One of the reasons why I love to sell my work through Open Studios is because the people who visit, whether they actually buy anything or not, come because they are interested in art and like to talk about it.
So I thought it would be interesting to use this blog to talk about some of the things which people most often comment on when they come to my studio. I would love it if you would like to follow this up by posting your comments here, or (as many of you already do) by sharing your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook.
For obvious reasons my use of colour is one of the things most often commented on in my paintings, and one of the most commonly asked questions is whether that is how I see the world when I am walking around...
Well, no not really... In fact not at all. When I paint I am not seeking to produce a naturalistic image of a view, so I don't feel obliged to recreate the actual colours which I happened to see on a particular occasion.
Bright colours lift my mood. And I think a love of colour is one of the things which drew me to art in the first place. I can remember to this day the elation I felt as a teenager on first seeing one of Van Gogh's paintings of a peach tree in blossom in the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
Colour for me expresses freedom and beauty and the intensity of emotion I associate with being alone in the hills or on a beach in the sea bright light watching the crashing waves.
I hope in my art to share that joy with you, and if I can achieve that, then I am happy.
On choosing colours...
A related question which people often ask is how I choose which colours to use.
Clearly to an extent it's dictated by the mood of the painting, the light and the time of day. So in the watercolour of Great Mell Fell above I wanted to capture the light of the sun on the fellside late on a summer's afternoon as we returned from a long walk in the hills.
Of course the colours are there: the golden glow on the hillside and the reds and greens of the bracken, heathers and grasses are there in the landscape, but in my painting I am looking for a more vibrant effect.
It helps to use layers of pure colour, not mixed on the palette, and a lovely way to explore this is to do preliminary drawings with coloured pencils. This takes away the urge to mix and match colours before they are applied to the painting. It is particularly useful to do this with my acrylic paintings, where the texture underneath encourages the colours to break up and show through in the same way as the pencil lines.
When I sketch on location, I often rely on a very limited palette of three inktense blocks, as in the sketch of Long Meg below. This was ample to inform the colours I used in both the large acrylic painting and the smaller watercolour which I painted at a later date. Neither is a direct copy, but a combination of sketch and memory were more useful than a photograph could ever be!
There is so much more to say on this subject! Every painting is different and I do use a variety of references - sometimes from location sketches, other times from sketches made from photographs. I will come back to it another time.
In the meantime please do share your thoughts. There is a link below for you to make comments directly on this blog.
It was a surprise to me on my return from my first trip to the Mediterranean to find myself painting townscapes. Before I went I had thought about painting the coast and the countryside, but it was the towns which captured my imagination. The ancient cities, built to protect their inhabitants from constant invasions, had an air of mystery and permanence which the dusty countryside, desperate for water and under pressure from development could not match at the end of a long hot summer.
Walks in the countryside were marred by the daily presence of hunters shooting at every migrant bird which had the misfortune to seek landfall on Malta. We were shocked by the extent of this and the way in which the hunters seemed able to ignore the law against killing birds of prey with impunity.
We learned from our Maltese friends that this is a hugely controversial and political topic in Malta at present. Birdlife Malta is an organisation which opposes the hunting at considerable personal risk to its members and supporters.
In this view of Valletta from Sliema seafront, I loved the solid bastions, the buildings piled up together, the glorious dome of the church in contrast to the steeple of the English cathedral, the terracotta domes and the unifying effect of the warm Maltese stone. I found I could achieve a degree of realism without too much detail by painting on a textured surface with a palette knife, as I do in many of my British landscapes.
The Cittadella on Gozo is a medieval fortified township which rises serene and beautiful above the modern town of Rabat (Victoria.)
I painted it from a viewpoint at Ta Cenc looking across the cultivated fields. In this painting I wanted to reflect not only the grandeur and beauty of the ancient citadel, but also the force of my emotions about the chaos and disorder of the surrounding countryside.
I approached the painting using the same techniques and colour palette as the Valletta picture, but with a much freer approach to the foreground. It was a challenge to combine the figurative image of the buildings with the abstract foreground. However, it seemed to work if I gradually reduced the focus of the buildings in the town. The red paint in the foreground was applied with a palette knife straight from the tube.
I do hope to paint more townscapes in the future, but for the time being I am enjoying a return to more familiar territory in the hills of the English Lake district. Still serene, seemingly impregnable and beautiful, but definitely not dry and dusty!
10% of the sale price of paintings of Malta will be donated to Birdlife Malta.