Monday, 25 June 2018

The Duddon in winter - painting

After my last exhibition one of the people whose opinion of my paintings I value said to me: "I liked your show, but you want to use bigger gestures." In fact the larger paintings in the exhibition did have some big gestures, with rags or knife; but living in a smallish flat while we moved house meant there were more small paintings made with small brushes. But the incentive was there now to paint something less fiddly.

Step one was to cut a piece of hardboard 24 inches by 34 inches and back it with laths to stiffen it. Then I started with a house painter's brush and some ultramarine blue to give wintry feel all over and provide a background for the depth of the wood and the depth of the water.

The sketch was of the River Duddon on December 30th.

The next step was, still with the house painter's brush, to indicate the rocks and the line of the far bank. The rocks were mostly raw sienna, raw umber and cadmium orange, with a lot of white. Where the trees would be I made the strokes vertical.

Then it was a case of dabbing with the rag so as to represent the ground on the far bank under the trees. The colours were all wintry, darker as they receded into the wood.

The trees were put in with simple vertical strokes, varying the pressure on the brush so as to get a feeling of rough bark. Umbers and siennas and orange were the main pigments, but also some of the green of old moss, made with ultramarine and cadmium yellow.

All these painting sessions were separated by a good deal - sometimes days - of looking and thinking.  The actual painting sessions were more like an hour each. By this stage I was bringing the picture down to the sitting room for a few days and then taking it back up to the painting room when opportunity offered. Now came the moment I was worried about. I had to start working on the water.

The question was what should be light and what should be dark. And also what should be reflected. I did want to give the feel of an ordinary mid-winter day with a river neither in spate nor low.

I see that the photos, smaller and on screen, do not show how these versions were not quite right. As I said above, some days were spent thinking between each version.

The pale areas are made with ultramarine and white, raw sienna and white and cadmium orange and white. The fact that it is not clear which patches are reflections of the sky and which are white water over rapids is immaterial to me. I mostly used an old brush with stiff bristles to give a feeling of turbulent water, with layers showing though. From time to time during this process the rocks had been given a little more definition. The strong diagonals in the composition from bottom left to bottom right are balanced by the diagonals of the rocks, from bottom right to top left.

The loosely scrubbed pale patches were seen to contain a very distracting image of a face.

Well, I think this is finished. Some dark lines - mixtures of ultramarine, raw umber and cadmium red deep, were used to give a little more definition to the flow of water. Between the foreground rocks there was put a quick suggestion of looking through the water to the stones beneath. If this looks more like a touch of shore above the water-line that does not matter. Perhaps I will make some more changes, but I think this is it.

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