Tag Archives: painting in the hills

Shadow, sun, moon

photo of Arant Haw in the evening

high on the hill, looking up to Arant Haw summit in evening light and shadow

At last the weather warmed itself enough to trek up the hill carrying outdoor painting gear. As well as paints and canvas you need a bag full of scarves, woolly hats and gloves to prevent the cold from seeping in as you sit still while the sun lowers itself. Huge shadows unfold themselves, draping down the hillsides like giant black backdrops. They make the foreground look even more unbelievably golden in the slanted sunbeams before sunset. Wearing their shadows the steep slopes become massive dark forms, quite terrifying in their glowering vastness. They seem to lean towards you as you fiddle about with boxes, a puny being attempting to set up a painting site clinging to a slippery grass perch on the hillside. One shrug of their shoulders and you’d be off.

hills in evening light, bright sun

evening sun bounces off the lens, looking down Crosdale

plein air painting spot in evening sun

dark shadow looming above my painting spot

After a winter break plein air painting skills are always rusty but there’s nothing like the elation of being the last person out on the fells on a brilliantly lit evening. There’s always excitement with every brush stroke even if the finished picture isn’t quite what you had hoped. Eventually, after the furious attempt to daub the view into its new life on the canvas has gone on for half an hour or more, you realise just how cold you are, sitting on your scrap of mat as the air around you chills. I’ve found the best way to stay alive, with blood flowing to all the relevant parts, is to have something hot to drink. So I crack open the flask of steaming cocoa I lugged all the way up and feel warmth returning to my fingers.

plein air painting tea break

a hot drink helps to stave off hypothermia as the sun goes down

Once the sun really starts to drop it gets much colder very quickly. You have to rush to pack up and keep moving to avoid numbness.

plein air painter setup

as the sun disappears it’s time to pack up and depart

While the sun was saying goodbye in the west I felt an eery ‘you are being watched’ prickle on the back of my neck and whipped round to see an old white face. Fire and warmth were ebbing away on one side as bright paleness entered the sky on the other, gleaming and peering at my activities.

moon over my shoulder

a white face …

moon rising

… peers over my shoulder

One last look towards the Lake District mountains and the invisible sea beyond, underneath a red strip of sky, and I was on my way down.

fading sunset over the hills

last glowing embers in the west

In the east the colours were gentler and the moon was already halfway up the sky. Not a breath of wind stirred as I made my way slowly and happily down the Gill towards home.

moon at dusk

misty pink clouds gather over the hills as the moon takes off

Life on another planet: glowing red hills and waves of grass

golden evening light in Crosdale

the rare golden light that spills onto the hills just before dusk

This evening was the first one of the year that has been warm enough for me to sit on the hill and paint without hypothermia setting in. Even so, I’ve been trying to go and paint up there in recent weeks, putting up with the numb and freezing limbs that inevitably result. There is something so tempting about the last hour or so of golden sun that lights up the hills with a bright red glow. A recent conversation with a fellow painter from far away led to the revelation that my landscapes remind her almost of another planet. She doesn’t know this area though, and the fact that it sometimes resembles Mars, particularly when the red glow begins to brighten.

Having become an expert at hiding from the public while painting (I am unable to talk and paint and am envious of those who can – it seems a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time …) it may be difficult to spot the plein air painter’s kit, let alone the painter, in the immensity of the fells.

view of fells with plein air kit

where is the plein air painter?

plein air painter's pochade box on the hill

sneaking up on the pochade box for a closer look

On the evening when these photos were taken I had been reading a book about David Bomberg and, from looking at the illustrations for the umpteenth time, had realised that there was a similarity of process between his charcoal drawings and his paintings. I decide to paint as if I was drawing just to see what would happen and this picture was the result.

plein air painting

the painting in progress

I’ve added the next photo because Andi asked me why there are strange bleached-looking wave forms in the foregrounds of some of my paintings. I think you can see them in the photograph – they are particularly noticeable in front of the painting kit. These are the waves of pale, wind-blasted and sculpted, bleached reedy grass that translate into the more abstract forms in some of my landscapes, like the one below. Who knows, maybe no-one else can see them but me??

plein air painting in the hills, waves of grass in foreground

waves of wind-sculpted sun-bleached grass in the foreground

evening light on Crosedale

evening colours fall on Crosedale, oil on canvas plein air sketch, 6×8 inches

Out on the hill, as the painting comes to its conclusion, there is always enough light left to enjoy being alone in the stillness, with just birds (and sometimes curious sheep) for company. Then the day starts to disappear, mist drifts in from the sea and it starts to get cold. It’s time to move.

mist rolling over the hills at dusk

as light fades the mist rolls in