For the first time in months I went out sketching last week on the north Norfolk coast at Thornham, with its salt marsh, tidal creeks and reedbeds. It was a gloriously sunny day for November and (thankfully) I decided I couldn’t face the shady studio or staying indoors in my north-facing house on such a day.
There are many reasons I’ve left it so long – I used to go out sketching each week and it was (is) an important part of my practice – but the truth is I just got out of the habit. Yet I felt so much clearer-headed and brighter once I was treading the familiar sea defences looking out to the horizon and down over the winter reeds.
Despite the cold wind I found a little shelter in the sunlight next to a pool almost hidden in the reedbed, below the path. While a late dragonfly hovered in the sun and a large fish leapt out of the still water, I precariously balanced my sketchbook on a fence rail and set to work…
…and it is this point I’ve been thinking about since. I always tell myself and others that it’s the light and the landscape that compels me to paint; that I’m trying to instil in my mind what interests me in the scene, so that later I can retrieve and distil the impressions into a piece of studio work.
I still believe this, but now I realise it’s too simple an explanation – it doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s the pleasure I take in pausing to contemplate how I’m going to ‘interpret’ the scene whether with watercolour or acrylic ink; the joy of brushing water across the white page, into which I’m going to just touch the black ink block and watch it bleed out swiftly into the wet, or trail a loaded ink dropper through it and see the colour bloom swiftly outwards; the experience that, after years of trial and error, I now know that by moving a purple-grey ink into the wet area further down it will bleed upwards into the black, where I watch it pool and spread or run off wildly in a different direction; how colours will mix and back run.
This also happens whatever medium I’m using in the studio. There comes a point quite early in the process where I forget the original inspiration and an all-consuming pleasure in the media takes over; whether it’s dragging acrylic paint across a prepared canvas with a big brush, pasting selected newsprint onto the work, scratching marks into wet paint, or scraping colour away to reveal stained texture below.
Of course, like all artists, there are times the process doesn’t work for me and pleasure turns to frustration, but when it does work there’s nothing like it.