Tuesday, 7 April 2015


        In these past weeks I had to travel often and I wasn't able to spend much time in the studio. Perhaps my concentration is not very good but I find it hard to start any serious work when I know I won't have a couple of uninterrupted weeks ahead.  Since I was spending a few days in the countryside in Italy over Easter I thought I'd try at least to cut myself off for some time and sit in the garden to paint. 

All images are iPhone photos of small paintings on paper 23x31cm
   I was confronted with similar problems as when I was in Civita Castellana for a residency two years ago.  Painting the landscape is intriguing but alien for me. I was always drawn to portrait and still life, to interiors, and my favourite artists are not pure landscapists, however a trait of my character is curiosity, sustained by a certain tenacity; I basically just want to understand things on my own by trial and error.
  It is well known in my family - and I'm quite proud of it- that I never had any talent whatsoever for drawing, but I liked it so much that I just had to learn on sheer will. And now I feel the same tingling for landscape: I view it as something I must have a go at if I want to deepen my comprehension of painting.

    The first hurdle I had to face when I was in Civita was that my palette was completely insufficient to paint that luscious area. Maybe I could have managed a desert with all my tubes of thick earths but certainly not the intensity of a blue sky or the saturation of green leaves. I should have had cadmiums of course and some titanium. That thing that any palette might do is not true. In these past days I corrected that and added cobalt turquoise, cad. lemon and sap green while barely touching ochre. Maybe too much but eventually I'll get there. 

    Some notes to self after Civita's meltdown: in an Italian summer outdoor shadows are cool. Full stop. Not warm as I have painted them indoors for the past ten years. 
 Wear a hat. 
 Learn to open and close your easel because you are a total nerd and it is in fact possible to do it with two hands only. 
 When you stand in the sun colours will look more saturated and if you don't keep it in mind when you take the painting inside you'll have a bad surprise. 
 If you worry too much about colour you forget all the tonal relationships and all will be lost. 
 Find a strategy: sky first ? But then it's wet and how does one paint dry branches on top ? Sky first then branches then keep more sky mixture on the side to paint in between branches ? 
 As mother-in-law says, there's nothing more definitive than what you thought was temporary. Mix colour accurately because most times there's no going back. 
 Change description to "Mixed Media: oil and insects on canvas".

    So here are some small paintings from the past days. One thing is immediately clear to me: if I venture ourside it has to be home. Tuscany ( Chianti, Maremma), maybe Rome. 
It makes no sense at all for me to travel somewhere and record my experience there and although I love living in London I don't have that gut connection that might compel me to go down by the river and set up there.  I worked on paper ( which I never do) in order to feel no pressure at all about "producing" anything and so that I could snap myself out of any habit.  

This surface doesn't help but I thought that I shouldn't give myself any unfair advantage since the aim was just to find further, bigger problems. What to paint ? Why ? Is it about space, or light ? What part plays form then ? What is my landscape painting about ? What is the pictorial space like in my work, shallow, deep, intimate, wide ?

I'll be back in London tomorrow, which means there will be no more field work until the summer at least, but I can now have a go at turning these sketches into larger studio paintings and see if there's anything there. It will be a very long process.

1 comment:

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Jolly good for having a go - you never know you might get the bug! :D

I think painting plein air has a number of challenges

First - Finding your painting when you have a wealth of possibilities. Design is a biggie best worked out in a sketchbook - even if you're just doing quick oil sketches.

Second - the light changes constantly and much faster than you would think possible at times! Value sketch at the beginning helps enormously when the subject has changed and looks completely different! The classic is of course to go out very early morning and late in the day - and get those long shadows! :)

Third - get out of the sun if you can - you'll see colours much better and what colours you're using in your painting if you're in the shade. I always use a visor to shade my eyes.