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.


  1. Lovely paintings Ian. I really like your paint handling - fluid, clean and direct. I too try to use the ground colour as a base tone. For me, the trickiest part is often the first tonal decisions but they set things up for the whole painting so well worth the scrutiny.

    Enjoyed looking at your website....cracking paintings

  2. Thanks David. Yes I am beginning to learn the golden rule. Start well and you're more likely to end well! There seems to be a natural tendency to start a plein air fast and furious rather than measured, to avoid missing changes in the light. I must remember R Schmidt's advice... "Casual is how it looks, not how it is done!"