Exercise: Painting a landscape outside


View of St Mary’s Church, Combs , 40 x 30cm acrylic on paper

Preliminary sketches

I chose a very familiar viewpoint for this exercise. It’s from the top of a footpath that starts a stone’s throw from home. The Parish Council  installed a bench there a couple of months ago and that decided it for me. I spent about 40 minutes there today and got quite chilly so I know I’m going to need to paint fast and loose with big brushes when it comes to the final picture. Having done some colour studies I will be able to mix up my paints in advance.

I did two preliminary watercolour sketches today. The light was totally flat so I will look for another occasion to do a third and hopefully capture some light and shadow. But this exercise was enough to help me to decide which viewpoint works best.


Viewpoint A Combs landscape – A4 watercolour – sketchbook

Viewpoint A has nice rolling hills (by Suffolk standards), some good autumnal colour and interesting ‘tram lines’ made by the tractor across the newly sown field. But it doesn’t have a focal point – nor does it have much by way of aerial perspective elements as the view cuts off at the top of the hill.


Viewpoint B – Looking across to St Mary’s Church, Combs – A4 watercolour – sketchbook – preferred viewpoint

Viewpoint B is preferred as it includes the church in the distance and also some ‘layers’ of additional trees and hedges going off into the distance and fading into grey. The path on the right and telegraph poles add interest (and a bit of linear perspective) and help to lead into the picture. Plenty of nice autumnal colours including a lovely burst of deep red by the side of the church tower.  I picked a few leaves while walking the dog for colour reference – in case it all blows away in a gust of wind before I get to do my final painting…

Three days later

I may need those leaves – it is now three days after I did my initial sketches and there has been unrelenting rain and absolutely no sunshine. By the time the weather improves there’s likely to be a substantially changed landscape… but my initial sketches may help to rescue the situation as I’ve captured a colour palette and while the foliage may blow away, short of storm, tempest and earthquake, the church, telegraph poles and land should still be there!

Six days later – painting the final picture


This is the point I reached while painting outside

The rain has stopped but it is still bleak, windy and sunless… there are also far fewer lovely autumnal leaves on the trees but I have the colours stored in my mind and my sketchbook for reference. There is more rain forecast tomorrow and on Wednesday I am off to Colchester for a week – it is now or never! I painted a yellow ground and masking taped the paper to a sturdy wooden board as it is too windy for an easel. I put some blobs of the colours I would need, based on my earlier sketches, in a sturdy bowl that could also act as a palette. Then I shoved some medium and large brushes into a bag and a plastic beaker and bottle of water and headed out for the slimy damp bench wearing my oldest and shabbiest coat in case I got paint all over myself which I did.

Thank goodness for the bench – it meant I could lay my materials out by the side of me. But it was very awkward trying to paint and hold a board at the same time and at one point I knocked my water beaker over.  I worked for about 50 minutes by which time I’d got down the basic shapes and colours. It’s actually not that cold today but sitting still in the wind wasn’t particularly pleasant and I felt chilly and damp after the first half hour.  It started to rain and so I packed up and headed indoors.

We have a bedroom window that overlooks the same scene – not exactly the same view as much of it is blocked by a tree but a good sight line for the church. I propped up my board on the window sill and finished my painting with the aid of this view, my sketches and memory.

At around  4pm yesterday this whole  landscape was suddenly lit up by a low and very bright late afternoon sun which lasted for a matter of minutes. I tried to reimagine this to give some lift to my painting. The view is facing east so the setting sun was behind and it lit the tops of the treetops and cast some dramatic shadows across the fields. The light made the front elevation of the church stand out in ghostly, stark sort of way.

Yesterday, I visited several art galleries in Lavenham with the aim of getting some inspiration for landscape painting. As I was working I tried to keep in mind the work of Suffolk artist Carol Saunderson whose work I had admired for the simplicity of line and blocks of colour.

I also took a look at Richard Diebenkorn’s landscapes online because I find his work inspirational – again, much is conveyed with simple line and shape but it is by no means simple to recreate.

The viewpoint of my final painting has shifted a little as I decided to place the telegraph poles as if  looking down at them from the window (I couldn’t actually see them but I had observed them). The field in the foreground is newly sewn with a vivid flush of green across the brown earth. The field behind was also green (as per my sketches) but I decided to change this to earthy yellow as per the stubble in the unploughed field that featured in one of my original sketches.

The composition would have been better had I observed the rule of the thirds more closely. I would have liked to include more sky and a little less of the green field at the front  – but I feel I did well to get anything down during my outdoor session as the weather was definitely not kind.  Perhaps I could have sketched out the basic shapes first from my initial sketch?

I scraped at the painting in places with my bristle hair brush (which now needs a wash) and a palette knife and used many layers of dilute paint to create fine marks and texture. This outcome is better than much of the work I’ve done… a step forward but still many steps to go. I still haven’t found the confidence to strip the detail right back… but I feel that the time spent outdoors and observing the view at different times is reflected in the end result. The photograph on this blog is more vibrant than the original and I still have learning ahead if I am to achieve good light in my painting. However, I feel I’ve captured a lot of the autumnal spirit of the scene.


One thought on “Exercise: Painting a landscape outside

  1. Pingback: Research point: The Golden Mean |

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