Monday, 17 September 2012

Lessons learned from a weekend painting in the Lee Valley

Lesson one: The Lee Valley is a VERY good location to visit for the inexperienced plein air painter, who happens to live in North London, and not so bad for the inexperienced painter from South London either.  Me and my painting partner in crime Becky caught the train to Cheshunt on Saturday, less than an hour away from home. The station is 0.2 miles from the very affordable, very comfortable YHA Lee Valley, looked after by the nicest human beings that walk this earth.  And the hostel is located within the Lee Valley park, a thousand and one acres of fun, apparently - but not only that, but a series of pretty and interesting scenes, from the canal, to the marshes, to the cornfields.  This is great if you are laden with heavy painting equipment, such as a field easel, paints, supports, folding chair etc - literally everything is a few steps away from everything else.

Lesson Two: Painting should be treated as a hobby and never a profession.  What I mean is, always adopt an open minded, almost playful approach to your work. Experimentation is key to development in your practice, and remind yourself of this fact even when you are seemingly producing something laughable.  Once we parked ourselves in front of the scene in the photo above, I produced a number of very quick drawings, and then set about producing a collage.  The theory was that the number of vibrant and scribbly marks in my drawing were unreadable in terms of what they were of, and I thought that through collage I could re-establish a stronger sense of design, an arrangement of flat shapes across a surface.  Sadly my collage turned out to be just as unreadable, and actually made me laugh out loud at one point.  But still through the crap drawing and the crap collage, remained in my mind was an idea for a more accomplished painting, and one I  intend to do once I can return to my studio.

Lesson Three: Staying the night helps. Removing yourself from the everyday, the chores, the grief, the heartache, all of that crap, allows you to just enjoy yourself. A painting weekend is an intense yet enjoyable experience, and one that needs no other distractions.  It IS exhausting so make it as easy for yourself as possible.

Lesson Four: The problems faced with painting out of doors seem to be a little easier to deal with than the problems you might face in the studio.  Becky made a really good observation yesterday - that dealing with how to transport wet paintings, finding a scene that would make a good painting, avoiding strong winds and keeping a relatively clean palette are infinity more pleasant problems than not knowing what to paint, questioning whether there's any point to you painting anyway, and not knowing how to justify large chunks of  time during your 'working' week being spent in the studio, even though it earns you very little or no money.  Somehow throwing oneself into an environment abundant with subject matter just means you get on with it, and even better if you're kept company, it somehow stops one from becoming too self indulgent or serious!

Lesson Five: Never attempt finished works of art. As soon as I gave up on that idea, I produced the paintings that my friend said on my return were the most frame- able.  These were the least self conscious works, the most assured and immediate.  Working in series in quick succession once in the right frame of mind seems to work well for me personally. I suggest you give it a try if you haven't already, and if the fancy takes you!

Viewpoint where I made my first oil sketch for the weekend

1st Oil Sketch

Sunday Subject Matter

1st Sunday sketch

Tiny sketch (6 x 5) on unprimed linen panel, very absorbent surface

Final work of the weekend, which has been growing on me since I painted it.

Lesson six: If you go for a curry at the Indian in Cheshunt and you like your curry hot, make sure you ask for extra chillies as they make then pretty mild otherwise.

Final lesson: Probably best to think carefully about how you intend to carry your wet work at the end of the trip.  Spent Sunday evening with my man promptly developing a new way of carrying wet canvases, which we will never patent and earn our millions from. Talk about wasted opportunity...