Composing a pastel landscape

The other day at a local market someone asked me what I looked for when I came to paint a landscape. That's a difficult question but an apposite one actually, because right now I'm beginning to plan the overall design and twelve subjects for our 2011 calendar. That's right, 2011. Our 2010 calendar is out there on sale and has been since March. We've already sold 1500 of them.

What do I look for in a land/seascape? I've tried to analyse what has always been for me an instinctive process. This is what I came up with...

First, a landscape has for me to be more than a scene as seen, if you see what I mean! It has to contain something on which I can focus my own thoughts, my inner eye and eventually if not at once, the poem which will twin up with the painting. Perhaps a castle with a bloody history or a stretch of water where someone did something like catch a big fish (viz: 'River Ewe Downstream') or build a long ago watermill (viz: 'The Old Watermill at Second Coast'), etc. And then my painting has to have a fore ground (for instance, a lichened rock, dead and twisted tree, blackhouse ruin, etc) and a middle ground that will most often contain the picture's main focus, and a back ground which almost always draws the eye and the mind of the viewer and identifies unmistakably the fact that this is Wester-Ross; that this is the Highlands of Scotland in all its hard and glorious beauty.

In order to achieve the needed balance I will often shift elements of the 'real view' or even import some features that are not actually there. I do not claim and have no wish to duplicate exactly that which is wrought by the hand of the Almighty, even were I capable of so doing, but then again, neither did my personal instructor, one J M W Turner, who probably was (capable).

And then there is the climate; the weather as indicated by the sky with its massively variable abstraction of cloud and light and colour or by the bending of a bush or by the quiet or disquiet of the surface of the sea or the loch or a river's rush or glide. Above everything I have to decide the all important position of the sun, therefore the slant of light and shadow even on the most overcast of days.

And the season. We all know how the glorious colour of Wester-Ross changes with the passing of the season. Sometimes this is where a fertile imagination comes in. The picture I'm about to begin will contain trces of snow that won't be there until four months from now, most probably ... as they say, watch this space.

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