Friday, 31 December 2010


I was lucky to be able to catch a bit of snow action and am keeping my fingers crossed for more! I think the coldest session was done at about -4 degrees.....that was quite cold enough for me. I don't mind if it's snowing at the time as long as the flakes don't get onto the palette and painting and emulsify everything. Speaking of palettes, this is my current winter selection:

It's quite an 'earthy' mix, suited to the generally overcast conditions and loosely based on the palette used by Ricard Schmid. I've added raw umber and naples yellow as I find them really useful. Here I'm using my small pochade, built by my Dad, which is mounted onto a tripod. In the sicy conditions I found it better standing up to paint as it kept the feet warmer by moving around a bit.

The setup above was used in front of this scene below:

The camera doesn't really show what I saw in terms of colours/tones. For my painting I took a slightly closer view and in some ways I wish I'd had the French easel as I could have done a slightly wider format to get more in. Nevertheless, I got something time to be fussy....

This was done nearby at Passenham, just a 10 minute walk from my house. It was overcast and VERY cold. I'd had enough after about 75 mins and tidied it up for an hour or so in the studio afterwards (once I'd defrosted!). The foreground was tricky because I wanted the eye to move into the distance without being distracted by the bits of undergrowth which, in reality, was more dense than I've depicted

I really made a conscious effort to try and pick up on the colours without making them seem too exaggerated. With the overcast conditions, it's easy to slip into a drab grey mode. I kept saying to myself....don't make it drab, keep the colours clean and fresh. Admittedly, my brush cleaning was a little more undisciplined than usual, owing to the conditions, but I used a large collection of brushes to compensate, swapping them over rather than messing about with too much cleaning.

The next one was just across the road at Calverton. Everywhere else was foggy but the faint sun tried it's best to make a brief appearance before the scene went really dull. Still, I tried to make the most of things and worked on a slightly bigger panel (roughly 8x14in).

Above, blocking in with an earthy mix to set the design in place. I've got the panel propped on a custom platform on the French easel as I find it doesn't stretch high enough when I'm standing up....I wish they made them go higher!!

and the painting....with a cameo from the car with headlights on the right

Finally, this one was done on Boxing day at Sawbridge in Warwickshire. I just drove out from Rugby to 'find somewhere rural'. Annoyingly, it had been glorious sunshine the day before but the clouds returned once more although a few slithers of light did make a short appearance to make things a bit more interesting. I liked the simplicity of the scene and the fact that the sheep looked so brown against the snow. There was a black sheep too which really stood out (I had to tone it down otherwise it would have stood out too much). This was a small 6x8, done standing up so a little fiddly to deal with.

Compare with the photo which doesn't tell the true story!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Blog makeover!

This is the new, shiny 'Blogger' version of the blog which I've now updated with messages from the previous version. Google's Blogger looks pretty neat so hopefully it'll make things a bit easier for everyone, especially when it comes to adding comments and following the blog......hint....nudge...hint :o)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Snow (without sunshine!)

We got off lightly with the snow here in Stony Stratford but I was determined to try to capture something before it all got washed away by the rain. I took a half day off work and nipped out to a local rural spot down the road from where I live (Passenham). It was freezing cold (-2 degrees) and I had to keep an eye on the hands and feet. Thermals were essential. It was overcast but that offers many advantages with the subtle colours and tones. I was keen not to exaggerate the colours and went for harmony as the key objective. I enjoyed the puff of smoke coming from the cottage chimney. This is the result after about 90 mins in the icy conditions!

The following day (Saturday) the forecast was for rain coming in so I thought I'd try to catch the last of the snow before it melted away. Just up the road towards Calverton I found a spot where the snow was clinging on and just as I squeezed the paint out it started raining! Luckily, I had the easel umbrella in the car so I hooked it up and painted like a madman before the light disappeared. Some interesting geometry in the this one and once again it was interesting to focus on the subtle colours and tones. There was an added bonus as the streetlights came on with a slow glow and a few cars with headlight reflections in the wet road. To complete the scene, a walker strolled by towards the end with a nice note of colour in his scarf :o) I only had about 75mins on this one before I was beaten by the light

Monday, 6 December 2010

Meat market with Art Convoy

I recently spent a chilly Sunday painting at a spot down at Smithfield's meat market in London with a group known as Art Convoy who I came across on Facebook. They're a very nice bunch and it makes a refreshing change to be outside painting alongside other fellow artists. Hopefully there will be more outings to come in the future.

The piece I did was an interesting composition with radical shifts of light. I liked the cool light gently filtering in through the skylights in the roof curves. I also thought the puddles helped draw the sky down through the composition. I was conscious of trying to balance those shifts and make sure I got as close as I could with the colour temperatures. The phone boxes offered a bit of a challenge because their intense colour could easily have stole the show. Hopefully I got the balance somewhere near the right sort of level, tempered with a touch of viridian and ultramarine to knock it back slightly. It was great to see how the other artists approached the same subject. The somewhat 'unifinished' look I attribute to the grittier nature of the subject :o)

Compare my study with the photo below. Those telephone boxes don't half scream at you which is why I toned them down by adding Viridian. Notice too how the lights are totally bleached out by the camera. This is one of the reasons I much prefer painting directly from the subject. Couple that with the fact that I find working from photos a pretty dull affair. The energy of the moment is what guides me. I find the camera often kills the subject but it can be handy for reminders of details.

HMS Belfast

I recently managed a visit to London and thought I'd head for Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast (something I've fancied painting for a while). I was limited with the kit I could carry so had to keep the scale reasonably small with the pochade (as opposed to French easel). It was a grey day but I find grey days can offer just as much if not more interest, especially in terms of colour which isn't cast into deep shadow or bleached out by the sun. To add a bit of spice to the challenge, HMS Belfast is painted with camouflage colours which make it blend with the there's a nice little painterly problem to solve.

It was more detailed than I imagined but I still tried to simplifiy things down. I didn't want to end up with a technical maritime piece...more a study of the subtle tone and colours. Hopefully I got some way was cold though...the November wind really funnels along the Thames!

Monday, 15 November 2010

ROI 2010

I'm really pleased to have had three paintings accepted into the Royal Institute of Oil Painters 2010 exhibition. Two snow scenes and a small summer twilight study got in! It always proves to be a top show and opens with a private view on December 7th.

Norfolk, Bath and a few more

I've been trying to get out with the pochade/easel whilst the weather's been half decent. I managed to get a few pieces done along the north Norfolk coast recently (see Gallery 1 in the Gallery), together with a few done at the opening weekend on the The Bath Prize (Gallery 3 in the Gallery). Yesterday I popped to London and did a little study along the Thames which I'll post up once it's dry enough to photograph!

Recent ones I really enjoyed:

Above - Birch trees painted on Kelling Heath in Norfolk just over a week ago. Couldn't resist the white bark against the autumn colours. It was interesting to do because it needed a good deal of concentration to simplify the shapes and colours without getting bogged down in any detail. The sun kept coming in and out too which made it tricky!

Above, Blakeney in November! Didn't even need the thermals :o)

Above, Weybourne looking inland from the pebble beach on a grey day. Lovely subtle colours to work with and the added bonus of the Sherringham steam train passing in the distance....a nice stroke of luck

Friday, 8 October 2010

Golden umbrella!

A picture of me, my painting and the 'Golden umbrella' I received at The Bath Prize (no, it wasn't raining inside). Thanks to Adebanji, last year's plein air award winner and one of thi-s year's judges, for taking the shot!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Bath Prize winner!

Chuffed to discover I'd won 2 prizes at the Bath Prize. It was great to be at the prize giving on Friday and meet all the artists. I entered 7 plein air pieces in total and won 'Best Plein Air' with this piece:

Rainy day down Broad Street (oil on board, plein air)

and this one won 'Best Small Painting':

Sharp Showers, Laura Place (oil on board, plein air)

Funny how both the ones done in the pouring rain did so well! Thankfully I had my easel umbrella. In recognition of battling with the elements I was also awarded the amusingly titled 'golden umbrella'!

Personally, I think there's a strong swell of plein air painting emerging in this country. It's about time we showed what we can acheive. It was great to see artists such as Adebanji Aladeand Roy Connelly there, both of whom are highly skilled plein air artists.

The show is on at the Octagon in Bath until October 9th. Well worth a visit if you can get to Bath with loads of top quality works based on Bath. Here's my other entries for the show:

Looking down on London Road (oil on board, plein air)

Roman Baths from Swallow Street (oil on board, plein air)

Evening light, Lansdown Road (oil on board, plein air)

Camden Crescent (oil on board, plein air)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Amongst the veg

I really like the allotments at Wing. It's one of the few plots that has public access running through it and there are some nice distant views of the Aylesbury Vale. I could think of worse places to grow your onions. This painting focused on a single plot on a cloudy day so the light was cool and steady.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Too good to eat...

Back to Whaddon

This spot caught my eye and the sunset was quite hazy. This meant I could look at it without being blinded by the sun too much! I painted the ground first and waited until the sky became a bit more interesting.

Friday, 16 July 2010


I was keen to do a small, wide format of the view from Whaddon at twilight, whilst the fields were nice and ripe. It was quite a challenge to get the balance of colours and values. As ever, the light seemed to change almost every time I looked up but the hardest part was getting the sky colours to read sensibly as paint. I found I didn't need to actually paint the sun as bright as it is (which would be impossible anyway!) by controlling the colours around it.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Paint till the cows come home....

End of the day, warm sunlight, itching to get out and paint, thought it would be a nice challenge to paint the moving cows and fading light! Actually, it was fun, high energy stuff. Rough round the edges, perhaps a little crude but who cares! Soaking up the moment, that's what it's all about. Check out the strokes in the grass.

 ...and as this pair of curious moos came towards me I couldn't resist....

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Summer evening

After the hustle and bustle of London it's nice to get out amongst the fields and enjoy the fresh air. This was a quick one as the light kept changing evey few minutes. It was looking west from Whaddon in Bucks and I stumbled across it after heading out in the car from Stony Stratford. I tried to keep in mind a particular cloud structure otherwise I'd have ended up repainting it several times. I liked the heavy clouds contrasting against the warm light and the yellow flowers offered some nice interest in the foreground. I tried my best to keep the colours clean/fresh whilst working fast. The yellow flowers were mainly painted before the grass so they retained their colour strength and didn't get 'infected' by the surrounding green.

I used a small 6x8 textured linen panel, kindly given to me by my artist friend Karl Terry. Nice surface to work on and not too absorbent (unlike a other kinds of textured panels). I thought it would be peaceful but it was right next to a sheep station and they made a heck of a din. Still, at least there weren't any cockerels!!

Monday, 7 June 2010

Inspired by London

I've recently become interested in London and what it has to offer in terms of light and architecture. It lends itself well to 'tonal' painting which I seem to veer towards. I took the week off work and spent 4 days in the capital last week. It was great! Really hot and the heavy backpack was a bit of a burden but it was well worth the effort.

I made a point of indentifying potential locations in advance so that I wouldn't expend too much energy searching around for a subject. First off, I hit the area around Bank and the Royal Exchange, following in the footsteps of my 'hero' Ken Howard!

I was lucky to be there on a Bank holiday when all the city workers were away. This one was done round the corner opposite the Bank of England...

The drawing is deceptively complex but there's no time to dither. After doing quick thumbnail sketch in my sketchpad to work out the basic coposition I want I go straight in with a thin wash to map out the position of the key elements. Then it's a question of establishing relationships...colour, tone etc. I try to get in the zone where I forget what I'm painting and see it in more abstract terms, attempting to pull things together to make a coherent whole. I really enjoyed painting these and will certainly be back for many more.

Tower bridge

This was a roasting hot day but I knew the light would be good in the afternoon. The first one was done at about 3pm and because of the full sun the colours were quite strong. I've seen Ken Howard paint from this sort of position and wanted to give it a go myself. I was quite conscious of making the composition asymetrical despite there being a strong inherent symmetry to the twin towered bridge

I was really roasting after the first painting but on my way back I bumped into 3 guys from the Wapping Group who were out painting from a spot a bit closer to the bridge. The light was getting quite interesting and I decided to seize the moment and paint alongside fellow artists! It was a good decision. Really enjoyed it, despite feeling a little jaded.

The scene became almost monochromatic as the sun moved round but I stuck with the initial impression I got at the start otherwise I would have ended up painting a new scene over the old one! The key to getting the light to register on the water was to pitch the general tone of the river low enough to contrast against it.

Hammersmith bridge

This was my third day of the week down in London. Once again it was roasting hot but after a bit of time surveying the area I found a nice spot that was semi shaded. I wanted a composition that would make the most of the thrusting geometry created by the bridge and was fortunate that the light was good.

The painting was done at about 1pm and I got some positive comments from passers by. Even though the sun was high it moved quickly and the shadow cast under the bridge changed it's position quite dramatically as I worked. As with the other paintings, I made sure the canvas was turned away from the sun so that I didn't have direct sun shining on the surface. This can skew your value judgements and you end up overcompensating, making darks darker than they should be. I was pleased with the result and hope to do a bigger version at some point. I might return to the spot with a larger canvas to start things off.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Evening light

I love those warm, clear summer evenings when the landscape is bathed in the fast fading sunlight. This little study was done in some nearby field by the road just outside the village of Castlethorpe. I had to work at lightning speed. The scene seemed to change every 5 minutes. It was a bit of a frenzy but I really enjoyed the challenge of it all. I tried to be as decisive about the colours/tones as possible so that I didn't have to keep revising what I'd put down. This helps keep things clean and fresh (to a point, anyway). After 25 minutes or so the sun had moved from one side of the tree to the outside of the other!

I'm hoping to work up a bigger version based on this one back in the studio. I actually find that much more difficult as I don't have the energy of the subject to feed off. My mark making and colour mixing are more instictive when working on location. Nevertheless, I think I'll still give it a go as the subject is so enticing.

Friday, 23 April 2010

More sketches

A few recent sketches. I much prefer the small, rapid studies but sometimes I get pulled back into more detail. My ultimate aim is to aim for the essence of the moment captured with a burst of intense focus. Can be hit and miss but full of energy!

 (Another lunch hour mini sketch from the refectory at work)

 (Trafalgar Square in a matter of minutes!)

 (lunch hour study of a street in Woburn Sands)

and then the usual stuff I get drawn into sometimes...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Me and my scarf

Funny how a small prop can add a new dimension to an image. I love the way artists like Sargent used scarves and collars to make dynamic compositions. I can assure you these drawings aren't motivated by vanity :o)

The kind of drawings I actually prefer doing these days are the rapid, 'snatched' moments where I don't get much time to think. It's all about being aborbed in the here and now, focused, uninhibited by doubt or hesitation. Who was it who said 'Our doubts are our traitors'? The results can be hit and miss but the process is far more rewarding

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Saturday stream

Managed to get out into the sunshine on Saturday and painted a nearby stream which feeds into the Ouse. It was cold but so nice to be outdoors amongst the elements. A little furry creature swam across the water a couple of times but I'm not sure what it was. It didn't seem to mind me hanging around for a while anyway.

I liked the lines/shapes of the overhanging branch and reflections. The sun kept popping in and out which made it tricky but sometimes you have to rely on a bit of memory. The key is to observe with intent so that you have the information safely tucked away! This isn't something I've mastered but practicing is certainly the best way to improve. Anyway, here's the pics....

 and here's the furry friend....