'Pond Below Pomeroy Castle' oil on board. Purchase here.
When painting en plein air, it seems only natural to wait for the sun to come out and the sky to clear. On days like those, the Chroma is high and the tonal range is at full stretch from deep, rich darks, to bright, sparkling highlights.
There are still challenges in this environment, and an umbrella to shield your pallet and painting surface from the glare of the sun is a must. But its much more leisurely when the weather is fine.
Sometimes though, its cloudy, sometimes it rains…. OK a lot of the time it does. For me, living in England, rain is intrinsically linked with inhabiting this green and pleasant land, and so it makes sense to paint it when it is characteristically misty, cloudy, and rainy, even in August.
I like the Norwegian outlook "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing" so, with that in mind, I donned my gators and waterproofs and set off for Berry Pomeroy this morning.
I couldn’t get excited by the castle itself so I decided to save my £6.50 and make a pass on entering the wide archway under the portcullis gates and instead picked my way down the narrow and rocky strait that led me into a humid and dripping woodland.
Glimpses of water through the trees to my left led me to the base of the path and onto the grassy waterside banks, accented with purple toad-flax .
I was in search of a vista I saw in an old watercolour by Thomas Girtin 1797.
The water was a rich, dark green and violet with touches of deep oranges and browns, rippling at the surface from the fading rainfall.
The view back toward the castle, high above the face of the water was obscured by a large silver birch, but that didn't matter, I was already too distracted by the Lake and the tall pines that had just revealed themselves as I turned and walked around the banks. The whole area had a wonderful secluded feel to it and offered lots of painting possibilities.
This was a slight dilemma. The pines were not in line with the water – nowhere near, in fact - but I really wanted them in my painting. In this overcast light, the pine trunks seem to gleam in mysterious tones ranging from a light violet grey to a deep purple and orange.
Rather than try to squeeze acres of landscape into my small panel, I moved them to stand behind the section of water that really interested me.
A painting does not have to be a carbon copy of a scene. Often a bad painting is down to bad selection of a viewpoint.
A viewfinder is really handy for focusing and setting up that dynamic and most important of shapes - the four edges of the canvas.
The all-important composition (the placement of objects in a painting) can make or break a work, so as artists we have to consider moving areas, bringing features closer, even transplanting entire forests to achieve this goal.
For me, the strong vertical element provided by the pines was needed to balance the horizontal planes of water and foliage.
When the weather is overcast like this, the tonal range is much narrower, so I began by marking the four edges of the painting within my panel and then blocking in the darks and using the unpainted sections of the board to plot the light areas.
One has to be very careful not to get drawn in by the seemingly bright areas of a scene, the eye can deceive, and adding too much white normally ends in disaster, especially in oils. Its always best to tint up with the next colour analogously instead of merrily dabbing your brushes into the white. On an overcast day like this, much more care is needed.
It is very easy to irreparably destroy a dark area, it is extremely difficult to recover a chalked out area as a result of adding too much white. So it is better to slowly ‘’grow’’ a painting out of the darkness.
As Rubens once said ‘’white is poison to a picture: use it only in highlights’’
If the worst happens, scraping back with a palette knife and wiping the area clean is the only real solution.
In this environment a mid tone can appear very bright since the rest of the scene is in darkness. Placing a tone that is too far away from the narrow scale I am working with will pop out and so should be used very sparingly.
Also, the chromatic effects for each plane (foreground, background mid-ground etc) of the painting are much easier to achieve when the tones are of similar value.
The colour effects at this mid tone range can be really magical and carefully tweaking the greys to push them cooler or warmer or to cause a simultaneous colour effect is a real joy and requires only slight modifications.
The overall triad of orange violet and green (a common combination with landscapes) made up this painting and the few higher chromatic notes really sing when placed in a more subdued setting.