With our focus turning to painting outdoors as the weather improves, we thought it would be a great idea to get some tips and advice on plein air painting by avid plein air painter Roy Connelly. Working exclusively in oils, Roy paints from life by direct observation – whether it be a rural landscape or a busy London street. We asked Roy a few questions about his practice and how he stays focused when the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse!
Christine: Do you have a favourite location or landscape that you like painting most?
Roy: Since moving to Suffolk, big skies and the changing rural landscapes have become my regular subject matter. However, I still enjoy painting in London occasionally. The important thing is to be painting – wherever I am.
Christine: Do you find you prefer painting in the morning or evening?
Roy: Definitely in the evening. The light has a warmer feel to it and the air is warmer too, which is helpful when you are standing still for an hour or two. There is an urgency as the sun get lower in the sky that encourages faster painting, there is less time to overwork a picture and my aim is to capture the effect of the light on the landscape rather than a purely topographical representation of the scene. Having said that, the early morning light often has a wonderful clarity that I am keen to capture but my Springer spaniel would have a thing or two to say if I went out to paint in the morning instead of taking her on a long walk through the countryside.
Christine: A lot of your plein air work seems to be completed in one or two sittings and with you working exclusively in oils, how do you manage to transport your works when they are still wet? Do you work in thin layers to avoid this?
Roy: I do a lot of work on panels and have made a number of wet panel carriers to get my paintings home safely. These are basically wooden boxes with grooves to hold the panels and each box holds at least 6 panels back to back. When I’m working on larger paintings I find a couple of stretched canvases can be carried on my half-box French easel quite easily. Both of these methods allow me to transport the pictures safely however thick the paint is.
Christine: What are your favourite oil paints and brushes to use?
Roy: I use Artists Oil Colours from Michael Harding and Winsor and Newton. My brushes are handmade in Yorkshire by Rosemary and Co. They are mostly bristle filberts, and a few soft round nylon ones.
Christine: Watching your video on your website, it seems you paint in all weathers. How do you keep focused and determined when the weather is dismal, grey and wet?
Roy: I think the key is to dress appropriately for the weather conditions. So, if it’s raining then good waterproofs and boots that don’t leak are essential. I’ll often stand under the open tailgate of my car to shelter from the worst of the weather. Bad weather can often produce stunning lighting effects and, as most plein air painters enjoy being outside, a little bit of weather isn’t going to put them off.
Christine: What advice or tips would you give someone to just starting out painting en plein air?
Roy: You don’t have to travel great distances or to find a spectacular landscape to inspire you. Just get out there and start painting. You will soon start to see the possibilities of your local environment. Don’t take too much stuff with you, try and pare it down to the essentials so you are not struggling under the weight of heavy kit. Choose a canvas size that you can complete in an hour or two. If you work for longer than that on a single painting, the light will have changed considerably. Wear a hat.
Christine: What are you working on at the moment?
Roy: I am working towards an exhibition at Lavenham Hall Gallery in Suffolk this September and have recently been painting in the evening twilight. In spring, the time between sunset and darkness has a magical quality to it as the pale blossom in the local orchards and hedgerows seems to glow in the dark. There is not much time before darkness takes over so everything has to set up in advance and I then have to work quickly. It takes several sessions to finish a painting this way. It’s also a great way to see badgers, bats and barn owls.
Christine: Where can we see more of your work online and in the flesh?
In real life you can find my paintings at:
Island Fine Arts
53 High St, Bembridge, Isle of Wight.
Denton Fine Art
High Street, Lavenham, Suffolk, CO10 9PZ
Open every day except Wednesday.
Next to The Swan Hotel.
Peter Barker Fine Art
Welland Vale, Glaston Road, Uppingham, Rutland LE15 9EU.
The image at the top is ‘Cherry Orchard’ in progress by Roy Connelly, Oil on Board, 8x10in