Tag Archives: plein air painting

A lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right

oil pastel plein air sketch, Skye sunset

A6 sketchbook plein air drawing in oil pastels, sunset over Loch Pooltiel

So much has happened I haven’t had time to write. I’ve been ill, in hospital, had surgery. All new things. My sister died today. Lots of difficult things, incompatible with a cool head needed to paint. I’ve been to Skye again and, mustering everything, managed to make some scrimpy plein air sketches. That was just after the last time I saw my sister. One of the sketches must become a larger painting. I hope it will work.

plein air sketch in oil pastel, A6 sketchbook, Skye evening

oil pastel sketch of Loch Pooltiel, early evening, plein air, A6 sketchbook

The river god is gone. The stream flowing through the rocks is unimpeded. Summer is over. There is deep snow up on the hill where I sat and painted in the summer evening air. Even then, the sky held melancholy feelings. Now those feelings linger in the pale blue over the distant peaks with their blank coverings.

plein air [ainting, Howgills, 9x12 inches

on the ridge near Crosdale, Howgills, summer evening, plein air painting, oil on canvas, 9×12 inches

The moon tonight deserved a painting. It sailed diagonally across golden waves of cloud, a huge yellow boat. Maybe my sister was sailing there, away from the thick frost and up into starlight. Perhaps this afternoon’s sunset was hers. It looked like an Edvard Munch painting, one where the sun’s globe had a path of white light beneath it so it resembled a figure, standing against glowing pink and orange.

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