A Calm Summer's Evening, Kimmeridge Bay
Updated: Feb 4
Kimmeridge Bay in Dorset has been a popular muse of mine in recent years. While her beauty is impossible to ignore it cannot be said that she is the most compliant of subjects, often turning up to a sitting in a drab overcoat of browns and greys, constantly fidgeting with the ebb and flow of the tide. But I have been in the bay many times before when it has looked stunning and memorable, and I wanted to make a painting that captured that. To do so I needed to draw on my knowledge and prior experience of the place, an essential pillar of good landscape art. It isn't always possible to paint on location - weather, disability, social considerations can all hinder you - but if you have already visualised the scene and been there before - observing not just looking - then with the help of sketches, photographs and memory you are well placed to create a successful landscape painting.
This painting is a case in point, and I hope it will give you an insight into my creative process, and how a painting sometimes comes about. It's not always as spontaneous as you may think! Let's start with the subject, the vision if you will. Almost exclusively I paint landscapes that I am familiar with and love to visit myself, and Kimmeridge is certainly no exception. Having spent so much time in this beautiful, natural bay I know where the best view points are, the times of day at which they are their most presentable, and the ideal weather to set them off. The trick is to be there just before the sun goes down, shining like a golden spotlight to reveal the warm siennas and ochres of the headland. This needs to be carefully timed however, as neither low tide nor high present the optimal configuration of ledges and rock pools from this vantage point on the west side of the bay. With the strong August sun low in the sky and a couple of hours after high tide a natural composition reveals itself; the colours are balanced naturally between warm and cool, and the chaotic arrangement of the rocks and seaweed becomes a pleasing juxtaposition against the calm, orderly nature of the landscape as a whole.
With my inspiration firmly established, and while camping with my family at Corfe Castle, I kept an eye on both weather and tide times hoping for the right combination to present itself. Happily it did and I managed to scramble my camera and tripod in good time (forget painting for a minute, it makes a wonderful photograph in its own right.) If truth be told the tide was a fraction too high, so I had to set up the tripod in the shallows of the rock pool to achieve the composition that I wanted - a low perspective, emphasising the ledge on the right, leading out to the sea with the central boulders tucked inside it. It just works. Everything points conveniently towards the headland while the wide angle of vision helps to create an illusion that the viewer is almost standing in the foreground (with wet feet!) being inexorably lured in to the painting.
With the light disappearing in a matter of minutes there was no time to paint on location, but I knew that I had the image I was looking for and could develop it back in the comfort of the studio. With reference to the photo I then made a few thumbnail sketches to resolve some outstanding issues; the positioning of several rocks, the tonal 'tension' between them, their reflection, and the water, and the extent to which I could dial up the red colouring in the submerged seaweed without compromising the harmonious feeling of evening calm. With everything resolved I was left with the simple task of painting it.......!
Some paintings - not all by any means - can take a long time to evolve from the initial vision to the finished painting. This one certainly did, but I find the process of hunting down a potential scene in the conditions that I have envisaged to be hugely enjoyable. It hints at why I paint landscapes......very simply, it gives me the perfect excuse to get outdoors and be in the countryside collecting ideas and inspiration, which I enjoy more than anything else. Of course, it's not possible to be outdoors all the time, but working through a larger painting like this in the studio takes me straight back to the summer. I may be indoors standing at the easel, brush in hand, but I can feel the gentle sea breeze and hear the faint clatter of small pebbles and slate shards tumbling down the cliff face behind me. The brackish odour of seaweed is pleasantly pungent, and as I watch the golden glow of the headland start to recede rapidly, it is clear that the sun is calling time on another day. Everything is calm.
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