At last the painting season has truly begun! I have a few painting expeditions in my calendar this year, holidays with friends are lovely, but the painting opportunities are limited. On this trip however I was kindly invited along with members of the Wapping Group to join the East Anglian Group of Marine Artists for a weeks painting in Sennen Cove in Cornwall. The great thing about this sort of visit is that the whole thing is arranged around painting. So many thanks for the invite!
Packing for such trips is always perplexing. What media should I take and how much paper, boards and canvas? Will it rain, blow or be hot as an oven? With these eventualities in mind I usually start a week before, assembling stuff to take on a sofa. By the time the trip is a day away the sofa is creaking with the weight of painting sundries and I am considering hiring a small truck! Severe editing then has to take place… three easels, two must go. Pastels, acrylics and sundry media are discarded. Four pochade boxes of various dimensions, again one is enough! Will I really cover 30 boards and ten canvasses with oil paintings in six days? The canvasses go and half the boards too. Do I need six kinds of watercolour paper? I shall not go on, you get the idea. I was sharing the trip with Steve Alexander of the Wapping Group so two painter’s sundries had to be accommodated in a single vehicle… fortunately Steve paints smaller than I do!
We took a leisurely journey down looking to paint a bit on the way down. The weather looked like it was not going to play fair. Severe storms were forecast and when we got as far as Somerset and arrived at Berrington Hall, where we thought we might paint a bit, we found all National Trust properties were shut in case trees landed on people! Out of sheer stubbornness I did a quick watercolour anyway to cock a snook at the uncooperative elements. Real painters laugh in the face of hurricanes. As is often the case with dramatic weather the light effects were beautiful with sudden breaks in the hurrying clouds allowing the sun to light up swathes of countryside and making fantastic contrasts. All of which is, due to the conditions and the brevity of the effects, hard if not impossible to paint. All you can do is take a few snaps and hope you can remember how it really was. I’ll just start with the paintings this isn’t a travelogue after all.
This is the quick sketch I snatched from our abortive visit to Berrington Hall. The sun was flickering in and out like a strobe light so I had to fix the shadow
patterns in my memory. You can’t really consider composition in such quick paintings so I just try and catch the basics of the scene as directly as possible.
Nonetheless I don’t shortcut the process and do a quick pencil layout to get everything placed correctly. The one thing I do differently to a more leisurely painting
is that I often lay in the darks first and overlay the mid tones and finally do the light tones, the reverse of my usual watercolour process. This is very fast as the
darks establish the structure immediately. The downside is that you have to lay the next two layers very carefully in single strokes so as not to stir up the work
already done. I finally restate the darkest darks, the whole process takes only about 20min at this 7in by 5in size.
The first morning. Having looked at the forecast the best light of the day looked to be early. So full of the joys of spring and fuelled by misplaced confidence
I set out at dawn. This time of day is very often the most beautiful but also the light is changing at its fastest. The only hope is to just set to and paint as fast
as possible, ignoring details and trying to get the basic tones true to what you are seeing. To make the whole thing harder the light on your painting and palette
is far from ideal and the final work if you are not careful can look wrong when seen in good light. To this end it is important to mix your colours using experience
as well as eyesight! If you are mixing Cadmium Red or some other beast of a colour into your tones then caution is advised. This is Sennen looking over to Sunny
Corner Lane. 14in by 10in oils.
After that I went down to the shore and painted this. The light as dawn progresses moves faster and faster so I had only 15 min to splash this in. It is very
rough and ready but combined with a photo it will be invaluable for a watercolour I have planned. 12in by 10in Oils.
Steve and I then set out after breakfast to see what might be painted on what was becoming a grey and rather breezy day. We ended up at the Levant tin
mine which clings to the cliffs near St Just. This is the second painting I did as an oil of the main mine and engine house went horribly wrong! I am much
more likely to miss the target with oils alas as I just don’t have the command over the medium that I have in watercolours. It is something that frustrates me
but the only way to get better is to work at it and accept the catastrophes that inevitably occur. That doesn’t stop me from cussing and moaning though! I did
this to cheer myself up, it only too 15 min or so and is probably the best painting of the trip. Watercolour 1/4 sheet arches Not.
The end of the day looked like this… and the forecast for the next day looked a bit mixed to say the least. This is looking down to Sennen from the window
of Atlantic Lodge where we were staying. 7in by 5in watercolour. I have been using a Liquitex acrylic white marker which is rather useful. It seems to sit better
in the picture that chinese white or gouache and can be washed over to tint it. Here I have used it to put in the buildings and washed over with a soft grey blue.
We headed to St Ives in the hope that should the weather turn bad we could paint from shelter. I had terrible trouble with this. It is not a very “me” subject
too much like the millions of standard seaside boaty views that infest the many galleries in the town. It is quite changed from the original plein air as it was
reworked on a following wet day. As I was with other very experienced painters all tinkering with their minor masterpieces much advice was given! The result
is even less me I’m afraid, though I learnt a fair bit from the process that will help with further efforts. Oil 14in by 10in.
After doing the previous one twice and leaving it unfinished I took advantage of a brief spell of sun to do this sketch. Much happier with this, the
composition has much more going for it. St Ives 7in by 5in watercolour.
Last St Ives one. The weather was deteriorating severely with showers coming in quick succession. As one of these was clearing I did this. The conditions were
very difficult with the wind trying to blow away anything that wasn’t nailed down and flurries of rain interfering with the washes. My palette ended up
completely covered with sand. Still despite the obstacles probably the best of the day. 7in by 5in watercolour.
Last one of the day the clouds cleared for a decent sunset and the light was fabulous for a brief while. This is from Sunny Corner lane looking across
to Sennen Cove. It was terribly windy and I had to grip my pochade with one hand while painting. Oils. 12in by 10in.
The next day was pretty grim. A completely flat grey light. At least the rain had abated so Steve and I set out to Lamorna Cove a popular subject of the
Newlyn School of painters one of whom changed his name to Lamorna Birch… I shall be leaving my moniker alone though as Deptford Rob sounds like
a bank robber not a painter. These outrageous plants whose name I forget were growing by the stream so I painted them as an exercise. Such sketches are
never going to be art, but fun to do nonetheless and technically quite difficult. 7in by 5in watercolour.
It wasn’t worth doing an oil or large watercolour so I contented myself with another sketch. Then the rain started and we headed off a little down cast by
the conditions. 7in by 5in Watercolour.
We headed back via the Levant tin mine where the light had perked up a bit. Not to last alas. 10in by 8in watercolour.
We had a look along the coast as we headed back looking for spots to paint on the following days. This is not far from St Just, the rain was coming in, so done
sitting in the car with the wipers on! Very tricky. 7in by 5in watercolour.
The next day was a washout. 70 mile an hour winds and driving rain. So we all titivated out previous paintings and to fill
in time painted this interior. Great fun to try and paint the subtle flow of light from the window. I must do more interiors
they are rather fun and hard to do. 1/4 sheet watercolour.
There was a lull in the rain so I went out shopping in St Just and went down to Cape Cornwall to see what was there. The sun had come out and lured me
off down the coast path looking for potential subjects. It was still and sunny but I could see a huge squall approaching across the sea. These are the Brisons
which stand out to sea near the cape. On my way back to the car the squall hit and I was nearly blown over by the wind. There is no doubt wild weather is
very trying but it also makes for wonderful moments of light. 7in by 5in watercolour
I told Steve of the delights of Cape Cornwall, so as he was desperate to get out we headed back to catch the last of the light. Far to windy to paint outside
so we worked from the car. As we worked the subject slowly became invisible until Steve muttered, “I can’t see the subject or the painting, or the palette, but
still I paint!” After a fit of the giggles we retreated to the warm and dry. 7in by 5in watercolour.
This is Mousehole, an eye-wateringly pretty fishing village. I am kicking myself now for just painting one of the standard views. I’m afraid I hate the
result. I got it far too busy initially so I simplified it a fair bit once home, I might try and make it work better once dry. I think some coloured glazes both
warm and cool cold unify and make it hang together better. It’s not bad exactly but just boring. I was a bit cast down by this, so the only one of the day.
oils 20in by 12in.
For our last day we went to back to Cape Cornwall. A lovely sunny day. The light was very dramatic and eminently paintable. I got the distance in without
mishap but lost my way slightly with the boats. Once I got it back I could immediately see that the contrasts on the boats was not strong enough so I darkened
the shadows and suddenly the whole thing worked. I don’t think it took more than 5min. It is so easy to miss the obvious when painting plein air due to the
intensity of the involvement required to get the whole thing composed and painted before the light moves on. 14in by 10in oils.
Last one. We moved down the coast a bit and did the Brisons. The light was gorgeous and the sea changing from moment to moment. Steve and I
painted two pictures that could have been from different days, but they were both there briefly! 10in by 8in oils. That’s it I have put in both good efforts
and bad as that is the truth of painting. No matter how long you practice and whatever level of skill you achieve failure is only a breath away!
I wasn’t going to do a travelogue but seem to have done so, ah well never mind…