This scene happens to be close to home and presents a lovely natural composition. So often the hardest step for the plein air artist is to find a view that inspires. So I was grateful to set up my easel in front of this scene one morning with a late winter’s sun shining perfectly on the gentle curve of the farm track, lined by conveniently spaced trees on one side and a thorn hedge, with breaks through which the low sun shone, along the other side. The eye is led naturally around the track and watery pools in tractor tracks reflecting the clear blue sky provide foreground interest. Perfect for a mixed media painting.
I had chosen a sheet of Canson Moulin du Roy 140lb (300 gsm) watercolour paper as my support; a beautiful paper that is sufficiently heavy to accept lashings of water and ink without the need to stretch, and with sufficient ‘tooth’ to accept layers of pastel.
After quickly, but carefully, sketching the scene using a pure graphite 4B pencil…
…I then apply a range of acrylic inks freely using a large round watercolour brush, and sometimes the pipette from the ink bottle, keeping the marks free and energetic to provide an expressive tonal base for the painting…
I am careful to leave areas of white paper to help capture in due course the contrasting light of sun drenched areas against those in deep shadow. The inks dry quickly and I move on to the pastels stage, always the most exciting for me, using a range of my favourite Unison pastels. I strive to be expressive with my mark making, avoiding blending so far as possible, but also leaving some ‘quiet’ areas (the sky) to avoid the eye being overwhelmed with marks.
I use fixative throughout the painting process, both as a further painting medium to further darken the darkest areas, and also to create a further element of tooth to ensure that further pastel pigment, applied over existing, retains its vibrancy.
The danger, for me at least, is overworking this stage in an enthusiastic feast of pastel painting! I have many times felt that I have lost the excitement and energy of the initial underpainting stage by overuse of pastel, and I felt that had perhaps happened here when I considered the finished work.
And so a few days later, but in very similar conditions, I returned to have another go, this time from a little further down the track…
I feel this painting makes more of the contrasting light / dark elements, emboldens the sky (while still keeping it ‘quiet’), and avoids (I think) too much overworking with pastel. This view shows a greater expanse of the field to the right and I felt it was in need of a focal point and so artistic licence introduced a non-existent barn which both provides a point of interest to draw the eye around the composition and also serves to further accentuate the beautiful winter light.
Creating more than one version of effectively the same scene is often (should that be ‘always’) helpful. There will inevitably be an element of learning from previous mistakes, and a familiarity and better understanding of the scene gained from earlier visits and attempts is bound to assist subsequent efforts. I enjoyed both attempts but on balance I think that the second is the more satisfying result. Of course, the joy of art is that it is always subjective, and so I will leave it to you to decide which one you prefer!