Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Process - "Shipping at the Mouth of the Thames"

I wanted to discuss briefly the following painting, completed actually some days ago. It is

Shipping at the Mouth of the Thames c. 1806–7

Canvas, 33 3/4 × 46 (86 × 117)

This painting is, according to the Tate Britain site, apparently one of
seventeen sketches on canvas from Turner's various pictures of 1807–9 of shipping in the Thames Estuary, particularly off Sheerness.

Though carried to different degree of finish, are all similar in technique, being lightly painted in unstretched canvases over a dry chalky ground, and are all roughly similar in size. The poor condition of some of these attest to this. The notion, of course, of walking around with canvases capturing the power and majesty of the Thames is very awe-inspiring, and dear to the heart of any plein air painter.

"There is reason to suppose that, contrary to Turner's usual practice, some if not all of these sketches were at least begun out-of-doors. Thornbury prints some reminiscences of the son of Turner's ‘oldest friend the Rev. Mr. Trimmer’, who had been out fishing with Turner when a child. ‘He had a boat at Richmond ... From his boat he painted on a large canvas direct from Nature. Till you have seen these sketches, you know nothing of Turner's powers. There are about two score of these large subjects, rolled up, and now national property ... "

These paintings furthermore seem inspired, or based on an earlier inspiration of Turner's on the Flemish painter Van der Velde, and his son - he approached the work from these traditions but found a way to make them his own, both in terms of subject matter and execution. These sketches of the Thames estuary look back to this tradition in any event.

My version is significantly smaller, maybe 6 x 8 inches, on a slab of walnut or some other hard wood. The slab has these deep vertical gashes, which to me added to the compositional value of the painting. Martin Butler, author of my slim reference volume (seen here), seems to agree when he notes on page 7, re. this work: "The sketch, though fresher still than the exhibited picture, is nevertheless consciously pictorial in its carefully controlled diagonal stresses of sails and beams of sunlight."

I also noted in this one something I've been grappling with with all the works from the period I'm now covering (1806 - 1809), that the painting itself is used with very thin layers of linseed oil or other diluting agent - thus producing an almost watercolor-like effect.

This has been my first time really working with oils in such a diluted way, aside from my utilizing galkyd mediums to create glazing effects.

I started out with a brown underpainting - then added blue and yellow. The composition seemed to allow for a white slash near the larger boat, done with a pallette knife. The final effort led me to add in details, boats, etc, with all available colors. All, from the spirits-diluted underpainting to the layers of paint, use this watery form of painting.

Preferable? Problematic? One can say many good things about this painting methodology, especially if the muse has one straddling a boat or a fence or some other less-than-permanent construct in order to capture a fleeting moment. The effect will often be, well, 'sketchy', light, and possibly a little vague. Am glad to have given myself the experience, however, of painting with oils in this way - it's one of the great things about this project - I have already done 4.


  1. What a wonderful learning experience. If nothing else were to come out of this project, the value of the learning process is without measure! Great work.

    1. thank you!! each ohne takes a different approach.


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