Don’t worry about the title nothing racy is ever likely to appear here! As is usual this time of year I join other painters to explore and paint a bit of France. Going on a painting trip always requires setting some sort of limits to medium and size. I wanted to be especially lightweight this year so all the paintings are quite small. Our destination was Pont Aven where Gauguin and other miscreants hung out and painted. It is a small town built on a narrow inlet with a small tidal port. Plenty of subjects from boaty stuff to old buildings and rushing streams. After such a long gap in painting I was a little unsure of how I would perform. You always imagine bouncing out of the hotel door on the first morning and dashing off a masterpiece in gorgeous light. The reality this time was flat grey and drizzle! The only real colour was the occasional blue boat.
To avoid the issue of this less than beguiling set of conditions I took out my pens and drew stuff. I always find it odd that although a flat grey day might still look lovely, actually translating it on to board or paper is very hard. For a start the tones are much more subtle. Contrasts are subdued. This means your mixing and assessment of tone needs to be more accurate than on a sunny day. Also deciding the key or the range of tone from dark to light is, I find, distinctly tricky. Key is a matter of choice. You merely set the darkest dark and the lightest light and all the other tones must fall between these two extremes. If you set the range from full white to darkest black it will have a very different feel than if you set the range from pale grey to mid grey.
This is, I am well aware, a weak area in my oil painting. With the best will in the world the temptation to darken or punch up areas is almost irresistible. Nonetheless I feel I made a little progress, though I rather regretted the decision to only take small boards. Still on with the paintings good and not so good!
On day two I set out to explore down stream. As always finding a subject was far from easy. The path by the water was wooded and only offered teasing glimpses of possible scenes. In the end I settled on this view from a large boulder which had I felt interesting compositional possibilities. Here is where plein air makes the whole thing more difficult. There was no room to set up my tripod so I had to paint sitting crouched down with my pochade on my knee. There was the added frisson of danger in the distinct possibility of toppling off into the water 20ft below! With the best will in the world delicate accuracy was not on the cards so I tried to keep it simple. I could only manage an hour at this as it got very uncomfortable. Oils 7in by 10in.
After walking a long way looking for possible paintings I came back to Pont Aven and did this tiny 5in by 7in. More of a quick note than a painting. I felt the scene had possibilities with the dramatic silhouette of the roofs and trees. The key thing here was to get the foreground dark enough. I always make an aperture by curling a finger and thumb and then flick between the sky and a light area in the landscape. Depending on the intensity of light you will get a stronger or weaker “kick” in the brightness as you flick between the areas. This tells you perhaps that the water, despite looking to the eye a similar tone to the clouds, is in fact considerably darker. The brain often doesn’t pick up on these differences as it adjusts and processes the image to aid clarity. However if we paint as the brain perceives then when we later look at our painting a double adjustment occurs as the brain appies the same filter to our painting as it had to the actual scene. Oils 5in by 7in.
When visiting an area I can never resist galloping off in every direction trying to take in a bit of everything. I had bought a large scale map and spotted this small chapel which looked interesting. A bit of a climb up the hill it is called Chapelle de Tremalo. We actually had a moment of sunlight and everything looked gorgeous as as I set up. I lifted my brush up to the board and the sunlight vanished as if flicking a switch and never came back. What had been a colourful scene immediately became titled “An Arrangement in Grey”! I resisted trying to paint a sunny version and only punched up the tone of the path a little. At least the overhanging trees gave some variation of light and shade. 10in by 7in Oils.
As planned I returned to the scene of the little 7in by 5in and did this larger version. I kept the greens very subdued by adding lots of red. I have recently been using Quinacridone Magenta for this as it doesn’t add any unneeded yellow. While I was painting it began to drizzle and I rather liked the way it washed out the distance. 10in by 7in Oils.
In my next post I will deal with the drawings and watercolour stuff but this was a scene I had already painted in watercolour. I wanted to do it in oils too so as to see the difference. The subject also had the attraction of being able to sit under some thick trees that kept the rain off. 10in by 6in Oils.
I fancied a change of mood so I set off upstream along the banks of the river Aven. About a half mile along I found this quiet backwater. Even harder here to keep the greens under control. We seem to see greens brighter than they actually are. Here I took the precaution of getting a few leaves and sticking them to my palette. It is amazing how dull and brown they are in reality. Painters often forget that if you are unsure of a tone you can actually take the painting to the object to check you are getting the tone and colour right. People often get foregrounds far too bright. If you lay your painting on the actual ground surface you will see very quickly if you have got anything wrong. The rest of the day I toiled up stream and walked back a circuitous route through the forest. Nothing really took my eye so this was the only daub of the day. 10in by 7in Oils.
Pont Aven again. I can never resist showing how beauty spots really are after being liberally garnished with shiny metal cars. Many artists avoid them, but in a few decades I suspect they will look as quaint as horses and carts! Quite a hard bit of drawing made harder by the flat light, by this time I had almost forgotten what sunshine and shadows looked like. 10in by 7in Oils.
Another one of the town. 10in by 7in Oils.
I did this little oil in-between doing a pen drawing of Pont Aven’s famous waterwheel. Another tiny 7in by 5in.
We moved next to Villerville near Honfleur. Now the rain really set in and the greys started to merge. I wiped off the first of the day which was of the town church, not because it was particularly wrong it was just dull and I was running low on boards. The sea gave more possibilities and despite the rain running down my neck I enjoyed doing this. Very hard to get sky sea and land in the right tonal relationship. 10in by 7in Oils.
After eating the tide retreated enough to do this. Just 15 min on a tiny 7in by 5in. Oils.
Last one. A way down the beach we came across these wartime defences that had tumbled on to the beach. I had run out of boards but Robbie Murdock kindly gave me this 10in by 8in. It rained throughout but I enjoyed painting it immensely. Oils
That’s it for oils drawings to come.