Mark McLaughlin was shortlisted in the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019 for his oil painting, Fin’s Garden, which was hugely popular with visitors to the Affordable Art Fair Hampstead. The work depicts a ramshackled English garden, overgrowing and clustered, with a dramatic break opening up in the moody clouded skies beyond. This feeling of drama extends itself across many of his landscape paintings. We spoke to Mark about belonging to of a community of artists, capturing the sounds of a plein air scene and the best colours to blend for shadows.
Clare: Can you tell us a bit about your education/background?
Mark: I guess I was always drawing and painting from a very young age and had very supportive teachers who encouraged me to go to Saturday art classes in Guildford when I was around twelve. I was probably the youngest there but I loved the environment, we had great teachers, who encouraged us to go out drawing and painting. Looking back, I think it was one of the most inspiring times. After that, I did a Foundation year at Farnham, followed by a BA Hons Degree in Visual Communication and a Masters Degree in Illustration.
Clare: How would you describe your practice?
Mark: Any subject I paint has been inspired from my experience and emotion felt at the time. I try and convey that in the work through colour and brushstrokes, so whether it’s worked en plein air or in the studio, I hope to bring this emotional connection to the viewer. As well as using sketches and photos, more recently I have been taking short videos. This can really help when I’m back in the studio to reconnect me to a location. Having sounds – like the wind, the noise of swaying branches and leaves etc adds another dimension when working on a painting.
Clare: You work in both oil and watercolour. When painting en plein air, is there one medium that you prefer and why?
Mark: Oils are a very versatile medium so great for plein air painting – putting colour down quickly (alla prima), from thin washes to thicker buttery paint, you can scrumble and scrape and I can get a lot done in a short space of time. There are of course more practical and technical issues as in drying time, so I also use some drying agents like siccative. I use primed boards and canvas – the largest canvas I’ve used on location to date is 20 x 28”.
Clare: Do you use a refined colour palette when you are painting en plein air? If so, which colours do you include and which are the most important to you?
Mark: I use a limited palette, be it in the studio or in situ. I usually use Michael Harding or Winsor & Newton. So basic colours would be Titanium White, Naples Yellow – 2 makes – one which has a stronger tint. Also, Cad Yellow, Cad Red, Alizarin Red; earth colours like Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna; and Cerulean, Cobalt and Ultramarine Blues. I love the mixes of Cobalt Blue with Michael Harding Naples Yellow. Raw Sienna is also great with Ultramarine Blue for dark areas and mixing greys.
Clare: What qualities do you look for when searching for a landscape to paint?
Mark: They can vary, but for me it has to be the quality of light which brings out the best in a subject. I’m a great fan of the “golden hour” with falling light! I love to capture mood and atmosphere, so whether it’s an urban scene or a landscape, it’s about how light affects not only the subject but the mood I can create from it. (It’s exciting to see a glow of light on a chimney for instance!)
Clare: Do you maintain a practice of traditional sketching for your reference imagery? If so, how often, where and what kind of materials do you use?
Mark: I’m usually cycling around places so I’ll take notes and make sketches if I feel a location would be good to paint. I like to make a note of the time over the period I’m sketching so I’m aware of how the light changes. Also, the more you stop and look, the more you absorb a lot more information and understanding than if you’re just taking photos.
I feel that making a sketch plants an idea in you, even a simple quick sketch could become a painting which could take weeks to complete, like in the case of my painting, Fin’s Garden. I still have lots of sketch books with drawings that might become paintings – so it keeps you inspired for future work. As for materials I just use a 2B clutch pencil which is easy – and have several different sized sketchbooks.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Mark: The usual materials for the studio, brushes, oil paint, easel, box easel, big palette for the studio, palette knives, turps and plenty of rags. Also I’ve a great daylight lamp so I can work when it’s darker in the studio. I guess good brushes are key to how you apply paint and the mark-making it allows you – fingers are good too.
So I use good quality filberts, flats and rounds and I have a few long handled sable brushes –
sizes 4 and 8 which are great for more detailed areas. I prime boards with gesso and tint them so no white is showing. I love making up my own canvases, just the process is exciting – not knowing what will be created on them!
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio or painting en plein air for you?
Mark: I’m lucky enough to be part of a community of artists sharing a studio in Camberwell called Clockwork Studios, for the past 20 years. There is a great camaraderie of different artists sharing their ideas and support. In the studio I’ve often got a few paintings in progress – working between them depending on size and drying times. I’ve started to work on larger canvases eg, 36 x 36” for a series of tree paintings. These can be quite complex to paint so they demand a lot of concentration – sometimes I don’t really get into the flow until later in the day and evening.
Painting plein air has many different challenges, but for me it’s that immediacy and spontaneity you experience whilst working in front of the subject that’s so satisfying and quite addictive! Hopefully I can then take that energy back to the work in the studio. Meeting people whilst you’re painting is always great too, especially those who are complimentary of course!
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Mark: There are so many painters I admire. I love the Impressionists such as Monet and Sisley and I’m also inspired by Sorolla, Sargent and Edward Seago. More contemporary painters I admire are: Peter Brown, Ben Hope, Anne Magill, Andrew Gifford and my favourite Fred Cumings for his light and atmosphere.
Clare: In the studio – music, audiobook, podcast, Radio 4 or silence?
Mark: Depending on what I’m working on – sometimes the radio. More often though, as I play tenor sax, I listen to lots of jazz. It works well when I’m painting, even helps in the rhythm of painting, so when it’s loud you can be more rigorous and other times you just want to be mellow. Of course sometimes silence will do.
Clare: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Mark: I’m planning a solo show next year. I shall also be exhibiting in this year’s Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries, showing from 10-19 October 2019. In the pipeline are some other private commissions, including one with the National Trust. You can also see my work at our annual Clockwork Christmas Open Studio, in early December.
After that I’ll be getting ready for The Artists Open House Dulwich Festival in May 2020. So lots to work towards!!
And online, you can see more of my work on my website www.markmclaughlinartist.co.uk and follow me on Instagram at @mclaughlin_brushmarks or email me on email@example.com for the latest news about shows and exhibitions.
Top image: Fin’s Garden, 2017, Mark McLaughlin, Oil on canvas, 76 x 76 cm