Tag Archives: Oil Painting



early 19th cent. (earlier (mid 17th cent.) as hibernation): from Latin hibernare, from hiberna ‘winter quarters’, from hibernus  ‘wintry’.

1  (Of an animal or plant) spend the winter in a dormant state

1.1 (Of a person) remain inactive or indoors for an extended period

Many of the animals and plants have lost their rest time this year, while I have been pulled inside, further motivated by the strong weather in these parts.

In the city we forget about seasons, barely break the momentum of our summer stride, neon lights sustaining our wilful avoidance of the planet’s rotation. Our energy levels and motivations dip, and we often forget to ask why, berating ourselves for a loss of performance, productivity, and drive. In the countryside, no such illusion persists. We are as subject to light and cold as the next creature. The vulnerability of ageing, injury, and loss, sit more clearly somehow. The cycle of life shows more vivid.

So on those days I haven’t been working on my studio space, and my extremities complain against the cold at each furtive attempt at plein air practice, I found myself prone to hibernate. Trying to structure my days with research and method, reading up on this land, on Carravaggio (Helen Langdon), and Ruskin (Elements of Drawing); drawing; returning to some rudimentary exercises; completing some ‘artists admin’ i.e. sharpening my pencils, cleaning my paint tubes, or stretching paper.

interior with chair 28 01 16 wmJust in time, before ‘the fear’ firmly gripped me again, I remembered the words of a good friend: ‘When you can’t paint outside because of bad weather, just go back to those little interior paintings of yours’.

The more I painted, the happier I felt, and with the growing enjoyment of working with oil again, the pleasure intensified. What a relief…

‘I have a predilection for painting that lends joyousness to a wall ‘ (Renoir)

In search of my Northern Soul.. 6

I am not Ronny Barker

When I started on this project I had thought to begin in the land of my forefathers, with a look at recent social history, and create a visual record of the locality. Then after a month I would move on, again seeking common themes and constructing my narrative.

When I began to look into the wealth of social and economic history of this area I realised what a preposterous notion that was. It was the artistic equivalent of backpacking through Asia on a gap year; the work of a visual tourist.

Certainly this approach has appeal for some, and a seductive momentum of its own. Many creative projects have been arbitrarily curated in this time-limited fashion ‘a painting a day’, ‘around the world in 80 paintings’,  ‘a month in madrid’. Yet that isn’t my purpose. I want to get to know the character of my home country, its geology and geography, its biology and ecology, the sites and the society.

I firmly believe that as an outsider, generalised statements about communities lacks credibility. An artist offers you their own perspective on the world, and that comes with the bias of a different upbringing, history and heritage. The integrity of the work comes from acknowledging that unique subjective observation of the environment in which you work. So my focus has shifted to be what engages me about this country, not what I expected to find.


In Search of My Northern Soul.. 5

Inspired by my trip to the Netherlands with a wealth of visual information in my head, I was determined to get back out into the open air.

I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to winter plein air painting. Notorious amongst my friends for the numerous layers I need to take camping in the summer, I prepared as best I could: two pairs of glove liners, latex outers, wrist warmers, fingerless additions to the top of the three underlayers. For the feet, Two pairs of winter socks and one thin pair of silver socks recommended by the Raynaulds Society. My circulation is terrible!

I struck out for a sheltered spot in a copse of beech and fir. Starting fully 2015-11-20 10.40.26gloved I realised I had forgotten my palette knife (clearly I need to brush up on packing my school bag properly), which most definitely hampered my operating speed. I had to take off my gloves to work with a smaller brush, and within 10 minutes they were red raw. It may have been a bright day, but it was 4 degrees out there and the wind had a cunning instinct for seeking out its prey.

Beaten, I wove my way through the red-flagged shooting parties and resolved to try as do some other plein air painters like Tom Coates, finish the work in the studio, or in my case, the barn. I don’t usually adopt this practice because the change of pace alters the character of the work: you are not directly responding to the natural lighting conditions so you lose some dynamism. What is positively different is the dialogue with the material has the upper hand; this certainly shouldn’t be avoided – the balance and counterbalance of subject and process is the essential rhythm of a painters workflow.

So, another hour under cover and this was the result. Perhaps this approach has potential…

waterloo monument wm
The winning side, Ancrum

Paint Discoveries

Many months ago a photographer friend, Jamie Dunn asked if I might be interested in some old paint and brushes, which had belonged to his grandmother. They dated from the 1930s onwards and are objects of desire in themselves. Tiny little travel tubes of Winsor and Newton, ideal for plein air painting. Some had dried, and some were tight shut. But after some coaxing most offered up their contents.

Vintage paints

I was particularly interested in the Raw Sienna, as I once heard genuine supplies of clay could no longer be had for love or money. Sadly it didn’t look like not a usable tube – immersing the tube in unrefined linseed had the desired effect of softening the rich colour to a paste, but scraping the tube brought some lead deposit out in a darkening grit that contaminated the paint. Lesson learnt!

1930's Vs 2010's Yellow Ochre
1930’s Vs 2010’s Yellow Ochre



I moved on to the Yellow Ochre, which had been perfectly sealed. You see a stark comparison between the older colour – a lighter yellow and the Old Holland modern equivalent. The texture is fine but fluffy, whereas the new paint is buttery. I sometimes indulge in it to make up a little Paynes Gray, but there’s barely a few beans of the stuff.

In the haul along with a sharp Chrome Yellow, Windsor Violet and Lamp Black, I have a few half tubes of Alizarin Crimson to play with. For me, the jewel in the crown was a half tube of Genuine Vermillion. I covet it so much I usually hide it away and I haven’t actually used it since the self-portrait, Sacrifice, was completed at the start of this year. I have to accept I’ve hidden it far too well this time ☹