Plein air painting can be an adventure, especially when weather conditions add challenges and excitement. There is, however, the odd occasion when the elements decide to take over, like the night I painted St Paul’s Cathedral in the wind and rain.
In January 2016 I created a small set of paintings for a group exhibition with gallery Plein Air Contemporary, King’s Road, London. One of my submissions included a landscape featuring St Paul’s as the theme. I previously painted the same viewpoint in 2011 but I wanted to recreate the scene using a larger canvas.
The winter temperature at the time wasn’t too cold but the risk of rain was never too far away. To avoid the possibility of the artwork getting drenched I created an improvised gadget for my field easel using found equipment including a special plastic see-through umbrella, an angle adjustable arm attachment and my trusty LED lamp used for painting late evening and night-time scenes.
The first couple of nights at the cathedral stayed dry and I worked quickly to get the overall scene painted in. On the third night the rain finally appeared. It was time to test the equipment but I felt a little bit nervous when setting it up as I had negative past experiences of large canvases getting soaked or being blown over, especially with a light field easel. Would the umbrella do its job and protect the canvas sufficiently from the rain?
As I worked, the rain came down from the sky at an angle but the canvas stayed dry. The umbrella was doing its job. The wind was slightly erratic but I held onto the canvas to ensure steadiness. Conditions such as these can beneficial in that they force me to concentrate and be more decisive in my painting. A common practice of mine when working is that I stand back a short distance from the artwork to check its progress by comparing it to the subject beyond. On this occasion, however, as I stepped back, a rogue gust of wind suddenly caught the umbrella and duly lifted the equipment right off the ground - with easel and canvas still attached - and swept it sliding down the road like an arrow at high speed in the direction of the cathedral… with me running frantically after it.
After several metres I finally caught up with the renegade easel, fearing that the artwork had been ruined by the impromptu roller coaster ride. To my relief the painting was spared, having received only a few water streaks splashed across its front. My pride was also spared as no one in the vicinity had seemed to witness the caper.
I returned to the location on a drier night and completed the artwork in time for the exhibition in King's Road. I wonder if the visitors to the show noticed the 'effort' that had gone into making that particular picture?...