On Thursday of last week, a friend and I went field sketching as we hadn’t worked on any plein air landscapes lately. Our location was a beautiful piece of private land with open meadows, ancient woodland and ponds.
It was a short drive from home so we left as soon as my friend arrived after seeing her kids off to school. By the time we had got to our destination we had about four hours before we needed to set off again for my friend to get home to collect her kids from school. The weather was perfect and I couldn’t help but marvel at our good fortune on this the next day as it had been cloudy and rainy every day prior to our sketching day and it rained the day after too! Yet that day out sketching was bright, a few clouds but mostly sunny and really quite warm, great for us to sit for several hours to paint in. Both my friend and I are chilly mortals and sitting still for sometime we can get quite cold… it’s all to do with the circulation I think.
We wandered about for the first hour, just to see what was around, although we didn’t get to see half of the 140 odd acres we had to roam in. Down through the woods we went, where the spring growth was still sparse enough to let a fair amount of light through. I had been here twice before and it was always late summer when the woods were heavy with leaf and it was quite dark wandering along the tracks. There was a photo opportunity at every step, in my eyes, but I had to restrain myself aware of the time we had there and the need to get on with the aim of the day, which was to paint.
Because the undergrowth was not yet an impenetrable mass I saw a way down the steep slope the trees shrouded. “Hey, lets go down there.” I said pointing to a deer track that cut it’s way down this steep embankment, thinking it was a good idea. “Not been on the lower slopes before.” So I led the way, valiantly down the steep track laden with rucksack, coat, tripod easel, large umbrella and my Dad’s precious camera. Of course, better sense would have taken into account all the rain we had over the last couple of weeks and the great gouges left by the deer hooves should have been sufficient warning. I did proceed with care, especially after it started getting very slippery underfoot but it was bound to happen. Crash! Down I went onto the wet ground and immediately felt the effects of a stinging nettle on my left wrist. It was quite funny really and I had a little giggle at my foolishness. Nothing got damaged and apart from the stings on my wrist I pretty much got away with it, even to the extent of not getting mud on me. Thankfully my friend made it down in a much more elegant and upright fashion.
We wandered some more and then headed back up through the wood to where we started. On our way, despite our relatively noisy progress, we saw a fox and a couple of roe deer, neither of which I had got on camera as I had it packed away. I let my friend chose the spot where we were to paint, which was a lovely spot at the beginning of our walk at the edge of an open meadow. For our plein air’s I was working in gouache and my friend chose oils. We set ourselves up and got down to the task of the day.
This is more or less the view I had.
I sat for sometime just absorbing the scene and deciding what I wanted to highlight and what I wanted to ignore or tone down. I thought about doing a series of cameo’s of the different dead, exposed branches reaching out beyond the leaf cover to start me off, but as time was pressing on I decided to go straight into the full scene. It was the tree that was the focus of my attention and if I painted the colours as close to life as possible, it would become quite a confused piece and the tree would look lost, as indeed it looks in the photo. So my plan was to ‘knock back’ the far line of trees by making their colours more subdued and to simplify their form. By making their colours slightly different to the main tree there would be less conflict and confusion too.
I started by putting in the blue sky and adding clouds. I used pinkish/grey tones to reflect a little of the warmth of the day but also to portray the darker clouds that skirted across the lower horizon. Then I put n the line of trees starting with the most distant ones on the left working across to the right. Then I mixed a dark-reddish brown and painted in the trunk of the ‘focus’ tree some of its main branches. Then I put on the leaves that visually sat behind said features and touched up the trunk and branches where they came in front of the foliage, adding highlights on the branches where the light filtered through. Then the foliage to the fore was added and then the branch that was sticking out towards me. Finally the grasses of the meadow were implied. Again I kept these to a minimum in colour and detail, as it was the tree that I wanted as the focus of attention. This sketch was done in under two hours, which worked out fine as it was then about time to pack up to leave but also the light direction and therefore the make-up of the scene changes too much after about 2-3 hours.