We are given extensive course notes on how to prepare for this exercise. We are also asked to write a 500 word commentary about our experience, so here goes:
I thought the best place to paint outdoors – relatively undisturbed – would be our local wood, where I’ve been many times. I did not need to take a chair as there are a few rustic benches dotted about the place, if you know where to look.
I had some time last week, so decided to stop putting it off, drive out there and just do it. I had earlier chosen a very tiny water-colour pan set (in a plastic sleeve) as I didn’t want to be lugging oils and acrylics – plus there are issues with drying times, especially with oils. I took my wooden backed A3 sketchbook and other items in a wooden carry box (pencils etc.). I walked quite far into the wood and decided to focus on an area where there is an old fallen hollowed out tree trunk, I thought it would make a good focal point.
I went to the wood at about 1230, it is no longer school holidays so I figured it would be quiet – it was, which is both convenient but also eerie and I did feel quite nervous. I come from a country where the very thought of doing this type of stunt in an isolated environment borders on a death wish. Anyway, I applied water onto the paper in spritzes from my mini-spray bottle and got cracking.
I recently came across a video on YouTube where the artist splatters paint (wet on wet) to simulate foliage and I’d practised it a bit. It is not as simple as it seems though and needs a lot more practise to get the technique right. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when painting trees/woodland up close and despite my best intentions this did happen to me, I lost focus. I think that’s because I was feeling frustrated with the splatter technique and not having all my gear around me, I was also conscious of running out of water (which I did)!
I finished a view of the scene but felt I’d overdone it with the splattering, so had another go – this time using a fan brush to suggest boughs of leaves. I was there about 45 minutes and not enjoying the experience much, I kept feeling like I was being watched. When it came over cloudy, I decided to pack up and go home, to try and do this again another time. I did another version when I got home in pastels from photo reference.
Today I went again to the same spot but this time I took my little dog for company and the new Pastelmat paper/Art Discount soft pastels plus a couple of pencils. I found it easier this time, although I didn’t take a big enough selection of greens, especially blue-green.
I didn’t use any water, so I find laying down a background quite difficult on Pastelmat, have to try out water on it today. The thing that is great about this paper though is it holds the pastels so there’s hardly any residual dust. I worked part of the painting with my glasses off to try and get the colours as close as I could to what I was seeing – this time I went very early in the morning and some of the leaves were brightly lit from the sun. I purposefully avoided trying to put in detail, I just wanted to get an impression of the place.
I’m much happier with the result of this painting, it’s by no means my best work but I have compared it to the earlier study done indoors from a reference photo and there’s a decidedly marked difference in the approach and freshness of the finished piece.