A year after my first Hardwick painting expedition I went back on a Saturday in July, hauling my portable easel and a rucksack crammed with cameras and drawing books.
Unfortunately, the suntan lotion got left behind, which is a mistake you should not make if you're going out plein air painting in this weather. Also, take water. And a hat. At some point I'll write a post about the necessary kit for plein air survival in different seasons, including a special section on the appropriate hat.
My painting spot was a little way down the hill on the road that goes past the Hardwick Inn. I worked sight size on a 10" x 12" panel, drawing with a small brush. The good thing about the Winsor & Newton oil primer is that in the early stages of a painting you can wipe out mistakes with some turpentine on a rag and make it look like they never happened, something I had to do twice over before I was happy with the drawing.
I painted for close on three hours, which was only possible because the spot was shaded by trees. Passers by came and went, and were universally polite. If you look busy enough, they hardly ever interrupt you. I knocked it on the head around 2 and strolled home.
Happy enough with the resulting painting, I went back the next Saturday to finish that panel and begin the next one.
On the way back from that trip I stopped to draw a tree in a field on the far side of Rowthorne. It made me think about what attracts me to a subject, just what it is I see that'll have me standing there in front of it for an hour or more, trying to get it on paper. Sometimes it's the textures, as much as anything. In this case, the silken heads of a barley crop, which will translate directly into juicy brush marks in an oil painting, or be lifted out with a a wet brush and tissue paper in a watercolour. The soft edged darkness below the tree in the middle of the barley. The lazy perspective of a ragged hedgerow taking your eye back towards the luminous sky. Some days, the world looks like a length of gorgeous fabric.
On the third visit to Hardwick, I found the missing cattle, which had hitherto been absent. They huddled in patches of shade around my painting spot, eyed me like members of the Conservative Women's Association inspecting a vagrant, and pooped on the ground occasionally. They are very decorative cattle, with impressive horns, straight out of a Bewick woodcut. I took a few photographs of them when I had time, and started a drawing from those later.
Downloading a cow's anatomy illustration helped to sort out how they're put together, and after that it went well, so my finished Hardwick painting may contain livestock. I'm just happy they didn't try to kill and eat me.
At some point I'll spend the necessary six quid to peruse the gardens around the hall, and take photographs for a possible painting of it. (This is how I know I'm getting old. Small sums of money sound like large sums in my head. Six pounds is more than I used to spend in a weekend of carousing. Now it buys two beers or a single tube of paint.)
Surrounded by a wall, and perched at the top of its grounds, Hardwick Hall doesn't really lend itself to the full stately home treatment in terms of painting, but I think I could get a handsome picture out of it. I have black and white photographs from my last visit, back in the 80s, some of which you can see in the post.
Some nice statuary in there. I'd quite like some statues for my own back garden. Perhaps I could make room beside the compost bin, and trim the privet behind it into topiary. I also have enough rocks to construct a modest grotto, in which I could sit to welcome visitors, lured in by the hand written sign leaning against the gatepost.
'Warburton Towers. This way to the gardens and tea room.'
Hmmm... how much to charge them for the guided tour?
'This patch of weeds is where the neighbour's cat likes to sit and ambush mice. That dustbin lid is where I scatter birdfood. Yes, those were peas, but the slugs got them all. Don't stray into the raspberry canes, it's like a Vietnam flashback in there.'