When you have to walk quite a long way over rough terrain (steep slopes, bogs, rocks, long grass, bracken up past your middle and reeds) to reach your painting location of choice it is a lot easier to carry the means to make a small sketch or study than it is to drag a big easel and a couple of huge canvases with you (although I am working on that!) so, so far, I have tended to do a lot more work of around 6″x8″ and 9″x12″ when painting out of doors.
Working up smaller pieces into big paintings is quite a challenge and involves using the mind’s eye and thinking yourself back into the place where you made the original sketch. The sketch needs to contain enough hints to take you back there and you also need to remember what inspired you about the scene in the first place. Some locations just have something about them – an air of mystery and a feeling of anticipation, as if an event is about to happen. I like places that scare me a little. It helps if they are a bit remote and slightly threatening in atmosphere. I like it when nature seems so enormous and powerful in a place that I feel I am just there on sufferance – the hills could rear up at any moment and shrug me off, the clouds could envelop me and spirit me away, or the rocks could crack open and – who knows??
Earlier this year I made a visit to Kentmere Reservoir – a body of water at the end of a long, long valley which took some hours to reach on foot. Once there you are confronted by what seems like a natural theatre – the water makes the stage and mountains surround it on three sides like backdrop, stage scenery and wings. There is no continuing (unless you want to walk behind the reservoir and climb through the mountains) and it’s a long walk back to the nearest village. So, you are safe and not safe. Free in the middle of nature and trapped.
I sat in the middle of the dam and painted a quick watercolour sketch. The light was odd and the day was coming to an end. Golden patches of sun moved across the mountains as if they were carrying out an evening performance and the shadows loomed very dark. The play of light on the water made it look very deep and extremely still. The atmosphere was magical and if something had risen from the lake it wouldn’t have been at all surprising.
Back in the studio, the watercolour had enough in it to allow me to attempt a larger oil version. It has had polarised reactions from those who’ve seen it, who seem to either get it or not, but it speaks to me and has convinced me that converting watercolours into oils is a worthwhile experiment.
Another large painting I’ve been working on (still unfinished) from a series of small studies, all 6″x8″ oils, is shown on the easel below. I’m hoping to finish it soon – but I’m beginning to realise that paintings have their own built-in deadlines and they can’t be hurried, or delayed for that matter because they then end up overworked.
Mysteriously, as I took the photograph the dog ran out of the room in fright (I’d already taken three previous pictures without causing a disturbance) and a spooky orb has appeared on the picture hovering over the painting of Kentmere!