I first saw this scene in 2005 as I was driving around, almost aimlessly, looking for interesting things to paint. I was so taken that I got the easel out and painted on site, something I don’t do nearly as often as I probably should. For once the weather was in my favour and the distant trees and cattle were glowing as the sun was setting.

oil landscape plein air sketch, australia, andy dolphin

(East to Porongurup, sketch. 50 x 19cm oil on panel © 2005, Andy Dolphin)

The light changed fast and I was never really happy with the end result. I loved the light on the trees and cows but the pointy mountain (which is geographically correct but too demanding of attention) and the dark green-grey foreground shadow bothered me. Green grass always bothers me – I think maybe I just don’t like green. As a result, the painting sat unloved for more than four years.

This week I was looking through some old paintings that were never allowed to leave the studio and I rediscovered this one. I wanted to just play with some paint so I decided to re-do it using just the plein air piece as my guide. It was an exercise in painting, nothing more.

(East to Porongurup. 60 x 22cm oil on panel © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This is the result and I’m much happier with it. The warm, dark foreground shadow helps to frame the main scene and the softened mountain peaks don’t command as much attention as the pointy one in the sketch. In reality, the range looks just like this from a different viewpoint just a hundred metres or so from where I was standing originally, so it is still true to the region.

We have to be willing to change things sometimes, to “improve” a little on reality, otherwise we might as well become photographers.

This new painting was done almost as if it were an en plein air exercise. I quickly blocked in the main tones then pushed and pulled the values in quick strokes with large and medium-size brushes, trying not to get bogged down in detail. It was an advantage not having a photo to work from because the only detail I had to work with was whatever I’d captured in paint on location originally. I only had to worry about adjustments.

I added interest in the foreground with ridges running at opposite angles to the shadows. Those patches of light in the foreground mirror the slope of the range and help lead the eye to the focal point – the group of cows and trees just right of centre. The focal area is reinforced by the ground being just a little brighter. It also has the lightest light on the “white” heads of the cows and the almost-pure cadmium red on their bodies.

(East to Porongurup, detail. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

This close-up shows some of the loose brushwork in the focal area. Click the image to enlarge. I quite like it cropped this way – maybe another painting for another day?