Sussex based painter Lorna Holdcroft’s vast, epic landscapes celebrate the majesty of the British countryside. She paints the kinds of views that would stop one in one’s tracks, and describes them in such a way as to emphasise the colours of nature and the enormity of the bold, dramatic shapes of fields that dance over hills to the horizon. In stark contrast to the paintings of Danny Markey (who I interviewed last week), Lorna Holdcroft’s paintings are largely about scale and our relationship to landscapes that feel separate from us; something to feel in awe of, rather than a place that has been shaped and influenced by our existence within it. I was interested to learn more about Lorna Holdcroft’s painting practice.
The landscapes you paint almost always evoke (to me) a feeling of viewing the scene as a distant memory, the textures and different marks that you make remind me of the distortions you might get with a old, faded or blurred photograph.
How important is experiencing a landscape first hand before painting a picture of it? Does the connection you have to a particular landscape influence how you paint it?
For me it is vital to paint a landscape that I have visited, but also to feel a strong connection to. I always strive to convey that moment when I see an amazing view for the first time and for that I have to have experienced it myself. I tend to work on the Sussex landscape because I have such a strong personal connection with the area; it’s my home and so I am very fortunate to be able to immerse myself in it every day. To be able to observe the subtle changes in nature, weather and light with each week and season, brings a real privilege. Even on the school run my journey is a beautiful one and I drive along thinking about the pigments I would use to paint it or imagining compositions. I look hard all the time, so my head is sketching if you like, even when I can’t.
Of course I sketch en plein air too. Recording not only the subject of the composition, but also discovering the geological textures, the type of trees, the wildlife that inhabits it, the way the land is used etc. in order to develop a deeper picture of the area. All these nuggets of information help to inform my final piece back in the studio.
How do you choose the colours you use for a particular painting?
Colour is central to my work and as I say I think about it all the time. It is so important to spend time just observing – really looking hard at what you see. It always amazes me at how little green there can be in a landscape when you really start to analyse it. There is always a balance of misty purples and blues of the distance, golden fields of hay perhaps, the Mars Violet of winter birch branches, burnished coppers of autumnal bracken. Yes of course green is often dominant, but I seek to find other colours in the scene to balance and compliment and continually evaluate, enhance and adjust them throughout the painting.
I always keep in mind some simple colour theory and work with complimentaries constantly in order to find exciting combinations and to allow colours to sing. I was intrigued by Van Gogh’s method of winding coloured wool together to experiment with new colour effects, when I saw his paintings in Amsterdam last year.
What is your favourite medium (watercolour or acrylic) and why?
That is so tricky, I love them both!
Watercolour for me holds so much magic. When I begin a new piece, I know that the paint and I are going on an exciting adventure. It’s almost like a journey into alchemy, finding the balance of allowing the paint to simply be, whilst using its many amazing properties to convey my subject. I think one has to respect this and respond to the outcomes from the beginning, particularly when working wet into wet as I do. I find the endless surprises intoxicating and feel sometimes that my job is almost to tame the medium – it is certainly a 2 way relationship! I tend to paint flowers in watercolour – the medium just lends itself to the delicacy of the petals.
Acrylic has its magic too and I actually work quite similarly, using almost a wet into wet approach at times. I love the medium too for its texture, the endless opportunity to layer and glaze over impasto paint, its drying time – I feel I can be really wild and totally free.
What are the best and worst aspects of painting out of doors and what advice do you have for anyone thinking of painting en plein air for the first time?
Working en plein air is wonderful. I love to work quickly and it is a great exercise, as one has to respond to the speed of the changing light and the passing scene. It is also essential for me to record something of the whole scene in a sketch. I do photograph the view for additional material too, but find that it captures just a snippet of what I am looking at, so I always snap away at the subject around the composition to insure that I have adequate information to draw on later.
Of course there are the elements to deal with when working en plein air and I have been subject to sudden gusts of wind on many occasions – canvases full of wet paint have imprinted themselves on me or a sudden shower of rain have played their part on my work! I remember too painting a view at the Fletching Garden Trail from a very exposed spot. I didn’t realise quite how hot it was with the sharp wind that was blowing passed me until the end of the day, my face was totally wind burnt with a large amount of green pastel rubbed into my cheeks for good measure. No wonder the onlookers were laughing, they had probably not seen Coco the clown painting a landscape before!
For those who are venturing out for the first time I would recommend that they simply sketch initially. Finding a composition in a huge landscape can be daunting and several smaller observations are equally valuable. Maybe just a small watercolour field box too to record the colours.
Take sun block and water to avoid any Coco the clown moments. It is amazing how quickly time goes when you are engrossed in your work!
I must say, I can sometimes feel a little vulnerable in some more remote areas. I think it is a good idea to pal up with a fellow sketcher and find a location together. Or go to somewhere a little busier maybe?
Be prepared for an audience, however ignore the inevitable onlookers if necessary. Remember though you are providing them with a little extra interest to their outing – I always end up chatting to someone.
I do have a deep passion for nature indeed; such a powerful force with endless beauty, but I also love to explore the impact of human intervention on the landscape. Centuries of agriculture and industry affecting the way we have utilized the land. The ancient network of fields, hedgerows, boundaries, paths and roads that have been ingrained on the soil is of great fascination too and my work seeks to explore these contrasts with a strong diversity in the application of paint and mark making, sharp lines against the more organic, gestural strokes and so on.
You mentioned to me that you were painting 6 large canvases for the forthcoming Affordable Art Fair. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
I am delighted to be showing at the AAF and am so grateful to Bell Fine Art for inviting me to exhibit with them this year. I am currently putting the collection together of about 6 or so new landscapes and seascapes. They are all 120 x 100cm, which is one of my favourite sizes to work on, as it allows for such expression. I am so excited! I will be posting the results on my Facebook page as they come together.
What is your studio like?
My studio is a complete mess! Paint everywhere!
I am fortunate enough to have a space in South London that I use during the warmer months, as it is freezing and rather leaky for this time of year. It is a great space though with beautiful light and allows me to really experiment with a range of techniques. I have to share it with my son’s train set though!
The rest of the year I paint in a smaller studio at home. My aim is to find a larger space to work in a bit closer to home, which will really maximize my studio time.
How important is your sketchbook to you?
Sketchbooks are definitely important to me. Not only do I sketch, but I use them to trial ideas – searching for new ways to manipulate paint etc. I stick postcards from my favourite art shows in them and do a lot of limbering up drawings. I often draw from a moving train window for example – very quickly getting information down from the passing scene. I have pages of Haywards Heath to Gatwick and East Croydon to London Bridge. It’s an exercise in looking rather than sketching I suppose and with lovely loose results. I like to sketch people on the move too, commuters walking across the station concourse or a bonfire parade. I wouldn’t push these any further, but they are so useful for observation and improving one’s quality of line.
Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
I am represented by Ashdown Gallery in Forest Row, East Sussex. Cathie Hubert, the owner has amazing energy and is a great support to me. I always have something showing there and am also working towards a solo show in June this year. Visit http://www.ashdowngallery.co.uk/ or their FB page for further details.
I also currently have work at Ardquin Fine Art in Haslemere, Surrey and at Art At 5, Brighton. I am hoping to work more closely with Bell Fine Art, Winchester too following the Battersea Art Fair in March. (http://www.ardquinfinearts.co.uk/ and http://art5gallery.com/)