Tag Archives: painting on location

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

Scary landscapes, mysterious orbs and small into large work

watercolour of Kentmere reservoir

Kentmere reservoir – watercolour sketch on paper, 5″x7″

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.

oil painting of Kentmere reservoir

Kentmere reservoir, oil on canvas, A2

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!

easel with two oil paintings

easel with Kentmere painting at the top and work in progress below