Essex Field: September in stages

By Sally Pudney on 23rd September 2020

While I was painting my September picture of the field I took some photos of various stages as it developed. I haven’t done this for ages, but I thought it might be of interest to see how the painting builds up!

I started with a board 45cm square, primed with three coats of Daler Rowney Acrylic Gesso Primer. When this was dry the first thing I did was draw a few key elements on – the horizon, the position of the big tree – with a hard 5H pencil. A softer pencil will smudge off into the paint.

The first paint to be applied is always the sky. A mix of Cerulean Blue Chromium and Cobalt Blue with Titanium White – I use Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic, and Golden Acrylic. Much of the sky will be covered by leaves, but tiny bits will show through and it is important that they are all an appropriate colour for their position and that they don’t look as though they’ve been added later!

Next I painted in the distant hedge between Martins field and How Hill, and the woods in the far distance. This was varied mixtures of Payne’s Grey, Permanent Sap Green, Jackson’s Primrose Yellow and Titanium White. I also added some background colour for the field – Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna with lots of Titanium White – and the grassy field margin – Permanent Sap Green and Jackson’s Primrose Yellow. At this stage I also adjusted the shape of the tree trunk and the position of the foreground post.

Next came some background colour for the tree trunk – a mix of Burnt Sienna and Indanthrene Blue. I wanted to make it too dark at this stage so that I could add lighted coloured layers over the top and scratch through, to get the effect of the deeply fissured bark. I also put some background colour on the foliage to the left of the tree with varying mixes of Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Sap Green, Lemon Yellow and Jackson’s Primrose Yellow. This was all applied with a piece of sponge. Again, it was deliberately too dark at this stage.

I continued to add the foliage on and around the tree, introducing more Lemon Yellow, and Yellow Ochre into the mixes, and using both sponge and small, fairly ruined brushes which I keep for this purpose! They give a nice random mark which can imitate the random look of leaves.

In the foreground I used a dark mix of Indanthrene Blue and Burnt Sienna to put in the darker shadows in the foliage, and scratched through it while still wet to indicate thin stems catching the light. Once this was dry I added various mixes of Yellow Ochre, Titanium White, Olive Green and Nickel Azo Yellow for the rest of the jumble of foreground foliage, scratching and adding little touches of oil pastel over the top once the paint was dry. I also adjusted the tree trunk colour, with lighter mixes which included some Olive Green, and when this was dry lightly touched in some highlights with a pale green oil pastel. I lightened the foliage on the far left and also on the branches at the top of the picture.

Using a ‘sword’ brush and a dark mix of Indanthrene Blue and Burnt Sienna I painted in the thin saplings on the right, and then sponged in some sparse dark leaves on these.

At this stage I took the painting inside the house and had a good long look at it. I came up with a few things I wanted to alter: get rid of the post in the field – it draws the eye in a distracting way; add some lighter foliage to the saplings to indicate the afternoon sun catching them; lighten the foliage on the left of the tree trunk – again!; reduce the light area on the immediate left of the tree trunk and get rid of that odd dark spot on the very edge of the picture; emphasise the shadow cast on the main trunk by the small branches; clarify the post in the bottom left corner; and emphasis the branch coming out of the main trunk high on the left.

So I worked my way through these alterations, and the painting was finished. The photo of the painting below was taken in very good light, whereas the ones above were taken on the easel in my studio, usually at the end of the afternoon when I finished working, so that accounts for some of the changes!

I hope that was interesting!

And finally, the good news is that my builders are back today and are fitting the door as I write this! Things are looking up!

Hope you’re all OK and having a good week. 🙂


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