I’ve just completed this small oil painting if a group of holiday makers on the beach at Whitby in north Yorkshire. Lots of pure, atmospheric blues and purples in this scene because I wanted to suggest the clear air and bright, high midsummer sun.
Heres a couple details from small paintings that take a long view. I’m fascinated by zoomed up views of objects on the far horizon – the way the colours merge towards the blue end of the spectrum and the way the features flatten out and tend towards abstraction.
This long summer continues so I’m making the most of it and painting watercolours near my home. I’m lucky to live on the edge of the west pennine moors and a short climb always rewards with panoramic views over Lancashire and Cheshire. Today’s view was slightly closer to home: this is Ormston’s Farm near Horwich.
This painting has been on my studio easel for a few weeks now. I’m trying to keep it fresh while at the same time making sure the figures are convincing. ‘Convincing’ to me doesn’t necessarily mean lots of detail – just that perhaps, if you half close your eyes, the figures could almost move.
I do have a small photograph of this scene that I’ve been using for reference, but as the painting develops, I’m using it less and less. This means that the painting progresses more slowly but that the finished painting will avoid the stilted look of paintings done directly from a photo.
I’m currently working on another moorland landscape. Here’s what I’m thinking as I paint.
- Long lines seem to be inscribed on the moors which become overwritten with the roads, paths and field boundaries as the cross, join and erase the earlier marks.
- There’s a papery feeling to the flat spaces of the high moors, especially when the grasses are dry.
- I Read that the underlying shape of the moors was created by successive ice ages over the last 500 thousand years. The glaciers rolled over the hills and they were worn smooth by the grinding action of the slow-moving ice. That’s amazing to me.
- Horizontals elements in this landscape are strong, with vertical elements remaining only as ‘grace notes’.
- Muted colours from grass, gorse and bracken gather their luminosity and vibrancy by their being right next to colours of similar tone but different hue.
- Grasses create areas of velvety softness to annoy artists.
- Distant towns are ultramarine blue and raw umber and often contain bright white roofs from out of town shopping centres and industrial zones – a contrast to the immediate wildness of the moor.
- Aerial perspective is achieved by the subtle graduation of tones towards whiteness at the horizon. And also by the natural cooling of foreground browns and reds towards cooler umbers and ochres at the horizon.
Here’s a new landscape painting based on the landscape looking west from Winter Hill. This is the steep edge of the west pennine moors, where the gentle moorland drops away towards Great Hill and eventually to the Lancashire plain. This particular viewpoint us from Noon Hill Slack, one of the outlier hills to Winter Hill itself. Noon Hill is easily missed and is itself unremarkable except for the views it commands over Anglezarke and Yarrow Reservoirs. If you find this part of Lancashire as wonderful as me, seek out the work of Richard Skelton, especially his Landings book which merges music and poetry inspired by this landscape.
I walked up the the base of the Winter Hill transmitter today, looking for a happy contrast of technology and natural landscape that maybe will form the starting point for a painting later this year. Initially warm, it clouded over and temperature dropped, making sketching difficult.
There are modern technological artefacts all over the West Pennine Moor: mine workings, wind turbines and reservoirs are scattered everywhere. But the most obviously striking of all the modern artefacts is the TV transmitter on Winter Hill. A quick reference to google tells me the rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon was 111 metres tall and the Winter Hill TV transmitter in front of me is 309 metres tall.
Built in the 1960 the TV Transmitter is kept company by a host of smaller radio towers round its base. Like the moon shots, themselves powered by cold war hysteria, at least one of the radio towers around the base of the main mast were operated by the ministry of defence for officially secret purposes. I don’t know if the MoD still maintain any of the radio towers but the area still maintains a certain cold war air of mystery, especially now that some of the masts have an abandoned feel about them. Certainly the radio mast I painted had security cameras and seemed active, with a diesel generator occasionally firing up and release a cloud of exhaust from somewhere behind the structure. I wondered if I was being surveilled from a remote control room somewhere.
It was one of these smaller towers that caught my eye today – a tangle of steel latticework interspersed with telecoms dishes pointing to every corner of Lancashire. An attempt at a watercolour (above) reminded me of the futility of trying to capture every detail and I and to settle for giving a suggestion of the underlying structure. As I painted, a retired truck driver came over to chat and we discussed the benefits of just being outside on the open moors. The sun became hidden by clouds as I painted and it got cold, so I didn’t linger long enough to bring the watercolour to a conclusion.
As I left, a car approached on the service access road from Horwich. It stopped close to where I had been painting minutes before. The driver had a pair of binoculars, looked at me and the radio mast, turned around and left. I did wonder if somewhere, in an MoD control room, someone made a decision to check me out.
Winter Hill dominates the horizon on the West Pennine Moors and frequently appears in my paintings and sketches. I have been planning a full size painting for a while and this one is nearly finished. The distinctive wedge shape is the focus for the composition, as is the the towering rain cloud above it.
Working hard on this painting. Getting the balance between the cool shady areas and the warm sunlit is surprisingly complicated.
Note to self: must go to life drawing class more often!
Another tiny Whitby painting. Not long till long summer days like this return! It’s kind of fitting to paint holiday seascapes on postcard sized paper.
I’m enjoying painting these little watercolours. They’re quick to do and force me to concentrate on the broad brushstrokes rather than getting bogged down with detail.