borne of being in front of the subject always shines through.
I love working outside, but it’s been mostly reserved for holiday forays when I’ve got time to get into it, far away from life’s distractions. Oh, and it’s always in fine weather. I know, I know – it hardly seems in the spirit of things, but what can I say? I likes me comfort…
Even being a fair weather painter isn’t without it’s challenges. I find bright sunlight is troublesome, and not just because of the sunburn. When such a strong light falls on the palette and painting, I find judging tones accurately becomes difficult. I often end up with a painting that turns out darker than intended – looks fine outside, but a bit murky when it’s back indoors. Working from natural shade is the obvious solution, and where it doesn’t exist, a white umbrella. Unfortunately I’ve still not found an umbrella which suits. Frankly, clamping one directly to an easel or pochade box doesn’t seem a sound solution when wind is involved and a ground spike is less than useless on hard rock.
Oddly, one of the biggest pitfalls I find when working en plein air is psychological. I may have the potential to paint well, but once set up outside it’s like my ability slinks off and hides somewhere dark. My response is to start rushing and make basic errors; I can feel very pressured.
Because I want to expand my plein air work, I’m making deliberate efforts to slow down, to take my time to really get a feel for the subject before randomly pitching in. As for being ‘on show’ or providing the ‘entertainment’ I have to say that I’ve only ever encountered kind comments and genuine interest from onlookers. Any fear of negative encounters is entirely in my head, and I shall be rid of it.
All tooled up
I guess everyone who works outside takes a while to evolve the ideal mix of kit to suit their style. As I work in watercolours and acrylics I have developed solutions for both which work best for me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but I hope you’ll find this run down useful.
For wobbly watercolours…
Watercolours have always been one of the simplest and most mobile options. I’ve got my kit down to a tee now:
At its heart is the wonderful Herring Compact Palette. I must have had mine for close on twenty years now. It’s the full pan version with a dozen W&N colours. It lies very nicely balanced in the hand and has very generous mixing wells. Excellent. Over the years I’ve collected all manner of kits and boxes, some really lovely like the teeny-tiny W&N enamelled Bijou box, but I always come back to the Herring. Perfectly practical and practically perfect.
I carry three sable travel brushes. A 10 and a 6 Da Vinci, and a 4 from an unknown manufacturer. I did try a travel sable from Rosemary’s, but was disappointed. The handmade brush itself, an 8 or 10, was very nice but the metal tube handle into which it was set was woefully narrow. Inevitably the brush became damaged beyond repair. The Da Vinci brushes are well made and screw back into generous tough plastic handles scaled to suit the size of the brush.
Masking tape for dividing pages in my largest pad.
Rubber bands to stop pages lifting in the wind.
A Sainsbury’s yoghurt drink bottle for water and a small plastic cup (from an M&S pan-a-cotta).
A range of hardback pads. I usually make sure I have three sizes available back at ‘base’ to give me options when it comes to lugging them around. Inevitably I use heavy-weight Saunders Waterford Not; by far my favourite paper. It’s robust, stable and very tough and forgiving, and I love it.
Most times I’ll squish most of the above into a very small shoulder pack from the National Trust, but occasionally I’ll use a larger day sac to accommodate one of the larger pads.
…and awkward acrylics
Having used both oils and alkyds outside, last autumn I switched to acrylics. To be honest I’m having a love-hate relationship with them. I love their versatility, easy clean up and oil-like qualities, but I hate their alarmingly short drying time. Turn your back and they set in minutes.
While indoors their open time can be fairly generous, this shrinks drastically on a hot sunny day with a light breeze. I’ve tried slow dry medium, and a stay wet palette (the small Mastersons offering) but now prefer to carry a small spray bottle of water to keep the palette workable. Just a light spray on the palette every now and then keeps everything mobile.
The stay wet palette did work very well, but as I wanted to save unused paint for the next day’s painting I found I had to be careful to carry it horizontally to prevent the paint slumping together and dribbling out through the closed lid – no fun when walking over miles of cliffs.
I like to work on panels and the solution which best suits me is to carry them in a pochade box. So handy: an easel, wet painting carrier and paint box all in one. Downside? They can be heavy and bulky.
Sometimes if I fancy working on a larger panel I will bung all my paints into a rucksack and take out my Herring Versatile Easel. This lovely bit of kit is so light at 4.5lbs but remarkably stable. And it lives up to it’s name. There are so many configurations when setting up it will cover most eventualities. I also have one of their earlier incarnations which has a box attached, but the mechanisms are less robust and don’t lock. It was a great easel, but this new version trounces it.
Worth the weight
When walking any distance weight is everything. I found this to my cost when I insisted on taking my french easel down to Cornwall. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brilliant work platform, but at around 16lbs when empty the novelty soon wore off after trudging a couple of miles!
Here’s a selection of the boxes I’ve accumulated. They have all been used, honest – I’m just a very ‘neat Nigel’ by nature. From top to bottom there lurks that portly french easel. Then, to the left, my 12.5″ by 16″ Mabef. To the right is a nice handmade box by William Dorsett. The next is a 10″ by 8″ I made myself around twenty years ago. Finally, in the front, a small box for 7″ by 5″ panels (although no commercial boards actually seem to fit without trimming – really annoying).
Hmm, looking at that lot, maybe I have a bit of an addiction to pochade boxes and might need intervention… Good job I didn’t carry through with my obsession for this cabinet-made American beauty: the Alla Prima Pochade. I was sooo tempted, but ultimately it was a little too rich for my pocket. That and the fact that Ben Haggett, their maker, no longer ships to the UK because of many instances of in-transit damage caused, it’s thought, by HM Customs. Shame.
So, my current favourite is the Mabef pochade, which weighs in at 10.5lbs when full. At the time of writing Jacksons have an offer on this same model as part of their plein air month promotion. I can really recommend it.
I love its flexibility and in particular I like the simple clips which firmly hold the panel either portrait or landscape. They can be moved to accommodate a range of panel sizes too. Far better than the usual set grooves which hold panels on three sides and hamper edge to edge painting.
The box arrived with a custom modification courtesy of my wife – an additional grooved wooden spacer. This now allows me to safely store smaller panels too.
It has a great capacity for paint and brushes. When using it with acrylics I fasten drawing board clips covered in Velcro to the palette where they grip a plastic water pot similarly furnished with Velcro – prevents messy accidents!
In common with other larger boxes this one can be mounted onto a tripod. Originally I pressed my camera tripod into use, but at 7.5lb it is rather heavy. So I recently bought Mabef’s own wooden tripod from Jackson’s. At around 3.5lbs it’s lots lighter and with a wider top plate it’s far more stable too, reducing the pressure on the tapped bush. To make it even more portable I attached a brass loop so I can attach a carry strap if I need it. Although using an existing camera tripod is tempting, I’d advise getting one of these. As a sneaky bonus I’ve found it’s also compatible with my telescope, so that’s the dolphin/bird watching taken care of.
As to additional kit, there’s always the need to dress appropriately for the weather. Even on fine days I’ve been caught out by surprisingly uncomfortable chilly breezes. For the baking sun I’ve usually got a long sleeved shirt, sun cream and a daft hat to hand.
Depending on where I’m going I may take a rucksack containing water, wipes, kitchen towel, food and drink etc. and to bring ease to my grinding knees, a comfy seat too.
I think working en plein air qualifies as a ‘Marmite’ activity, you’ll either love it or hate it, I’m not sure there’s an intermediate state. If you haven’t already done so why not get out there and give it a go. It’s an experience well worth the effort.