Plein air adventures

Plein painting on Dartmoor Vicki HutchinsPlein air on Dartmoor artist Vicki Hutchins

Yesterday I spent most of the day on Dartmoor, painting, sketching, walking and saying hello (from a safe distance) to the wild ponies, cattle and sheep.

Sustained by hot tea and bacon and beans from our camping stove, I managed to paint a quick oil sketch in about an hour and a half – by the end I was freezing, though I had on my winter woolly hat and thick fleece jacket – that’s Dartmoor for you. Beautiful but brutal.

It seems there’s so much to remember with plein air painting but really it’s just the same things to remember when studio painting: composition, value, contrast, movement, etc…..except the approach is completely different.

My studio paintings come about from a place I’m inspired by, and the process is more intuitive. The feel of a place is more important to me than whether I put in the right number of trees (unless it suited my purposes).  If I use photographs, it’s only in the very beginning to establish composition, otherwise I focus too much on irrelevant detail.

Plein air painting, as you can imagine then, is a challenge for me not to be overwhelmed by detail.

What features are essential to my painting, what to leave out, plus fast changing weather and light makes for a heady (but strangely exciting and moreish) experience.

I don’t see myself as a plein air painter at all, but, apart from the fact I’m starting to enjoy it, I see it as skill building, much like life drawing class.

For a while I struggled to see how painting plein air relates to my studio work, but I think I’ve broken through this brain barrier.  Actually, my husband pointed out, quite logically, that why shouldn’t I have a similar approach to plein air as I do with my other work – i.e. use what is there as a basis, but take detours as necessary.  Like I do anyway!

And now I’m interested to see where the influence of plein air painting affects my studio work, which I’d like to be even more abstracted than it already is in some cases.

What I have quickly realised though, is painting plein air, doing  more of a “proper” considered piece, provides much more inspiration than quick thumbnail sketches or loose watercolours I do.  Standing at an easel for a couple of hours, taking in all that information, it’s really powerful for imprinting the essence of a place into your being.

I am mostly happy with this attempt – it was a step forward in many aspects and I can feel my confidence building, which makes it easier for next time. I’m looking at it a day later and I’m right back there among the ponies and blustery wind, cup of tea in hand.  I think I left a piece of my soul up there.

Dartmoor in May by artist Vicki Hutchins


Afterwards, I sketched from the car, relieved to get out of the wind. Luckily there were panoramic views all around, so I was spoilt for inspiration.

Dartmoor studies - sketchbook of Vicki Hutchins

Happy happy days.


May retrospective

It’s half term week here in the UK, so I’m on Mum duty pretty much full time, which is just the way I like it when school is out, as they grow up too quickly, and before you know it, they’re getting tattoos and eating junk.  That is an actual true story.

I’ve had so much I wanted to blog about in the last week or so – paintings to share, thoughts to ramble on about, but time ran away from me.  Plus the weather is so nice, we’re never indoors.

So I thought I’d do a round up of what went on over the last month, as I’m struggling to keep track of it all!

A big step for me was joining Somerset Art Works, which I kind of feel intimated by.  It’s a mark of my growing confidence I was able to do this.  This is a semi formal organisation that runs Open Studios once a year, and I hope in the future to be able to open up my studio.  Also, I want to meet some painting buddies!

I’m also considering entering an Open Exhibition, which closes for entries on 18th July, so I have a little time yet to avoid doing anything about this till the last minute.Ha!

I’m also donating two postcard paintings for a fundraiser – hope someone wants them!

I’ve also purchased a shopping trolley… your Nan used to have.  Yes.  I’ll have to name it, it’s quite an object.  It’s for carting about some plein air gear.

I’ve had a month of exploring with collage and claybord, and not as much time as I’d like with my sketchbook.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Having already had a dabble with lino printing, I plan to use my contour drawings as a basis for prints.  I loved doing these!

Earlier in the month, I painted a series based on the pink blossom all over my local park.  Most of these are oil paintings, though some started life with acrylic.  I used lots of texture and scraping back with these.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And I’ve also stared framing up some of my original work to release a summer collection!  This is a lot of work, but I’m so pleased with how it’s going.  Subscribers to my newsletter get first dibs at special prices before they get released into the wild.

Next up, I was so inspired by the rapeseed fields I had to paint them.  I used only three colours (burnt umber, cerulean blue and cad yellow medium) for all of these, and I think they work so well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The two with the palette knife are my postcard fundraisers.

Then, in an inspired moment, I dragged my plein air kit into the garden to paint the last light on my climbing hydrangea.  I loved doing this.  You can see progress shots on my Facebook page.

Climbing hydrangea - plein air painting by Vicki Hutchins
Climbing hydrangea and yellow watering can

There are composition issues with this (the placement and missing bottom of the watering can) but it was such fun I dragged my kit with me again when we took a trip to the beach on Sunday evening.

It was a beautiful afternoon, and I painted my socks off – but it was a whooooole bag of wrong.  This can happen to me sometimes, I become a slave to detail.  So yesterday I painted the sunset at the beach, where the memory of the light and the smell of sausages we cooked lingered.

Sunset at Exmouth by artist Vicki Hutchins
Last light at Exmouth beach

And I think that is it! So bear with me till school is back, where I’ll have more time to blog and say Hi!


Hokey cokey

I LOVED that dance as a kid.  Especially the bit where you all join hands in a circle – the more of you the better – then all rush in to the middle, back and forth till the song ends.

This back and forth was my absolute favourite bit, even though you risked being crushed.  But I was never afraid.  My only feeling was joy and loving being swept into the middle by adults.  Carried forward and back not entirely under my own momentum.

That’s what making art is like for me.  Except….with less joy at the backward moving parts, especially the more time goes on.

I don’t know if this is an adult thing, or a me thing, but I do have expectations of results, rightly or wrongly.  I know we’re all meant to enjoy the doing, and I do, but I do think the end result matters, if only to reflect on whether or not you learned anything.  And ultimately we need to be able to judge our work for composition, balance, movement, value.

I have to work hard to accept the backward motion that it is part of the ebb and flow not just of art making, but of life.

Recently I’ve spent a lot of time exploring, both in approach and medium.  Trying to find my sweet spot, the place where I pull together all the particular elements I like and discard the things I don’t.  Sometimes it’s been fun, other times not so much!

But today I woke up and out of me came what I wanted at that moment.  And, for all the collage, and texture making, and scraping and graphite, I ended up right back where I started – with just me and the paint, which I loved, and, I love the results.

The paintings started life like this, some weeks ago:

Cloudscapes in progress by Vicki Hutchins
apols for the terrible quality – of photo and painting!

And I just wasn’t feeling it at all.  But I left them alone, parked them on my mantel and lived with them for a while, to see whether that changed.  It didn’t.

Meanwhile, I’m having fun with claybord, collage, mark making, mixed media.  Just for you Laura, here’s a close up of my last post:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These little abstracts were based on the rapeseed fields in the hills near my home.  I saw the yellow in a magazine and thought it was perfect.  I’ve tried a few times to capture these hills at this time of year and never really achieved what I wanted, and though I enjoyed this process, it wasn’t quite what I was after either.

Then this morning I woke up and did these:

Rapeseed season on the Blackdown Hill by Somerset artist Vicki Hutchins


Rapeseed season on the Blackdown Hill II by Somerset artist Vicki Hutchins

It’s like I did reverse abstraction! It’s amused me rather, that I’ve gone all over the orchard (as we say in Somerset) to arrive back at the place I started!

But I haven’t though.  I don’t think I could have achieved this looseness of brush work and fresh palette without my explorations.

After all, it’s what the hokey cokey’s all about!

Sometimes they just paint themselves

Abstract Somerset Landscapes by Vicki Hutchins

Sometimes, very occasionally, something magical happens.  From your brushes, from the sweep of your palette knife, emerges something so nice, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to top it (actually I already know this, since I painted again since, and produced utter tripe).

You can’t win ’em all, but you can  bask in what it felt like when all the planets aligned and somehow you made good art.

And it’s not that these paintings are perfect.  But when I painted these it was like I was merely holding the brushes.  A human conduit.  Perhaps I got out of my own way for a change!

Go big or go home? Nah, just a small one for me please.

Sometimes my posts are written and scheduled in advance.  Otherwise I’d lose my mind.  Others are as-it-happens.  Real life.  This is one of the real life ones.

Probably I should make this into some sort of “10 ways to invigorate your creative soul” but I don’t have it in me today – perhaps another time.  Also, if I sound pretty miserable, please don’t worry – I’m not actually.  I just feel sort of like being quiet.  And compared to my gregarious self that is mostly on show, this quietness might come across as something else.  You’d think wanting to be quiet would mean not blogging, but I find writing sorts out the clutter of my mind in ways that talking doesn’t.

Also I’m tired.  Did I bore you all mention I have chronic insomnia?  I know I know, everybody has terrible sleep.  I don’t know how mine compares to everyone else’s, but when I say I don’t sleep, I don’t mean I only get 4 hours instead of the regulation 7.  I mean I often don’t get any, at all, for many nights in a row.  It got so bad a few years ago, I had to give up a job.  It’s a real shame, insomnia, it’s hard to resolve.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about!  (though if anyone has any wonder tips, please feel free to sling’em my way).  This post is about these two:

Values - work in progress by artist Vicki Hutchins
apols for the shine on the left one

They look pretty good in black and white.  I like to take photos of my work like this to make sure the values are working.  And I can see that they are.  But in colour, it’s another story.

Cloudscapes in progress by Vicki Hutchins


These paintings are based on some hills near my home.  Well worth the hike, when you reach the top you have panoramic views towards Exmoor, Wales and Somerset beyond.

Now, they are work in progress. But I can’t decide if I love them or hate them.  Actually I just snapped my head up from the computer to look at them and I liked what I saw – this photo doesn’t really capture the colour too well either.  They’re more blue than violet.

These paintings are much larger than I normally paint – 12 x 12 inches.  Usually I paint small, between 5 x 5 inches up to perhaps 10 x 10 inches.  I have done the odd abstract that was 16 x 20 inches, but all my landscapes are small.  And I am so surprised and shocked at how hard I found it painting larger.  I have no idea how all you 30 x 36 inch people do it!

And so I’m frayed and feel run ragged by them!  And, I was also surprised at how much I fussed over detail.  I think over time I’ve got reasonably good at not getting tight, even though I paint small:  I paint on long handled brushes, I use a large brush,  I stand whilst I paint, mostly.  And so I can see very easily the whole painting.   With these pair, I fiddled about so much it threw me.  I didn’t enjoy it at all.  Though I used large long handled brushes, stood at the easel, I really felt on top of the painting.  I found it easier to get lost in it.  Has anyone ever experienced this with larger paintings?  I had it in my head that painting larger meant free-er movement and mark making….not so in my case folks!

It’s 4:30pm.  Which means I’m beginning to flag and it’s time to put the kettle on. Ciao.

A pair of purples

I can’t quite remember how this colour combination came about.  Blue is there, because, well, it’s blue, it’s my colour.  But the lilac?  Plus I’ve painted a few things since and remembering stuff like this is a distant memory.  Pahahahahaaa!  See what I did there?!

Anyhow, I’m really pleased this cute pair did come about.  One of the canvases was a wiper – I had painted something on it already but wiped it off as my eyes hated it.  But it left a sort of nice surface behind and the ghost of the painting what was there before, so it seemed like it might provide a nice place to start for something new, which it did.

Plus I used oil pastels, which are new to me (even though I’ve had them for ages but not know what to do with them)!  I really enjoyed laying down some very loose lines and texture with the pastels – some of it I left showing.  I found using the pastels in a linear way also provided a really strong structure to my composition.  I find that strange as when I draw, I don’t draw lines, I draw shapes.

But don’t you love it when you do something different and you learn something?  I really enjoyed painting these, I loved the process, and I love the results.

That Place We Always Go II by Vicki HutchinsThat Place We Always Go by Vicki Hutchins


Late to the gouache party

Fragment of Spring, an abstract landscape by Vicki Hutchins

Because I’ve read all of the internet in learning to make art, I pronounce gouache like an American:   “gwash”.  Which sounds perfectly fine in my head.

In the UK, we apparently say “goo-ash”.  As in “goulash”, that fine Hungarian meal.  I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of the UK pronunciation, but what I have got the hang of is the paint itself!

When I was first starting to paint, I used evil watercolour.  And it did not go well.  It’s only now, a couple of years later, that I realise why:  I like the sensory act of painting:  loading a brush with juicy paint and brushing it on a surface.  My approach to painting is mostly painterly.  I like brushstrokes showing up in the work.

Now I know more, I appreciate the unique qualities of watercolour – that often it does its best work when it’s dropped in a wet wash and left to swirl and settle on it’s own.  Being a faffer, it’s terribly hard for me to leave it alone!

So because I wasn’t getting the results I wanted with watercolour, I became convinced gouache was the answer.  Again, my general inexperience caused problems:  I used gouache like watercolour and had the same problems.  So I put both mediums away and discovered the joys of acrylic and then oils.

Fast forward to now and I am at peace with watercolour – I love using it to journal in my sketchbook, loose and splashy:

Cothlestone, Quantock Hills by Vicki Hutchins


Then, suddenly I am seeing artists on Instagram using gouache like it’s acrylic – no wet washes and waiting impatient for things to dry, just thick paint, used opaquely in a painterly style.  Well. I just had to go and spend quite a lot on a tiny travel paint tin and fill it with gouache!

Fragment of Spring, by Vicki Hutchins
I love these layerzzzz