How to capture the outdoors? Tom Hughes recently embarked on a project of making paintings daily outdoors in order to work out compositions, explore light and develop his practice quickly. He’s kindly explained to us his methods for plein air painting, including his all important wet carrier which enables him to do multiple paintings while on the go without worrying about how to get them home.
The Mini Collection Project
I recently started a new project called the Mini Collection. The impulse came to me a few months ago when I was drifting off to sleep. I had become frustrated with painting just one theme for weeks on end, be it London or Bristol and wanted to find a way to stay motivated and excited about painting every day.
I get a lot of ideas throughout any given week and I’m constantly thinking “oh that would make a great painting” or “I’d love to explore how light breaks through trees at sunset” but have always been committed to doing something else. After my four recent shows were over, I decided to give it a go and paint one 18 x 18 cm painting every day and put it up online for comments and criticism. Rapid iteration is something that’s always excited me, testing new things in quick succession is a brilliant way to move ahead. Bite-sized attempts at problem solving with a reflective period thrown in between each one lets you progress fast.
This daily painting practise is not a new thing, many Artists have done it and some make a living exclusively through it, but I hadn’t tried it yet and was keen to have a crack. I made a wet carrier to hold eight 18 x 18 cm boards and went out to Severn Beach in North Bristol to start the project off. It was a windy, wild day and I had an absolute blast. I’ve always loved painting small, there’s something wonderfully intimate about a little painting. The small scale means you have more time to plan a composition and mix really good colour because you’re not worrying about trying to cover a large surface, you’re just focussed on making every square cm count. A storm brewed up a few hours into my painting session and my easel got blown over and the brushes and turps went flying, luckily I had my first finished piece in the wet carrier! You can actually see the rain drops in the paint film in the Severn Beach painting as I was furiously trying to get the second one finished as the storm closed in on me.
Another reason I wanted to do minis, was that it finally gave me a chance to capture all the day-to-day images I see while riding my bike, or out with the kids on a weekend. I can whip out my phone and grab a shot of a view in a few seconds which is great when I don’t have my painting stuff with me. I recently got a new smartphone that has a very good camera on it that shoots in RAW, so I can edit the pic back in the studio in photoshop and get something incredibly close to what I saw when I took it to use as reference. I’ve always had a very good visual memory and have enough experience of painting outside, that interpreting a photo with oils is not a struggle.
Drawing has been one new change to my working practise and it’s been so wonderful to get stuck into again. Coming from a background of illustration, the muscle memory just kicks in and I’m off, trailing lines around and varying the pressure and wobble. It’s another dynamic that just adds to the painting, as the pencil shows through the paint film and gives another layer to the story.They are selling well so far and the initial reaction has been fantastic. It seems there’s a lot of people out there that feel £200 for a framed original is great value, plus they really hang well as a set so you can just keep adding them.
Making the packaging for the Mini Collection was also an integral part of the project. I got great satisfaction from designing a new logo and screen printing it onto my new boxes. Presentation matters and it just feels good to send work out knowing it looks awesome before they even open it.
I was born in Colchester, raised in a tiny village near Oxford, went to Uni in Wales and moved to Bristol in 2002 where I live with my partner and two children.
You can view more of Tom Hughes’ work on his website or keep up to date or his processes and projects by following him on Instagram @tomhughespainting.
We’d also recommend checking out Tom Hughes’ FAQ page which gives a fascinating insight into his work, here’s a few of his question and answers as a little teaser:
Do you paint everything on location?
No. For the first 5 years I did, but over the last year my practise has changed.
Most of my small paintings are done on location, but the bigger pieces are painted back in my studio. I don’t like returning to a spot for multiple sessions on a painting on subsequent days as I want it all captured in one sitting, “alla prima”.
Painting from life is a very intense and focussed process for me. it’s about that 2-3 hours of intense concentration to capture a moment before the light changes.
When I’m painting a large piece in the studio I have the time, space and controlled light to really think about what kind of statement I want to make and by working in 4-5 layers over many days I can create effects that are impossible in one sitting.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.
Do you ever destroy your work?
Yes. I’ve snapped, binned, slashed and burned multiple pieces. I can highly recommend it.
What materials do you use?
Winsor & Newton Artists Quality Oil colour: Titanium White, Bismuth Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Sap Green, Viridian, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber.
Turps, Poppy Oil & Siccative.
Sized and Oil Primed MDF.