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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


Simplicity of form

I love painting, but I do like to get back to drawing every now and then.  Painting for me tends to be more energetic, whereas yesterday, feeling under the weather, I felt fit only for sofa art.

I’ve also been exploring lino printing.  I bought some supplies for my son and I to do over the Easter holidays, thinking it might be something he’d like (he did, but not as much as me).

I really love the effects of lino printing, and I like being practical, so the idea appealed to me.  I’m also drawn (see what I did there) to having a sort of secondary art discipline.  Something different, yet related

Being a painter with an expressive approach, I really want to spend a bit of time and thought exploring how I might use lino printing.  I can’t readily see how my painting style will lend itself to lino printing.  And, more importantly –

What is it I want to say with lino printing I can’t say with paint?

So I’m just taking my time, trying to tap into the part of myself that has a desire to lino print, and see if I can hear what it has to say.

Perhaps something like this?

Contour drawing by artist Vicki Hutchins
Contour drawing of freesias


Or this:

Contour drawing by Somerset artist Vicki Hutchins
Contour drawing of garden flowers in my favourite jug

I didn’t set out with lino print in mind when I drew these – I just wanted a change of pace from painting, but I think they might work.  I actually even love them just as straight line drawings.

I don’t often do this type of drawing, I tend to get value involved too, but it was really quite meditative focusing purely on form, a bit like doing a dot to dot!  Remember those?

Monday musings

After all, what else is there to do on Mondays, except muse.

I’m feeling very centred lately.  I think this is because of the amount of time I’ve spent outdoors.  Potting up plants, watering them, seeing the garden come to life in the sunshine has revived me I think.  I wasn’t aware I needed reviving – but I think being busy outdoors does that to a person.

I’m still loving the paintings I posted last week , which is a good thing, as often if I love something right away, I can quickly un-love it!

Sunday evening my husband and I headed up into the hills where we live. Its a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, with great 360 degree views.  Out of nowhere a large herd of wild horses stampeded past us into the sunset – it was like a western!

I’ve never been in such a state of awe and fear – it was just magical ! We didn’t linger though, as there wasn’t so much as a tree to hide behind if they took off again.

Today has been back to work:  spending a bit of time making frames for my upcoming release of original paintings (yeyyy!), sketching out some landscape compositions and even a spot of painting – all in the garden of course.

Landscape sketches - from the sketchbook of Vicki Hutchins
Landscape value studies.  The top two are fleeting glimpses of a view whilst travelling in the car, whilst the bottom two were more detailed because I walked the area, and took photos.  
On the easel - artist Vicki Hutchins
Cheats plein air!  Outside yes,  but painting from studies.  

Sketchbook materials


In March I took part in a Meet the Maker thread on Instagram.

I’m usually really particular about what sort of social media activities I participate in – many of them are dressed up as networking, but in fact just generate spam in your notifications.  I especially loathe anything that ends up becoming a sort of modern day chain letter affair – who the heck has time for all that?

Anyhow…..Meet the Maker is this neat idea where you are given a topic every day for a month, and you base your Instagram posts around it, with an accompanying photo.  The idea is that your followers gain more insight into you and your work.  I also like that you can pick and choose.  I did three or four I think, and one of them was “Sketchbook”.

And what better topic for a blog post too!

So.  I have a feeling I should probably use my sketchbooks more than I should, but I do what works for me.  Here’s my current kit:

Sketchbook Materials of Vicki Hutchins Artist

It probably would help if I did an inventory:


  • my Staedler Mars Technico mechanical pencil.  At the moment I have a HB lead in it, but I probably should change it for a 2B.  I tend to only use this for longer sketches at home.
  • A black Pilot  G-Tec-C4.  This is a very fine liner, and I like how the ink flows
  • A black Muji pen, 0.5 nib.  This flows very nicely too, gives a thicker line than the Pilot.
  • my Platinum Carbon fountain pen – lovely fine nib, and once dry is waterproof.  Though I’m dismayed to find it now leaks.  Bummer.
  • my Lamy safari pen with a fine nib which can be too thick for small sketches, particularly if I add a wash.  Ink and wash are my favourites.

These next three are in my pencil case but I not really into them – apart from they give a nice thick black for blocking in notan sketches. I bought them for practising modern calligraphy, but due to my lack of skill in this area, I’m not feeling it with them!  They have various line thickness. The buff coloured one is by Kuretake, the other two are Tombow calligraphy pens.

Next up I have:

  • warm grey III
  • cold grey III
  • warm grey IV
  • cold grey IV
  • warm grey V
  • cold grey VI

All Faber-Castell Pitt artist pen.  These are fantastic for quick blocking in of values, and mess free.


  • this little Cotman watercolour travel palette is probably around 20 or so years old.  Though it’s probably had more use in the last year than the preceding 20!
  • Two Pentel water brushes, one is medium, the other fine.  I cannot recommend these enough. You’d be surprised the amount of water in them goes a long way.
  • this is almost brand new, a tin travel palette that cost far too much and is quite heavy, but I was swayed by the thumb ring on the underneath, which is brilliant for holding it. I filled it with gouache…though this hasn’t had as much use I as thought it would…


And now for the sketchbooks:

The sketchbooks of artist Vicki Hutchins

These are the three main ones of the several I own.  At the top, this is my hard backed Moleskine watercolour – great shape, not too heavy.  Bottom left is my large Moleskine, which freaks out if you so much as show it a paint brush, then last is a ring bound A4 size hard backed sketchbook, which I don’t actually do any sketching in.  It’s my colour swatch book.


It’s taken some practice and trial and error to have a sketchbook system that works for me.

If I’m out and about in town, for example, I use a very small Moleskine notebook (not pictured) and a Muji pen.  That’s generally always in my bag, and it’s what I pull out to sketch a doctors waiting room, or a coffee cup whilst waiting for a friend.

If I know I’m going somewhere I might want to sketch, with someone that might not mind me dithering about whilst I do it, I take the entire contents of my pencil case, and my hard backed water colour Moleskine.  Plus either the water colours or the gouache, paper towel and a spray bottle of water.

Along with the water brushes, this is the most efficient way for me to use water based paints – I just spritz the crusty old paint nuggets before I start, then use the water brush, occasionally dabbing it on the paper towel.  I’ve never run out of water this way, and it saves lugging a plastic bottle of water and jar around with you.   I’m not too precious about the quality of my work on these sketches – I like them loose and splashy and for me it’s just an chance to journal my otherwise ordinary (but happy!) life.  It’s also an opportunity to practice observation skills.

My studio sketchbook, the large Moleskine stays home.  I tend to use it for thumbnail sketches, painting ideas and longer drawings.

My colour swatch sketchbook is just that – it’s like a library of all the colour palettes I’ve used.  When I’m weary, and a little frayed round the edges, nothing soothes me more than taking three of four colours and seeing what I can mix up with them.    Though my work is very colourful, I like there to be a degree of harmony.  Using a limited palette achieves that.

So, being a curious sort, I’d love to know – what’s your sketching system?  Do you even have one?  What’s your favourite tools? I’m always ready for more supplies…..

Sketchy times

Now I’ve got my new best friend gouache on the case, plus some fabulous pastels that are so cheap I didn’t buy them for about a year as I thought they’d be rubbish and they are completely brilliant, my sketchbook is adorned with the likes of this:

Astract landscape sketch in gouache & pastel by Vicki Hutchins
gouache and pastel studies

I’ve been wanting to use the brooding grey and yellow colour combination for ages – you know those skies you get over a yellow field?  That.  But I accidentally picked up a pink pastel…..and I love it.

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