Posted on Tue 07 Jun 2016
I am fortunate enough to live within a few miles of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire’s World Heritage Site, with its magnificent grounds landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, whose tercentenary it is this year.
The parkland, lakes and architecture provide wonderful year-round opportunities for both plein-air and studio painting. As the grounds stretch across 2,000 acres, seeking out the best views usually requires a lot of walking, so lightweight and portable equipment is essential. I use a simple lightweight sketching easel for watercolour and a pochade box with camera tripod attachment for the oils and acrylics. My palette is the same for both media: cobalt and ultramarine blue, cobalt violet, viridian, raw sienna, burnt sienna, cadmium and lemon yellow, light red and cadmium red.
Colours and perspective
There are thousands of trees in the park, including a rich variety of species, and with seasonal variations this provides an almost limitless source of material for the landscape artist.
Inevitably the colour green is going to loom large, and handling and mixing greens is an aspect of painting that often troubles beginners. I encourage all my students to create a chart showing the range of greens created by mixing all their yellows (lemon, cadmium, raw sienna) with all their blues (cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine) as well as lamp black and Payne’s grey – see my green colour mixing chart (see below). This will show the contrast between warm and cool variations and the various degrees of colour saturation.
Understanding and perceiving temperature variations within colours is a great aid to creating depth, or aerial perspective, within a landscape.
I work in watercolour, oil and acrylic, always trying to use the varying qualities of each to best effect. To create dappled light by continually adding light over dark or dark over light paint, I find the quick-drying quality of acrylic to be very useful.
Slow-drying oils, on the other hand, are great for plein-air work as areas can be continually blended or adjusted without overworking the picture and losing its original feel – and there are no worries about the brushes or palette drying out!
How long you spend working en plein air, and how successful the results are, often depend on practical considerations such as accessibility, wind and weather conditions, distance from your car, etcetera.