Based in North Yorkshire, British artist David Howell is a painter working across oils, watercolours, and occasionally pastels and whose main subjects are landscape, marine and country sports including equestrian work. He is a regular exhibitor with galleries in the UK and overseas and is a past President of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and an honorary member of the Pure Watercolour Society. We decided to catch up with David and find out more about his work, favourite materials and expert advice for painting en plein air.
Sophie: What motivated you to start painting en plein air?
David: Probably the French Impressionist movement. But I’ve been happy drawing and sketching outside from a young age and so it just developed.
Sophie: What do you enjoy the most about painting en plein air?
David: If the weather is okay, there’s nothing better than finding a quiet spot and working. If it’s less than ideal, the prevailing conditions will be apparent in the painting which adds atmosphere and a sense of time and place and it makes you get a move on. The best thing about painting on the spot is that you become aware of shapes, colours and relationships that aren’t apparent in a photograph. Skies are invariably more interesting and of course you – to paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel – see what you want to see and disregard the rest. Things that don’t matter can be left out, whilst other features which may just be out of shot with a camera, can be incorporated to make the picture more interesting.
‘Clevedon Sunset’ by David Howell. Oil on canvas
Sophie: You mention that you work in oils and watercolours. When painting en plein air, is there one medium that you prefer & why?
David: If you are suitably organised, either work effectively for plein air painting. Watercolour is arguably easier in terms of carrying the relevant equipment. It’s very easy to carry a small watercolour box (I use a Winsor & Newton box with 12 ½ pans that has a built in water bottle and the lid acts as reservoir for water) and an Escoda retractable brush with a small watercolour sketchbook or block, all of which can fit in coat pockets. In a more organised way, I have a Craig Young palette box and I carry a range of brushes, water supply in a cycling bottle and will normally paint on watercolour blocks (very convenient) or I will carry ¼ sheets of 640 gsm paper. All this fits in a rucksack for easy transportation c/w a stool strapped to the outside.
With oils, a pochade or box like the Mabef Artist Box is ideal for carrying a range of paints, brushes, palette, etc. Mine is modified with a camera tripod fixing mounted underneath it so that it can be mounted on a Manfrotto reversible travel tripod, which is extremely compact and again the whole kit can be carried in the rucksack. I also use a Half-Box easel which allows a little more operating space and again has rucksack type straps, so that it can be carried with ease over longer distances.
Sophie: Any advice for artists who are looking to get into more painting en plein air?
David: Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s best to get used to the idea on a small scale first. Try sketching – really soft 8B pencil is ideal and coloured pencils can add the colour element. Work quickly and don’t try to be too careful with your drawing and you should be able to produce something very interesting and useable in 20 – 30 minutes. Get used to the idea of not taking photographs and to be able to work from just the sketches. Back on home territory you will feel very short of information but you will begin to discover that all that detail that appears in photographs isn’t actually necessary for paintings. Once you get used to sketching outside, it’s so much easier to progress to something like line and wash and then watercolour or oil.
Details of courses, galleries exhibiting his work and David’s other activities can be found on his website at www.davidhowell.co.uk
Artist David Howell reviews the Mabef Artist Box
“Large enough to be practical, but small enough to pack in a rucksack, this Mabef Artist Box is robust and well made. It is an excellent piece of kit for the outdoor painter”, explains David. “The easel arrangement in the lid can be adjusted to fit a variety of smaller canvas boards – up to 30 cm in width and it copes nicely with the familiar 8″ x 10″ boards which can be shut in the box whilst wet for onward transportation. Smaller tubes of paint are a must if you want to carry a decent selection – I manage around 16 colours + white! Many manufacturers seem to have abandoned small tubes but Jackson’s offer sets like the 18 ml Old Holland oils. You will need short handled brushes or a little work with a saw. Absolutely ideal for those occasions when you can’t or don’t want to be bothered with box easel.”
Made in Italy from good quality beech wood and featuring storage and organisational elements such as canvas supports, compartments and a wooden palette, the Mabef Artist Box has a practical and elegant design to carry around your supplies when on the go – a great companion for painting en plein air!
Easy to carry around and store your materials while travelling or painting en plein air, the Mabef Artist Box is a superb choice for artists. Amongst professional and amateur artists, Mabef products have been the popular choice for over 50 years.
This hinged wooden sketch box features a leather carry handle, a wooden palette, 2 brass latches and a tin lined drawer with adjustable metal dividers to customise the compartments for brushes, paints and other supplies. In addition, the Mabef Artist Box has a pair of arms that act as sliding and adjustable canvas supports, and can either hold a canvas panel or a smaller palette in the lid.
It is available in a range of sizes to suit the requirements of artists: 12 x 8, 14 x 10, 16 x 12, 18 x 14 inches. Jackson’s is also pleased to offer the following options of smaller-size paint tubes, which are best suited to the Mabef Artist Box:
Click on the underlined link to view the range of Mabef Artist Boxes.
Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.