An earlier landscape art expedition
1 Jun 2019
I spent a week on the coast up at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, UK, in mid July 2016. A beautiful and dramatic fairytale landscape I'd been to before, but only as a stop-off or single day-out from another base. On one of those visits, it had been thick fog! I'd promised myself a longer ‘busmans holiday’ there, painting and sketching, for years and finally, my wish was fulfilled.
My plan, besides enjoying the scenery, was to fill a sketchbook with ideas for paintings and lino prints that I could complete once back home in the studio. This meant I needed to be thorough and study the place well, given I intended creating finished landscape paintings and lino prints from my sketches back at home, some 130 miles South. There would be no popping-out for an hour, or two, just to check how this, or that, looked.
I'd never set out to get to know a place so thoroughly in such a short space of time before, so it was an experimental project.
Below: my sketchbook and two thumbnail sketches exploring ideas for composition, for oil paintings.
On the beach, or in the dunes, every day, all day
Though I'd visited Bamburgh Castle and beach before, so had an initial familarity with the location, there was much I needed to study – to observe – in order to get to know this special place well enough to make paintings and prints of it. By spending a concentrated period of time there, I could learn about the character of the place - on the beach or in the dunes every day and almost all day – come high tide, low tide and inbetween; morning, noon, afternoon and evening; sun, cloud, wind and even rain (though thankfully it was mostly the idyllic sunshine of dreamy days beside the seaside).
The details that matter in landscape paintings
I learned where the rafts of Eider ducks shelter when the wind is from the North. How they're accompanied by Cormorants drying their wings on nearby rocks, and where they all move to when the wind changes direction (See my drawing ‘Idea 26’ above). I observed 'snaps' of photographers (my name for a gathering of these creatures) waiting in the hope of a great sunset, shutter release in hand on the shoreline. I absorbed the ebb and flow of families setting-up camp for a while and then packing for home; how small children race across the vast sands in excitement toward the sea with mum, dad or older sibling following. I saw the light catching the Farne Islands and the sea sparkling with early morning or evening light. Noted the way a mist rises from the surf when it's lively, creating an ethereal softness below the hard lines of the castle rising above.
After a week fascinated by the place free from other distractions, I felt I knew its heart beat. I succeeded in filling a sketchbook as I'd set out to do and returned home confident and bursting with ideas.
Back at the studio…
I couldn't wait to get cracking on paintings and prints when I got home – but it was not to be!
I made a start on one idea for a painting, illustrated below, and produced other preliminary Bamburgh artwork immediately after my visit. Interruptions came quickly crowding-in though and momentum was lost somehow. It had been an experimental trip and it had failed in some way I still don't fully understand yet – but have theories about.
Since then I've hankered after 'doing it properly'. Having cracked making full studies rather than sketches, on location in oils in 2018, I'm convinced a second trip to Northumberland now will turn out differently. I've developed as an artist since my last visit and I hanker after the place even more. My ambition to make artwork inspired by this glorious part of the UK is as strong as ever, perhaps more so.
Making original landscape art is like this. It often takes years for an idea to develop to a stage where you put paintbrush to final canvas successfully. If the location is remote, it's even more challenging. Artists have to be stubborn, unwilling to give up on something that begs to be captured. So here goes with a second bite at it in 2019… wish me luck!
Can you see what it is yet? Perhaps we will in 2019.
I hesitated to show this (below) publically, but decided it demonstrates where I was going with an idea – and surely no one would mistake this for a finished painting. My trip this year to Northumberland will be another experiment. It will be a more informed one though. Developing as an artist is not an overnight job. It takes many years. Especially if you're an artist who is not easily satisfied like me, always aiming to improve on what you've done before rather than settling permanently into a comfort zone. Hobbyist artists tend to come to rest in a permanent place of comfort quite quickly, because their primary motivation is fun and/or relaxation, not hard work. For professional artists, it's not about fun but about aiming ever higher and they embrace hard work and experimentation as the means to get there.
Above is a canvas that's been ‘toned’ - meaning a rough wash of colour has been applied to create a mid-tone against which light and dark can be more accurately judged. It has been marked-out ready for laying-in oil paint. Pretty-much all classically trained painters begin paintings this way, though they don't block in colour quite so quickly, preferring to render light and shade in some detail first.
This is a wonderful iconic view of the castle from above the beach at Black Rock Point, where the Lighthouse and 'Stag Rock' are. I will revisit this view while at Bamburgh which will be interesting.