Monday, 27 June 2011

The Tryfan Summit Experiment

Failure is part of life's little joke but it can often be used to learn something.

I was returning yesterday from the AGM of the Army Mountaineering Association in North Wales with no thought other than to head home as soon as possible to a large birthday party being given for a friend in the village  (we had had a typical N Wales day on the Saturday climbing in total clag: wet, cold and pretty unfit too).  The weather was improving rapidly and as I drove up the Ogwen valley to the pass I could not resist stopping beneath Tryfan - known as 'the climbers' peak' in those parts.

Before I could stop myself I had boots on and a rucksac full of painting kit.  The North Ridge is a particularly good scramble on clean rock with big holds.  90 minutes later I was at the top in a howling gale.  Being a stubborn git I foolishly produced my painting gear and looked around for a decent subject.  The clag was coming over regularly and with it some big gusts.  I hunkered down but could not hold onto everything at once and by the time my water pot, palette, painting cloth and brushes had been blown away at least 3 times I was beginning to accept failure.  You can see that 'happy' is not really what I am at this stage:

I had taken acrylics - big mistake.  Unless painting surface, water pot, palette and brushes are all glued to you it is impossible to mix, load a brush, apply paint, clean the brush and repeat the process when any sort of wind is blowing.  An oil pochade box would have been ideal - no need for a convenient flat surface for materials so no restriction on where you paint; dipper fixed to palette fixed to box with paint and brushes readily to hand and the painting surface firmly slotted into place.  With oils you have no problem with darkening on drying (a major disadvantage of acrylics when you are trying to mix colours) and being sticky they are easy to apply in a gale.  Oh well, it was worth it to learn the lessons.  The little 5x7 will be a reminder of what not to do.

I went back by the South Ridge, then the Great Terrace where all the rock climbs on the East Face start.  It was so heartening to see loads of young folk on the crag and it brought back memories of our first 'epics' there.  Perhaps I could still manage to lead something simple like Grooved Arete or Nor Nor Buttress, who knows!

Friday, 17 June 2011


Now I have started this lark I can see that there is no end to it.  I have just spent 30 minutes of good studio time drooling over the fabuloso paintings on David Pilgrim's, Valerie Pirlot's and Sarah Wimperis's sites.  You start clicking on other interesting articles (eg the '4 in Provence' trip) and suddenly you've missed breakfast, morning coffee and the classical CD review.  Anyway I have now found out how to 'follow'.  I wonder if anyone has started Blogaholics Anonymous - might need them.

Cornwall and The Problem Of Scaling Up

Valerie has persuaded me to put some of the Cornwall sketches on the blog.  I am also struggling with the concept of scaling up small work painted directly - ie on the spot in one session - to larger paintings in the studio.  We bearded Ken Howard about this at the Enid Lawson Gallery the other day and he said 'use a really big brush', which makes sense until you try it!  One of my biggest problems is careless brushwork.  I have a tendency to dodge that moment when you have to make really positive marks with a fully loaded brush.  I can get away with it in a small painting but not in a big one.  Anyway, I am trying to scale up some of the Cornwall work so I will show large and small together.  I also love developing pastels based on oil sketches.  Let's look at that aspect first:

This is the original 8x10 inch Pendeen sketch showing the Enys rock and Levant mines beyond

And this is the slightly bigger pastel based on it.  I prefer the original but doing a pastel often sets me off in a new direction - not this time!.

Now the scaling up problem.  Two examples, first the 8x10 inch view of Irish Lady and Land's End in oil:

Now the 16x20 inch based on it:

You can see that I have altered the composition and slightly lowered the point of view.  It is OK but the foreground is somehow less interesting at that scale.  I was surrounded by seagulls (and guano) so maybe I should have put them all in!

In contrast I think one of the Pendeen paintings has scaled up quite well.  I did some tiny acrylic sketches of the Enys from Pendeen Old Cliff.  The 7.5x5.5 inch sketch became a 14x18 inch oil painting.  Here is the sketcvh:

And this is the studio version:

I have pushed the colour a bit and some of the brushwork is deliberately crude but I think it works.  I was quite pleased with the other Enys pair and maybe I will post those another day.  Finally, one of my favourites from 23 paintings done in 5 days and a morning - Sunset at Sennen on my last evening there (8x10 inches).

Thursday, 16 June 2011

More About Cornwall

Here are some more pics of the plein air fanatics at work in Cornwall.  David Pilgrim was responsible for this pic of the Anglo-Spanish-Belgian contingent.  Michael R, David B, Valerie and self (eating while painting - probably not a good idea but I was very hungry).  We are looking across at Marazion and St Michael's mount.

David Pilgrim painting on the beach at Sennen. The tide was receding rapidly - coping with constant change is the plein air painter's joy and frustration.

Valerie Pirlot completing her first gem on the beach at Sennen - straight from Penzance railway station.  (These young plein air painters don't 'arf drive themselves 'ard!)   

My stance and painting of Irish Lady and Lands End from Pedn Men Du.  There is something visceral and yet sublime about painting in this sort of spot - on the edge in evening light, with only seagulls for company.


I am considering registering for the Woodstock Art Festival (22-30 Oct 11) and running a show of plein air paintings with some friends.  It might be called something like 'Resurgence' or 'Fa Presto - Painting Quickly In UK' or similar, the point being to mark the resurgence of direct painting ( ie a modern form of 'alla prima', akin to the Impressionist ideal) in the past five years.  As well as a static show at one of the town's venues I would like to have lots of us painting in Woodstock over the weekend of 22/23 October.  However, the Plein Air Society is massing in the Peak District over 29/30 Oct so that might put a damper on the idea.  Whatever happens I shall paint there outdoors during the festival - as I did last year.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Enid Lawson Gallery Show

Went to the PV last night - great show and a lovely bunch of people.  11 New Cavendish St until 22 June.  I have painted alongside Michael Richardson and Adebanji and knew Karl Terry's work but it was great to meet Chris Daynes as well.  It is always nice too to meet the women behind the men (and vice versa for women artists).  All the artist's partners I have met are tremendously supportive (including my own by the way!) so it must be part of being an artist to have a good mate.  

For an outdoor painter it is inspiring to see what others can manage to achieve on location.  Chris and Adebanji have some really large paintings in the show and Mike and Karl a few 'biggies' as well but all the artists produce the 'little gems' that I like.  The gallery URL is and I recommend you look out Mike Richardson's tiny 'Covent Garden' painting, Chris's 'Last Light on a London Street (unfortunately sold!), Adebanji's 'Summer Light, Cadogan Arms' and Karl's 'Southbank Gallopers', all of which I would happily buy if I could get them past the guard on my front door!  (She has declared the house to be 'full'!)

It was wondeful that the show was supported by the presence of Prof Ken Howard and a great chance for those who regard him as The Master to pick his brains on more technical matters. May he live forever.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cornwall May 2011

What a great couple of weeks we had - painting on the edge!  Valerie Pirlot, David Pilgrim, David Bachmann, Michael Richardson, Roy Connelly, Antony Bridges, Tim King and Ben Spurling.  Great location - Sennen Cove - and excellent accommodation.  David took some pics of me that I will try to post - this blogging lark is completely new to me.  The one above is me working on some tiny acrylics at Pendeen.