• Olly Pyle

At Dawn On The Knoll Beach

Updated: Apr 28


It has been a short while, but I cannot be kept for long from painting my favourite location - Studland Bay in Dorset! Having looked at the forecast the evening before I had a sense that there would be some decent light the next morning, so I headed down to the beach at around 5.30am, just as the sun was coming up. If you have never been to the coast at this time of the day then you have missed out on one of life's most pleasurable activities. I hope that by looking at this painting that you are able to join me in the experience......


On arrival in Studland you are faced with the option of three beaches - Knoll Beach, Middle Beach and South Beach. Each has its own idiosyncrasies and relative merits and at this time in the morning the beaches are empty - you will only meet an occasional dog walker, dedicated trail runner, or Sussex-based watercolourist! This empty quietness helps to emphasise the wonderful sense of space, as the dawn light throws the scene into strong contrast, the wet sand of the foreshore glistening against the darker sandbars, exposed by the receding tide. It is a time to stand on the shore, look out to the horizon and do nothing. Just allow your senses to be overwhelmed. Smell the salty odour of fresh seaweed that has been washed up on the beach. Listen carefully to the 'chink-chink' as the very gentle breeze teases the rigging and masts of the yachts moored out in the bay. Gulls call to each other as they come and go at the water's edge. Almost imperceptible, you can just make out the hum of a distant outboard motor, a backing singer's subtle harmony. All the while your eyes are fixed on the glassy, luminous sea, as still as a mill pond while the distant headland and Old Harry Rocks provide a familiar and reassuring presence.


In years gone by the rocks and seaweed on the foreshore were removed for the benefit of the beach-going public but more recently the National Trust has chosen to allow these to remain for the most part, creating a more natural ambience in line with their brief as Trustees of these important heritage sights. Ok, so you may stub your toe badly after an afternoon swim, but for the artist there is much to admire! In this instance the newly risen sun was highlighting some of the stones and the seaweed and I was immediately struck by the bright greens and warm earthy colours, and could see immediately that their shapes and distribution could lend themselves to a strong composition. I normally treat foregrounds with suspicion and use them as quiet supporting passages in my work, but this time the shoreline detritus made a very strong case for being the subject of the painting. In order to make sense of the random shapes and confusion I made some quick sketches to rearrange the rocks until I had a strong Z shape working through the composition (follow the slight ripples in the sand down to the wet, relfective sand, then head up the beach to the trees at Redend Point, and continue along to the end of the headland.) Its a well-worn artist's trick, but it always seems to work!


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