Congratulations on winning Heat 6 of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2019! What was the experience like painting at the Drake’s Island?
Thank you very much! The whole experience of being filmed and interviewed was surreal and winning my heat was obviously very exciting and rewarding. I didn’t have time to feel particularly nervous, it’s more adrenaline than anything else, especially once the painting started.
I must admit, on arrival, it was very grey, the low morning cloud and rain made Drakes Island look very nebulous. If I had been out on my own that day, I might have moved on, or waited for it to clear.
The temptation was to paint something on the shore below but that came with the risk of missing any developments if the sky cleared, so I decided to stick with it, and I’m glad that I did.
I’m used to painting outdoors, so keeping glare off the painting and palette is paramount, but it often means wrestling with an umbrella which has a tendency to double up as a kite, so I felt very spoilt to have the comfort of a sheltered, dry, level platform to paint from, complete with food and drink deliveries!
It was a great day and the production team made me feel very at ease.
The judges loved your use of tone in the painting and you were able to restrain yourself enough to not overwork the sky and leave some canvas coming through. Could you talk us through how you approach tone in a work?
That’s great. OK, well this is a favourite topic of mine, so I’ll try not to go on too much.
If I can just clarify what I refer to as a tone, for the benefit of your readers:
Strictly speaking, I tend to think of tone as the degrading of a colour/hue, by mixing a compliment (its polar opposite on the colour wheel) to create what is known as a chromatic grey. A pure tone, or chromatic grey, would be the visual mid-way point between, say, an Orange and a Blue (this makes a mysterious gem like green!). The number of colours, and therefore tones, is infinite.
The fascinating part of painting, for me, is the way colour interacts – one colour changing the characteristics of another, simply by its proximity. This is the sort of thing that I concern myself with in a painting, so it’s very encouraging that the judges picked up on it.
Chromatic greys can be really useful in serving to punch up the original colours they were mixed from. The chromatic mix of blue and orange (the rare jewel, mentioned above) is used in places on Drakes Island, with the aim of complimenting the blue in the sky, for example.
I usually mix 3 pools of colour that work in a harmony (a triad, as seen on a colour wheel) for example: orange/violet/green with the intention of adding small accents belonging to an opposing triad which, for this example, would be: yellow/red/blue.
Once I have taken my best guess of the local or overall colour and value for a given area, I think about modifying it by employing some of the contrasts of colour: cool/warm, saturation, dark/light, the use of compliments, and so on (7 in total).
I also try to think in terms of pictorial planes (foreground, middle ground background plus smaller planes within each.) and when working within a given plane, I aim to keep the overall value and saturation consistent when applying other colour contrasts. This normally prevents any unwanted popping out or sinking in from where it should be, visually.
Another challenge for me is to try and guide the viewer, tonally, through the painting, from one plane to another. For example: The same pool of orange is used for the near shore and middle shoreline with a final, faint accent on the far hills, all with only slight tonal changes.
As the sky opened up and the sun started to shine through, I was able to use the extremes of cool and warm (blue and orange/yellow). A bit of loose brush work, and the use of fingers as well – less is more. This approach normally means that the (yellow ochre stained) panel is left exposed beneath, which takes on a warm glow of its own.
And do you have any favourite paints that your return to time and again? And what other materials are essential to your work?
My favourite paints in terms of makers, is Old Holland and Michael Harding because they are just pure pigment and linseed oil without any fillers and they have a nice buttery consistency.
I pretty much use the same 12-14 colours for everything (3 each of the primaries plus black and white, raw umber, burnt sienna, Genuine Terre Verte). I like the challenge of mixing secondary colours, as opposed to buying them (orange/green/violet). I feel I’m learning more that way.
A palette knife is essential for mixing and testing colour.
A grey or ochre or some sort of wash on the painting surface before I start is crucial. Judging colour against a bright white gesso is nigh-on impossible.
A 50/50 mix of turps and poppy seed oil is quite important.
Rags are a must!
Long handled Chungking brushes – generally filberts and rounds and a few flats are my go to and I really don’t mind synthetic brushes either. I like having lots of brushes!
I also work on panels or boards and love the smooth texture of a finely sanded, hide glue and chalk gesso prepared board as opposed to a canvas.