Monthly Archives: September 2014

The mountains are calling and I must go

photo of the path to the Calf

the path to the Calf seen from Arant Haw summit

Climbing Arant Haw, the even-higher fell that rears up after you have wearily crested the hill above the town, carrying a loaded pochade box and the rest of the essentials (food, water, clothing) was hard work and took about an hour but it was well worth it. I circled the summit, taking in the views from all around – the whole 360 degrees is pretty spectacular. The decision was made to face south west and take in the light over the sea, a river wriggling along the bottom of a valley and hills sweeping in from the sides, with Winder fell reaching up towards the distant horizon below.

photo of my painting spot

view of my painting spot from above showing some of the valley below

Some kind hill god had created a comfortable seat for me in the middle of a group of rocks. It was just the right height and had a flat piece of grassy floor underneath on which to rest my feet. Below was the drop into the valley below. Of course, I had forgotten to take my camera and there was no question of trekking back home for it so I made plans to return and, hopefully, there are now pictures to go with this post.

photo of pochade box on location

the pochade box perched amongst the rocks

Sitting on my rocky perch high above everything I felt a strange sense of euphoria and this made the painting process flow. Those kinds of feelings are not always a good thing, as you can find that you’ve just been merrily daubing away creating a right old mess, senses anaesthetised by awe. This time, the light was changing every minute and I knew the result wasn’t going to be great but decided it would serve as a useful sketch that would help me decide whether the spot was worth returning to.

With nothing higher than the summit near which I sat as far as I could see it was all I could do not to break into song and, as the clouds turned the sun on and off, I had to remind myself that the tonal values in the painting would need to be monitored a bit more closely if the picture was going to read as anything at all.

photo of the view being painted

the view that I was struggling with

Over the course of an hour I struggled with the paint as the wind got up, blowing more and more fiercely and trying to dislodge dirty brushes from the moss into which I’d shoved them. One gust managed to seize the corner of the plastic bag I’d wrapped my remaining brushes in and I had to take a moment to firmly tuck everything under my rucksack which served as a giant paperweight.

Eventually, all the tiny specks of walkers I could see on the flanks of Winder began to disappear and I realised my hands were turning numb. It was time to stow the brushes away, close the lid on my painting and put on a pair of gloves before racing back down to civilisation. Hurrying home to make the phone call I’d promised my Mum I slipped on a large flat rock at a diagonal angle, one foot skating downhill, the rest of me unbalanced by the heavy weight of the pochade box in one hand.

I’m not sure why but I didn’t fall, just carried on on my way. Maybe those hill gods again or maybe all of that ice skating I did when I was younger.

photo showing stormy clouds over Arant Haw

stormy clouds advancing across the summit of Arant Haw

photo of clouds over the valley

the clouds say it’s time to go home

photo of sun and clouds over Arant Haw

but the sun says stay

Painting outdoors – the importance of weight training

image showing pochade box closed

my pochade box lurking in the studio

After my serial outdoor painting project last year I became accustomed to using my “big” pochade box which carries 9″x12″ canvases. Although the box isn’t really all that huge the fact that I am small and don’t weigh much makes it seem relatively heavy. When I first obtained it it seemed ridiculously ponderous and I wasn’t very happy about lugging it up the hill but, as I’ve been getting fitter recently (due to excessive cycling) and training with weights (a must for the diminutive plein air painter!) I’ve finally become strong enough to heave it, loaded up with paints and canvas, for the half-hour trek required to reach my favourite painting area.

oil painting of fells view, north

looking north across the fells, oil on canvas, 9″x12″

I’m hoping eventually to be able to carry a full-size easel and a couple of large canvases so that I can complete big paintings out in the wilds. A trial run revealed that the light changes so much in the time it takes to finish a large painting that the result can be a bit muddled and disappointing. So, the answer must be to either speed up, using bigger brushes and a more urgent approach, or to return at the same time (and hopefully in similar weather – although that could be a bit tricky round here) over the course of several days in order to finish the picture.

Then there is the alternative I’m currently trying out, which is to rely on feelings and memory and small oil sketches to complete large paintings in the studio rather than outside. Each approach I try seems to lead to a slightly different kind of painting in the end and I’m not sure which I prefer. I intend to keep experimenting and see what happens!

In the meantime, here is another one of the paintings done outside using the 9″x12″ pochade box.

colourful valley oil painting

sun colours in the velvet-grassed valley, oil on canvas, 9″x12″

The box is a lovely wooden thing with a leather carrying strap. It folds out to form a support for the canvas while you’re painting and closes in an instant, hiding your work (very useful at times!) but keeping it separated from your dirty palette and preventing anything from touching the wet surface of your picture. It has a compartment underneath the palette that can hold brushes, if the handles aren’t too long, as well as tubes of paint, bottles of solvent, pieces of kitchen roll and other stuff.

photo of open pochade box

a view of the open pochade box showing canvas and palette – you can see its tiny 6×8 sibling on the left