Autumn Colour – Gibdyke House by David Curtis

Autumn Colour – Gibdyke House, oil on board, 16x16in (40.5x40.5cm). A loosely described garden corner subject celebrates all the colour of autumn. Put restraint aside for once and blast away with rich yellows and warm orange colour – add a few chickens for good measure – great fun!

David Curtis describes how he raced against the light and the heat as made an alla-prima contre-jour oil painting of a picturesque corner of his garden.

Finding subjects close to home

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, see below, in which 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.

Risks involved with painting alla prima

Pond and garden – Gibdyke House

Pond and Garden – Gibdyke House, oil on canvas, 22x15in (56x38cm). This early summer subject produced en plein air suggests a dappled light on the pond with a strong tree form placed satisfyingly on the golden section. The figure and deck chairs lend a sense of rural peace and calm, I hope.

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.

Garden in Winter – Slaynes Lane, oil on board, 7x10in (18x25.5cm). This is a quick study in the snow produced against the light, as are many of my paintings. Working this way allows form to be simplified often with quite dramatic effect and strong tonal contrast.

Demonstration: Gunnera Aginst the Light

Gunnera Against the Light, oil on canvas-covered board, (40.5x30.5cm)

The appeal of the subject 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 subject of the painting