Plein air painting along the Stour, heatwave and breeze

Revisiting the River Stour at Spetisbury after twenty five years, prompted by looking through old sketches. I came across a river scene I remember from early one summer morning. I was experimenting with water soluble crayon. How had the scene changed in that time? Would I be able to access the same part of the river? Yes, and I think I recognised the same stretch of riverbank, but things had changed and become more overgrown, and the water level was noticeably lower than that in my sketch, despite it being a similar time of year

The first painting was of very large trees – I think maybe Grey Poplar – on the opposite bank. Late August, very hot and against the light, the intention was to convey the high hot sun using limited palette of crimson, cobalt blue and a raw sienna plus white, on a pink ground. I worked quickly on a 24 x 20 inch canvas.

August Heatwave, Stour – first stage block-in

As the painting progressed I realised I needed to add a couple more colours to the palette but keep things restrained. After an hour and a half I was ready to stop. I returned for a second session to finish the painting a couple of days later.

August Heatwave, Stour. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20″

I looked for the same spot that I drew all those years ago. Not sure I found it, willows grow very quickly
and the whole feel of the place was oddly different.

River Stour, water soluble crayon on cream watercolour paper, 1997

For the second painting I chose a spot where I could see the river turn away in the distance.
There were egrets fishing the shallow water and there are always swans here. Next time I’ll consider including them. This painting progressed very well, and almost completed it in the first session, but returned for a second day to finish off. This time I used a ‘guest’ colour of lamp black – quite fatty and opaque as oil paints go. I rarely use black paint, but used judiciously gives a nice harmony across the colour scheme here. Learning to keep my brushwork looser and without fussing, I feel this is one of my better efforts this year, and working against the light is a real challenge, but I’ve captured something of that feeling in both of these paintings.

September afternoon, River Stour, work in progress day one
September Afternoon, River Stour. oil on canvas 20 x 18″

I also produced two smaller paintings. On a different stretch of the river, where willows have been planted to line the banks, and back at the first location on a breezy September afternoon.

Riverside willows, oil on canvas 14 x 18″

What drew me to this view was the contrast between the grey willows and the large dark oaks behind them, throwing them forward in the soft afternoon sunlight. With the painting below, the breeze whipped up suddenly turning the leaves to show their whitish underside. Colours becoming autumnal but still with warmth to the sunshine, a brilliant time of year. I intend to return later in the autumn to see how things have changed, and perhaps produce more paintings.

September Breeze, oil on canvas 12 x 16″