Tag: landscape painting

Pastel sketch from a quick snap, Bamburgh Castle bathed in morning light

Bamburgh June morning, pastel 2024

I’m visiting Northumberland for the first time, in a sunny a warm week in June. Setting off for an early morning walk on the empty wide beach beyond the dunes, itself a special landscape of long grasses, wildflowers and this time of year, many orchids.

Bamburgh Castle dominates the view in silhouette as we approach, the clear morning light is spectacular. Today is one of those occasions where you can take a quick snap from inside the car – there is no-one around – except dog walkers and bird watchers. I used the photo reference a week later to produce a pastel sketch on Fabriano paper, aiming to illustrate the light that bathes the seen in morning glory.

The sound of the sedge warblers singing from the tops of the bushes in the dunes goes hand in hand with this picture, I hear them when I look at it.

In the evening, the light from the West gives the castle a completely different look, though no less spectacular. Well worth a visit.

Bamburgh Castle evening

Plein Air Painting: high sun diffused by thin cloud

Very often I see something of interest whilst driving. If I can stop – and it’s not always convenient or even possible – I will try a loose sketch and a quick phone snap as a reference. back in the studio I’ll work a sketch up in acrylics, pastel or a mix of media. Here I was interested in the effect of high sun diffused by thin cloud. Will this scene make a good painting?

More often though, walking familiar ground in different seasons, times of day and weather conditions is very revealing. The ordinary can become astonishing in a different light, and a touch of atmosphere can produce surprising changes of appearance, even in the most familiar scenes.

Below is a quick charcoal sketch drawn in a quiet lane in Hertfordshire. I was interested in the road disappearing into the wood beyond, guarded by the tree on the left, and although it had seen better days, I liked the shape against the flat sky.

Bramfield Holly Grove road,charcoal
Holly Grove Road, Bramfield, Herts. Charcoal sketch

A few days later I produced a larger version in acrylic in an A3 sketchbook. The flat but bright overhead light gives form to the hedges and reflects off of the road, and without painting the sky and leaving it as white paper, I seem to have captured the diffused glow of the scene.

Bramfield Holly Grove road, Acrylic sketch, sun diffused by thin cloud
Holly Grove Road, Bramfield, Herts. Acrylic in sketchbook, 2024

Familiar Ground

My local vineyard is familiar ground, drawing and painting there often. With this plein air acrylic sketch, I was interested in the arrangement of verticals and horizontals, with the support posts of the vines at uneven angles leading to the single apple tree in blossom. The flat bright light overhead reveals the crown of the handsome sycamore in the centre of the picture, with the farm in the middle distance and the Downs beyond.

May in the Vineyard acrylic sketch
May in the Vineyard. Acrylic in A3 sketchbook, 2024

I wasn’t sure I wanted to include the distant hill, so produced a charcoal drawing bringing the farm down
and altering the format to a more square proportion.

May in the Vineyard charcoal sketch
May in the Vineyard, charcoal sketch

The painting I ended up with had no buildings in the frame, and I opted to use painting knives instead of brushes. Two plein air sessions of about an hour and a half each, and some finishing touches in the studio completed the picture, and I like the effect of the high sun diffused by thin cloud.

May in the Vineyard, oil, 30x20 2024
May in the Vineyard, oil on canvas, 30×20″, 2024

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″

Plein Air Painting: new local views in oil

Here are two small 12 x 8 inch canvases painted in the same week, at different times of day.
Both are looking Southwest from the Downs here in Dorset.
The first painting went very smoothly, and was painted mid morning with a fair amount of cloud.
I used a red ground to help the greens and blues pop a little. Before I’d finished, a lady passed by with her dogs and stopped to admire my progress. She ended up buying the picture ‘off the easel’, which I was thrilled about, as that almost never happens! It’s now my new favourite thing.

Work in progress, red ground showing
The finished painting

The second painting didn’t go quite as smoothly, but came together right at the end. I had two sessions for this one, on consecutive evenings. The main problem was the low sun cast shadows on the right hand bank which moved very quickly. The first day I worked on the distance and middle distance, and by the time I was happy with that, the whole track was in shadow. The following evening I reworked the middle distance trees and concentrated on the track. It’s still not the painting I had in my mind’s eye when I started, but I’m content that it’s all a learning process!

The finished painting. Compton Abbas from the Capstitch, July evening. Oil 12 x 8

Set yourself a challenge

New year, new paintings. Attracted outdoors by a welcome break in the flat grey days we’ve been subjected to,
the bright sun streamed across this lane, sparkling off the wispy young hazel growth and bathing the near bank
in sunshine. Essentially looking into the light, my challenge was to convey this drama with little tonal value changes for the most part, and try to describe the brightness.

I decided to rework the hedge when back indoors the following day and re-establish some values. A few flicks of white for sunlight catching the branches is easily overdone, I think I got away with it. Win Green Hill in the far distance helps the feeling of depth enormously.

Winter sunlight, Brookwater Lane. oil on canvas 10 x 12 Jan14, 2022

Slow line, quick wash

Here are some line drawings from my sketchbook where I’m using a sepia coloured felt-tip pen to draw the scene. Quite a slow, deliberate process compared to my usual freer pencil drawings, and with a couple of these I found it useful to add some watercolour to ‘key in’
some of the spaces.

This first spread shows two drawings of a country road not far from home. I was interested in a graphic, linear shorthand to describe forms and textures. No need for a colour wash here.

Cat’s Hill Lane, Ludwell.
I spent the Easter break with family in Dorset. I’ve driven past this winding lane countless times over the years and only now decided to stop and draw it. The couple walking their dogs came from behind me and strolled down the lane. I waited until they reached the shed before sketching them in. I added some colour to the verges and meadows, including the far field where the cows are grazing.

This drawing is of a small stream winding its way through a copse in the spring sunshine. The bottom of the stream here is muddy but in other places it is stony and moderately fast flowing. In many places the water is only two inches deep, but there are some deeper pools where small fish find a decent living. I edited out quite a lot of ‘tree bits’ and settled for just enough to describe the overall look of the spot.

At the end of this small copse, the stream emerges and cuts across the green lane before
falling through the roots of a tree in a mini, noisy waterfall and creating a deepish pool, before continuing on through the hedgerow. I got the watercolours out for this one.

The owl sees me

This image is a slight departure as I’ve used cut and torn paper to tell the story and simplify things. It’s the moment when you are confronted by the unexpected. On a late afternoon visit to the rough field behind the cottage this barn owl and me surprised each other around the headland shrubbery. I was aiming at capturing the suddenness of it all.

The paper is nearly all Ingres pastel paper with a piece of old oil painting block, now
too brittle to paint on. Although the landscape is described with torn paper, there were
still some decisions to make with placing and colours. I cut out a dummy owl from
plain white paper to position it until it felt right. Cutting the bird off the edge of the frame is crucial, as is the angle, it gives the sense of surprise and urgency I was after. In the event, the bird was quite indignant, and performed a mini hover and let out a harsh squawk, before flying off in the opposite direction!the-owl-sees-me

Into the Spring

Here are a few sketches from the countryside around me. With Winter now passed into Spring, the sun is higher in the sky, with brighter days lingering longer into early evening.
There is much activity, and so much energy around, with leaves about to burst open, birdsong and Hares having dust-ups in the middle of the green wheat fields.

This first sketch is of a sunny hedgerow leading up to a wood on the hilltop.
Although drawn back in February, the day was bright and the wind was kind.

winter-hedges-in-sunMarch 20th, late afternoon, a little weak sunshine and a cold wind. Still fully kitted out in hat, scarf and gloves (aiming to avoid any unnecessary discomfort) maybe I’m just getting old! This drawing is the same view from a little further to the right. I wanted to show the hedge curving uphill to the wood, from where a buzzard was mewing. Both of these were painted on the spot on 140lb paper.

up-to-the-woods-march-2015The two sketchbook drawings below started out as felt-tip pen sketches and colour was added back at home. I like this method as it forces me to simplify things and the marks become more gestural and stylised. Also, I can’t seem to be able to “paint” landscapes indoors, I have to be out there, in the moment.

I can’t resist the bend in a country lane. I think it’s because I’ll always wonder what lies beyond. With the field entrance drawing, using Naples yellow in the sky sells it as early evening, and the looming dusk atmosphere comes across pretty well.


evening-fields-march-2015-smThis picture was painted on another cold afternoon, but there was some sunshine. It’s a painting of not much at all, but the rows of young broad beans sweeping across the field lent themselves to the cause well enough. Apart from being a memory aid, I do see the
cold when I look at it, so it has a subtle something about it, so I’ve included it here.



Stebbing 235

Here are some sheds sitting on a bend in the road that were once the premises of a small village business. There are interesting details, such as the concertina sheet metal doors, the home made sign using old 3d letters from car license plates that faded from use in the 1960’s,  and rust has taken hold of the sheet metal and galvanised roof, but the site is still in use. I love this sort of thing. It’s a real gem.


For my watercolour and ink drawing I chose a viewpoint from the grass verge opposite, as I was interested in the ragged edges of the tin roof and the willow trees behind that framed the buildings nicely. Starting with a rough pencil guide, I laid muted watercolour washes working over them in places with mid toned and then darker black ink washes to achieve the muted effect, finishing with some black dry brush textures and a few lines. I titled the drawing ‘Stebbing 235’ after the old telephone number.

Only when I’d finished did I see that among the wild flowers in the verge were these bee orchids. Fab.orchid

Blake’s Wood

This is Blake’s Wood, local nature reserve of predominantly Sweet Chestnut, Hornbeam and Oak. I’m in the small parking lot, using the bonnet of my car to double up both as an easel and a table to set out my gear. All quiet, sun low but still bright, the different spring greens now merging into similar mid tones as they mature. The faint aroma of the honeysuckle climbing up the tree next to the sign board is attractive enough, but not the subject of this picture. Instead it’s the evening dappled sunlight, the loud, warbling burble from the Blackcap who seems to circle me, first behind, then here, then over there.
It’s the light falling through the leaves and onto the ground. The sign board invites you to engage, you are here on the map…have you seen all the woodland creatures they mention in the text? Yes of course.

A stranger arrives and parks up. He comes over “can I see?” Yes of course. “Nice”. We chat about wildlife in general, and conclude we have both heard a cuckoo nearby, an ever rarer treat that was once much more common. With camera equipment and a natty camo t-shirt, Adam explains he’s off around the corner where there is some remnant heather heath, hoping to capture a shot of some adders that he’s seen there, bathing in the evening sun. Just great.