Tag Archives: painting the sea

The sea, the sea and the dehumidifier

plein air oil sketch, Howgill fells

small oil sketch painted crouching in the bracken looking north across the Howgill fells, 6×8 inches on canvas.

Summer became a bit abstract … at least while painting in the hills. Maybe the real hills lost their appeal or I couldn’t hear them calling any more. After Cornwall the sea has been in my ears and a September visit to Skye with unexpectedly lovely weather meant that afternoons and, even better, evenings could be spent perched on the rocks wrestling with slippery oil paints while the silvery light took on pale colours. The first pictures were sketchy but the paintings changed as the days went on, leaving me a bit exasperated that I had to stop at the end of a week spent getting going. The sea project will be continued though.

plein air sketch of Loch Pooltiel

plein air sketch in oils carried out while sitting on the shore of Loch Pooltiel, Skye. Oil on canvas, 6×8 inches.

plein air sketch in oils, Loch Pooltiel, Skye

another go at painting Loch Pooltiel from the shore, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas.

Back at home our flat seemed to have developed its own affinity for water as the walls became damper and the atmosphere more dank. In October it was too cold to move around and the backs of some of my canvases were suspiciously mottled. Perhaps the sea business was going too far? It felt like it had invaded the fabric of my living space. Some kind of balance was required. I bought a small robot machine, a dehumidifier, and set it humming away to itself in the heart of the flat. It seemed to draw the sea into itself and I emptied waves of crashing water down the sink every evening. The Cornwall and Skye paintings looked brighter on their respective walls and the air felt warmer and more pleasant.

oil painting looking across Loch Pooltiel as the sun started to set

the first colours of the sunset reflected in Loch Pooltiel on a pale silver evening, 6×8 inches in oils on canvas.

small plein air painting in oils of a sunny day at Loch Pooltiel

Loch Pooltiel painted in the warmth of a sunny day, sitting on the rocks, oil on 6×8 inch canvas.

sunset and swelling waves at Loch Pooltiel, small plein air oil sketch on canvas

swelling waves at sunset. Oil on canvas, 6×8 inches, painted from the rocks at Loch Pooltiel.

second plein air painting of sunset at Loch Pooltiel

a second attempt to capture Loch Pooltiel’s waves at sunset, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches.

painting of Loch Pooltiel seascape, in oils on small canvas

Loch Pooltiel painted from the rocks before sunset, oil on 6×8 inch canvas.

So where is the sea? In Cornwall, in Skye, in my mind or inside a whirring water collector? Maybe all of these places. It certainly hasn’t gone away and the sketches feel as if they are leading somewhere. A large canvas is taking shape on the easel but it feels, at the moment, as if it’s treading water.

Loch Pooltiel, silvery evening light, quick plein air oil sketch

a final, hurried attempt to sketch the scene in the silvery evening light of Loch Pooltiel. Oil on canvas, 6×8 inches.

Visiting the Spriggans

a brick column on the edge of a Cornish cliff

mysterious column perched on the cliff edge

In Cornwall where the landscape seems filled with the energies of invisible beings there are some strange sights to be seen, especially on the cliffs. Recent man made structures, tin mines and the like, have been weathered by nature into something resembling an outdoor sculpture park for modern art. Older man made structures such as burial mounds, also tumbled about by the elements, sometimes stand quite close by, as if all of these constructions are part of one great puzzle. It creates a dramatic, slightly alien and menacing scene, as if a civilisation abandoned its weird cities on the Cornish coast. Only the Cornish nature spirits, the Spriggans, are left to skip about amongst the ruins and scare the imaginative and unwary.

mining ruins near Botallack, joiner photograph

joiner photograph of the strange cliff landscape near Botallack

Many years ago I had an encounter with the Spriggans when staying in an old farmhouse in Cornwall near the sea. A group of us had booked the house but myself and a friend were the first to arrive that winter’s evening. We entered the house, had a quick look round and then, while in the kitchen, heard a sturdy knock on the door. Expecting others from the group had arrived we rushed to let them in, only to open the door into nothing but stillness and dark. We suspected our friends were playing a trick on us so sneaked around the outside of the house hoping to find them in hiding. No-one was about and there was no sign of any car apart from the one we arrived in. Much later, the first of our friends did arrive. We heard the car clearly that time. In the visitors’ book several entries attested to the ‘welcome’ of the Spriggans on first entering the house.

painter's backpack, Cornwall trip

carrying painting gear across the Cornish landscape

This time we were visiting Cornwall to scour the cliff paths for painting opportunities. I had brought my pochade box and a total of nine canvases in the smaller 6×8 inch size. The end of an eventful 2016 had left me a bit thrown off my painting stride so I was hoping to get back into painting out of doors, which should help to loosen up my slightly rusty skills.

A rocky beach at the end of the valley led to the coast path and cliffs in both directions. Turning south I could walk up onto a narrow ledge path that teetered high over the sea with dark mining tunnels leading deep into the rock. The feeling of foreboding was lifted by flowers growing all over the cliff tops, comical red-footed screeching birds known as choughs and many helpful benches carved out of the rocks, perfect for sitting and staring at the waves crashing below. In the distance two ship-wrecking islands, the Brisons, came and went in the mist, shredding the sea into spray as it cannoned into them.

The Brisons, plein air, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches

sitting on the coast path high above the waves, looking at the Brisons in the distance, oil sketch on canvas, 6×8 inches

Taking the cliff path in the other direction led up past many mine shafts and an ancient barrow to Cape Cornwall where the waves seemed to be taller than anywhere else. I scrambled down from the cliff edge onto a rock and set up my pochade box, managing two quick sketches before the last light disappeared. I had to hurry back to the house but made it well before dusk settled in. Disappointingly, there were no spirits dancing around the barrow as I passed.

Cape Cornwall plein air sketch in oils on canvas, 6x8 inches

oil study of Cape Cornwall painted from a clifftop perch on small 6×8 inch canvas

oil study of Cape Cornwall waves, small 6x8 inches canvas

plein air study of waves at Cape Cornwall, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

The trip was shrouded in mist a lot of the time so I attempted to paint it. This wasn’t very easy but I thought it was probably good practice for sharpening up my skills.

oil on canvas sketch of a view from the Cornish coast path near Cape Cornwall

view from the coast path painted in misty conditions, small 6×8 inch canvas, oils

At the end of the holiday the mist became rain but I had become a bit crazed by then and ended up out on a cliff edge trying to shelter behind a rock (horizontal wind and rain gives you more sheltering options) and painted a pile of stones nearby that looked, under the influence of impending hypothermia, a bit like a giant and slightly ominous king sitting looking out to sea.

peculiar rock formation, Cornish cliffs on a rainy windswept day, oil study on canvas, 6x8 inches

painting on the cliffs in the wind and rain, a brooding and strange rock formation looms over the waves below, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Back at the house it was dark but there were still jugs waiting to be painted, arranging themselves nicely on the windowsill.

three jugs, Cornish room at night, oil study on 6x8 inch canvas

old Cornish jugs by the window at night, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Now we’re home again I miss being out on the cliffs.

plein air sketch from Cornish cliffs, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches

view painted from the cliffs near the Count House, Botallack, oil on small 6×8 inch canvas

But the sea and the peculiar landscape above it will wait for another visit.

chimneys on the cliffs, Cornwall

remains of a strange civilisation or tin mine chimneys on the cliffs

sculptural mining ruins in Cornwall

strange modern sculptures on the cliffs or mining remains?

mining ruins on a Cornish cliff

nature makes modern art from ruined mines

Cornwall, columns on a cliff top

cliff sentinels guard the view

setting sun over the sea with distant Brisons, Cornwall

sunset over the Brisons, Cornwall