I rarely meet another person in the small woodland behind the flooded quarry works. It is a perfect place to practice my skills painting the light filtering through foliage.
Wheeling my bike, I stumbled across a man camouflaged by the path, crouching with tripod and camera. He was setting up a shot of a fox “that always crosses here late afternoon” as it moves out into the open fields bordering the wood. I quickly moved on, out of his way. I came back by another path, outside the wood, to avoid disturbing him. But to no avail, I glimpsed him through the trees, packing up and leaving disappointed. Then I realised my pad had fallen from my bike. I retraced my steps. When I finally got back, there was the fox, walking through the woods, across my path and disappearing into the crops in the field.
These two sketches were done within a couple of weeks of each other at the end of June, early July, with bright sun making shining yellow greens contrast with deep shadows. After advice on the course in June, I had abandoned phthalo blue and was mixing greens mainly with cobalt blue. Phthalo plus aurolean makes a viridian which while interesting, overwhelms the picture. Aurolean and cobalt blue makes a range of interesting tones that merge into rich or subdued neutrals with burnt sienna or rose madder. What I am missing is the contrasting darks.
In other people’s watercolours, woodland light and foliage looks deceptively simple. In this sequence, I am struggling with it.
The greens are built from phthalo blue and aurolean, the neutrals from variously rose madder, burnt sienna and ultramarine.
I pay a yearly subscription for access to a private nature reserve. Here there is a small wooded hill, largely ignored by the twitchers who congregate at the hides facing the flooded gravel pits. I am self-conscious painting in company whereas this secluded wood is free of children, walkers and dogs. This allows me to spend time just looking and experimenting in paint.
I painted this in March, weather shifting between drizzle and sleet, a dry-run perhaps before my sketches in the Yorkshire Dales later that week. At the top of the ridge, weak sunlight through the trees gave a luminous quality to the lichen covered fallen logs. My painting had elements I liked, but the woodland floor was over-painted and dull (the digital image flatters the actual painting by being back-lit on your screen). This weekend, I scraped it back with a knife, re-painted a single layer of green over the refreshed paper and brought more reds into adjacent areas for contrast.
Minds play tricks and odd thought pathways become ingrained. Each time I cut into paintings in this way, an ugly little phrase recurs in my mind: “It has been knife work up here”, a comment by the Elf Legolas in the Lord of the Rings as he reports his tally of slain orcs. I find I have sympathy for the orcs, represented as a caricature of and metaphor for the industrial working class, invading and despoiling the rural idyll, mobs marshaled by elites and slain in their thousands.
I painted this a few months back. I began with water in the middle of the page and dropped ink for the fun of watching it spread and then dry, pulled to the edge of the shape. I dragged a brush through it and built in the colour and lines, taking my rhythms from the sounds of Philip Glass’ dance pieces “In the Upper Room”.
In our bodies, in the tissues, are cells sampling and consuming the detritus of life. On meeting a microbial threat or cellular damage, they undergo a radical change, migrating and activating so that on reaching their destination they spread out thousands of tiny dendritic tendrils to contact the many soldiers of the immune system. They have taken up, processed and now present fragments of the threatening material along with signals to say … get angry.
We can harness these dendritic cells to fight cancer.
I carry a pocket sized sketchpad and a pencil when out walking. I make notes on landscape for paintings, few of which come to fruition. These sketches come from Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast a couple of years ago.
Further inland is the spectacular natural amphitheatre, the Hole of Horcum.
Much further south in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, I was struck by the light glowing through and reflected from the vegetation – hard to capture in pencil.
Here was an attempt to show the colours while they were still fresh in my mind. The featureless orange ground was in reality formed from rust coloured bracken – I have lost its texture. I was most interested to show the transitional luminosity in the mid ground bushes – the upper parts glowing from the evening sunlight, the bases already shrouded in the dusk.
Hair turned to leaves, arms to branches, fast flight transformed to slow growth.
Glimpsed through the roots, into the far depths.