Catching trains and fading light on Ebury Bridge, London

It was one of those accidental days, when the oncoming autumn forgets to wield its wintry wand.  A day you can’t plan for but that presents itself as a little painting gift.  Ebury Bridge road was the painting spot, with a view down onto the railways that guide the London trains into and out of Victoria station, with the industrial backdrop of a Battersea Power Station in flux.  It redevelopment will change a good part of London just south of the river so as well as being beautiful in its structure, it also an interesting subject at this particular time.

I arrived late and sweaty from a trip through the underground carrying aalll the usual painting equipment.  My usual instinct is to rush into painting; to believe that set up is wasted time and that the longer I have to paint the better but today had a lesson in store for me- one that conveniently justifies a late arrival!  Arriving later in the afternoon on this occasion gave me a waning light that I watched gradually morph over the scene. As it moved and darkened, the scene changed from one of a gorgeous but fairly unexciting afternoon into a dramatic silhouetted scene with the train lights commanding the foreground.  Although this was more fleeting it was a far more exiting and emotive scene than that of earlier in the day.  For me this served real reminder that it is important to be tactical about timing, and to think about what I want to paint. Creating a painting is not just about an ability to capture the scene,  but about the actual light, weather conditions and atmosphere of the time.  Sometimes a dramatic or particularly beautiful light is serendipitous, but that doesn’t prevent a more thoughtful approach.  Rather than rushing out in the afternoon to paint until the light fades, and becoming annoyed that you cant actually see what you began to paint, THINK. What scene are you heading out to paint.  What is the weather? What time are the golden hours.  What do you feel inspired to paint? If its raining, what does that do to the pavements or the sky – maybe that’s exactly that you want to paint.  Is the the light going to be the main factor that guides the painting, or will it be the traffic and people?

On this occasion it was the light.  That was what underpinned the painting.  So, predicting the changing light, or at least being aware of how the light might change is the often the challenge, and exhilaration of painting plein air.  Who hasn’t rushed into a painting and realised half way through that the light is so much more interesting; the scene youre painting more dramatic, or more beautiful or just more something. Here is where being confident enough to paint quickly with a knowledge and understanding of the scene you’re painting is so important.

I was pretty pleased with this painting, but back in the studio I realised that the contract just wasn’t enough so I grabbed some oil and glazed over the foreground to great a bit more dark and push it further towards the contrast I had seen at the end.  I suppose, as always, getting it right first time comes with practise and experience!!