Tag Archives | plein air

How I Plan a Painting Pt 2 – the finished work!

Marshside East Kent

Marshside – East Kent My view as I arrived

In Pt 1 click here I explained how I go about the planning of a painting and the importance of deciding about the composition and placing of tonal values, ie: where the darkest darks and the lightest lights will be positioned. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen someone take out a photo from a magazine place it in front of them and go to work copying it as neatly as possible! Is that art? The result might be exceptional, but it will always be someone else’s composition and someone else’s colour scheme. When I decide to paint a subject I wouldn’t be happy with another person’s photo. I prefer to work from real life, or sketches, and to play around with composition first, to test the possibilities. The photo above shows Marshside and here are my initial tonal sketches.

Tonal Sketches

Tonal Sketches – I chose the one on the left.

Even if I’m working on a portrait of someone famous, where I don’t have personal access, I would still try to find say, ten photos of the person, then lay them out and design my own composition using the photos and my own sketches as reference material.

Here is my set up for a plein air watercolour painting of the stream at Marshside in East Kent. The stream is important because it used to separate the Isle of Thanet from the mainland, many years ago.

My plein air set up.

My plein air set up – simple and easy to carry.

By squinting I could see that the water was nearly as light as the sky and as the eye naturally seeks out the lightest sections, I chose to darken the sky and some of the nearby water, but leave the lightest patches in the water and through underneath the bridge, to lead the viewers eye underneath the arch. I also thought about removing the signpost. but positioned on the right edge, and pointing inwards it would draw the eye back across to the meadows at the left.

So the eye travels in from the bottom along the stream, under the arch, to the farm buildings, it then meets the signpost and goes left back towards the meadow. I have kept the darkest darks as in the first photo, under the arch, the reflection in the water and the foreground foliage.

Marshside East Kent

Marshside – Watercolour by Julian Lovegrove

From my work in progress photo above, you will see that I don’t always follow the ‘rules of watercolour’ which say you should always paint from ‘light to dark’.  I often like to establish the darks first, and add the lighter colours later, it can lead to a more powerful painting. A favourite watercolourist of mine Jake Winkle, also works this way, and very effectively. Here is my finished work, I hope you like it. By clicking on it, you will be taken to see further photos and details. Enjoy!


Sieze the Day! (Carpe Diem) OK so now I’m a latin scholar!

Pegwell Bay by William Dyce

Pegwell Bay Kent recollection of 5/10/1858 by William Dyce

In a month when I have lost two good friends, who were also fine artists, this is a very apt phrase, for the moment. My friends were certainly very active, trying to learn all they could and to create fresh work, living life to the full, as long as they were able. The alternative to Carpe Diem is Mañana (or Procrastination for short,) meaning, why do something today that could be put off till tomorrow. I hate Procrastination! it is the enemy of creativity. It was Henri Matisse who famously said “Creativity takes courage”. Most artists writers and composers, will understand this. So let’s not waste another moment, lets pluck up some courage and get creating!

May is traditionally the month when us ‘warm weather plein air painters’ wake up from hibernation to discover sunshine and the joys of carrying our equipment, easels, palettes, paints, papers, boards, etc through the woods and along streams or coastal paths to a spot that begs to be painted. The spot that chose me this time was Pegwell Bay. William Dyce who painted the above work, was a geologist, hence his interest in the details of the chalk cliff formations. I chose to paint from the other side of the bay, with these cliffs in the distance. I’ve painted there many times, and many times I’ve returned with nothing except experience, having ruined a perfectly good painting in the final stages.

Pegwell Bay by Julian Lovegrove

Pegwell Bay by Julian Lovegrove

One thing I’ve learned is never to reach those final stages. I aim to get to the point when it is nearly finished and then to leave it alone and take a look a day or two later. I then study it and look for any areas that are not clear or may be confusing to the viewer. Also tonal values, are the darkest darks, dark enough, etc? I then just attend to those issues. When It is complete, I then have to decide if it Is good enough to display or offer for sale? If not, it goes on the ‘also ran’ pile. If yes, it gets mounted and perhaps eventually, framed.

The sun is out again today, hooray! I want to go out painting again, but the lawn needs cutting and how will that get done from Ramsgate I am reminded. A Ha! The life of an Artist is brought back down to earth again!  To visit my on line shop and gallery, click on my painting above. Till the next time!

How I plan a Painting – from the Start – (Part 1)

Here is an explanation of how I approach a painting – Part 1.

1) Planning or Preparation – 5 Minutes Max

Steam train on the Ffestiniog Railway Snowdonia.

Steam on the Ffestiniog Railway, Snowdonia.

Choose a subject – If I’m in my ‘great big studio under the sun’ ie it’s a ‘plein air’ day I’ll spend a minute or two thinking what it is I like about this view, if I’m indoors, I’ll choose a subject for which I already have some quick sketches and perhaps some photographs, from an earlier visit. So I’m thinking about what drew me to this view, was it the way the light ‘caught’ the subject, was it just a ‘pretty picture’ or a view I’ve seen in another painting, or photograph? Once I know why I want to paint this subject, I have to consider other factors that may change the subject’s appearance as I work. So the time of day is important, How will the sun’s movement affect what I’m doing for the next hour or two, which direction is it travelling, what will happen to the colour and intensity of the light and the position of the cast shadows. What about clouds, are there any and how might they develop, its harder to predict this in advance, but I need to think where my lightest lights will be and my darkest darks, and I need to pick a point in time when I decide to fix these in my work. It’s a big mistake to try and follow the sun and the shadows as they move on their way. Am I next to a tidal river or the sea? Is the tide coming in or out? On more than one occasion I’ve found the water lapping at my feet and had to move fast, or the river has turned to mud or vice versa. If I’m in the studio I need to be sure not to just copy the photographs, because the tonal values will lead to a dull uninteresting painting and the colours likewise will be unexciting.

2)  Decide on composition  – 5 minutes max

Tonal or Value Sketches

Tonal or Value Sketches

I sit down, make myself comfortable, and look for the strong shapes – these are important. The bow of a boat, the shape of a building the curve of a road or pathway. What will be the focal point and what can I leave out? Many a good painting has been ruined by having too much ‘clutter’. I know its there, but that is no reason for me to include it in my work. This is where I pull out my artists licence, metaphorically speaking, My most interesting shape, may be a curved footpath, which leads my eye in towards my chosen focal point. Looking around, I also notice an ugly old building, dominating another part of the scene, which is in conflict with my focal point. If it doesn’t add interest to my subject, then I can decide to leave it out. There may be a tree right in the centre of my view, so what’s stopping me moving it to one side, where it could be used to good effect to frame the painting and to prevent the viewers eye from wandering off, out of the picture. My aim is to create a route along which the viewers eye will travel, across and up and down the painting, until they rest at the focal point. The longer I can hold their interest, the more successful it will be.

3)  Tonal and initial sketches  – 5 Minutes Max.

In my sketchbook, I draw a rectangle about 3″ x 2″ and quickly put in the big dark shapes, then the mid tones, and leave the highlights blank, (see above). For the most powerful effect, brightest lights go against darkest darks and vice versa, by squinting, I can determine what goes where. If my plan doesn’t work, I can do another, and darken a highlight or lighten a dark, remember that artistic licence! This is the time to make changes, before water meets the paper. When happy with this sketch, I’ll lightly draw the big shapes in position on my watercolour paper. I’m now ready to paint and its only taken me 15 minutes Max.

Reading in Battersea Park, London

Reading in Battersea Park, London

Because of this preparation, I know exactly how and what I’m going to do, and furthermore, when the finished painting is eventually exhibited, the viewer will see the full range of tonal values, and their eye will be led unknowingly but deliberately, into the painting, and around it on a journey, until it settles on the focal point. They may or may not understand why, but my hope is that they will know that this painting works, it has some attraction, even better if it has made an ’emotional connection’.

That is important to an artist.



Some confessions of a ‘plein air’ painter!

The greatest studio an artist could ever wish for is the great outdoors!

An old painting showing a plein air painter at work

Plein Air by Ramon Casas i Carbo c 1891

Why ‘Plein Air’ Painting? What’s the big idea?

Artists have for centuries wanted to get outdoors and set up their easels and work outside under the hot sun and the brightest light that exists. This is when colours are at their strongest. For court painters and those with wealthy patrons, who could supply staff, this was possible, but not common. For most artists it was impossible to carry everything needed, and then to have to mix his paints, from various earth pigments, usually in powder form with Linseed oils, or even egg tempera, it was just not practical to do this in the field. What changed all this, was when pre-mixed paints were put into little lead tubes, A whole rainbow, of colours, well not quite, but that’s for another time, could now be easily taken outside to be used, and the french impressionist painters who we all know and love today, were the pioneers of this. Here is a picture of an early plein air artist at work about 1891.

O.K. So our artist has arrived, and set up his equipment, its a good warm and dry day with a cloudless sky, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, almost everything actually!

View of Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, North Wales. before the rain.

At Llanberis Pass, Snowdonia, before the rain!

Irrespective of the view, every day Is different. The light is different and it changes constantly, throughout the day and as ‘light’ is the vehicle through which we see, every time the light changes, so the colours change and the contrasts or tones change. At the same time, clouds are forming and moving across the sky, often very quickly. This in turn affects the light levels and changes the cast shadows, not only their shape or intensity, but their colours as well. Add to this, the fact that the light source also moves steadily throughout the day and well, I think you’ve got the picture!

Then someone comes up and says “That must be so very relaxing, painting” Ugh! If I had a £ every time someone said that!

So whilst I’m working at my easel, painting in a ‘relaxing’ manner, inside my head, all this is going on, how to cope with changing conditions, I can’t change with the weather, or the shadows will end up in the wrong places and at the wrong density. or the colours on  the ground won’t match the sky. Errors like this have caught out every artist from time to time. its all part of the learning experience. I hope you can’t spot any errors in this painting of mine, painted at a favourite spot in North Wales, where it usually rains.

Q Are you an artist who has tried plein air painting? I’d love to hear your story! 

Studio Stories – My New Website and Blog

Hello everyone and thanks for coming here to view my new website and blog.

Julian Lovegrove the Artist

This is me standing in front of my shed, looking the true artist!

My plan is to use this facility to engage with my followers and buyers, especially those who have met me in person or on my Facebook Pages, and later, as people get to know me. I hope to reach out to many more of you who are curious about an artists life and the creative spark that fires them.

Q Why did I do this? Good Question. I was encouraged to get more marketing savvy by a very skilled and successful ‘plein-air’ artist from Holland, Roos (Rose) Schuring!

Roos has put in many many hours of her time learning how to set up a modern website, complete with the necessary blog and newsletters, so she can retain control of her own communications and keep in touch with her followers and collectors. She says that many creatives produce wonderful work, but they exhibit or sell very little of it. 

In the past, artists had to rely on galleries, who themselves rely on their own customers, calling in to view each exhibition. Roos knows many artists who love making art,  with popular appeal, yet have cupboards full of their unsold work. Yes – That’s me!

Many of us would love to have a system for exhibiting and promoting our work, yet we shy away from marketing, and end up in the hands of galleries or agents. Lucky for us artists, Roos has produced a course to help us get online and up to date.

I have taken her advice, because I want to clear out those cupboards, to make way for new and exciting work in the future. and since I enjoy writing about these matters, of which I am so passionate, ‘Studio Stories’ the blog, seemed the correct way to go!

So this is it – My attempt to join the professionals and converse with others, who would like to hear my story and who like what I am trying to achieve.