Exercise: Hard or soft landscape


Colchester Rooftops, 40 x 30cm, acrylic on paper

As I was wandering through the gardens at Firstsite in Colchester after visiting the John Virtue exhibition, I looked down and noticed that the rooftops of the Victorian cottages below had some pleasing chimney shadows cast across them. They made me think of the Angel of the North, albeit it in an upside down, sideways sort of way. I stopped to do a quick sketch (see below) and took some photographs to work from later in order to paint a hard landscape. I’m glad I seized the opportunity because it has rained almost continuously since!


Initial quick A4 drawing in sketchbook


Further exploration in my sketchbook, drawing pen and watercolour

My main aim at this point is to stop being so precious about my work and move away from the temptation to paint realism and try to capture more expressionistic views (I am not finding this easy). To achieve this I need to do lots of experimenting with different colour palettes, brush strokes and techniques and some paintings are inevitably going to work better than others. I’m not  keen on this end result but it is at least a striking view. I’m a long way from my desired destination but there are newly discovered techniques in this painting that I can take forward.


Photograph of scene

I used a purple ground with an orange wash across it and then worked with a fairly limited palette of cadmium red mixed with raw umber, a grey made (as mentioned by my tutor) from white, ultramarine and raw umber, greens, warm and cold yellows. I applied the paint in several opaque and translucent layers using a brush and cut up credit card.

What works?

  • The limited palette is reasonably OK
  • The under and over painting has created some interesting effects as has the use of the credit card, which was good for outlining the edges of buildings and the tiles as well as pulling paint across block of colour on the chimneys and shadows.
  • There are interesting negative shapes between and around the rooftop shadows.
  • The painting has a foreground, middle ground and background and the background buildings are adding context without dominating.
  • The image is moving towards the abstract and could perhaps be developed further down this route.

What doesn’t work so well?

  • It is a bit of a quirky picture and does perhaps lack a focal point. My sketchbook work explored including more chimneys and shadows. The composition might have worked with one chimney/shape but the main appeal to me is the shadow and negative spaces between.
  • The second chimney makes me think of the dialogue between Georgie and Lucia in E F Benson’s Mapp & Lucia book about how if Georgie paints the crooked chimney crooked everyone will thinks he got it wrong. And yes, in this instance it does look wrong!

For the record, some earlier versions of the painting…


At this stage the shadows were  too dark, too much dull red in the chimney pot… I lightened the chimneys and the shadows and added a light wash of orange across the roof and background.


Earlier stage of an earlier version… on reflection I could have stopped there and had a better painting!


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