Bamburgh, Northumberland:‘Toward the Castle’
Bamburgh Castle is instantly recognizable – once seen, never forgotten. It rises above majestic rippling dunes and an epic beach on the Northumbrian coast of the UK. It's one of my favourite places, and I never tire of it.
Perhaps it's appeal stays fresh because I don't get to go as often as I'd like. I had the good fortune to secure another week's painting holiday there in 2019. My last trip was three years before, in 2016.
The excitement of returning to this striking location was enough on its own. Add new outdoor painting kit I'd not owned the last time I visited, and I was fit to burst with anticipation when I set off.
This oil painting was made on the first day there. The castle silhouette towers over the sun washed beach. The fortress is often a shadowed profile against a sunlit sky when viewed from the North like this.
The sun always seems to catch the white top of the remainder of a windmill, built within the castle's grounds. The white cap often stands out, along with a particular window high in the main tower, that glints with reflected light.
original plein‑air painting
- Artwork Size: 25.4 x 30.5 cm (10 x 12 ins)
- Medium: oil
- Ground: canvas panel
I always love the way the castle hugs the contour of its mound. It seems to tumble toward the beach, especially from this angle.
This view from up the beach toward Budle Bay is the most iconic in my view. No wonder so many photographers and artists have photographed and painted it.
I set my plein-air easel up on the edge of the dunes, slightly elevated above the beach. Though the weather was not the warmest, I'd found an idyllic sunny spot nestled between mounds of dune grass.
The beach spread out in front of me, the grasses gently swayed and the sound of the sea drifted with the breeze – a magical landscape if ever there was.
How I made this Plein‑air painting
This modest oil painting was painted while sitting in the dunes. I used a classical approach in landscape art, called Alla Prima. What that means is that the paint is applied thinly, and without a lot of blending.
Brushes loaded with oil paint are placed on the canvas and a simple stroke of paint is applied. No mixing, or blending. It's why it's also often called 'direct painting'.
If a mark is not right, then another is placed over the top, though the aim is to get it right first time, of course. Touching the canvas lightly with colour, and getting it right in one go, takes a lot of focus.
The sky was worked quickly – another characteristic of Alla Prima art. The light was changing all the time, and often in dramatic ways.
There were clouds blowing across the scene throwing swathes of the landscape into darkness in one instance. Then in another moment, the whole scene would light up again.
I was constantly tempted to change the painting with every shift of the light! This would not have been a good idea. The painting would have been overworked all too quickly, so I had to hold to my original intention when I settled down to paint.
Painting outside is such a challenge – I'm still learning.