Part 4 – Exercise 6 – “Painting a landscape outside” – finished study

I have fallen behind a bit with posting to my learning log this month as I have been concentrating on trying to get the exercises completed in time – so this is catch up time!

The brief:

When you’ve chosen your location, make a preliminary visit to work out the view you wish to paint and the level that you wish to work at. A favourite walk along a river or in a park will present a view that you’re accustomed to seeing from a standing position; it may seem quite different – and not necessarily what you want – from a seated position. Getting familiar with a place will help you to identify key features and areas of interest. It will also help you to establish the mood and atmosphere that you want to capture. You’re more likely to find a way of simplifying and interpreting what you see when you know a location well.

How much privacy will you get? Some people don’t mind an audience whereas others may find this irritating or intimidating. If you can find a quieter spot do you feel safe there? Make sure that someone knows where you are at all times.

As you look for a suitable viewpoint, consider the overall composition of your picture. How will you divide up the picture space? Will you have a wide expanse of sky or an extensive foreground? Is there a feature such as a building, tree or gateway that can provide a focal point for your composition?

Make several rapid sketches from different angles. This will help you to frame your painting. Work out the horizon level or dispense with it altogether. Look for contrasting tonal areas that will create dynamism. Make colour notes and take some photographs.

Be aware of how you can exploit linear or aerial perspective in the view that you’ve chosen to paint. Locate what’s near or far or in the middle distance; details and features will help you with this.

Look at the different sketches you’ve made. Have you identified a successful composition that seems to work for you? Look again at the scene depicted. Has the light changed much? Can you resolve difficulties caused by shifting light? Spend a few minutes just looking and
thinking about the scene you’ve chosen. Consider what the key features of the scene are and make decisions about the range of colours that you’ll use. Try to be economical and maintain a restricted palette. Look at the unity between different greens or the slight modulations in greys and earth colours evident in a winter landscape. Are there hot spots of colour (especially in autumn) or dramas of intense contrast?

If you’re working on an urban landscape, how can you exploit the contrast between hard and soft landscape elements? Wherever you are, notice how the colours in the sky are reflected in water or on the reflective surfaces of roofs, pavements or even foliage.

Decide how to approach your painting. You can sketch in light outline shapes with a light diluted neutral shade or you can begin by laying down areas of tone or colour. If you’re working in oils you’ll have to be cautious about inadvertently mixing from one area to another. Don’t be afraid to leave bare areas of the support. The sketchy and loose nature of paintings completed outside can have a power that is hard to replicate in the studio. Pressure can work well for you if you let it. Working at speed and with little time to correct or alter can give your work great freshness.

In a successful painting, all parts of the composition hang together as a whole rather than reading as a set of disparate parts. One way to ensure this is to set up colour echoes from one area of the picture to another. For example, you might bring in touches of blue from the sky into foreground grass or trees, or touches of the land colour into clouds so that the picture has an overall unity of colour. Landscapes often fail because the sky seems unrelated to the land, especially when the sky is clear blue.

Skies frequently create problems, especially when you’re working from photographs, where there is a temptation to paint them completely flat as they appear in the photo. If you paint a flat sky and use varied brushwork for the land, you’ll destroy the relationship between the two, so try to bring your brushwork into both areas.

In the painting below, Sisley has used colour echoes very subtly, suggesting blues among the deep greens of the left-hand tree and touches of yellow and brown in both the clouds and the foreground grasses. The energetic brushwork employed all over the painting helps to give a feeling of movement as well as knitting together all the elements of the composition.

Make notes throughout the whole process – on your preliminary visit(s), during painting and after you’ve finished. Write a commentary (around 500 words) in your learning log reflecting on your experience of painting outdoors and what you’ve learned from it.

The process:

For this exercise I went out and about in and around Inverness for a couple of days seeking out a scene that attracted my attention. I had no pre-conceived ideas about a possible composition other than the fact that I wanted to include something of the built structure around the city.

I finally returned to a space on the Ross-shire side of the Beauly Firth directly under the Kessok Bridge that links Inverness-shire with the north. I chose a warm still sunny day with some cloud movement and no ‘midges’ and stationed myself at the RNLI North Kessok launch base directly beneath the bridge looking over to the city and the harbour entrance.

I made four sketches of the bridge from different angles from a standing position at the RNLI base:

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - 4 pencil sketches (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – 4 pencil sketches (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 1 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 1 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 2 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 2 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 3 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – Kessok bridge, pencil sketch 3 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - pencil sketch 4 (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – pencil sketch 4 (click image to enlarge)

After sketching all four angles over a period of about two and a half hours I took a break, had a walk along the promenade back towards North Kessok itself, thinking about which of the four views attracted me the most. Back at my car I looked at all four sketches again and decided on number four as my starting point. I repositioned myself in the spot I sketched for this and took a general reference photo of the wider scene to record the colours and tonal values in that snapshot in time for any work that needed to be carried out back in the studio:

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - reference photo (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – reference photo (click image to enlarge)

The reason I chose this view over the other three sketches was being able to capture two of the upright suspension columns – they almost reminded me of rugby posts – and the focal point buildings on the shoreline. The link here to the blue building and red-roofed stand directly behind this stanchion on the shoreline is that this is where Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICT) football club play their games in the Scottish Premier League. It can get pretty windy, cold and wet when the wind and rain blows in from the Moray Firth to the east. Having said that, the other three sketches all had something that attracted my eye – the span of the bridge, the architectural/engineering shapes and even the sense of scale in sketch three with the wee figure in the foreground.

Having decided on sketch four I mounted a pre-prepared and squared up 40 x 40cm canvas board on my easel. The green/blue background wash was made using up left-over paint from earlier work and the squares were marked as 10 x 4 x 4cm squares. I then sketched the scene anew as a guide for perspective:

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - prepared canvas board with pre-painting sketch (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – prepared canvas board with pre-painting sketch (click image to enlarge)

I concentrated at this stage in the process on trying to get the flow of the bridge and its supporting structure marked up against a very basic background of hills and sky shapes. I decided to leave the focal buildings out at this stage as I was confident that I could capture these once the main shapes were in place. My pencil marking was a bit heavy handed, particularly using a ruler to mark in the suspension cables. So, I made a plan to use Indian Ink pens to mark out the cables after the paint was dry.

I used a pochade box easel which was pretty sturdy and stable. I was located on a concrete surround area for the RNLI slipway (well out of the way of any of the potential action!) and it was fairly sheltered from the little wind there was. However, I did end up using a couple of clips to hold the bottom of the canvas board in place just to be sure. In the end the setup was quite stable and ready for painting.

My palette for this painting was acrylic paint as follows:

Sky – Cerulean Blue and Titanium White wash mix with a touch of Payne’s Grey mixed for darker shadows.

Background hills – Raw Sienna, Venice Yellow and Primary Yellow, with a light mix of Cadmium Green Hue. There are housing developments on the opposite southern bank and to my eye they blended into the the surrounding hillside landscape.

Shoreline – Cerulean Blue, Payne’s Grey, Titanium White, Cadmium Red Hue.

Bridge and water – Payne’s Grey, Titanium White, Cerulean Blue.

Brushes used were:

Size 12, 8 and 4 filberts; size 0 round.

Indian Ink: Faber & Castell PITT artist pen – cold grey

Finished study:

Part 4 - exercise 6 "Painting a landscape outside" - finished study "Kessok bridge and ICT" (click image to enlarge)

Part 4 – exercise 6 “Painting a landscape outside” – finished study “Kessok bridge and ICT” (click image to enlarge)

My experience:

I think that I had prepared pretty well for this exercise, getting a painting surface ready in advance and scoping out possible locations. I chose one on the edge to city, a ‘semi-industrial scene’ located in a more rural environment at the entrance to the city from the sea – a hard and soft landscape.

I sketched and painted standing in a location that was safe and quiet (despite the noise of the passing traffic on the bridge) – it was actually very peaceful on the ground and without any interruptions I found it to be a fulfilling and productive day. In the end I spent about eight hours on the exercise on site, with the last half-hour spent inking-in the suspension cables once the paint had dried and before I left for home.

In the end, I think that the painting hangs together fairly well, with hints of colour echoes, highlights and shadows. I’m still not that content with my brushwork – it’s both restrained and loose – and overall I’m not sure it shows the feeling and passion enough, appearing as a more technical rendition of the scene.

I really did enjoy my day at North Kessok – walking the location, checking out the views, sketching what appealed to me, selecting and painting on-site. It was a tiring day in the end – around eight hours of pretty intensive concentration on and off – but as a first serious attempt of ‘en plein air’ painting I was happy with the experience and the end result.

Exercise 6 – painting a landscape outside  ← click the link to download a .pdf version of this page

Stuart Brownlee – 512319

20th August, 2014