Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Associate Membership of the ROI

I'm absolutely delighted to have been made an Associate member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters! Standards are very high so it's a real honour to be elected. I'm really looking forward to being a part of the society. The annual ROI exhibition is always a great spectacle and this year was no exception. So many great paintings on was a real treat. The ROI paint evening is held during the exhibition and provides the opportunity to paint portraits with members in the main gallery. Many people come along to watch the artists in action and enjoy the atmosphere. It was a great night and I enjoyed painting the ROI president Peter Wileman who was one of the sitters.

Below are my 4 paintings that were accepted into this year's exhibition, along with a few of shots of the paint evening held during the exhibition. Looking forward to lots more painting action in 2012 :o)

Punt Station, Magdalen Bridge (Oxford),  oil on panel - SOLD

High Sun, Sennen Cove (10x13, oil on panel)

Sunrise, Onley (6x8 - oil on panel)

Kelling Birch (9x10, oil on panel)

Action from the paint evening

Tim King paints alongside members Lucy Mckie and David Curtis

Adebanji Alade, enjoying every moment!

My portrait setup, flanked by newly elected full member Tim Benson (left) and David Newens

My finished portrait of ROI President Peter Wileman!

Monday, 19 December 2011


I've recently returned from a fabulous few days painting with friends in Venice. We were there for 5 nights and there were 11 of us hitting the streets. It's an amazing city and I very much hope to return for some more easel action. To be honest, almost everywhere you look there's amazing subject matter. The architecture, light, water and general atmosphere....all incredible!

We were quite lucky with the weather. A bit of rain here and there but not too bad considering it's December. It seems a good time of year to visit because there are less tourists. In the hot summer months with crowded streets and bridges I can imagine it would be much more difficult to find a painting pitch. You soon get used to the idea of using boats and footpaths to get around. In fact, it's suprising how normal it feels after a few days. Certianly didn't miss the presence of the motor night there's a blissful silence in the air...just the sound of lapping water! Speaking of the water, it has a unique milky green colour (as described by fellow painting friend Tim King). Even on grey days it veers towards this green. Lovely!

Anyway, here are some of the studies I made. I'll call them studies because some appear quite sketchy. With the weather, light and crowds there's not much scope for doing anything too detailed. I was more interested in trying to get the basic tones and colours to work rather than getting hooked up on architectural detail (much easier said than done!). That said, the architecture does demand a lot of focused attention and subjects like the Basilca (St Mark's church) are a real challenge at 8am in the morning! I found my new Open Box M kit very easy to use and it's very lightweight for carrying on the plane (we had a 20kg weight limit to hit). I had some hassle at airport security getting my paints through the hand luggage checkpoint, despite having a letter of clearance to do so from Easyjet. After a rather heated exchange with the airline my paints were eventually checked into the hold, along with the rest of my hand luggage. Lesson learned.....never take paints in the hand luggage...whatever the airline tells you!

I'll post a few more paintings and action shots from the trip in the near future. I did 14 panels in total. Some need a bit of tidying up but I don't like to fiddle with them too much in the studio. I'd rather start a new study and use the original as reference.

San Giorgio chuch from Dogana

St Mark's in the rain

St Mark's, cloudy early morning

La Salute, across the Grand Canal from the Gondala station

Colleoni's statue, against teh light

La Salute from the foot of the Accademia bridge

La Salute, from the Accademia bridge

Grand Canal, from the foot of the Rialto (where Sargent stood!)

San Giorgio and Doge's palace, rainy morning

Painting on the Accademia bridge

Sporting a Scott of the Antarctic look in St Mark's Square

Monday, 14 November 2011

ROI annual exhibtion 2011

I was delighted to discover I've had the maximum of four paintings accepted into this years Royal Institute of Oil Painter's annual exhibition. The standards are high and the selection panel was made up of ROI members whom I greatly admire so that made it even more satisfying! This will be my 6th consecutive year in the ROI show and it opens on December 6th at the presitgious Mall Galleries in central London. I was also pleased to hear that the 3 other members of the Plein Air Brotherhood who submitted work also got accepted. Well done to Roy Connelly, John Dobbs and Adebanji Alade. Congratulations to my friend Tim King who also got work accepted.

The current ING Discerning Eye show at the Mall Galleries is well worth a visit. I really enjoyed the range of work with a mix of contemporary and more traditional approaches and subject matter. Round the corner at the National Gallery the queues for the Da Vinci show were unbelievable....snaking and doubling up around the building's perimeter! I'll have to try and work out when might be the quietest time to go and see that one. The Degas show at the Royal Academy is also on my 'must see' list.

The virus that gave me vertigo and hearing problems has come back again and I've been out of easel action for a while as a result. I hope to have some pictures to post once things settle down and I can get a bit of painting done, not least to try and get back into the groove before heading out to Venice for several days painting with friends in a few weeks time. Very excited about that :o)

Friday, 28 October 2011

A few from north Norfolk

I recently spent a relaxing few days on a holiday with my parents on the north Norfolk coast. It was much needed having spent the last few weeks stuck at home. I wasn't too sure if I'd be able to do much painting but the sea air seemed to give me a boost, along with the fine weather! Over the 4 days it was mostly sunny and there were even some surfers braving the cooler temperatures (I think it was 11 degrees that day) at Cromer.

Being slightly out of peak season meant it was less crowded and easier to get about and park. This is my third outing along the north norfolk coast and I'm starting to get a feel for the place in terms of painting. It's not just about the views, there's the time of day, type of light and tidal patterns to consider amongst other things. The great thing about going back to familiar areas is that you don't waste lots of time trying to hunt around for subject matter that sparks and interest. For me, that spark has to be there otherwise it's difficult to connect with the moment.

I managed to get six pieces done. They might need a bit of tidying up but I thought I'd post them fresh from the easel (or pochade box!). I've posted them in the order they were painted

 Cley Mill from the bridge (west side) 10x9in

I liked the slightly unsual view of the famous windmill and Cley-Next-The-Sea. My first plein air effort for several weeks! I enjoyed working with the subtle variations of colour and tone in the reeds and trying to gently steer the eye through them towards the windmill.

Cromer pier, morning light (11x14in)

This was the next morning in Cromer. The pier is a great feature of the sea front and the colours of the sea made for an interesting study. I was working from an elevated position and standing in the shade of the buildings behind me (this made it rather cold!). I put a couple of surfers in at the very least to show they were there! I liked the way the sun lit up the pier and the rusty legs on which it stands. This contrasted nicely with the deep, intense blue of the distant water (yes, it really did seem that blue!). The tide moved quickly and by the end of the session the beach had disappeared.

Cley Mill, 10x22in

This was done in the afternoon (on the same day as the Cromer piece). I almost went back to base camp but the light was too good to resist. On a previous trip I'd painted from a similar position but was disappointed with the end result. Having learnt a few lessons (and making mistakes can often be the best way of doing this) I was happier with the outcome this time, not leaast because I opted to work on quite a large (for me) canvas using the French easel. It was that last 1.5 hours of sunshine so the light shifted fast. It's quite hard balancing the tones when the colour temperatures contrasts are so striking but I think I got away with it. I might tidy this up a bit or leave it as is and use it as a colour study for a studio piece.

Morston, 11x14in

This was the only painting from day 3. It was a greyer day and the photo seems to have distorted the lights and darks a bit but hopefully it gives idea. The light kept popping in and out and I tried to catch the light on the foreground boat in an 'out' moment. I liked the vertical contrast of the wooden mooring posts and the red sail came up as a bonus about half way through the painting. Thank you whoever was sailing that vessel :o) I was actucally sat on a mooring platform like the one painted and had to be careful not to drop any brushes otherwise they would have dropped through the wooden planks into the thick mud below!

Beached vessel, Brancaster Staithes (11x14in)

I really enjoyed painting this one. An unsual composition just begging to be painted. As with the others, it was pretty cold so thermals were needed along with the trusty hat with built in ear muffs. Brancaster Staithes is a great place to paint, along with the nearby Burham Overy Staithes. I find it better painting boats out of the water as they don't move so much. The ones in the water seem to constantly spin around in the tidal movements!

Autumn light, Blakeney (6x8in)

This was a little bonus study I was able to do on the last day of my break. It was trickier than I imagined as it was a small panel and the light/water were moving at a fast pace. Just enough time to get the essentials down. The building on the right was actually further away from the boat but I moved it closer to give a sort of L-shaped or triangular composition. The angles of the masts bring a nice set of dynamic lines to the piece. Not more than 45 mins on this one.

A great place to paint and hopefully I'll be back there again sometime soon.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Getting mobile

Bit of a techie post this one but it's hopefully of some use/relevance to anyone with an art website. I've been becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that the gallery on my website is a Flash based solution and that meant it wouldn't work on a number of mobile devices ( e.g ipad).This could become quite a problem as more and more people are getting connected with hand held devices and I have indeed have a number of people mention that they can't view the site so well on their handheld devices. Gone are the days where a website developer just needed to worry about whether a site worked in just a handful of browsers. We now have to be mindful of the plethora of hardware being used too!

I actually use Slideshowpro (which I rate very highly) for my gallery so I decided to see if I could get things properly 'mobilised'. After reviewing the options I also decided it was best to rework the main theme for the whole website at the same time so that it would all display in a better way on mobile devices. I won't bore you with the technical stuff but will mention that I'm now using SlideshowPro Director which is an excellent content management application that makes gallery authoring MUCH easier. It also has an HTML5 viewer which the user can see if they're on a mobile device. The switch between the HTML5 and Flash viewers is automatically handled, depending on the device being used. It does take a bit of setting up but I think it's worth the effort. I don't mind paying a relatively small fee for these types of products because they make the development and maintenance of the website so much easier and efficient. In the long run, less time working on the website means more time at the easel :o)

In terms of creating an overall mobile theme for the site I would thoroughly recommend using the Opera mobile emulator which you can install on your computer and use to simulate your site being viewed on a range of mobile devices. I've tried to get the theme to reorganise page content into a single cascading column for mobile devices. Since I'm using Blogger as my blog I've had to comprimise slightly on the mobile view as it doesn't include the top navigation. Apart from that it seems to generally hold up. If you are using Blogger and switch to the new Blogger interface you'll find that you can set a mobile theme for your blog. I'm using the 'custom theme' option which tries to adapt your main theme into something sensible on a mobile device. Alternatively you can just use one of Blogger's preset mobile themes but it may not match the look and feel of your website if you connect the two up (as I do).

Sorry to overload on technical detail but hopefully it's useful info. If anyone does happen to view my site/blog on a mobile do let me know how you get on with it. There may well be a few creases that still need ironing out :o)

Friday, 7 October 2011

Down but (hopefully) not out

Well, I've been ill with a virus for the last month or so and am still trying to shake the darn thing off. I suppose that dampens the spirits somewhat. Not being able to paint has been a frustration too and I wasn't fit enough to get anything entered for the Bath Prize. Disappointingly, I've also just found out all 4 entries I put in for the New English Art Club's annual open weren't accepted. Bit of a blow that one. The entries are shown below:

The seascape (Porthchapel cove, Cornwall) is an acrylic, a plein air piece with a touch of studio tweaking done on paper with a canvas texture. The rest are all oil 'plein airs' but the Oxford one needed a bit of studio attention to tidy it up too.

It does knock the confidence a bit but there's no doubt there's stiff competition when entering these things. I suppose that's the problem when you don't get're left wondering 'why?'. As artists we have to take setbacks on the chin and press on regardless, otherwise we'd just grind to a halt I suppose. Maybe the answer is to get straight back on the horse....or should we invest energy in taking stock and reflecting on these things? Onwards and....well...onwards anyway :O)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Head spin

I've not posted for a while, primarily as I'm currently laid up with a nasty little virus that causes vertigo/sickness and a few other things. I think the worst thing is the vertigo though which, at its worst, makes you feel like you're on a horrible fairground ride that you can't get off...even when you're lying still. Sheeesh, all down to some little blighters in the inner ear apparently! Anyway, thought I'd try posting something because daytime TV is driving me nuts!! Here's a little evening study I did about 12 days ago after work as the light was fading. The cows were all gathered round at the start but by the time I'd finished they'd disappeared, along with the sun. I barely got 30 minutes on this little 6x8 but it was still worth it, I think!

Admittedly, it lacks detail and refinement but I was more interested in quality of light and judging the tones/temperatures. Let's call it a sketch...yes...that's what it is. If you squint at it the basics do seem to hold together. Couldn't really expect much more in half and hour or so I guess. I think it might have been Ken Howard who said that the best paintings can seem to emit their own light. Not an easy thing to do with pigment but relatively speaking I guess we can arrive at an equivalent if we get things 'right'.

Below....nice to be the centre of attention for a moment...even if the audience is a bunch of cows :o) I swear the light coloured one was trying to challenge me to a stare out. See the slash of light at the top, that's what I wanted to get down before it faded. The scene I chose was just to the left of this view. No time to dither!

Below is the scene after about 35 minutes.....where's the light....where's the cows....something I said?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

US magazine article published

I've just received a digital version (Fall edition) of the US magazine 'Plein Air' and was very pleased to see that they had published an article I'd written on our plein air painting adventures in Cornwall earlier this year!
Anthony Bridge is a fellow member of Plein Air Brotherhood and is on the advisory panel for the magazine so thanks to Ant we were able to get some material over to the editor. Cheers Ant :o)

I'd certainly recommend a copy if anyone can get hold of one. There's some great shots of the crew! The magazine is always a great read for plein air enthusiasts!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Front cover!

I'm not really into self promotion but I couldn't hold back on mentioning that I've been pictured on the front page of The Artist magazine (September edition)! Roy Connelly has written a 5 page article on the Plein Air Brotherhood, of which I'm a member. It's a really interesting read (well written too) and I've got a few shots and quotes in the article.

The article also mentions our first 'inaugural' exhibition which opens next week in Harpenden at the A&K Wilson Gallery. All members of the 'Brotherhood' will have work on show and it's looking set up to be a cracker!! The private view is September 1st from 6-8pm (all are welcome) and runs until September 30th.

Monday, 22 August 2011

New studies from Bath

Last weekend saw the opening of the exhibition with the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in Bath at Gallery Le Fort. I've got several works on show and managed to sell these two on the night.

'Low Tide, Wells-next-the-sea' - oil on board (6x8)

'Sunshine at the Radcliffe Camera', Oxford - 10x16 - oil on board

Funnily enough, neither are of Bath but I'm hoping the Bath scenes will attract some red dots as the exhibition progresses :o) It was lovely to see everyone at the preview night and I was lucky enough to have a nice chat with the gentleman who kindly bought my painting of Wells. It's great when you can meet the buyer as you get a real sense of the connection they have with the painting :o) My friends and painting pals Tim King and Valerie Pirlot joined me at the show and we headed out for some easel action the following day.

The main session was done at the allotments on Sion Hill. This is a great little spot, well away from the crowds and on a slope that looks over towards distant hills. Tim and I had been hunting around fruitlessly for a while and weren't overly inspired as the light was really flat. We took a turn off Lansdown Crescent and stumbled across Sion Hill. I seemed to remember Peter Brown had done something down there so I thought it would be worth checking out. When we arrived we were greeted by a feast of green and other colours from the allotment. Perfect! I chose a tall slim format and it was quite a decent size, 10x16in I think. The sun kept coming in and out but I stuck to my guns and made it predominantly 'in' but with the distant hills lit up a bit. Valerie joined us not long after we'd started and we all happily painted away, enjoying the tranquility....even the distant chimes of church bells could be heard. Lovely. Valerie and Tim both did the scene full justice with their paintings. This is my effort from the session.

Tim and I headed for the Crescent as last effort to find a subject to paint. We were both a bit tired but had a go, vowing to approach it as a quick sketch more than anything. For some reason the wind really picked up and we ended up having to hold our easels with our free hand!

Believe me, you almost need sunglasses to look at the grass. It really was a bright, acid yellow/green. This is quite toned down, believe it or not! I wish I'd shifted things a little so the tree was a bit further left but hey ho, in the heat of the moment with the wind buffeting the easel you have to make fast decisions. I was more interested in getting the tones and colours judged accurately. I made a conscious effort to simplify the buildings and not have it descend into an commentary on Georgian windows! The sky is a little bleached in the photo...there's more tone to be seen in the painting.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Whaddon sunset studies

I've been really busy lately getting work prepped for upcoming exhibtions so I've not been able to post much onto the blog. I have been trying to get out when I can with the easel and started a little series of paintings from the same location in a nearby village called Whaddon. The view looks west and across a valley and I'm particularly interested in trying to capture the different stages as the sun sets.

I knew it would be tricky because the light moves so fast at sunset. It's a reasonably simple subject in terms of the drawing so that makes things easier to handle. For now I've been starting from scratch on each study but I might be tempted to map out the basic compostion on future efforts to save time when in front of the subject. Apart from the time issues, one of the hardest things is trying to find an equivalent in paint for the brilliant light and colours. I end up having to work part observation and part memory as the subject changes so rapidly. What I try to avoid is 'chasing' the light but it's inevitable to a certain extent. In some ways it's not such a bad thing since I want the painting to serve as an account of the whole experience of being there, not merely a snapshot. It's a fine balance. After about 30-40mins the subject will have changed so much it's probably best to start another one but I'm sometimes guilty of carrying on a bit longer than I really should!

Anyway, the three the order they were painted (each done on separate evenings after work):

First effort above, earlier in the evening, not so exciting but it got me familar with the scene and the light was a bit more steady compared to later on.

This one above was done earlier in the evening with a higher sun. I don't know what possessed me but I went with an 8x20in board....rather ambitious for such a fast changing scene and it reminded me to keep things smaller for next time!

This was a better size (about 5x13in) and worked out quite nicely in terms of composition and balance of light. I was guilty of chasing the light a bit in this but it seemed worth it as every time I looked up the scene just got better and better!

Detail showing brushwork and sky colours of the above painting

All of the above are as they were when they came off the easel. As you can see, they're rough around the edges but far more valuable in terms of information than any photograph could give me. I might be tempted to do a larger studio piece based on these 'sketches'. I put the detail shot in as it shows  the marks, colour choices etc. I couldn't really look at the sun as it was so bright so it's more a case of trying to make a judgment whilst it's in my peripheral vision. Clearly, the sun is many times brighter than the yellow paint I used so it's interesting to see how an equivalent is arrived at. It's important to try and keep colour mixes clean so I get through plenty of brushes (saves time on cleaning them whilst in action).

Reference photos:

My palette for this one had less cadmiums as the colours in the early evening were less intense

I had the idea of doing two in succession but only managed one on this occasion. I'll use the spare as a starting point for next time.

See how the camera lies!! 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Final few from Cornwall

I think this is possibly one of my favourite pieces from the trip to Sennen. The reason being that it seems to get to the 'essence' of the subject with minimal fuss. I feel as though I really connected with moment and the painting (for me anyway) encapsulates the experience of being there. Much of the foreground sand is actually the colour of the ground I painted on and I like the slightly unfinished effect. I'm hoping to do a larger version of this in the studio with the explicit intention of trying to retain that fleeting effect and not labouring the surface. It will be interesting to see how it pans out as it will no doubt develop a life/presence of it's own. The marks will be different and appropriate to the revised scale. I painted this one alongside Tim King in the afternoon sun and enjoyed every minute of it!

 'High sun at Sennen', 13x10in, oil on board

I also did three acrylics on location where I felt the subject lent itself to a change of medium. There's something about the area around Pendeen and similiar cliffscapes that make me inclined to favour using acrylics on occasions. I find I can build up the rocks and sea with thin glazes worked over with more opaque marks. This seems to give the darker, shadowy areas a bit more life and energy. Up on the cliffs I like to use acrylics on primed mount card attached to an MDF board. I sit on a camping stool and have the board on the grasss in front of me, propped at a slight angle to avoid glare etc. I use Winsor and Newton slow drying gel which is essential in the absence of a 'stay wet' palette which I'm not a fan of. I also add Winsor and Newton flow improver to the water I use to thin the paint for 'glazing'. This ensures the richness of the thinned colour is retained and doesn't go slightly chalky (as I find happens with just plain water). 

'Morning sun, Botallack', 12x16in, acrylic on card

'The Enys from Pendeen cliff ', 16x20in, acrylic on card

 'Looking down at The Enys', 14x18in, acrylic on card

When using the acrylics I tend to work slightlly larger and more vigorously. I still have the same sort of timeframe, around 1.5 hours, before the light has changed too much. As they're bigger, I try to get the essentials down as much as I can but it meant they needed a bit of tidying up and resolving back in the studio afterwards. I didn't want to fiddle too much though as unlike oils, once a mark is down it dries quickly and the underliying location work would be lost. With this in mind, the paintings are resolved to the extent where the gaps are filled in and any oversights corrected as opposed to taking the work in another direction. I'll save that sort of thing for any new versions I might to do from a location piece.

Finally, a couple of small studies done on the more overcast days when I thought it might be worth using some of the colours offered by the wild flowers

'Wild flowers, Cot Valley' - 6x8in, oil on board

'Tree, gorse, bluebells and sea' - 10x8in, oil on board