Today I rode out into the countryside to a Tree of Life to photograph it before the buds grew into too many leaves, too thick to see the branches giving it shape. I’ll put the photographs aside to use as inspiration for a painting I’ll make in the winter.
You may ask why I don’t paint it on the spot. Simple. That field, on which the grass and small flowers look so smooth, is in fact incredibly rough under the grass, so there’s nowhere level to put up an easel, and that is if you don’t first turn or break an ankle just walking the half-mile or so up the length of the field. But that isn’t the worst. The tree stands on the edge of a valley, and the wind howls over that field; it’s uncomfortable and cold. And it is most definitely not an alla prima painting, so a studio job it is.
So many amazing vistas in Ireland, so little time to paint them.
In the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at this point the musher runs along rolling low wooded hills and ridges, really quite pleasant, then the dog team crests one last forested ridge and enters the alien hell of the Farewell Burn. This is the grim remnant of Alaska’s largest forest fire, a million and a half acres burning in 1978, through which the race runs for 40 miles. Without trees, the sightlines are forever, and at night one can see the single light of the radar tower on the peak of Tatalina Mountain, near McGrath, a couple of days away by dogsled, seeming to stay eternally unreachable even at racing sled dog speed. While in it, the Farewell Burn seems to continue forever, without hope, like Purgatory. It is the all-too-real proof that after three days among the trees the Spirit of the Forest, Wendigo, drives men mad.
Andre Jute: The Farewell Burn, Alaska,
an Iditarod Trail painting, acrylic on card, 320x230mm, 2016
I made two of these paintings, mirror images, because I intend to use them as endplates for a sketchbook that I’m binding. The sketchbook is 300gr cotton watercolor paper, which is why I made the painting in acrylic. For further waterproofing I’ll also varnish both the front and the back of the cardstock before glueing it in.
Of course it is dull and overcast in Ireland most of the time, which is how come it remains the “green and beloved island”; maintaining greenery requires a lot of rain. But the light always has an eerie quality even when it is overcast, and when the sun shines can be as intense as the (colder) light on the Sahara.
Just outside my bedroom is a large landing under a skylight, where an overflow drying rack from my studio stands. I woke at dawn to see the sun shining through the skylight giving a monotone oil standing on the drying rack a definitely otherwordly quality.
Yves Klein noticed something similar about the light on the Mediterranean coast of France, and he too was into blue paintings. Perhaps I’ll teat myself and my fans to a blue period, though I’ll give jumping off buildings, which is how Klein actually became famous, or at least notorious, a miss as in my reckless youth I already jumped off the Town Hall in Stellenbosch holding an umbrella. Once was definitely enough!
This watercolour, made in my big new sketchbook, is a sketch for an oil that, if it happens, will probably have to be at least 20x30in to support the details. There’s a house right on the tideline near Rosscarbery, down the road here in Ireland, which haunts my memory. A photograph published by the American designer and writer Kathleen Valentine of a similarly placed house near Gloucester, Massachusetts, reminded me strongly of it. This painting is a mental synthesis of the two images.
Andre Jute: The Point, watercolor on 300gr octavo, 2015
A Plein Air Painting Expedition by Bicycle a photo essay by Andre Jute
This looks like something I could paint!
There’s even an appreciative audience. In the bicycle basket the complete kit of easel, black bag with paints and tools, and shooting stick to sit on.
Set up is quick. Once the easel is set up and the canvas clamped, the repurposed leather messenger bag is just hung open on the easel and the shooting stick opened to lean against or sit on. The paints in the bag are oil bars, which is pigments in wax. I don’t use a palette with oil bars, just holding the oil bars in my hand and digging out as much as I want with a silicon colour shaper, which saves on cleaning brushes. The entire process is solvent free, odorless, non-toxic.
There was some paint left over after I made a painting in my book of canvas sheets. It was still wet, so I couldn’t turn a page to make a new sketch. But I had the wax paper from my sandwiches… It pays not to be a litterbug!
Last year for my birthday one of the gifts I received was the last Winsor & Newton Bijou Box from Green & Stone in London. I never actually received the brush supposed to go with this box but would in any event have chucked it out to fit in four more half pans, new total twelve, because the standard eight is one short of my minimum palette and a more normal palette for me is twelve colors. I have one of those WN travel brushes that came with another WN kit, and it is uselessly small, except I suppose to people who want to paint the eyes on gnats. The Bijou Box, about the size of a visiting card, now lives in my Little Watercolor Pochade Tin, a pocketable traveling watercolor kit kept on the hall table by my glove chest to grab whenever I go out. Today I went out on my bike, and the first thing I saw that I wanted to sketch was a well kept hedge, the pride and joy of some farmer’s wife.
My favorite bike, a Utopia Kranich, and my Little Watercolour Pochade Tin, caught in action on the ten minutes in which it was pleasant to stand painting outside on a miserably cold spring day in Ireland.
Andre Jute: The Hedge, 230g rough paper, 6x4in.
The photo shows that the Bijou Box is Winsor & Newton’s most compact paintbox, about the size of a visiting card. The box itself isn’t well made or finished, and will soon rust, starting at the bubbles and pinholes in the so-called “enamel”; with eight half pans of color it is grossly overpriced at 55 Euro, say about eighty US dollars. I’m not surprised that WN have stopped selling it if Fome cannot supply a better quality box.