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Oil Painting in the Garden with David Curtis

Posted on Thu 26 Oct 2017

Quite often, it is easy to lose sight of enticing subjects in one’s immediate locality. In my case, I have used the garden at Gibdyke House as the basis of the rural theme. Rather than the tidy manicured effect, the garden is a more comforting, chaotic mix of mature trees, pond and a bit of ‘shed land’ including chickens, dogs and cats. The house is 17th century and set in rural Nottinghamshire. All very conducive to the painter’s eye, I think. The village church is just visible through the tree mass some 100 yards distant.

This whole setting forms the step-by-step demonstration outlined here. I wish to convey an exercise produced very much on the spot, against the light – urgently executed to seize the sense of the moment, the whole image produced in about one-and-a-half hours. Any further deliberation beyond this will have lost the light effect and shadow form will have moved on and, of course, will not adhere to the original concept of subject appeal.


Working with a sense of urgency has a degree of risk attached. Often the painting strokes are misplaced and positionally inaccurate but, in fact, some are set with that almost subconscious bravura performance – happy accidents maybe, but reflective of the essential enthusiasm for the subject in the first place. When we are excited by a potential image to paint, it is worth just spending a minute or so checking the compositional content and ensuring you have the very best setting of the elements provisionally placed on the board or canvas. A little adjustment of the easel positioning can make all the difference to the success or otherwise of the composition.

The appeal of the subject (see finished painting below) is centred around the magnificent Gunnera leaf forms, which form the interlocking, almost semi-abstract shapes held as centre stage in the composition. The accent of the mid-distance backcloth, highlights the leaf forms and the silvery lost-and-found top edges of each leaf. In fact, the leaves grow at such a pace that to return a day or so later will yield an entirely changed composition!

The palette used for the demonstration subject includes: titanium white, raw sienna, burnt sienna, cerulean blue, French ultramarine, cobalt violet, viridian, vermilion, cadmium orange, buff titanium and lemon yellow.

Gunnera Aginst the Light, oil on canvas-covered board, (40.5x30.5cm).
What remained was simply to search around the subject and tease out any little nuances that would enhance the final result. Just a few sharpened-up minor details in the foreground grasses, and a minimal consideration of the simple shadow and sun form in the immediate foreground, seemed to me to be quite sufficient to achieve a swift, immediate visual response to a quite stunning light effect on a blistering hot July afternoon. Actually, the temperature reached nearly 28C that day. Thank heaven I was in the shade!

Follow David's step-by-step demonstration in the December 2017 issue of The Artist

Click here to purchase your copy

Oil Painting in the Garden with David Curtis


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  • I am a great fan of David Curtis, so living in South Africa, and unable to attend any of his live demonstrations, it will be such a joy for me to be able to follow his step by step demonstration in your December Issue. Love your magazine, though not able to afford it at the moment. I belong to the South African Association of Artists and get it from our library.


    Posted by Anneli Bell on Fri 03 Nov 16:02:44
  • Just love David's work which I have followed for more years than I care to remember! Really looking forward to this article

    Posted by Thalia Stones on Mon 06 Nov 17:26:59