First plein-air watercolour of 2018

So rare is the opportunity for me to paint plein-air, that even though the day was cold, overcast and with heavy rain forecast, I had to seize the initiative! It was also a great chance to test out my new plein-air setup, customised from an old Winsor and Newton artist’s case. I had hoped to get some better photos of this to share but these will have to suffice while I await some brighter and warmer weather.

This view is looking across the river Adur towards Shoreham:

All set up and ready to paint!


Crucially, I’m delighted to report that the easel held up really well in strong winds! I’ve already got a couple of refinements to make to it following this outing but, in terms of practicality and comfort for painting, this is definitely a significant step up from my previous arrangement.  Having my palette so close to hand, and not having to hold it at all is just brilliant!

As for the view, my intention was to make this a big sky painting and keep the complicated mishmash of buildings and boats etc. really simple. The sky started out looking much more interesting than it eventually dried. I was a little disappointed with this outcome, and have since considered putting another wash over the top – a temptation I’ve resisted so far!

I was quite pleased with the overall sense of the buildings and boats but, if I was to do it again, I’d be looking for even more simplification of these complex elements. I think the painting does show the flatness of the light on the day, and this is something that I think I’ll need to work on – how to find the light on these flat days. The result is that the painting feels quite ‘flat’.

And here’s a rare close-up of the central boats that I thought came out ok.

This painting won’t make a mount, let alone a frame, but that was never really the point for me on this occasion. This was purely about ‘forcing’ myself to take the opportunity to paint outside from life. It’s probably the single-most pursuit that could develop my skills as a painter, yet I still find it a daunting prospect!

Fortunately, the new easel set up worked a treat which, combined with this first effort of the year, I’m hoping will be a springboard to much more plein-air painting!

This bubble of excitement was quickly punctured the following day when I received my latest ‘notification of rejection’. This time from the Jacksons’ Open Painting Prize (JOPP2018). Organised by Jacksons’ Art Supplies, the selection process was purely online.  All entries were shortlisted down to a ‘longlist’ of around 350 paintings. This longlist is then scrutinised by a selected panel of experts that choose the winning entry in each category. I submitted five paintings (the submission price was only £5 per entry which, compared to many of the exhibitions I’ve entered this year, is as reasonable as I’ve come across.

Reasonable or not though, it’s still another £25 to add to my increasingly costly ‘price of failure’ blog post!


Thoughts on First plein-air watercolour of 2018

23 thoughts on “First plein-air watercolour of 2018”

  1. Pingback: Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour exhibition 2018 –

  2. I was thinking in the sunshine, yesterday, that I should be out there painting, but when a cloud came over I realised that it might be better to wait. Standing waiting for washes to dry and the ignominy of having paint freeze on my palette have put me off. Perhaps I should use acrylics. Anyway, you’re a brave man to be out there on an overcast day in early spring and it looks like you got a good result.

    1. Haha, yes Graham, I suppose ‘brave’ is one word! (Although it’s not the word I was using when, 2 hours later I was still trying to warm my hands up!) Although I find painting on location fraught with all manner of drawbacks – there’s also something brilliantly invigorating about it too – surely all the more so when the weather’s nice!

  3. Carole A Rogers.

    Hi John. Well I think you made a wonderful job of your plein air painting…I love it. Your set up looks workable but still a little cumbersome. I had a friend made me a little shelf made out of a thick plastic which just hooked onto my camera tripod, at the front just under my painting surface. This works brilliantly except if I feel like painting sitting down when it’s in the way! I have seen more brilliant setups made in the USA but they are out of reach of my pocket. Sorry about your rejection but keep going…you’re doing well! Happy painting and the sun is coming out again!

    1. Hi Carole and thanks for this, so pleased you like the painting! As for the set up, you’re quite right, it’s never going to break any records for lightness, that’s for sure! Just wait until I show you some of the close up views! It does, however, contain just about everything I’ll ever need when outside and it fits nicely into a large tote bag, so it’s easy to sling over my shoulder. I’m aware of some of the USA manufactured set ups, but I’m a compulsive tinkerer (and cheapskate!) so am always looking for a more home-made approach! It may sound odd but, in the process of thinking about things, coming up with solutions that will work best for me, how to make them etc and then making it happen always creates a special bond! I suppose it’s how I like to invest my time, so I’m always biased about the results!
      Hopefully, with the onset of some better weather, I’ll be able to take this out again (I’ve also used this for a lot of my indoor painting too to help familiarise myself with it!) and get some better photos of it.

    2. I’ve looked at quite a few here in the U.S and they are not only pricey but at times they are also heavy, cumbersome or poorly constructed. I got a cigar box for $1 at the local tobacco shop and plan on modifying it into my own French Mistress. It’s a bit smaller and lighter than those on the market. It won’t have all of the bells and whistles but I only need a shelf. As I use a much smaller palette than John does. I can drill some holes in my Cigar Mistress to hold my brushes and hand the water bucket on the tripod with a carabiner. I really need to get going on my box as the weather is fast improving and I’d like to start plein air with the local group. They go out every week on Wed. Morning.

      1. Thanks for this – I like the sound of your cigar box conversion! So let us know when you’re up and running with it, be great to see your set up!

  4. I have to say your plein air system doesn’t look too portable to me – what with all that tubular steel and the black upright bolted to the concrete. Pretty stable in the wind, though.

    1. Haha! Well Rob – I suppose ‘portability is all relative! I take it that you don’t travel with a low loader truck and a groundwork team!

  5. Very inspiring to see your painting and set-up. I am raring to get out there to paint but will have to wait until our upcoming storm passes through. I am hoping to get a setup but need something very light and manageable since I often hike to my location. Sorry to hear about your rejection but from what I have read, it is very common to have a long string of rejections in the course of an artist journey. So keep that chin up and the paintings rolling. 😊

    1. Thanks Margaret – I’ve already made a modification to this set up (a result of almost losing my brushes over the edge of the quayside!). It’s certainly portable, but not so portable as to be suitable for hiking! Hope that the weather improves for you soon so you can get out and about again – and I look forward seeing the results of your expeditions!

    1. Thanks so much John – I’m delighted that the enthusiasm is evident! Hopefully I’ll have some more opportunities to reveal it as the weather improves!

    1. Hmmm, how long have you got!? I know some members of the SWS, and have been encouraged by them to apply. I put it off for ages but then decided to look into it a little more closely. The SWS does have some illustrious members but, the more I looked at how they are organised, how they operate, and how they represent themselves, the less I felt inclined to apply. It’s strictly personal – and I’d be happy to expand at length another time should anyone be interested but, as it currently stands, I just don’t think that the SWS is for me! – I do however appreciate you taking the time to make the suggestion, I really do appreciate it!

      1. Well, I just googled Shoreham Watercolor Society and they were the first ones that popped up. I’m sure there are others. There are some pretty outstanding watercolorists in my local society but I try not to be intimidated but rather inspired by their works. The people are quite nice. I’ve only gone to workshops, no meetings and haven’t submitted anything yet. But they seem a positive group. I’m sure you’ll eventually find a group that is more your “fit”.

        1. It’s strange in some ways, I don’t think watercolour painting is that popular/fashionable in this neck of the woods as I have had a look but haven’t turned up much as yet. As much as I like the idea of joining a group, I’m not sure how much time I’d be able to commit to it as I already have to squeeze my painting in between lots of other commitments!

  6. If you want to steady that tripod a bit, you can get a special bag designed for just that. I’ve seen them on amazon. It is triangular with velcro at each corner and after you attach them to the tripod’s legs, you put a rock or even a water bottle in it to weigh it down. It works well to steady it in case the wind kicks up.

    I don’t see how the box is attached to the easel.

    I think this is a lovely plein air painting and certainly worthy of matting but that’s just me. Since this is your first plein air I would definitely keep it for reference and comparison as you continue to plein air. Then you can see how far you’ve come from your first attempt.

    1. Hi there and thanks for the tips on tripod steadying! I think I’ve seen some things similar to what you’ve described, and I know a lot of people use a bag that contains all of their other paraphernalia to hang on the tripod. Hopefully, based on this outing, I doubt I’ll be needing anything additional. If I do, I’m most likely to try to fashion something myself from whatever I’ve got lying around the place!

      To attach it to the tripod, I bolted to the base of the case a tripod converter like this one here from Ken Bromley Art Supplies:

      I had to set the whole thing up, containing all of my bits and bobs, and with the shelf attachment in place with a palette and tub of water on it so that I could find the centre of gravity first, then I was able to fit the bracket in the best place.

      Really pleased you like this first outdoor effort of the year. I’ll definitely be hanging on to this one for reference, and hopefully will get some more opportunities to get some more outdoor practice in soon! Thansk again for all your advice and interest.

      1. I assumed you put some sort of tripod attachment to the box. Looks like it’s working nicely. The side shelf and arm were interesting as I haven’t seen anything quite like that. Looks sturdy enough.

        The box may be steady and balance enough that you won’t need the weighted bag as any wind strong enough to blow it over you wouldn’t be outside painting in anyway. I bought a bag on the cheap on amazon and it works well enough. While I could make one and did consider it, for the price I found I didn’t consider it worth the time and materials. If it starts to fall apart, I can just repair it on the sewing machine. It’s main purpose is to lower the center of gravity for the tripod, making it less top heavy so less prone to tipping.

        1. Yes of course, I know completely what you mean about is it worth my time etc when there’s something perfectly adequate and reasonably priced available off the shelf.
          The other solution I’ve had in the back of my mind is to carry a tent peg in the back of the car! I usually have some adjustable elastic bungee cords in the car so thought that, if I was out in the countryside somewhere, I could easily fashion myself something that I could secure to the tripod and then peg into the ground. I’ll let you know if I ever try this out! In the meantime though, you’re quite right, this latest set up is pretty sturdy!

  7. Ha ha! you are getting good at this John! ignore the rejections (if you can) – selection is so subjective, but I wish you continuing good luck….. The Shoreham plein air is excellent 🙂 I look forward to seeing more outdoor works over the coming months x

    1. Thanks so much Louise for the encouragement – in the face of critical rejection 🙁 it really does mean the world! 😊

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