Exploring the outdoors with a brush
Summer has passed and with the introspection of Autumn I realized my writing has been a bit slack. It has been a busy summer with lots of painting practice. I finished my painting of the taxidermized starling, which was fun and inspired me to practise some more. Also, there were a few exhibitions with the opportunity to engage with art lovers and other artists, which is always valuable after spending time in artistic solitude. One of the exhibitions was the local art trail of Westvoorne, where I had the chance to exhibit, do a drawing demo of a taxidermized guillemot and sell some of my bird drawings. The portrait ‘Annie in blue’ was selected for the Dutch portrait weekend in Amsterdam, which had ‘Remembrance’ as main theme this year. On top of that, one of my tree drawings was selected for the Climate Expo 2022 exhibition in Zwolle, and was sold. It always makes me happy that a drawing that I spent so much time with, is chosen to adorn somebodies home. Positive feedback is an important fuel for my creative drive, to give meaning, and create something that somebody else appreciates.
Also, the countryside surrounding me provides me with plenty of inspiration: the North Sea within good cycling distance, a river with lots of birdlife and the fields surrounding the village with the wide-open sky above. Summer provides a very good opportunity for painting outdoors. Away from the studio, feet touching earth, wind in my hair and the sun always the mystery guest.
My first ‘en plein air’ experience on the beach came with lots of energy and some overwhelm. So much to see. I enjoy drawing and painting from life so much more than working from photo reference but I also find it quite hard to focus and distil the critical elements that make up the painting to be. There is so much that draws me in, shapes, colours, contrasts, light, air, atmosphere, structure, that I don’t know where to begin. And yet from the energy of excitement my brush simply starts to paint. As working with colour is relatively new to me, it still takes quite a while to mix the colours that represent the elements I see before me. So usually after 1 to 1.5 hour I’m ready to apply the first layer of paint. This layer has a lot of solvent and will dry quickly, so after a swim and a tea break, I’m ready for the next layer. By this time the beautiful cloud formation I am ready to put on canvas has disappeared and there is only blue sky. But not to worry, keep the clouds and move on to painting the sea. As I happen to paint on a location where the sea is quite calm, I am now facing the challenge to represent a water surface that has very little wave activity and that doesn’t show any structure that I can use to represent the feel of water. I’m obviously experiencing the current limit to my skills here, and after some going back and forth, I’m moving into the foreground of the scene. As the tide is going out, I can see lovely reflections in the wet sand. But with the sun coming and going, the colours are changing endlessly and with the tide receding further and further, there are not many elements to behold long enough to get a representation of sorts. In the meantime, along with my usual sense of struggle for control, I also have a lot of fun although I feel a bit fragile and exposed to scrutiny. People walk by and seem to like what I’m doing, and the casual conversations add to my enjoyment of outdoor painting. After three and a half hours I’m exhausted and while far from what I envision a seascape should look like, I am content with my effort. When I leave to bike home, I am rewarded with a visit from two royal spoonbills foraging close by.
Later in summer, I had some more practice near and far from home: more beach scenes where at one afternoon, my board was blown from the easel into the sand halfway my painting session. A willow tree in the early morning, during a heatwave, before the scales had hit 30 0C. Beautiful clouds above the fields, getting darker and darker, ending in a downpour on my painting board and on me. A rocky coast in Britany, where heavy winds threw my easel to the ground once more. A lovely French landscape that ended swiftly when a little bug invaded my cloths and send me packing faster than I ever had before. Outdoor painting is an experience in itself.
With the summer gone and the autumn winds and rain setting in, I’m now enjoying the serenity of working from home. I’m working from computer screen to explore the separate elements of the outdoor painting efforts of last summer. I also started painting from life, some apples from the garden and other fruits. As it is an old cottage style building with not too many windows, it is often rather dark to be working with daylight. A friend of mine noted that it might be because of this lack of light that my still life paintings have a feel of the old masters. What a lovely compliment. This feedback comes in handy at moments when I feel that ‘I will never get it'. That’s where friends are for.
So gradually I’m putting in the hours and working on my skills. The concept of beauty is growing within and as always, my hands can’t create what the mind has discovered…yet. But in the end, it just a matter of taking one step at a time. And never forget to appreciate the beauty that got me started in the first place.