If you have come to this Blog via my Website, “Art through Nature” (here), then you will be aware that highly detailed Watercolour has been my medium of choice throughout my career. Recently, however, I have been turning much more to painting with Oils; to my surprise I have discovered that for me Oil Sketches & Studies are the best way of working with colour out in the field. My usual reconnaissance work has consisted of drawing on blue-grey or buff toned papers, of my choosing & bound in sketchbooks, with graphite and/or walnut ink, augmented with sepia washes and heightened with white Watercolour. The small paintings in Oil usually take no more time than do the Drawings; a possibility of more mess with the Oils, but I’m generally a careful craftsman.
Last year (2013), I also had occasion to slowly travel the 2000 miles back to Oregon, after an extended visit with family in Oklahoma, and painting Oil Sketches all the way back home; the Colorado Rockies (camped in an October snowfall); mesa Verde Cliff-dwellings (what would it have been like to have lived there?); the red rocks of Utah (Valley of the Gods, Natural Bridges, Zion National Park); Arizona (Grand Canyon & Vermilion Cliffs); & Nevada (Extra-terrestrial Highway past Area 51 … 190 miles through desert snow-showers without a shop or petrol station in sight … awesome in its bleakness in the true sense of the word); then immediately upon my return to Oregon, straight down to the Coast and another 30 paintings in 30 days – so much to paint. I was reminded of lengthy sketching trips in the Scottish Highlands and elsewhere, back in the ‘70s & ‘80s, when I filled sketchbooks with hundreds of Drawings and Watercolour sketches. Those times of concentrated effort have always been rewarding.
That journey, and those past drawing and painting tours, brought home to me how much there is yet to see and to study with paint, and that ultimately it is really all about the creation-of, and the leaving-of, a body of work. Over the years I have completed a large body of labor-intensive Watercolours; I could be quite happy continuing to refine my technique in that medium, but that would preclude adding as much to that body-of-work as I would wish. Periodically I have returned to the basics in order to strengthen my work and to grow as an artist; I have again reached such a time. The concentration and excitement of working out in the field in Oil is, I feel, what is necessary for my Art to further grow. The small works that I am painting in Oil allow me to gather much information for possible future paintings, as well as just for the sake of it; letting me experiment with the mechanics of Oil, mixing various colour palettes, & brushwork. With the field-work little time and material is wasted, and there comes knowledge, and growth, applicable to larger works in Oil, and also back to my Watercolour. Working on-site also means painting more rapidly, and thus much of the work is looser than the tight rendering of my Studio Watercolours. I am not eschewing my detailed work, but with my work in Oil I am striving to be somewhere between the looseness of Plein Aire and the tight detail of my Studio works; able to go in either direction as required.
I have always been drawn to the wild & lonely places of Nature. Even during the years I spent in Britain, where civilization is never very far away, I tended to seek out places like the Scottish Highlands, the moors of the West Country, and the more solitary beaches of North Cornwall, the latter where I resided for 23 years. My taste for this, no doubt, was formed at age five when we lived in the forests of northern Wisconsin, not far from the Great Lake Superior. During those years the woods and small fields, were my playground and book of knowledge. I’ve been trying to return there ever since … not so much geographically, but more to the state of mind those solitary forests induced in a younger me. North Cornwall was a long stepping stone on this journey, as has been the several years spent thus far in Oregon. However, there have been too many lights to be seen in the country night; it has always baffled me why one moves to the country if one so fears the dark of the wondrous starry night. And so now I am taking a further step toward those mythic Northern Forests of my youth, and am journeying more frequently into the wilder places, where yard-lamps are fewer, or even non-existent, in the dark of the night, and where one enters the food-chain; here there be bears … and cougars … and now wolves have recently returned to the Oregon night. My 4-wheel drive SUV has become my studio, and those wilder places of the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps beyond, are my challenge … and my Muse.