I have just been lucky enough to travel to Donegal to stay in a cottage by the sea and spend all week painting the spectacular view from the front door. Errigal is the highest mountain in Donegal. When the weather was bad I could paint it from the window. This is a haunting part of the world. Charismatic with an ever changing light. The light not only changed every day but in every part of every day. I began four paintings but ended up concentrating on one. It began on an overcast day and was completed in twenty eight degrees of sunshine when the constant cloud over Donegal lifted. The result is a mixture of all weather.
I am back in residence at The Yorkshire Arboretum after the hurly burly of York Open Studios. It was cold but sunny as I made my way into the woods and everything was lit up. It was like walking into my recent painting 'Wonderland.' It struck me that walking around the Arboretum is like walking into different worlds. At the entrance you are in Ancient Beech land and just over the hill you walk into fruit Blossom land and just before that is the mature Birch circle land. Then there are the sweeping vistas where buttercup hills can be spied, long straight paths and meandering white lanes surrounded by dark mysterious bushes. There are clumps and stalks, round squat rows and tall endless ancients. World upon world of glorious beauty and good company. The company of trees.
This is all preparation, the planning of my next body of work. It is both exciting and frightening. I always wonder how I am going to begin something so immense. How I can possibly do justice in paint to what I see and experience. First I walked and then I took the camera. It was too cold to sit and sketch and whilst I don't approve of working from photographs, a camera is a great resource for contemplating composition. Snapping away enables you to catch the startling effects on landscape of the fleeting English sun. It helps you frame a picture and pick out the images that are strong. Trees that sit together in a particular way in a certain light. I realise that composition is about relationships and juxtapositions, different shapes, strong angles. Gatherings of disparate parts that together are strong enough to make a good story. With this in mind, these are some of my visual insights of the days work and the foundations of the paintings to come.
The depths of winter in England always makes me long for sunny climes and I find exotic tropics begin to emerge in the studio. January in North Yorkshire is HOT. I can’t get enough orange red and fuchsia pink. Lined up in my mind are all the lovely white, black and brown Yorkshire landscapes and bare sculptural trees if I can only tear myself away from the comfort of abstract florals and remembered midsummer Spanish landscapes.
This brings me around to the impact of colour and the fact that it has a mental emotional impact. I think I will bring some of this longing for heat into the winter trees in the Yorkshire Arboretum paintings and the winter landscapes but meanwhile what emerged today was 'Another Land'.
As well as colour, composition and content, attention to surface is an essential element in a good painting. Each brush stroke and mark becomes important.
Increasingly I like my surfaces to be smooth and free of lumps. This is achieved through a combination of sanding, scratching out and polishing with tissue or a dry soft cloth.
When colours are applied in layers they have quite a different effect than a single coat. Something of the 'past lives' and earlier ideas are still often present in the finished work even if it has changed a great deal from the initial sketch. The finished works have history and patina. The story of the evolution of the painting is in its layered marks; in what has been added and taken away; the washes, scrapes, destruction and creation. This history must be tidied and balanced in the completed work. In the final pulling together every mark becomes considered and intentional. The balance between chance and deliberation, chaos and order, produces a final rich patina that would be impossible to achieve if the painting hadn't gone through this journey.