Tag Archives: larger paintings from plein air sketches

I waxes, and I wanes, sir; I ebbs’s and I flows

oil painting of Crosdale, work in progress

work in progress, painting of Crosdale, large version of 6×8 plein air, oil on canvas, 18″ square

This post’s title was stolen from Mervyn Peake’s poem in his book “Rhymes Without Reason”. The poem is about feeling ill but the lines could describe the back and forth of the painting process just as well.

Mervyn Peake was a brilliant artist as well as a poet and novelist. I often read “Rhymes Without Reason” as a child and I can still see the strange, brightly-coloured illustration that accompanied the waxing and waning poem, showing an enormous lady with large nostrils sitting in bed while a doctor surveyed her from the end of the room across a swirling carpet against a background of psychedelic wallpaper.

The picture became etched in my brain, along with many of the other illustrations, and the brightly-lit, vaguely nightmarish room seemed real, as if the scene was taking place somewhere, in the night, in a nearby dimension.

This week has consisted of plodding along with works in progress while the world outside becomes ever more frozen and slippery. The sun is beginning to find its way into our home and has revealed that my studio space (which is so tiny I can only use it for painting small pictures – larger indoor work expands into the living room) needs some attention.

Apart from lots of dust on high shelves which I can’t reach there are things which are obsolete and need removing. A wire loops across a wall leading to a non-existent speaker and the remains of past projects – a brush gaffered to the end of a garden cane, a set of three yogurt pots with watercolour blobs inside them – should probably be tidied away.

photo of shelves in artist's studio

shelves with an assortment of paintings and other dusty things

Two paintings have been lurching along their paths towards completion. I am quite pleased with the Crosdale one seen at the top of the post. I find it difficult creating a bigger version of a small, quickly and freely painted plein air work so when it goes relatively well it is a boost to morale.

The Whitewell painting, which is being created based on a tiny drawing, has progressed in a darkwards fashion. Perhaps with Nolde’s failed experiments in mind, during which he produced ‘grey sludge’ I seem to be heading in the same direction. Still, all is not lost and I hope to be able to bring some light and colour into the picture as work goes on.

If it all goes wrong I will have learnt something, even if that is not to begin a picture with a grey-green underpainting. It has certainly made all the colours and tones do quite unexpected things compared with starting from a white canvas.

dark oil painting, work in progress

the Whitewell painting has become extremely dark

The array of paintings on my studio wall reminds me of a plan I had to create an elaborate mount to display around a dozen small glimpses of the landscape in one big frame. It seemed like a wonderful idea until the reality of carefully cutting all of those tiny openings in a huge piece of mountboard sank in … maybe not.

photo of studio wall with paintings

paintings on the studio wall

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there

image showing three plein air sketches, 6x8

three small plein air paintings used to create a larger work

And as Joseph Campbell said: “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

Last year I made these three small paintings while I was out on the hill and I’ve been struggling ever since to find a way to make them into a large painting. So far, this is what I’ve come up with but I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m not even sure if I quite like the result. All I know is that I nearly like it, so that will have to be enough for now. I think those clouds are going to be adjusted one last time before I can finally put this experiment to one side.

photo of large landscape oil painting, work in progress

large oil painting, not quite finished, created using smaller sketches

Another experiment has involved trying to make a large painting out of a tiny little pencil sketch and a hazy memory of a place I can’t quite even be sure exists (although I was definitely somewhere when I drew that sketch). In a previous post I showed the A1 charcoal drawing I’d made from the sketch and now I’ve started making an A2 painting, very murky and dark to try and convey just how rainy it was that day. Again. I’ve no idea where this is going but it’s something I feel compelled to try.

photo of unfinished oil painting depicting rainy landscape

murky work in progress of rainy day painting, A2, oil on canvas

Back in the slightly more real world two of my paintings are preparing to leave for new homes. I’ll miss the coffee pot, which probably sounds crazy, but some paintings you just get attached to.

photo of two small paintings

two paintings ready to go to their new homes