I don't have a great memory for faces and names but weirdly enough I do have a good memory for images and paintings. I remember the position of paintings in people's houses, and if a painting leaves an impression on me I won't forget it.
I've always meant to keep a written diary but with the best intentions, the longest I can keep going for before stopping is two months. Thankfully it's a different story with my paintings. Each one has its own story and chain of events, why I chose the motif, what was happening at that time in my life, the conversations I had with chance passers by, how I was feeling at the time. Without needing to write it all down, just looking at a painting brings the memories back to me. It's a saving grace when I feel like I can't remember past events, I just need to look at the images.
Setting up an easel en plein air feels a bit like going fishing for me! You dress up appropriately for the weather, strap a rucksack of kit to your back, sling an easel over your shoulder and march out to find inspiration in the hope, that by the end of the day you will have 'caught' a great light on a subject and translated it through paint on to a canvas. The feeling of exhaustion after a long days painting mixed with euphoria is something akin to falling in love. That's the best way I can describe it!
One of my motto's in life is that people are more important than places. I like spontaneity, sharing a moment, a fleeting conversation, a thought. As a young art student in Manchester I set up my easel to paint cherry blossom trees in Fog Lane Park. Through brush strokes, a lady stood next to me, moved to tears as she told me of her daughter who had also loved painting but had sadly passed away. I felt so sorry for her and decided to spend time sitting on a nearby bench to hear her story. The painting turned out well and I won't forget that lady.
In the summer heat on Clapham Common, I stopped to paint the boating pond. Using my tricycle as a base, I clamped an umbrella to it to shade from the glare. The set up attracted the attention of some students from Lambeth College. Low slung jeans, a bowed gait, these two youths towering above me appeared to be impressed with the painting so far,
'Wow is you a artist'? They asked, "like, does you make money from sellin' em an that?"
"I do", I replied
"Wow, so you can make money like, "legit" ?"
This revelation seemed to excite them as one of them proceeded to show me drawings of wolves stored on his mobile phone. I was spurred on by their enthusiasm and in turn encouraged them to keep up with the drawing. They bounced away and left me to it.
My painting almost finished, the same students reappeared with their college friend who had been wandering unsuccessfully around the common looking for a willing person to answer a sheet of questions whilst being recorded for a college radio project. I was happy to help, how hard could it be?
I wish I could remember all the questions, but essentially they were all based around the topic of sex. It was hilarious!
So from the people, and on to the places! What is it that stops a plein air painter in their tracks to paint a particular scene, from a particular angle? In my case, I've always had a fascination with water and reflective surfaces.
On Valentine's morning I pitched my easel on Aldeburgh beach. Over the years I've painted there having been introduced to it by my Grandpa. His love of Aldeburgh was infectious. Sheltering myself from the chilly wind, I chose the longest panoramic canvas in my possession and set about orchestrating a dance of paint upon it. The sunlit water stretching out ahead of me, underpinned by the weight of the pebbled shoreline gave me ample of information to respond to. I simply adore painting water and light.
When far away from the shore, and sea views, I find inspiration from my immediate surroundings. I keep an ancient oak gate leg table in my studio which reflects the Northern window light, providing instant interest and atmosphere.
It can feel a bit solitary painting away from the buzz of being outside, but I do have a couple of loyal pets who hang out with me and inevitably make their way into my paintings!