Friday, 30 March 2012

Oil Painting 9 - 'Kitch'

I was helped to moor up before the Preston Brook Tunnel by a fascinating looking fellow called 'Kitch'. Kitch was covered in tattoos and had a bizarre broken nose. I really wanted to paint him sat on a little wooden bench on the towpath next to his wood pile and a carved face he had produced from a found piece of sandstone in the woods next to us. He told me he had seen a jet black mink across the other side of the canal the day before.

The dappled sunlight was releasing some glorious colours. I would have liked longer with the painting but it wasn't to be. I want to paint more characters' portraits on the canals but time restrictions and the availability of people to sit for long periods are a big factor. I wonder how Vinny coped...

Portrait of a young Peasant - Vincent Van Gogh

Pencil Sketch 4 - Northwich Town Swing Bridge

A cheeky one to try and sneak in before our return passage up the Anderton Boat Lift. I think you can tell the sketch is quite rushed but I wanted to respond to the bridges of Northwich. I was enjoying the black and white paintwork and the movement of the traffic through the structure disappearing into the town although I don't think the sketch got the stage of properly visualising the traffic. Oh well. it is still good exercise to try and capture something as quickly as possible. I am delighted that this transient life of perpetual movement on board a boat seems to reigniting my desire for quick sketching on location which I am aware I have pretty much ignored in my practice since my study at The Princes Drawing School in London where we would do plenty of rapid sketching of scenes of intense interest around the streets of the capital.

Pencil Sketch 3 - Waiting for Hunt's Lock, River Weaver

This sketch was produced whilst waiting for the British Waterways Lock attendee to finish lunch!

Martin Sayle, Karen's dad and our trusted mechanic is at the tiller enjoying the view. I was drawing this from the roof again. Glorious sunshine, brews a plenty and in no particular rush. I think it was the reflection of the repeated arches of the viaduct that attracted me to start sketching although once I started it became more about the shear height of the railway bridge in relation to the boat.

Oil Painting 8 - Winnington Works in evening sun, Anderton

Winnington Works is a huge industrial complex directly opposite The Anderton Boat Lift and after finishing painting the lift for the day (Oil Painting 7) I would make my way over to paint this in the late sun. I was attracted by quite abstract values, the obvious continuous circular pattern in the River Weaver caused by an overflow from the Trent and Mersey above and how the reflection of the works was affected by that.

The works started out as a huge oddly shaped silhouette but as the sun progressed round it slowly caught more and more of the orange light. The Hunts Lock operator on the River Weaver told me that this works accidentally invented Polythene as a by-product.

I was wanting to capture one of these enormous chemical and salt works of industry in oils ever since passing the first one way back in Middlewich and finally got round to it here in Anderton. I can see already that is going to be a running theme with this trip, seeing something spectacular, but the frustrations and logistics of getting round to paint the subject in the tight time frames before moving on again. I guess I have to just embrace the added energy that comes with knowing you haven't got long.

Photographs by Karen - KS Photography

Oil Painting 7 - Anderton Boat Lift

The Anderton Boat Lift - One of the 'Wonders of the Waterways' crying out to be given some dramatic perspective treatment - accentuating the height of the structure by pulling the verticals towards a vanishing point at the zenith and bowing the horizon slightly around that point. Also knocking the overall structure of the view off vertical, setting it at a mild angle to give added drama, a technique frequently used by comic book and graphic illustrators.

I was blessed with temperatures over 20 degrees and a cloudless sky for 2 days running. Not bad for mid-March! Quite an obvious view I suppose though one I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. The lift complex was closed to the public as it was still the winter break but the kind staff let me through to paint.

It is difficult to some up an intense pattern of geometric metal girders quickly in oils and the sky or background colour underneath quickly contaminates the top layer of metal structure so I was having more luck on the second day once the under layer had become tacky.

How to sum up a cloudless blue sky? The sky over these two days was reaching dramatically dark levels of blues to purples directly above where as nearer to the horizon it had a distinct warm pink. The water painting in this piece is less detailed than the recent reflection study and Anderson Boats tall painting (Oil paintings 5 & 6) although I am fond of this more abstracted approach in this painting. I am hoping the more and more I revisit reflections and representing water (which I am guessing will be a lot in this 'Year of the Boat') the more I will develop my own visual language for recording it. I really admire David Hockney's swimming pool water studies. It is an endless organic subject that changes completely in different light wind and atmospheric conditions. It is endeavoring to record the impossible.

Back to the lift though, the staff all seemed interested, one did his 'Titanic' impression from the centre of the railings from the top of the lift! Dave who had only recently started, was manning the gates at the base of the lift and made his way onto the painting, which he tells me his family were pleased about. If you look closely though, he is pictured on the wrong side for the tour boat which is pictured in the other chamber about to go up in the lift. This is just one of those happy accidents that occur through painting and selecting points of interest from an entire 2 days rather than recording a split second snapshot like a camera.

I am also grateful to the British Waterways staff for getting us down on to the Weaver and back up again the same day and facilitating a great day of river fun - a completely different ball game with currents, canoeing teams and manned shipping locks!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Pencil Sketch 2 - Karen and Simon on the stern

Glorious sunshine, Lager, Pistachios and BBC 6 Music's Funk and Soul Show. Good times.

Pencil Sketch 1 - Rudheath Industry from Boat Roof

First piece of artwork produced from the roof of the boat - those extra few feet can be handy when wanting to peer over fences! I am really enjoying the atmosphere of all these gargantuan salt and chemical works building up through this stretch of the Trent and Mersey.

Simon Stamatiou - Ceramicist on board

Ceramicist Simon Stamatiou boarded our boat at Middlewich and reluctantly disembarked two days later at The Anderton Boat Lift in Northwich.
Renowned potter Kevin Millward taught Simon his potting skills after he moved from Whitstable, Kent, to the Potteries to be closer to the Ceramics industry. He was a demonstrator thrower at Gladstone Pottery Museum, and a thrower at Wedgwood’s factory in Barlaston. Recently Simon became the studio manager at the BCB (British Ceramics Biennial) in Stoke-on-Trent.
During the two days travel, for us, it was fascinating to see how an artist of a completely different medium related to the waterways experience.

“You can’t help but be inspired.”
“Because you go at such a slow pace you have time to observe and contemplate something, pull over, grab a camera and document it. The light yesterday brought everything forward, bright whites and shadows on fences that would ordinarily be grey.”

"Patterns and textures were seen that could be transferred into ceramic techniques (sgraffito, inlays, glaze reactions) and it is apparent that a body of work can be produced in response to the trip."
The waterways were not just there to be observed but were also interactive in the sunshine with ducks, heron, and buzzards all visible. “ If you ever see a heron land on the water in front of you, you can do nothing but stand open-mouthed”.
We were chased through the flashes by a swan who had developed a taste for the North Staffordshire Oatcakes.

“As the trip was progressing my eyes were opening to more and more inspirations: wet dog’s layered fur, the combination of colours on a female duck - whites, light taup, dark taup, chocolate brown, on the curved satin shape breast. You can instantly see how that could transform to ceramics with agate or marbling techniques."

Simons got the canal bug now and has begged to return armed with his potters wheel to set up on the towpath, working directly in the landscape which facilitates more engagement from the surroundings, possibly using impressions of reeds, plaster moulds, stamps, sprigettes of found materials around the canal.
Simons experience on board has opened our eyes to how the final ‘Year of the Boat’ exhibition could include many artists’ work and responses to our life on the British Waterways.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Oil Painting 6 - Reflection Study in Middlewich

A reflection Study in progress, the sunshine lighting up the boats and trees opposite reflecting in the canal was giving some interesting patterns, particularly as the flow of the water changed with the wind and people using the locks.

I have done a few of these reflection studies previously, my favourite sold recently at Millard and Lancaster in Shrewsbury

Of course, you can go near this subject without paying homage to the master - Claude Monet

Oil Painting 5 - Anderson Boats Middlewich

Quite a small painting that I thought I had finished not long after the production photo was taken but then returned back to capture the start of this period of glorious sunshine we are having in late March. It changed completey with the sun. I like the hazy distance to the church, but feel overall the composition was not that bold.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Oil Painting 4 - Karen working in the boat - IN PROGRESS

This painting was started in Rode Heath, the village where Karen was brought up, next to 'The Rise'. At this point on the Trent and Mersey the canal is relatively high up compared to the valley next to it and so the sunlight can flood in unobstructed. After a grey winter in the Marina with boats either side, this sunlight transforming all wood into golden orange surroundings was really refreshing and something I wanted to capture.

I didn't have chance to finish the painting whilst we were in Rode Heath but have returned to it in Middlewich and shall keep adding more to it as The Year of the Boat journey progresses. The idea that I know what the inside will look like but have no idea what the view through the window will be like is exciting and a good reflection on narrowboat life.

The format of this painting is very similar to the end result of the first animation I worked with Karen on called 'Train Track'

A description of Train Track can be seen on our animation studio's blog - BIGred Blog

Friday, 16 March 2012

Oil Painting 3 - Wheelock

Wheelock twin locks mark the beginning of the 'Heartbreak Hill' ascent up 26 locks in 7 miles. This painting was produced over 3 remarkably similar days where a flat winter light was constant throughout which facilitated quite a high level of detail.

This being one of the first paintings of the trip I was keen to try and represent the canals in a different form to how other artists might, which is a difficult task as canals and waterways are an extremely popular subject matter. With this piece I wanted to describe all the multiple levels, the drama of looking down at the gushing water through the gaps in the twin lock gates closest in contrast to the still water at a much higher level alongside in the lock.

I met a lot of people whilst painting this piece, I think it must have been a spot on a popular footpath because there was dog walkers, hikers and boaters every few minutes.

This photograph was taken by Jean Squires, a lovely lady who paused hiking with her two friends to chat about the painting and kindly sent through the photograph. Thank you Jean!

(The lock gate made an excellent workbench!)

Oil Painting 2 - Westport Lake

This painting was produced stood amongst the friendly ever growing flock of Canada Geese who are waiting for the next Stokie to come and deliver the bread or chips. It was painted over 2 sessions, the second was later in the day and the sun was much further round so the shadows have shifted. I like this history in the brushwork and evidence of time passing whilst the image is produced. Our boat was moored on the Trent and Mersey Visitor Moorings that run the length of Westport Lake, it is a lovely spot to stop off at and have an ice cream.

Oil Painting 1 - Etruria Marina