I am trying to turn a few on the spot sketches into studio paintings. Rather oddly in a long life of painting things it is something I have done very little of… studio time has been for the clients, out and about sketching time for me. The modern aesthetic rather leans towards the sketch and that’s no bad thing IMO. It’s good that the vivacious beauty of the on the spot study are appreciated properly now. Still I feel the pendulum has maybe turned a little too far from the more finished work. Although a plein air sketch has many charms it is inevitably a hostage to the conditions and time frame in which it was produced. Its strengths: freshness, directness and vivacity are counterbalanced with a cursive shorthand quality and very often a certain crudeness of execution. In short a location sketch might tend to be a “quick look” and a studio work a longer more leisurely “long look”. There is always in art a requirement on the viewer to make the effort of appreciation. Hopefully it is possible to paint something that works for a quick glance and also a longer look. Also with painting the surface texture, the handling of the paint , never mind it’s colour or tone count for a fair bit… a lot of things to juggle no wonder this painting thing is so tricky.
Here is a sketch done in appalling conditions, cold, wet windy, my easel weighed down with a rock on a rope. I frequently had to take refuge in the car as the rain swept horizontally down the valley. So in the end I painted this in mad dashes between squalls. I remember a family of kagool enswathed walkers toiling past me with depressed, mobile signal deprived teenagers bringing up the rear and stoically hearty parents striding out ahead.
Here is the studio version. I strove to keep the whole thing fresh and not over work. All the initial laying in was done from the sketch. Only when everything was established did I look at the photo ref taken at the time. Somehow if you begin with the photo ref it dominates and it is surprisingly hard to deviate from it. The photo however showed delicious subtleties in the distant hills and trees, that time and conditions would have made very hard to capture in the sketch. But none the less I don’t think this painting would have been half as good without the plein air to inform it. Though when my nice tweed cap blew into the wet paint on my palette I wondered why I bothered.
Here is another case, but back to front as it were… just to undermine my own theories. This is a plein air sketch of Newport bay, there was delicious soft light that gave me plenty of time as it was only changing slowly. Everything was laid in with one pass and not returned to. I assure you very few sketches I attempt proceed with such comfort. But I think it shows, it is unfussy, direct and gives a real feeling of the place and day.
Here is the same scene on a very different day. I would urge all landscape painters to return frequently to the same scene to paint, you will always, I think, find something new. Here it is all crisp light and slanting sunlight as against the diffuse softness of the previous painting. This one was started on the spot, but although in this direction it looks idyllic behind me a storm was brewing and my work was cut short. I then went back to base and completed it from a photo displayed on my laptop. Modern technology is a wonderful thing!
Lastly a random gratuitous allotment painting done in about an hour while the rest of the world was watching the World Cup.