Monthly Archives: February 2016

Research expressive landscape

Surrealist landscape

Some of the works of the Surrealists Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and de Chirico are collected on my Pinterest board here.  They are the stuff of dreams, nightmares and hallucinations.  I remember once long ago rashly combining sea-sickness pills with alcohol and experiencing hallucinations which involved floating elephants – worthy of Dali.  Whether he made use of such techniques to free the imagination we don’t know, but I do think such ‘visions’ can be deliberately induced to mine the unconscious and that if one were to immediately write notes after coming round, some very imaginative work could be done.

My own dreams are often forgotten, apart from a handful which have stayed with me my whole life.  I would love to express in painting one or two of these which particularly express deep emotion.  The challenge would be how to convey a dreamlike quality, rather than simply paint a scene from the dream as though it were in the real world.  The Surrealists used various techniques and games to produce a creative process partly free of conscious control, some forty of which are listed here, including:-

Frottage – place the paper over a textured object and rub graphite over it to create unexpected textures

Grattage – the painterly equivalent of Frottage – prepare a support with a layer of paint, place it over a textured object and scrape the paint off

Decalcomania – cover the support with thick paint and while still wet cover it with some other material such as cellophane, shrink wrap; then remove it before the paint dries.  I had a go at the technique using acrylic paint on paper.  My results were not great – my technique needs improving.  Even then, I would always have to have a larger element of control over the process to get anything useful from it.

The patterns resulting from such techniques are then used as the starting point from which to create an imaginative painting.

De Chirico influenced the Surrealists with his Metaphysical paintings.  He painted forlorn cityscapes with a haunted, brooding atmosphere, furnished with empty arcades, towers, long shadows and trains. 


Imaginative landscape

I’ve looked at the paintings of artists who interpreted the landscape imaginatively, expressing their own feelings and response to it.  Some of them are collected in my Pinterest board here.

Graham Sutherland was a painter of imaginary landscapes, influenced by Samuel Palmer, Blake, Turner;  but they were also rooted in his observation of the Pembrokeshire countryside. So for example while his painting Welsh Landscape with Roads was derived from the hills and valley near Porthclais, he wrote that he was trying to express ‘the intellectual and emotional essence of the place’ (  He makes the colours unnatural, includes an animal skull and possible standing stones, and inserts a tiny running figure, creating an anxious, threatening atmosphere.  In Road at Porthclais with Setting Sun the paths and lanes wending through the landscape are given a spiritual significance due to the dramatic light from a golden sun against a black sky.

The link with Pembrokeshire also led me to John Piper.  He made plein air collages of beach scenes, and had chapels, castles and ruins as his subjects.  He frequently painted Garn Fawr, the place where he lived, and what is interesting to note is the many different ways he interpreted the same scene.  He said that the features in his landscapes, whether church towers, vineyards etc, were not what the paintings were about; they were about the emotions generated by the countryside and the elements at one moment in one special place.  The paintings are full of interesting textures and marks, no area of the canvas left unconsidered as Piper worked to express these feelings.


Landscapes of the German Expressionists

My Pinterest board on this group of painters is here.  I looked at paintings by Kirchner, Nolde, Max Pechstein, Mueller, Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Kokoschka.  As a group, their paintings are characterised by use of simple form, harsh black lines and garish, unnaturalistic colour, aiming to express a modern response to the world around them, including its landscapes.  I love their free use of colour and apparent simplicity.  I gathered my landscapes together and noted a rather predictable and monotonous preponderance  of blue and green, and evidence in all of them of a struggle with details.  How attractive it seems to celebrate colour in all its variety, and to paint in a simplistic, childlike way.

Later I looked at the expressionist landscapes of Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter  and my remarks in the last paragraph were even more confirmed.

Kirchner was the leader of a group of painters, Die Brücke (The Bridge) inspired by Gaugin, Van Gogh, Munch and primitive art. One painting that caught my attention was his View of Basel and the Rhine.  The way the water is depicted, a fast flowing river rushing downhill towards a bridge – a dog is trotting merrily in the same direction with the flow, but the inhabitants of the city on the opposite bank are steadfastly ignoring the river and plodding doggedly in the opposite direction.  This struck me as a metaphor for the distance and awkwardness of humans’ relationship with nature, compared to that of animals who romantically are seen to be at one with the world.

Max Pechstein was also a leading member of the Bridge group, and painted in the same manner.  But in the 1920s, the anxiety and horrors of the First World War and its ensuing political and social turmoil over, he found a natural progression in his Baltic landscapes and seascapes, softening his Expressionist palette, reflecting more of a sense of peace and harmony found in the harbour towns, bywaters and dunes.  ‘Abend‘ is an example.

This painting by Oskar Kokoschka is part landscape part portrait, and seems to express a nostalgia for traditional village life, in a similar way to Chagall.  Colours are joyful and teeming with variety.  Movement of clouds, animal and humans suggests a whirlwind of time passing, music as a symbol of transience reinforces the message.  The woman (mother?) holding a crucifix, symbol of religion, death and eternity.  Apart from all that though, it’s just a lovely painting, colour and composition treating the eye.

I studied the portraits and figure paintings of Emile Nolde quite intensively for Assignment 3, and I find his landscapes painted with the same approach; deep, intensely coloured indeterminate washes (with subtle translucent veils of colour layered over them, and pigment granulating interestingly as paint dries); these washes would be meaningless on their own, but Nolde gives them meaning and structure with the addition of a few simple lines and marks, finding his subject hidden in the random flow of paint – a horizon, a few clouds; a hill; some vertical shapes become groups of people.  They are gorgeous to look at; many acquire deeply thunderous atmospheric effects through choice of colour; but there seem to be hundreds of them, and I can’t discern a development or progression in his work – he seems to have had one great idea and stuck to it.


Symbolist Landscape

Symbolism is simply the assertion of subjectivity and the expression of an idea over a realistic description of the natural world.   Personal expression means we recreate emotional experiences through colour, line, composition; we synthesise form and feeling, reality and our own inner subjectivity.  Having looked at some of the artists associated with this movement, and thinking about how they have adopted symbolist approaches, I start to think about what ideas and emotions I could try to inject into my landscapes.

Symbolism has its roots in the 19th century, with artists such as Gustave Moreau, who painted scenes of mythology and religious subjects.  I’m not keen on his brand of romanticism but zooming in closely to the watercolours, until form disappears and I lose myself in his jewel-like layered washes, is quite a visual pleasure. When I was 9, I had a cheap cut glass ring, a ‘gift’ from a girl’s comic.  At Mass every Sunday, in the guise of devout prayer, I would clasp my hands to my forehead, squint through my eyelashes, and manoeuvre myself until the colours of the stained glass windows reflected in the facets of my ring dazzled my senses.  I’ve always loved bright, kaleidoscopic colour.

Gaugin, strongly influenced by Moreau, combined heavily outlined simplified shapes with solid patches of vivid colour (Vision of the Sermon), to express the devout character of Breton peasant women.  Picasso was a great admirer of Gaugin; his blue period works depict his subjects in a greatly simplified way, characteristic of Symbolists.  Edvard Munch was closely associated with Symbolism, The Scream expresses feelings of anxiety, anguish, isolation.  

Gustave Klimt’s style on the other hand was decorative and abstracted; he used a quasi-pointillist technique to portray every leaf and every meadow flower in his landscapes of fruit trees and meadows.  What was he trying to express?  According to The Tate, 

Klimt’s landscapes express his wider concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life. Their dazzling decorative surfaces and abstracted motifs align him with emergent modernist tendencies.” ( 

On the other hand, he may have just had a canny eye to the art market.  It’s said he standardised shape and size of his landscape canvases to make his paintings sell better.




Surrealist techniques

D Chirico –


Kirchner – wikipedia
Pechstein – Christies

4.3.1 creating mood and atmosphere

After completing the first exercise in part 4, I promised myself I would rework View From a Window.  This exercise is a chance to do so, and to try to inject atmosphere into the rather stark and cold, formal atmosphere of my first attempt.  Here are the ‘before and after’ versions.

Before rework:


The cold atmosphere of the original wasn’t my explicit intention but came about through

  • choice of all tonally muted colours, the dark purple on the left exacerbating the cool effect
  • the composition, which contains no ‘soft’ or homely features; and is essentially a pattern of straight hard lines, with the grid of the window and door frames adding to the feeling of ‘captivity’ inside, and freedom, happiness outside!
  • my own physical discomfort  – I did feel trapped indoors, painting sitting down, cold early morning, constrained in space, using only brushes to apply paint and grappling with a new technique of painting with acrylic medium instead of water.
I thought the painting could be cheered up with some daring touches of primary and secondary colour and the addition of homely kitchen paraphernalia.  Or it could be transformed into an atmospheric moonlit scene, many of which we’ve enjoyed on this terrace, with the palette changed to a harmony of midnight blues and moonlit highlights.

After rework: 

The window faces east, so when the moon rises it can clearly be seen and casts an extraordinary light over the view.  It transforms the atmosphere; the light is bright, extinguishes stars, silhouettes trees and casts strong shadows.  
I looked at other artists portrayals of the night (Pinterest board here).  Some have in common a portrayal of the sky as a deep royal blue-violet, which chimes with how I see the sky from my kitchen terrace when sunset and moonrise coincide.
I wasn’t able to find any painting with the theme of a night time view from an interior.  But when I saw Monet, Leicester Square at Night (see below, end of post),  I did laugh in delight at the audacity of colour palette and brushwork.  The sky is a cool but still deep blue.  The warm contrast of dabs of pure bright reds and yellows in the street below, tonal darks in the foreground, provide a contrast that conveys the bustle and warm energy of he city.
My sky became deep indigo and ultramarine.  Hills are silhouetted, closer in garden trees and bushes are deep green with moonlit highlights.  The terrace has deep violet cast shadows.  Stars and moon added to contribute to the  atmosphere.  To alter colours I used a combination of over painting with opaque paint, and scumbling (dry-brushing) over the original layer to modify its colour. The sky was blended with white, lighter around the moon, deeply dark further away.  The moon had several reworks as I searched for a way to make it convincing.  Turner’s moon and sky in Edge of a Heath was my model in the end.
The following week we had a full moon rising just after sunset, and I was able to observe, and make further changes.  I found I had to help the moon along with electric outdoor lighting to get something approaching the effect I’d painted from my imagination, otherwise all was drained of colour.  I made a few technical improvements to perspective lines (still not quite accurate), reflections and shadows, and called it a day.  
Looking at my other early part 4 paintings,  and thinking how each subject could be handled differently to convey a more explicit atmosphere :-
  • For the exercise ‘Hard or Soft Landscape‘ I painted a view through an archway at home.  
A much more joyful experience than the first exercise, and an outcome nearer to my original aims.  Painted standing outside, dynamically with palette knife;  colours are brighter, the atmosphere is intimate and alive with blustery movement (it was a very windy, sunny few days). If I wanted to change it I would consider trying to convey a thunderous downpour through the archway – darker colours outside and correspondeningly lighter inside; diagonal lines of swirling rain and a gale of wind bowing the fig tree.
  • For ‘Linear perspective‘ I chose a street scene.
I’d describe the atmosphere in the painting as grittily realistic – conveying a general scruffy poverty in the road and buildings, the dejected limp laundry, the cold colour palette.  In fact I wanted the scene to look cheerily domestic, as was my experience when sketching there (I was brought a tray of breakfast and tea by a resident family, who were friendly, interested and polite, inviting me to move onto their balcony where, they said, the view would be better for my drawing). If doing the painting again I’d try harder to pay less attention to the photo, and more to thinking about the atmosphere I wanted to convey.  Now I’d think about painting it in unnaturalistic but more expressive colours – bright reds and pinks, yellow ochre maybe – and with simple shapes and less attempt at detail and texture.
  • Finally Aerial Perspective 
Perhaps there’s a sense of calm and timelessness about this painting, which is how I think about the place.  Blue is a peaceful colour.  Space and distance encourage contemplation.  The garish colours of the German Expressionists would clash with my view of this place; but it’s natural colours change significantly at different times of day and in different weather conditions, and so there’s plenty of scope for different interpretations.  Veils of pinks and golds in the evening; clear, solid colours when the air is dry; a light blue overall haze in humid conditions; moonlight.
  Monet, Leicester Square at Night
Wiki Art 

Research landscape



First of all I reviewed and revised my past landscape research projects (links listed at the end of this blog article).

One of my past articles explores the English Watercolourists of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Turner.  I revisited his watercolour sketches of Venice in the book ‘Turner’s Venice’, and chose three of them to study in detail and try to adopt some of his practices into my painting for the exercise ‘linear perspective‘ in particular the range of colours he used in his washes, and the way he gradually modified them into the pictorial distance.  His use of loose washes and freely (but expertly) drawn line to depict the architecture is so elegant, and I tried my best to emulate it, without great success.

I also looked at that time, at some of Constable‘s landscape sketches in oil, and I was able to directly compare an oil sketch with an oil painting of the same subject in Tate Britain.  To the modern eye, I thought the sketch had immensely more appeal than the finished painting – it was fresher, more spontaneous and more expressive of his response to the landscape.  Basically he wanted to capture the effects of light and atmosphere, in small scale oil paintings done outdoors, which he sometimes later used as reference material for large, polished oil paintings.  He used a variety of techniques in these plein air paintings – all fresh and rapid – including a thick impasto technique, as well as glazes, dappled dry brushwork, heavy dots of white and of bright colour.


Monet was mentioned by my tutor for his ‘plastic use of paint as a physical substance “. A brief search of Bridgeman pointed me to Bois d’Oliviers au Jardin Moreno, 1884.  By zooming close in I can see the painting is built up of thousands of dabs of endlessly modulated colour; at such close range forms seem to dissolve, losing their edges – the gnarled olive trees take on an abstract quality, they become interplay of light and dark tone, warm and cool colour.  I imagine it was initially painted fast, en plein air, wet paint on top of wet, and I can’t see evidence of blending and smoothing.  The result is a sense of dappled, shimmering contrasts, a chiaroscuro effect of cool shade and hot light. This is a polished finished painting however, not a sketch – possibly it was carefully appraised, revised and perfected by the artist later on in the studio until he was completely satisfied – apparently he was never satisfied working purely from nature.

Sisley‘s The Bridge at Sevres is a great example of someone really getting involved with the physical aspects of painting.  the brush strokes are visible, loose, broad and quick, imparting an open, blustery atmosphere.  The sky draws the viewers attention with diagonal slashes of ochres cream, blue and violet depicting the turbulent air.  There is a lot to look at in the middle ground too, with the bridge and people fishing; these draw the eye not through use of careful detail, (they are in fact painted very sketchily), but by a higher contrast of tone.  The foreground vegetation and path are also painted very speedily, with warm, dark greens and umbers, and bright ochres applied in rapid vertical jabs.  You get the sense that Sisley enjoyed dashing this painting off, and was happy with the first response to his subject.

Pisarro Uses paint thickly and crustily, building up layer upon dried layer, each one becoming more textured than the last.  The Potato Harvest is built up of a series of consistently sized marks forming a series of coloured patches, but with an overall reddish tone. The Kitchen Garden at Pontoise is painted in reserve; layers of paint are built up within the firms of the composition, with the edges held in reserve; the artist is careful not to overlap paint from adjacent forms.  In this way distinctly three dimensional edges are created between the forms.  In Orchard, Cote Saint-Denis at Pontoise, Pisarro has built up extensive layers over well dried earlier layers of paint, resulting in a crusty surface.  The brush skips over the textures of the earlier layers,creating ever more well defined ridges and valleys of paint.  

Moving into the 20th century:
Milton Avery (1885-1965) – strips his designs to essentials.  Landscapes defined by lines and zones.  Colour field painting, but where the coloured fields represent simplified representational shapes.  Focus on colour relations, not the illusion of depth.  Compare to Derain, Gaugin,  Matisse, Kirchner.

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) -I looked at a BBC slideshow of his landscape paintings.  They have visual appeal for their colourful and decorative, spontaneously painted quality.  They straddle abstraction and figuration; they evoke the landscape in a subjective response to it, but don’t literally represent it.  I found my eye experiencing his compositions horizontally from left to right.  He liked long canvases, allowing the eye to move along them lengthwise; Hitchens thought of this as a movement in time, as music is structured by time.
Neil Welliver (1929-2005) – landscape paintings (8 by 10 feet) depict the forested Maine landscape.  He would hike out to paint plein air studies with a 70lb backpack in winter (which I won’t be attempting) and later expand the outdoor studies into large studio paintings.  Looking closely at his trees, he doesn’t copy the exact colour of objects, presumably the better to convey the atmosphere and lighting he wants.  They’re highly detailed and meticulously painted, graphic in their drawn quality and full of careful marks. Apparently he would start at top right and work his way down to bottom left – not the expressive, gestural approach we look for these days.  Despite that they have a feeling of simplicity, of detail left out, a lack of textural effect and subtle modelling of form, an abstract quality.
Alex Katz (1927- ) – flat, bold, unmodulated colours; simple forms – like cartoons, precursor to pop art.  He would make detailed small charcoal and oil studies and then scale them up to larger cartoons, and then up several metres to the large painting, simplifying in the process.  Young Trees is a small-scale oil sketch with a brooding atmosphere – economic, fast execution, visible brush strokes.  ‘Full Moon‘, five metres across, is nearly all black.  It depicts moonlight filtering through trees and reflecting off water.  Very simple, and I suspect incredibly effective maybe emotional, seen in the flesh.  ‘Ocean View‘ – a small (25×35) oil sketch, done with simple economy and visible brush marks, made of broad bands of colour, expressionist marks.  What I learned for my own practise from looking at Alex Katz and Turner’s oil sketches, is to sometimes think of painting as sketching –  quick, simple studies in paint can be so fresh, honest and elegant in a very direct way.
Michael Andrews (1928-1995) – some gargantuan acrylic paintings during his 1985 visit to Australia.
Valley of the winds , 2.1×2.9m

The Cathedral, The North East Face, Uluru (Ayers Rock) , 2.4×4.3m
Difficult to appreciate in photos, they probably need to be seen in real life to be appreciated.  They didn’t appeal to me particularly – apart from the monumental size they seemed like fairly ordinary response to an incredibly emotive and spiritual landscape, and to be painted in an ordinary way.
Peter Doig (1959 – ) – influenced by Katz.  He almost always starts his paintings with a photo of a scene, as a starting point for a work.
The gorgeous colours and shape composition of ‘Cricket Painting‘ took my eye.  I noticed how the three players were aligned; the skilful drawing of the figures, foreshortened limbs and gesture perfectly captured. Looks simple!  But all is ambiguous, mysterious, a trait I noticed in many of Doig’s landscape paintings.  They keep you guessing, they intrigue the viewer.

Stephen Chambers
I went to an exhibition of Chambers’ work, which included ‘The Big Country‘, a series of prints depicting the vast landscape of the American North-West in the pioneering days of emigrants, who were embarking from ports in the four corners of the world to settle there. The series, hung as one great continuous landscape occupying several rooms, is a fusion of drawing, print and digital art.  There’s no continuous narrative, rather it’s a series of vignettes which can be read in any direction, where the viewer can dip in and out, alternately focussing in to one drawing and then panning out to the broader landscape.  Because of this I became curious and involved; as I wandered around the display ideas and thoughts suggested themselves, questions arose, my imagination was engaged.

Chambers shows that despite the seemingly limitless space into which these emigrants poured, their impact on the land was often catastrophic, and their relations with each other and indigenous peoples conflict-ridden.  Although based on a past event, this reflects contemporary concerns to do with emigration and the environment.

Marc Quinn
Another artist whose work I’ve seen at first hand , Marc Quinn’s exhibition presented his installations, sculptures and paintings.  Of the latter there were large scale photo-realistic cloud studies.  In his oil painting series The Eye of History, he juxtaposes paintings of our planet on to photorealistic circular paintings of the magnified human eye’s iris and pupil.  Every iris is individual, like fingerprints, and each individual perceives the world and history in their own way.  In The Inner Eye (Beginning of the Ice Age) the land mass is painted as white as an iceberg, perhaps commenting on man-made heating of our planet.   In another work, Map of Where You Can’t See the Stars, the depiction of the world added over the eye is black, with lights shining into space from developed countries.
These works comment on the paranoid world we live in, and the notion of 24 hour news where the whole world is connected through ever-present media and syncopate this with notions of our eroding and changing geographical world. They present images of the world map from various perspectives – such as the Arctic – displaying how the boundaries of experience and geographical territory as we know them are rapidly changing.’ (






Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton Pub Book Club Associates, 1985

Constable’s oil sketches

Bois d’Oliviers

 The Bridge at Sevres

Alex Katz
Peter Doig

Links to my past research work concerning Landscape painting and drawing
Survey of landscape painting, Durer to Van Gogh – evolution of landscape painting. I looked at the paintings of Durer, Breughel, the Dutch school, Lorraine, the English watercolourists, Turner, Constable, Pisarro, Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh.
Claud Lorraine and Turner –  Structure of landscape – how they created pictorial depth – foreground, middle ground, background.
Constable’s trees – three examples of his oil sketches; a superb nightscape, ” The Edge of a Heath by Moonlight”; and an unusual ‘blot’ painting, like Wm Cozens’.
Camille Pissarro – landscape and townscape series
Landscapes of Sickert and Gore   – townscapes, views from windows

Richard Diebenkorn, landscape series  representative versus abstract painting, aerial landscapes 

Cloud studies  Cloudscapes by Van Goyen, Constable, Jason Brockert

4.2.1 linear perspective

Here’s my final painting. 

I’ve demonstrated understanding of linear perspective, in a street scene that wends steeply downhill, and I’ve created a sense of receding space.  I’d have liked to show more perspective in the clouds, having them slope towards my vanishing point almost vertically, instead of making them almost horizontal.

I didn’t achieve the kind of loose washes and free line I was aiming for, getting distracted by a struggle with colour and tone. Each adjustment I made detracted from any loose quality there was.    It was tempting to start again, concentrating on line instead of colour and tonal contrast, as the exercise instructions told me to… but I decided not to, and did succeed in making some final changes for the better.  Perhaps part of learning is accepting not every exercise outcome will be a wholly positive one! 


Here’s what I did, my research, reflections, difficulties and decisions along the way :-

I decided to develop into a painting a collection of townscape sketches, photos and notes I made nearly two years ago.  The reference material shows the streets from many angles, zooms in on detail (street furniture, windows, chimneys), and describes the scenes and atmosphere quite extensively, so even though time has passed I’m still able to recall it vividly.


I chose the street scene with laundry to develop.  It demonstrates linear perspective having ample lines receding to two different vanishing points on a lowish horizon (I was sitting uphill); I also like the contrasts, light and shade and colours.

The course materials suggest using fluid paint washes to create a sense of indeterminate space, and then structuring this space with line;  using a stick dipped in paint for the line might be a way to avoid being over-fussy and tight.  I looked at Turner’s 1840 Venice watercolour sketches; he uses just this method, with loose washes given structure by quickly drawn line.

Some of Turner’s washes have hard edges corresponding to architectural lines

Others have washes dissolving into each other but roughly corresponding with areas of light and shade.

His palette is sky blue, silvery grey, umbers, ochres, siennas.  Shadows are deep umber and ultramarine, or a rich Indian red.  I notice also how Turner’s edges tend to dissolve more the further away they are, giving the illusion of distance.

So I planned to lay down some carefully considered,  pre-prepared coloured washes on a piece of thoroughly dampened watercolour paper.  I wanted to convey the deep shadows and strong lights, so I would need some quite dark mixes and defined edges for the cast shadows and the windows; mid tone shades for the road and the shadow side of buildings; and some delicate light washes for the sunlit building.  The sky would gradually lighten toward the horizon, from a mid tone to silvery-white!

But first I considered the format and composition.  I decided to go with landscape format (partly to vary my work more – I’ve done mostly portrait format paintings lately); but I felt a wider format than the photo (perhaps the golden mean) would be more satisfying, so I extended out each side.  Also the building glimpsed at the end of the street bars the eye from travelling into the distance; I decided to get rid of it, widen the gap, and add a vague suggestion of the street continuing to draw the viewers eye further into the picture plane.  All this was put together as an under drawing on my 40x65cm paper, using a grid to enlarge the photo.

Used mainly acrylic ‘ink’ I carefully washed the sky with pale greys and blues, and the building on the left with pale blues and mauves.  All the buildings are white in fact, so I didn’t want to go too dark. 


I mixed a ‘black’ with my three primaries and no water, and painted in the dark, hard-edged cast shadow in the foreground.

Eventually I realised that if the right hand buildings represented the lightest tone, followed by the sky, followed by the left hand buildings, the latter would have to be a lot darker.  I ditched my size 22 and went for a 5cm flat, mopped up the remaining dark mixes from my wells, and slapped them on top of the ‘carefully considered’ washes.  This is looking better!  Encouraged, I took a stick and ‘drew’ eaves and chimney details.


Now I needed to similarly darken the sky, with a brighter blue.  Looking again at my Turner references, my washes are too precise – ‘colouring in’ – I need to not be afraid of having some skips in the washes – the line to be added later will clarify the structures.


Uncannily, I’ve ended up with exactly the same dirty mauve and greenish puce colour scheme of my first exercise in Part 4, view from a window – how horrible!  I’m feeling quite dejected and wondering when I might start to make some paintings I actually like in Part 4.  Tomorrow I’ll stick the electric cables in, call it a day and move on to the next exercise.

Next morning I overcame my discouragement and made some quite major changes in my final session, for the better – see the final painting at the top of the post; I really darkened those left hand buildings, bravely with Indian red first, then blue-grey roughly on top, and finally scumbling a very light tint of blue on top of that.  I’m learning that it pays to be bold with tone; it’s easier to lighten an over-dark tone than to add tone in timid increments.   The sky was warmed with ultramarine, and the distance given less focus, lighter and more neutral tints.



Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton, pub Book Club Associates, 1986

4.2.2 aerial perspective

Here is the final painting.  I’m moderately satisfied insofar as I managed to concentrate on employing the devices of aerial perspective and successfully achieved a sense of distance.  If I were to do it again I’d try harder to avoid detail, instead focussing on painting simpler areas of tone and colour – if I’d done that I might have ended up with a simpler but more effective painting.

I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made in using acrylics like oil paints with a medium and no water.  For the foreground I picked up generous amounts of paint, often two or more colours unmixed on the brush, and dabbed them on thickly, so the surface of the painting itself is textured.

The part I struggled with most was the area beyond the row of trees to the horizon, and getting a convincing gradation of tone, colour intensity and focus into the distance.



Selected a sketch from a year ago (below)  to work from for this exercise; a simple landscape, showing a high viewpoint looking down over a valley to distant hills.  The high horizon gives space in the picture to describe a vast distance.   It’s an open view, with interest in the foreground, middle ground and background, so should give me maximum opportunity to practise and demonstrate aerial perspective.

The sketch is monochrome ink wash;  I will use colour, as two of the aerial perspective  devices involve the controlled, subtle gradation of colour; one from saturated to muted shades; and the other from warm to cool colour temperature.  I did a colour version at the time of the sketch (see below) , but it wasn’t successful in using aerial perspective devices (mid ground colours too bright; hills too focused; distant colours not blue enough).  I’m hoping to do better this time.

At the outset I think all three devices need to be combined to achieve a dense of distance – if any background element is too focused, bright or warm-coloured it will tend to pop forward in the picture plane.

I had a closer look at Turner’s Modern Italy – The Pifferari.  His scene, like mine, has a high viewpoint looking out over a vast distance, and a high horizon.  I could see quite clearly how he uses all the devices of aerial perspective.  Also, I notice, his scene appears to recede in layers, with several distinct changes in the picture plane.  I think that also helps significantly to describe distance.  I’ll try to break my scene down into defined overlapping planes in my painting.

My support is a 40×50 cm board prepared with an all over bright blue, and my medium is acrylic paint.  I lightly painted a few lines denoting the horizon and three or four main elements, then using just Paynes Grey and white started on a monochrome under painting.  I soon found the task of subtly grading focus, tone and and colour saturation calls for more skill and concentration than I’d thought.

The painting below, View of the Thames, Charing Cross by Alfred Sisley shows just how subtle the variations must be, and makes my first efforts look coarse and clumsy.


With ultramarine and white paint, acrylic medium and a largish palette knife I trowelled in the sky, adding a tad of indigo and burnt sienna to describe the underneath of clouds, and a little process yellow along the horizon; I wiped in distant line of hills with a tint of ultramarine.  This establishes my lightest tone, and the most distant plane.

Next, the foreground scrub and large pine tree, representing the first ‘layer’ in the pictorial depth, must have the most contrast and focus, and the warmest and brightest  colours.  I used a size 24 flat brush to pick up mixes of indigo, burnt sienna, process yellow for highlights and white for opacity; dabbed these on thickly, creating the texture of rocky scrub and pine tree foliage.

At this stage (below) I feel I’m on to something good.  Lots of texture, contrast, warm colours in the foreground.  The middle ground as far as the row of trees quite warm but lacking some detail; beyond the trees gradually getting greyer, paper, cooler and out of focus.  There IS a sense of great distance, although there are still lots of anomalies, for example the middle distance beyond the row of trees all the way to the horizon needs to be much lighter in tone.

It seems with any of my painting 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time.  The relatively small changes thereafter can have a big impact on the final painting – for the better if I honestly reflect on my original aims, and look critically at the work so far.  The stages of this painting, all done with one aim in mind, to maximise the sense of distance using all the devices of aerial perspective, are shown in the gallery below, and the final version also at the top of the article.