I am currently working on an oil painting for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. No guarantees of getting in of course as the competition is brutal as the whole of the Cotswolds apply. They have, however, let me in a few times before so it is certainly worth a punt and the pageant is good fun too.
What to paint?
I enjoy painting allotment scenes. It’s the jumble and mess of it all, one of the few places us British are encouraged to do things individually and yes even to show off just a little bit. In these small enclaves British allotmenteers are swash buckling adventurers and pioneers all heartily fuelled by passion, Mintos and tea. All for just £20.88 per year or £13.15 if over 60. What’s not to celebrate?
Unlike my city scenes my allotment scene are all generally fictional or cobbled together from a few allotments here and there. If I see an allotment I will generally stop to do a few drawings and take the odd photo. Producing these notes does not take long and I have built up a fat library of reference over the years. The allotment holders come over to talk too, initially to ask if I am from the council and am I there to shut down the allotment and build flats where their carrots once stood. This paranoia is nationwide. Once they are happy that the allotment is safe for another day they get chatting and tell stories that help inform my work.
The first part of the sketch was inspired by the hills of Somerset. They say Cornwall has a rugged landscape, well Somerset is more ragged. I like the lumps and bumps dotted with curiously numbered sheep, they look like lottery balls.
Another inspiration was being chased by 40 odd cows a few weeks after I moved to the country. It was terrifying though the idea of a bull let loose in an allotment appealed to me. The moment just before all hell breaks loose.
Once the bones of the ideas were in my head I started drawing a few things out. At this stage, I am always determined to keep it small and simple. Though each time the pencil runs away and idea drops on top of idea and it grows in all directions until I have quite a complicated picture to balance.
The final drawing
Before it goes on to board I create a final drawing. This is as detailed I can manage, by the time it gets to paint the final piece the control freak in me needs to know where every stroke of the brush will land.
It’s a long drawn out process and I occasionally envy other painters who deftly wield their brushes to bring finished pieces to life in mere minutes. That said, I would not have it any other way. I enjoy all the tinkering.
I am pretty happy with this drawing aside from the female character in the centre. She has not yet worked. There will be no point hammering at it right now, I will begin the oil painting and as I work through something will crop up to give a bit of a lead.