Every day I go into the studio and try to paint somewhere I would like to be. And for much of the year that is summer.
It has taken many years to get the clarity and depth of colour that gives the feeling of summer. Endless days wandering in the countryside near my studio looking up at the sky.
Skies are backlit. The light comes from a source far away. That is remarkably difficult to paint. But I’m not trying to paint a literal representation of the sky, more a feeling of that moment when I was standing underneath it.
I use hand-ground oil paint. It gives a superbly clean colour. I work fast with large brushes, blending and moving the paint. Gradually adding clouds and creating the movement within the sky. Sometimes the clouds get a little darker, sometimes storms appear. It really is dependant on my mood and what the weather is doing outside the studio.
I aim to complete the sky in a single session, although if I’m working with a more chaotic or stormy sky this spreads into multiple painting sessions.
It took two years of experimenting before I got anywhere close to the effect I wanted to create with the grasses. Cleanly defined, single blades massing together to form a dense bed of grass and movement in which you can lose yourself. Sounds simple but really wasn’t.
I eventually came up with a blend of alkyd resins mixed with oil paint, which created exactly the right consistency to flick the grass onto the canvas. Too thick and it arrives on the canvas with a very unappealing splat. Too thin and the result is spray rather than blade. Just right and each blade of grass lands with a sharp clean edge.
About 60 per cent of the paint ends up anywhere other than on the canvas. But when I get it right it looks stunning. I use three to ten different greens, yellows, blues and reds with a little white to create the depth of grass and details of wildflower.
Sometimes the grasses don’t just end up in the foreground but generate a life of their own. Turning into swirls, creeping up the sides of the painting and moving in ways I had never expected.
With each flick of my brush, I use the end of the handle; the grass lands roughly where I want it. I have to constantly respond to how the painting changes. I follow the paint. I add more grass, more depth and see where the painting takes me.
I thrive on having to respond to what is happening in the moment. At times I am so focused I find myself staggering back from a painting several hours after I started. I am covered in paint; the studio walls are covered in paint. The dog is covered in paint.
I look up to see a finished painting.
Every stage of the creative process is just as important to me as the next. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t make it any less vital to the effect of the final artwork.
The supports are a perfect example of this.
I make every single one myself. It's the only way that I can get such a deep, quality structure, that is resistant to warping and very stable.
The wood is arctic pine. Slow grown, dense, straight and sustainable. I buy it from my local carpenter's shop where it's planed to my exact dimensions.
The corners are morticed mitres. This gives a very strong corner and means the canvas can be keyed to maintain tension – ideal for combatting the challenges of heating in modern homes. Finally a strip of MDF is glued and pinned to the outer edge, giving a very precise edge and covering the mortices.
The canvas is oilprimed cotton duck. I hand stretch it onto the support and fix it with staples. Up to four more coats of oil primer are added, sanded between each coat. Only then is the support ready for painting. They're such things of beauty that I sometimes feel it's a shame to paint on them. But then I wouldn't make much of a living!