06 September 2014

Some (light) advice to paint in London

I think it would be useful for anyone attempting to paint "en plein air" here in London to read a bit about my experience as someone that has painted elsewhere. I do not mean to cover the subject thoroughly but just share some thoughts on what is different ...if anything. Of course any native will have a lot more to say or will  disagree on the subject but here it is for what it is worth.

What to bring with you: London art supply stores cover most needs as far as oil paints,  brushes and mediums. However you simply won't find any panel carriers, not in the stores, not online, nowhere. So bring yours or use an alternative method of wet canvas transport. I made the mistake of not bringing my carrier so I had to improvise.

To the left, this is how I did it. Bought two cheap wood frames 8"x10" or 5"x7" , hinges and tape at B&Q which is the 'Home Depot of London'.  I hinged the frames. I later bought some velcro straps with loops at John Lewis which is the 'Target" of London (hobbies and crafts section) and tied the frames that way. You will need to always carry two canvases so as not to expose the painting. Obviously the boards have to be the same size as the frames fit. You snap the painting in the frame when you are done and go home.

 Here is the next caveat. 8"x10",5"x7" and 12"x16" board sizes are common both in the US and the UK. But all other standard sizes in the US are hard to find here. So you won't find many 11"x14" but plenty of 10"x14" and measuring canvas in centimeters is as common as doing it in inches. I suspect the rest of Europe bans inches altogether. So bring canvas boards  if you intend to come back with standard sized pieces.

On a side note, I like a store called "Atlantis" which is around Brick Lane. It is very large but it is not always well supplied. There is a lady at the counter which is an artsy type, she wears racoon make up, never smiles and talks in a whisper. In the U.S. she would be promptly sacked but I've come to like how insufferable she is. Oh well, London.  

What you will need: In the UK, it rains. In Los Angeles we don't know what "rain" means  but here it is frequent, random and unpredictable.  Let me say that again: unpredictable. You can blame the weather app that displayed a smiling sun behind an innocent looking cloud  all you want. You can trust your gut till the cows come home when the morning is radiant and not a cloud drifts in the air. You'll get soaked. Just when you though you had it all figured out..you'll find out London is humid so it can feel like Bali in summer,  London is freezing in winter and the rain doesn't stick to a top to bottom pattern. The winds can be insane.... it gets dark very early in winter...you get the picture. It's the weather you have to be ready for.
So, you will need to be ready with an  umbrella, proper shoes or boots, proper attire like a poncho and weather proof hat, a quick escape route and some choice curses. Also bring watering summer days.

The Thamesis. Plenty of subject matter.

London has great painting potential, no doubt. If it is sunny, there's almost nowhere you can't find subject matter.  It's heaven for watercolorists with its mix of greys and browns and lush rain day reflections.  However, London is busy. Sometimes it's "I can't breathe, where did all these Italians come from" busy. The subway at peak hours makes sardines look like they are at a dance hall.  So to put it simply, avoid the underground at those times. Avoid attempting to set up your easel in busy avenues. Predict if possible how and when someone or something will need that "tucked away piece of sidewalk" you found suspiciously empty. Act a bit shy for once. Travel light. Personal space is a luxury. Personal space plus backpack plus easel will get you snarls. Bring patience, it will be tested if you decide to paint the tourist spots.

Bring things that will supplement the lack of urban furniture and facilities. Did you know sketching with pencil is allowed in most museums including the National Gallery?  A folding chair is a good idea.  And you will definitely need to go to the loo before you leave for an extended period! London is not toilet friendly.

You won't need a car for London. You won't want a car.

What to paint: That's up to you but there is a pattern you will notice in everyone from Constable to Turner. It's the sky. There has not been a day since I arrived when the sky wasn't putting on a show.
Pack your emerald greens, your Payne greys and your colder tones as well. It's green here. It's atmospheric here.

There is no area of London devoid of subject matter. May be London is a big bank/shop  at its heart. Development is king and the city under permanent reconstruction has devoured many old buildings encasing them in all sorts of new construction, sometimes with unfortunate results. But there is plenty of charm left and even the new stuff offers interesting subjects like the unreal massive buildings in Canary Wharf or the glass monoliths that dot the skyline. Anywhere around the river is a good spot for starters. Greenwich offers astounding views of the river. The Tower Bridge does not have a bad angle. And on and on. Don't fret, this is a too-much-to-paint kind of place.

Another watercolor by the river.

And  then there's people. If you like people, costumes, faces, crowds...here is the rainbow with every race and creed and age imaginable. Londoners are not -particularly-  friendly and there are plenty of chatty loud drunks that could kill a horse with a sigh  but you will find those who approach you very appreciative of your efforts and very knowledgeable and they might even say what you do is so "clevah" which I love because "clevah" is the last thing I am. And as in America, they all want you "to paint them in" and think you make tons of money and they duck when walking in front of you and they have an aunt that paints. Some things don't change.