Tag Archives: painting on location

Sunsets are loved because they vanish

photo of sun setting into the sea as seen from the garden of a cottage in Cornwall
The sun setting into the sea, taken from the garden behind the cottage

For six nights the sun set into the sea, sometimes fiery enough to reflect into two suns. Oranges, yellows and pinks were lurid and impossible to paint, fading into crimson when there wasn’t much light left and it was too cold to stay outside. Still, it was difficult to go indoors, even to watch through the window. There was a strong urge to cling to a rock until it all went dark. By the end of the week I had cracked and attempted to paint it all. Attempted is a good word because the painted canvas may not reveal much to anyone who wasn’t there. After being there, there are enough reminders in the colours and shapes to take me back to the scene.

Every morning the sky and sea were the purest blue and the vegetation sparkled with warmth. It was as if each day started by being perfect and it was an enchanted time – maybe even outside normal time, and made so significant because we knew we had to go back.

Blue sky and sea, green grass as seen through a window, colour photo, Cornwall
Blue through the window

Everywhere there were mining ruins perched around the cliffs. Many looked like roadside chapels but I didn’t see anyone praying inside them. Opportunities to thank the nature gods and ask for more, scattered around but not being used.

photograph showing a ruined mine building on a Cornish cliff
A ruined mine building resembles a broken chapel

A dangerous path that clambered over a frightening rock, exposing humans to the sea below, led to the Loud Cliffs. On the Loud Cliffs it was possible to sit comfortably on springy grass and listen to the booming and bashing of water attacking the rocks. Every now and again a thunderous crash would reward waiting ears, vibrating the entire cliff mass and resounding across the water.

A photo of waves crashing into cliffs
Waves batter the Loud Cliffs
On the Loud Cliffs, plein air painting in oils, 6x8 inch canvas
On the Loud Cliffs, 6×8 inches, plein air, oil on canvas

Just before the very dangerous entrance to the Loud Cliffs was a secret fjord, which looked at its most mysterious in the hazy mist that swirled across the sun one afternoon.

A Cornish inlet, seascape photo
The ‘fjord’ in moody weather
Cornish Fjord, oil on canvas, plein air, 6x8 inches
Cornish Fjord, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Years ago we had visited a different part of this coast, a more gentle cliff edge with seats made out of stone for weary painters to rest their palettes on. We made our way there one hot afternoon and the Brisons cried out to be painted again, their siren song luring my brush over the waves. Fortunately there was no wreck this time.

Oil painting of The Brisons in Sun, 6x8 inches plein air sketch on canvas
The Brisons in Sun, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

Further round, another stone bench surrounded by flowers led to a second painting.

Oil painting on canvas, View from the Chough Cliff, plein air, 6x8 inches
View from the Chough Cliff, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

On another day a walk to Cape Cornwall challenged our ancient dog as she scrabbled across stones and streams, falling in and out of both but always happy.

photo of Kenidjack valley with Cape Cornwall in the distance
On a walk to Cape Cornwall
Cape Cornwall oil painting on canvas, small, 6x8 inches plein air
Cape Cornwall from Kenidjack, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

Back at Botallack, in the evening some clouds arrived to silver the view. It was too breezy and cold to paint so I went back on a warmer, bluer evening.

Botallack View with Brisons in the distance, photograph, Cornwall
View of a silvery sea, Botallack, with Brisons near the horizon
plein air painting in oils on canvas from Botallack with Brisons in background
Botallack View, Brisons in the distance, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

The coast around Botallack is eerie and strange because of the abandoned mine buildings. Built both high and low, many are dank and dark inside and their spirits seem to own the landscape.

Cornwall, view of mining ruins on the cliffs, looking down, photograph
Looking down …

The old chimneys appear to guard the cliffs while the metal constructions seem as if they might walk around when you’re not looking.

mining remains, chimneys and St Just church in the distance, Cornwall photo
A strange landscape

Walking by the newer mine the scene reminds me of old Doctor Who programmes from the 1970s, with that visual mixture of futuristic metal shapes and stone quarries.

Old mine at Botallack, colour photo, Cornwall
Industry and nature, metal and stone

The scene around the Arsenic Works is the spookiest of all. I imagine faceless figures emerging from the shadowy openings. We do not head this way when it’s going dark.

mining ruins on the cliffs at Botallack, Cornwall, photograph
City of the dead?
Cliffs at Botallack, chimneys and ruins with a dog in the foreground, photo
Chapels for the nature gods
oil painting, view towards Botallack from Kenidjack, small, 6x8 inches on canvas
Looking towards Botallack from Kenidjack, oil paint on canvas, 6×8 inches

At the end of each day the sun carries out its show. We are very grateful as we absorb the colours and store them for the winter months.

plein air oil painting, Yellow Sun, Cornwall, 6x8 inches
Yellow Sun, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches
Cornwall painting, Red Sun, oil on canvas, 6x8 inches
Red Sun, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches
evening sunset view from a cottage on the cliffs, Cornwall

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