Monday, 28 July 2014

A Sense of Place

It was my parents Ruby Wedding Anniversary last week and the whole family met up in Ambleside for a bit of a celebration.  I will write more about those few days once I've produced some pictures to tell our story but in the mean time, I'd like to share with you the second part of my holiday.  I decided that the Lake District is quite a long way to go for only 3 nights so, once we were all booked up, I had a look around for something I could do for the remainder of the week.  I came across this course at Higham Hall and thought I'd give it a try.  Our tutor for the week was Steve Humble and I've got to say, I learnt a lot from him.  You can probably guess the title of the course.  Usually my paintings are a by-product of my holidays.  They're something that happens weeks, months or sometimes years later as I scroll my way through my photographs looking for a scene I want to draw or paint.  This was the first time I've actually used my time away to focus on painting so I thought I'd share the results with you.  
On the first day we stayed within the grounds of Higham and started our week with a variety of warm up and sketching exercises before moving onto longer paintings later in the day.  I struggled on this day.  For some reason I felt out of place and unsure of myself.  I think my generally grumpy mood was reflected in the work I produced and by the end of the day there was very little that I was happy with.  This little sketch from the morning was one of the few passable pieces of the day.  It was done sitting on the front lawn looking out toward the mountains.  For this particular exercise we were only allowed a limited palette of 2 or 3 colours and maybe that helped focus me on keeping my picture simple.  It was also early enough in the day that I hadn't yet got frustrated and cross with myself.  

On to day 2 and an early night, a fresh sheet of paper and a new location put me in a considerably better mood.  Our morning was spent sketching in several locations in St John in the Vale (I think) looking up towards Blencathra.  I started to enjoy myself here.  This is how I often work when I'm using photos, building up a composition using several different images from around the area, so taking the same approach to building a painting from sketches worked for me.  This is the pastel painting I did in the studio in the afternoon using my sketches.  It's not perfect.  I could do with making the stream wider at the bottom to give a better sense of perspective and I possibly need to focus more on the base of the mountains behind the wall but otherwise I'm pretty happy with this.  It's a lesson in not giving up when you have a rubbish day - things will get better.
The morning of day 3 was spent by Crummock Water.  I found a little spot under a bridge and started with a sketch of the trees hanging over the stream before getting somewhat distracted by pebbles.  I've never managed to paint them under water and I've seen some lovely paintings on line or in galleries where people have got it right.  I figured now was as good a time as any to learn and the rest of my day became dedicated to a study of pebbles.  This piece was done in the studio in the afternoon and it was intended to be an experiment in techniques rather than a finished painting.  I have the finished picture in my head.  It may take a while for me to produce it and when it's done I'll share it with you, but for now I'm quite happy with my experiments and I hope you like them too. 
As we approached the final day I found myself wondering what to do next.  Most the group had something they wanted to continue working on  and I wasn't quite sure how to use my last day.  After some discussion, I decided to come back to the stream that I sketched the previous day before I got distracted by my pebbles.  This is my first ever venture into the world of mixed media and I've got to say I'm hooked.  I started with watercolours in the morning then left them to dry over lunch.  In the afternoon, I got my pastels back out and produced what has to be my favourite picture of the week.  
I met some lovely people at Higham Hall and I found it to be a useful and productive week.  I've come away with a little collection of paintings and hundreds of ideas for more.  Probably my biggest lesson of the week was the value of sketching.  I'm not a dedicated photographer so when I take a photograph to use for a painting, I may only spend a moment or two actually looking at the scene as I point, click and move on.  With a sketch book I may spend 20 minutes or half an hour observing the same scene.  It becomes an almost meditative process (spot the ex Yoga teacher...) as the time is spent contemplating how you might paint it later.  By doing that you see so much more.  I will still use photographs while I'm painting but I will definitely be combining that with a sketch book in future.  Thank you Steve.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Fleet Pond

Fleet pond is Hampshire's largest freshwater lake.  It's located next to the station and along with the surrounding area of heath-land and marshland forms a nature reserve that the residents of Fleet are justifiably proud of.  My parents live a couple of minutes walk from Fleet Pond and my Dad is an active member of the Fleet Pond Society.  When my parents go on holiday I park my car at their house so I can water the garden on my way home from work.  A couple of years ago, as I was walking back to their house after work a rainbow could be seen from the jetty at the end of their road.  I couldn't resist stopping for a few photos thinking that one day, this would make a nice painting.  It's taken me a while to actually paint this.  Rainbows aren't easy and I never quite figured out how I could make it work in watercolour.  In the end, I decided to try with pastels instead and I'm reasonably happy with the results.  It's one of those pictures that I think looks better in real life than it does in a photograph but that's probably a reflection on my photography skills more than anything else.  It took a long time to get the clouds right and once I'd finished the picture, there were several weeks worth of tweaks added before I was happy enough to put it in a frame.  Part of the reason for eventually putting it in a frame was to stop myself from fiddling with it any further as I was in danger of over-doing it.

The jetty wasn't in my original photo as that's where I stood to take my pictures.  I went back another day to take those pictures as I thought it would make for a more interesting picture.  The person with his camera wasn't there either.  Someone did walk past a moment or two after I took my photos and took his phone out of his pocket to try and catch the same picture.  Just as he did that, the rainbow vanished and the rain started.  I decided to rewrite history a little in my painting and allow him the opportunity to arrive a minute earlier and catch the picture.  It was quite a lovely sight and it's a shame he missed out.