When I first took up oil painting, ten or more years ago, I used to paint on site, or “en plein air” quite regularly. On family holidays I’d be up before dawn looking for that “perfect sunrise”. Over the years however, I ventured out less and less. preferring the relative comfort of the studio. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy painting on site but I like to paint sunlight and too many cloudy days started to frustrate me. Plus, a digital camera to capture hundreds of photos when the sun did shine made indoor painting a much easier option.

My aversion to poor weather changed when I saw Marc Hanson‘s blog. Marc is an avid outdoor (plein air) painter and heads out in sun, wind, rain and snow – sometimes at night – in search of his next painting. It was Marc’s April Marathon from last year, where he planned to do four paintings a day for the whole month, that inspired me to get back outside and back to basics. It also gave me the final push to start this blog, something I’d planned for a while.

So for the last two months I’ve been getting out as often as possible with a view to finding something to paint, regardless of the weather. It’s difficult shaking off the “must be sunny” shackles but I’m determined to do it. And that’s just as well because the weather, as I’ve mentioned before, has been incredibly varied lately. (On that note, I’d be surprised if we don’t have some wild weather again tonight or tomorrow).

The experience so far has been amazing. I’ve painted in sun and rain and once or twice I thought the easel might blow over. I’ve been out during an electrical storm and have stared at a huge variety of clouds in differing light conditions. More importantly, I’ve been painting things I’ve ignored for a long, long time.

Like this one, a place I drive past almost every day…

(Barker Rd Trees. 20x24cm oil on board. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I captured the basics but the the clouds swept in front of the sun shortly after I began painting so I’m going to go back on a clear evening and I’ll try again.

Here’s one I did early last week, on the same day I did my digital painting, “Clouds over the Stirlings”.

(Clouds over the Stirlings. 20x24cm oil on board. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I was particularly interested in the gentle zig-zag shape formed by the clouds. As I was close to finishing, the clouds warmed up considerably as seen in the digital painting. Then I was applying some patches of colour to the land area when I realised it was so dark I couldn’t really tell what colour I’d mixed, so I packed up and went home.

A few nights ago I was out and about and once again the weather was offering me challenges with clouds everywhere and rain sweeping through every half hour or so. This was not the sort of weather I would usually have even considered painting in but I went looking to see what was on offer.

After driving around town, and seeing some of the darkest clouds I’ve seen for a while, I found myself back on top of Mount Barker Hill. With it’s 200º views, and being a one minute drive from home, this has been my favourite painting spot so far throughout this exercise.

(Storm Clouds in the Southeast. 20x24cm oil on canvas panel. © 2010, Andy Dolphin)

I’ve painted my share of clouds lately and on this one I took a different approach, in the hopes of getting everything I need in place before it all changed – and things can change surprisingly fast when you don’t want them to. Usually I work each main colour area, one at a time as I would with a landscape. So I’d apply the dark greys then mid greys then, oops, it’s all changed and I have no idea where the sunlit bits fit in or what they actually looked like.

This time I used a “paint by numbers” approach. I quickly outlined the major shapes in a blue-grey colour then scribbled a bit of the final colour into each area without filling it in. The land was just given a rough blue-green colour without much concern for final accuracy. I put a few small colour notes where I wanted the sunlight to hit the ground.

Then I worked the sunlit area of cloud to give it an overall warm white before re-working the shaded clouds with their final colours. Even though these clouds had long-since moved on, I was able to look at other, similar clouds for information to assist with final details. Other than the sunlit areas moving around, the land had barely changed so I was able to finish this fairly easily.

With a few compositional modifications, this has the prospect of being done as a much larger painting.

Most of what I’ve done this last two months has been just for my own benefit. It’s invigorating to “get out amongst it” and even if the paintings are not “winners”, each one has been worth it just for the experience of doing it.