A lovely autumn walk through the local woods near my hometown in Bolton. It’s a quiet morning, the morning after bonfire night. All the smoke from the night before has more or less dispersed, but there is a smell of smoke and gunpowder still lingering in the air.
For the first time this gloomy month a low sun slants shadows across the footpaths. Looking into the sunlight, mist fills the valleys where the streams run full of water from the recent rains. I’m up early to try and sketch to capture the colours, textures and feelings of this November day.
So I have a sketchbook in my pocket and a sharp pencil, and I know a good place for coffee and sticky cake. But right now no I’m happy just a walk, fix my eyes to the middle distance and let the impressions of a day in late autumn wash over me.
Down by the reservoir, the water provides movement and reflections. at this time of year for water level is very high, lapping up against the footpath and forcing us to use higher paths.
I sit down to sketch by the side of the water, trying to get an impression of this young oak tree seems to be almost drowning in the water. I become a source of interest for the local dogs, being exercised by their humans. The dogs think I’m sitting down to open a picnic, and are disappointed to find just a sketchbook. The sketch I produce is very quick and rough. Sometimes, I look at other artists sketchbooks and I feel jealous that mine are not as neat or as finished as theirs, but then I remember for the purpose and sketch is not to be aesthetically pleasing but rather convey some of the emotions that you felt on the day. A sketch by definition is never finished.
Time for coffee I think. Here’s my sketch.
Is a sun rises in the sky why the quality of the light becomes a little flat the atmosphere a little bit less sparkly. As the morning moves towards noon the light is less interesting perhaps as an artist but the textures and the colours and the shapes and architecture of the natural world still here still waiting to be discovered with a pencil and some paints.
While I’m walking along like I’m often mentally cropping and re cropping the view in front of me – assessing the possibilities for paint to re-interpret this landscape in interesting ways.
Today I think about adding figures to the landscape. For me, there is often a decision to be made as to whether I should include figures in a landscape. Figures in a landscape are often useful to give a sense of scale but I know that as soon as I put person in landscape it’s no longer landscape painting – it becomes a figure study with a landscape in the background. The figures take all the attention and become the focus of the composition.
As I turn around and walk back home with the sun now in front of me and wet puddles at my feet, the sunlight bounces off the water and becomes a second source of illumination. I’m often reminded of the double sunlight in John Betjeman’s poem ‘Youth and Age on Beaulieu River’.
Early sun on Beaulieu water
Lights the undersides of oaks,
Clumps of leaves it floods and
All transparent glow the branches
Which the double sunlight soaks;John Betjeman
Scenes like this can often be inspiration for new paintings. The French Impressionists called it painting contre-jour and used it in many of their most famous works. I like it because it brings out the atmosphere and increases the depth that you can put into a painting. It also simplifies the shapes and colours.
Well, that’s it. When I get home, I have all these memories, photographs and some sketches. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to create at least one new painting. When the painting are finished, you’ll find them on this website!