I paint local scenes in oil, watercolour and pastel, trying to convey the variable light and forms of our local Borders and Forest countryside and the mood of the weather. My palette is mainly earth colours with keyed-up tertiary colours in close proximity, such as purple with green or oranges and blues.
It’s the sky that sets the tone for the composition – have you noticed that when the sky is very bright, the countryside is correspondingly darker? Evening sunlight might be the exception, but even then the shadows are very dark and crisp. On my palette all the colours I’m going to use in the composition will be firstly used to paint the sky – so watch out, when you’re travelling the countryside, not just for the cliché blue skies, but also the presence of purples, greens and pinks.
Similar colours may be found in buildings – homes and houses and dilapidated cottages – but here it’s mainly the forms and structures, and how embedded they are in the landscape, which describe their story and character.
Here’s an extract from my novel ‘The Necklace’ which describes the interaction between an art teacher and her students – and how perception grows:
‘When the weather was fine she took her students to paint landscapes plein air. Her best moments came when they started, not just to look, but to see. ‘Oh, yes,’ one said, ‘now you mention it, I can see a bit of pink.’ Or blue or green. ‘Isn’t that amazing? I never saw that before!’ ‘I nearly went off the road,’ one said. ‘I saw this man walking down the street, his face glowing in the sunlight, and I thought, now what colour is that; how would I paint that? Nearly crashed the blinkin’ car!’
They said the class had changed their lives, and the need to be articulate was changing hers, opening windows in her mind, and she found herself learning alongside them. She grew in confidence; on college days she took pains with her hair, wore fresher clothes, put on a bit of make-up, and set off already exuberant. Soon her studio space was littered with sketches and small canvases, tentative explorations of local scenes. She painted shop fronts in different light; she painted fields and pasture in different weather; she painted street scenes. The river she did not paint; it was too whimsical, too tyrannical in its moods, as yet too demanding. She began to use larger brushes and purer pigments; she keyed up her work so that it gradually became more vivid, yet, at the same time, more subtle. She marvelled that in the space of only a few weeks her whole visual perception of the world had changed; maybe her eyes had developed ducts or pores; they seemed like sponges; could soak up images.