Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Today I cycled to Chiswick House with its fabulous Italianate gardens, complete with urns and sphinxes and Cedar trees. One of my favourite spots. I like the composition and most of the colours. Unfortunately I failed to capture the dead blackness that occurs on the underside of of the branches of a Cedar tree in the bright sunshine.  

In the afternoon I painted on the riverbed in Putney. This charming little blue hut sits at the end of the rising and falling pontoon that the Putney ferry pulls up at. Again the tide and weather changed a bit, but I was quite pleased with the final picture as it captured the atmosphere of the day. Putney Bridge is beyond, and in the very distance it's just possible to see my favourite bridge, the steel footbridge.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Yesterday I drove down to Barnes and painted this plein air study on the riverbed. Overall composition works well, but the rather lifeless trees let it down a touch.

This morning I had a bit of a eureka moment. I usually prepare my canvas covered boards with a flat ground (imprimatura) of ultramarine, alizarin red, raw umber and white. I decided to take Corot's advice and lay in the sky and match everything else to it tonally. On my palette I mixed what I thought was a light sky and plonked it on the imprimatura, only to discover it was exactly the same tone as it. Of course, I suddenly realised that this is a great way to set the tonal range of a complete painting. Use the impramatura tone as one of the key tones of the picture. I know this is something that Ken Howard describes on his excellent APV videos, but doing it myself, subconsciously suddenly clarified for me what it was all about.

Finished the day with a rather poor picture looking across the river under Putney footbridge. The tonal range and colours are good, but the drawing is weak.

Monday, 23 May 2011


The grass was still wet with dew when I started this little plein air study at 8am. It's the same little farmhouse in Richmond Park that I painted a few days ago. A bit twee. The foreground shadow could be more mauve/blue. The large tree is almost OK, but lacks sculpted shape. Some nice palette knife work and brushstrokes, so not entirely disappointed with my 2 hour session.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Have spent a couple of days in the studio working up paintings from a photos taken earlier in the year. I'm a great admirer of the work of Richard Pikesley ( and one of the techniques he has mastered is the use of really thin paint washes. It seems to me that it's just a quick and easy way to make things drop back in the picture. I tried this on the background buildings and was pleased that it worked well. 

Bellow is Hammersmith bridge from the southern towpath, just past Harrods Depository. Was pleased that the sharp edge on the curved opening below the main bridge support was captured, seems to draw the eye in to the focal point. Have been reading Harold Speed's The Practice and Science of Drawing, (originally written in 1917 but a seminal work, still worth a read!) I really appreciated his comment on page 186 "nature is the great storehouse of variety". How true. I would never have imagined this cloud formation had I not captured it from real life!

Monday, 9 May 2011


Another fab day outdoors, this morning in Richmond Park, painting some outbuildings at the back of the Royal Ballet school. I think the value/tonal range and the hues are OK. There are some nice edges, but maybe a few too many. The shadow colour note on the left hand building is well observed but the shadow on the wall in the right hand foreground is the wrong hue but the right value/tone.

In the afternoon went to Putney Common to paint the cricket screen framing and a couple of trees. The picture was saved by the correctness of the colour notes, the overall value/tonal judgements, and the 'sky holes' (the bits of sky poking through the trees), but woefully inadequate when it comes to the tree structures/shapes. Must spend some serious time looking at and painting trees! 

Friday, 6 May 2011


Interesting day painting plein air again. Started with a contra jour looking towards the Hurlingham Yacht Club under the Putney footbridge. I knew this was an ambitious picture as the sun was moving fast and the tide was going out. There is a 6 metre tidal range here in Putney, so the scene changed DRAMATICALLY! I started off mixing some puddles of paint on the palette before the light changed, then sketched in the view and started applying the main colours. By this time everything had changed, so I ended up making a lot up. Quite a struggle, and not very pleased with the result. The two conclusions I came to were, 1) I really should concentrate on the main action at the focal point of the picture, 2) abstract arrangements of approximately correct colour notes could potentially make an attractive picture... but maybe not this one ;-(

Later in the morning I stood very close to Putney road bridge on the river bed. The tide was 45 mins from low tide, so I had 45 mins, plus about 20 mins tide turn then 45 mins for it to get back to where it started! Was almost standing in the water by the time I had finished. This picture really reinforced my thought from the morning. How important it is to have a clear idea from the outset what the picture is about. A delightful beam of sunlight was washing the rear of the bridge abutment which I should have concentrated on rather than adding as an afterthought. Also, didn't really manage to capture the sun on the foreshore in the foreground.
An odd picture but educational experience. Thank goodness I was wearing my wellies!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Another plein air day. Started on the river bed near the floating bird sanctuaries, looking towards Wandsworth bridge, almost contra jour. The tonal range and colour notes are good. I got a bit sloppy with the brush strokes in the foreground, they were just scraped on, rather than placed thoughtfully. The upward fade on the poles was, I think, a consequence of their being less soiled with barnacles and other river detritus at their peaks. Noticing and recording this resulted in a rather satisfactory blending into the sky which I think works very well. The tone and sharp edges of the boats mid river are a bit harsh. 

I turned around and walked to the other end of the bird sanctuaries. To avoid the full force of the sun on my canvas I had to place it at 120 degrees from the scene I was viewing. 90 degrees has been my previous maximum. It was hard work and gave me a neck ache and didn't result in a particularly good picture. Because I was looking into the sun and painting in the shade I was a bit tentative with my paint and it ended up being a bit thin. Tonally a bit dull. Didn't manage to capture the sunny day!

Cycled down to Barnes for an afternoon session on the towpath, looking east towards Barnes railway bridge. I caught the sunny weather much better in this picture, but feel I should have simplified some of the shapes a bit to make them more understandable.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Another plein air day! There's a beautiful Victorian cottage in its own fenced area not more than 100 metres from Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park. The front of the house and adjacent barn look like they haven't changed in 100 years. A very beautiful sight on a sunny day. There's lots of bravura brushwork in this painting, but I got carried away with brushwork at the expense of shape in the trees. The large tree on the perimeter is lacking sculpted shape/form. However the overall colour palette and tonal range is OK.

When driving from Putney to Gatwick airport I often take a short cut via Tickners Wood. It's a really picturesque route, and not well known, thankfully. I decided to try and capture it on canvas! It's where the south downs start, south of London. The composition works well, but the sunlit leaves in the foreground are a bit harsh against the overall colour harmony of the piece. Though I'm a fan of good edges.... the right hand sides of the trees cut the picture like a pair of scissors. Maybe a bit too sharp!