Have been madly busy immediately on my return, slightly frustrating in that I feel I need to do some studio pictures of my trip whilst the memory of the places I have seen are still fresh. An odd thing to say about memories “fresh” like they were bread and if left out they might become stale. What happens I suspect is that your subconscious is working away filing all the experiences and producing a sort of précis of events for permanent recall. In order to do this it dumps all the fine detail!
I gave this a sort of test by looking at a recent photo of a church door in Amboise and then looking at another taken about 10 years ago of a similar subject. For the Amboise one I could recall the feel of the day, and also my own mood very early on a beautiful morning. I could feel again the ambience of a small town preparing for another day, shops taking deliveries, people going to work and the limpid beauty of the light.
For the other in Portugal I could only vaguely recall the day. I had no idea of whether it was morning or evening other only that it was at one end of the day or the other by the light. Also and more importantly no idea of my feelings towards the subject and what made me take the picture. It could have been a picture taken by a stranger.
It is an entirely different matter of course as to whether if I did a painting from each image whether one would have more resonance than the other. We like to think it would, but my calculating side tells me this is probably not so. We all like to feel that our emotions are transferred into the surface of our pictures but the truth is I fear that they are mostly not. You do not have to be sad to paint a sad picture or happy to paint an elysian vision. I am often very motivated by the mood of an image. That does not however mean I am experiencing any particular emotional state as I paint the picture.
As I have written before it is all too easy to believe the exhortations to be “free” and “loose” when painting. I and others enjoy the impression of freedom and spur of the moment vivacity in a picture. I realise however that it does not mean it was necessarily actually done in a free and instinctive manner, it only means that the image has been made to convey that appearance. To quote Degas, “A picture is an artificial work, outside nature. It calls for as much cunning as the commission of a crime.” and also, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters. Of inspiration, spontaneity and temperament I know nothing.”
These are the opinions of a man who perhaps better than anyone else captured the momentary beauty of dancers. He is interesting about memory, “It is very well to copy what one sees; it’s much better to draw what one has retained in one’s memory. It is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.”
I should maybe be more enthusiastic about re-visiting old reference photos for subjects. It irritates me a little when people say working from photos is just copying. If only it were so. Manipulating a photographic image into a decent painting is quite a hard thing to do. Both reality and recorded reality can be a straightjacket. I hit the same problems of what is before you restricting choice when painting plein air, if not more so. Actuality is so much more powerful than the same thing once removed in a photograph.
One thing I am pleased about my recent trip is that the oils are not abysmal as they were the year before. I very nearly didn’t take them at all but was persuaded to by friends. Maybe it is a good idea to give different media a rest now and again to refresh your interest.
A very quick sketch done from a cafe whilst waiting for my meal. Amboise had no shortage of subjects from any position!
Some very quick sketches of people done on the ferry home. I tend to work on several at the same time as they move in and out of position.
It was with some trepidation I set out on my first oil. I chose something simple to warm up! Reflections in the Loire, 10in by 10in.
Next day I attempted something a little more difficult. The Chateaux from the other bank. It was so windy it broke the fitting that goes on to the tripod which I had to repair with a bit of wire I found by the water. For all that it is a magnificent edifice to see across the river I struggled to get a good composition from it. 10in by 14in.
Another very simple scene. This is just the other side of the river to the Chateaux. It was very lovely in the morning light. I tried this again later looking the other way but made a mess of it due to being sozzled from a wine tasting! 10in by 12in.
Getting a bit more confident here. This is the main street in Amboise it looked fantastic against the light in the evening. 10in by 14in.
I got up a 6am to do this. It is very hard to go from unconscious to painting at an ungodly hour. I got most of this blocked in but the light changed so rapidly that I decided it was best to leave it. Had to finish up at home as I dared not work in the hotel room in oils for fear of paint on the carpets! Amboise, the round turret you see is nothing to do with defence, it houses a spiral horse ramp so the Count could ride up into the chateau with no need to dismount. Now that’s what I call luxury! 8in by 10in.
I moved straight on to this one. Again I was outflanked by the changing light but I got in the tower and the key bit of lighting and all the underlying tones. I this sort of situation you have to decide what is absolutely key to get down and what can be left. 10in by 10in. The fixing to the tripod gave up the ghost entirely so that was the end of oils for the rest of the trip. Still I am pleased with the results this time.
This is the Church at Dives sur Mer. This is the church from which Bill the Conquerer set out to England. I really wanted to draw the tree, the church is just a supporting character.
A little corner of Honfleur. Slightly scrappy due to two lagers being consumed to cool down…
Actually done before the previous drawing. Looking 180 degrees in the other direction. I love working with the pen and wash. Such a quick method of getting the subject down. That’s it for France. I still have a couple of very sketchy oils that I might yet complete.
Back in London with the Brass Monkeys. This is Leadenhall Market. The market was closed but I loved the quiet mood. It would be hard to paint in here when the market is on. Pen and wash.
The second from the Market. I am really enjoying the pen and wash.
That’s all for this post. I now have to get down to some studio work!