Richard Suckling, "Horadada," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted from a lovely tapas bar in the village on the sea front with a nice bit of shade.

Richard Suckling – Studio Artist Takes On Plein Air Painting

Bright and bold were the words that came to mind when I first saw the work of UK artist Richard Suckling. His work dazzles with colour and light. I featured his work last March and since then have been awed every time he posts a new piece.

In October, I noticed he’d started to post pieces done en plein air in Spain. They startled me with their immediacy and had a quality of fearlessness. And so I invited Richard to contribute a blog about these pieces. Little did I know that they were indeed daring as painting on location was out of this studio painter’s comfort zone!

And in case you don’t already know the work of Richard Suckling, have a look at this glorious piece.

 

Richard Suckling, "Newlyn Beach Summer Sparkle," pastel on Canson Touch paper, 9 ¾ x 13 ¾ in

Richard Suckling, “Newlyn Beach Summer Sparkle,” pastel on Canson Touch paper, 9 ¾ x 13 ¾ in

 

Before I hand over the blog to Richard Suckling, here’s a wee bit about him.

 

Richard Suckling Bio

Richard Suckling studied illustration at Cambridge School of Art in the UK and then worked in London as an Illustrator. He now lives in the fishing village of Newlyn, Cornwall, and works as a painter, working primarily in pastel and more recently acrylic. His work is on show in various galleries in the South West of England and most recently he was asked to write an article for The Artist magazine on pastel painting (January issue). You can see more of his work and read more about him on his website.

 

And now, heeeeere’s Richard!

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Plein Air Painting in Costa Blanca

I would class myself primarily as a studio painter, using the sketches and notes I have made at my favourite locations, with a variety of media, backed up by the convenience of photographs. I have, from time to time, used pastels in the open air of course but I never really took to it in the past. I guess I liked the convenience of having all my studio paraphernalia at hand, especially the considerable choice of sumptuous pastels to dip in and out of to create my pictures.

 

Richard Suckling, "Morning Shimmer Mounts Bay," pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 19 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. My usual studio style of pastel painting, primarily Cornish coastal scenes with a liking for a bit of sparkle on the water.

Richard Suckling, “Morning Shimmer Mounts Bay,” pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 19 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. My usual studio style of pastel painting, primarily Cornish coastal scenes with a liking for a bit of sparkle on the water.

 

In my previous career as illustrator, predominately working in pen and ink, the drawing on location was easy. But pastels, for me at least, involved a lot of preparation, weighty kit, and it never seemed that practical to do on the hoof so to speak; sketchbooks and fountain pens are convenient, fast and usually clean for travel.

However, this year has been a bit different for me and I have made some changes which I feel will impact positively on how I work in the future. Good steady sales of paintings and a chance to write an article on pastel painting for The Artist magazine in the U.K., buoyed my confidence you might say and I was inclined to stretch myself artistically as we entered late October.

 

Richard Suckling, "Gwithian Fire," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 17 ¾ x 15 ¾ in. No underpainting just alla prima pastel painting. Trying to introduce some of the speed and excitement of the plein air experience into the studio.

Richard Suckling, “Gwithian Fire,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 17 ¾ x 15 ¾ in. No underpainting just alla prima pastel painting. Trying to introduce some of the speed and excitement of the plein air experience into the studio.

 

An artist friend of mine had undertaken to not only produce a plein air painting each day of her vacation but to publish each and every effort on social media. I was both enthralled and inspired; I decided to take up her challenge and an autumn break to Costa Blanca, Spain, visiting my wife’s parents, offered up the perfect opportunity. It was time to take another stab at plein air work using pastels and see if I could begin to get to grips with this bad boy once and for all.

 

Richard Suckling, "Playa Flamenca," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Hot bright day - sketched sat on some sandstone cliffs above the beach.

Richard Suckling, “Playa Flamenca,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Hot bright day – sketched sat on some sandstone cliffs above the beach.

 

Spain in late October is mostly like Cornwall in the U.K. on a dry and sunny day in the height of summer, so perfect for outdoor artistic activities. My first job was to plan what to take equipment wise. It was a short break and we were travelling light so weight and size were imperative. I purchased and packed a lovely box of 36 Sennelier pastels, a brand I only occasionally use as they are very soft and I can be a little heavy-handed. I added some back up Unison colours I just couldn’t travel without. The Sennelier pastels did come in a rather lovely light weight wooden box with the pastels nestled in foam, ideal for travel.

 

Richard Suckling, "Spanish Dusk," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted one evening as the light was fading very fast as it does in Spain at that time of year.

Richard Suckling, “Spanish Dusk,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted one evening as the light was fading very fast as it does in Spain at that time of year.

 

I also packed two pads of Sennelier LaCarte pastel card 9” x 12”. This is a surface I use extensively and know well so a good choice it seemed. A few dark pastel pencils, baby wipes, and masking tape and I was almost done. My wife arranged for my father-in-law to obtain a craft knife for pencil sharpening in Spain as this was the one thing, understandably, banned from hand luggage! After many frustrating attempts to fit everything in, eventually all the kit was packed into my hand luggage (a tip I got from an article written by Stan Sperlak who said never put your pastels in the hold) and we were off.

 

Richard Suckling, "Horadada, Costa Blanca," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 9 ½ in. Painted early afternoon resting on a wall overlooking the sea.

Richard Suckling, “Horadada, Costa Blanca,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 9 ½ in. Painted early afternoon resting on a wall overlooking the sea.

 

So my first mistake was already made before we landed and I am sure all you plein air veterans are probably muttering, “the knuckle head has forgotten to pack an easel.” Well now I know and I will not repeat that mistake again. In my defense, however, in my studio I use French and wooden studio easels and, whilst these are great work horses, they are too heavy and not designed for air travel.

 

Richard Suckling, "Horadada," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted from a lovely tapas bar in the village on the sea front with a nice bit of shade.

Richard Suckling, “Horadada,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted from a lovely tapas bar in the village on the sea front with a nice bit of shade.

 

Not to be to thwarted at the first hurdle, I worked with what was available and it proved an interesting challenge. It was just a matter of finding a restaurant or tapas bar with a solid table and a fantastic view. We were duty bound to imbibe a glass or two of beer or Rioja and tapas here and there to appease the owners; the things we do for the sake of our art! There are also white balustrades hugging the many palm littered promenades, overlooking the beaches and coves, and I found these reasonably good to perch upon. However, despite my ingenuity in the field I must admit an appropriately light weight tripod, with the appropriate easel attachment, is now in my possession.

 

Richard Suckling, "Horadada Beach," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Very bright high contrast scene - just squinted and went for it.

Richard Suckling, “Horadada Beach,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Very bright high contrast scene – just squinted and went for it.

 

I had spent the year painting constantly for gallery sales so I set myself the target of a week painting nothing but 30-minute studies and this was surprisingly invigorating. I did not take my normal sketchbook and I worked in pure pastel – no underpainting – just direct pastel strokes, admittedly with a little smudging (sorry Gail). Instead of adding to the constraints, the actual lack of equipment, time, and commercial pressure allowed me to relax from my normal working practice and I found this particular aspect very liberating as an artist.

 

Richard Suckling, "Beach Scene Costa Blanca," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted overlooking the beach equipment precariously perched on a balustrade.

Richard Suckling, “Beach Scene Costa Blanca,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted overlooking the beach equipment precariously perched on a balustrade.

 

However, there was more to this plein air than that alone. Sketching in a book or snapping photos can be done very surreptitiously. Plein air pastel painting is more like busking in the streets; you are out there, exposed, open to view and scrutiny, and it was absolutely a revelation. I was not painting in the wilds of Spain but populated coastal areas and there were individuals and families milling around me.

Far from ignoring me or sneaking a peak, they were interested, some fascinated, some vocal and some, quite frankly, blooming intrusive. With pastels out and painting started, you cannot snap the sketchbook shut and pocket your pen or pencil in a second, which had always been my approach in the past. There was nowhere to hide, I just had to “man up” as they say here and get on with it; the theatre of plein air painting was as much a part of the experience as the doing of it and, I have to admit, it was addictive.

 

Richard Suckling, "Costa Palm Tree," pastel on paper, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. I prefer sanded surfaces as a rule but this grey laid paper from Sennelier is quite nice.

Richard Suckling, “Costa Palm Tree,” pastel on paper, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. I prefer sanded surfaces as a rule but this grey laid paper from Sennelier is quite nice.

 

As the week progressed, I ran my first workshop ever to an eight-year-old young lady from Belgium, who just couldn’t take her eyes off of the pastels. Her father said she loves to draw and she showed no fear of getting stuck in; a future Gail Sibley I do not doubt! Another day, my wife and I enjoyed a delicious tapas lunch with a lovely bottle of Rioja, in exchange for one of my small pastels painted whilst sat at a table with a view. In fact, the owner of the establishment has commissioned a larger painting for our next visit. The last time I earned a long evening of free beer for drawing was in a music bar in Amsterdam, with my art school mates, but that’s another story!

 

Richard Suckling, "Costa Blanca," Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted this while sat in a beach side bar after lunch.

Richard Suckling, “Costa Blanca,” Unison and Sennelier pastels on Sennelier LaCarte, 9 ½ x 12 ½ in. Painted this while sat in a beach side bar after lunch.

 

On the equipment front it was a very steep learning curve and I now have refined this considerably since my return. A small plywood board fitted with a tripod adaptor and a Manfrotto photographic tripod with a decent height adjustment is my new field easel. The fancy wooden box of Sennelier pastels, which are lovely incidentally, are now incorporated into my studio pastel selection and being carefully used. But for plein air, Unison pastels are what I know and love best. I travel now with a set of 72 ideally or a set of 36 if pushed. I take them in the Unison heavy duty card boxes which are lighter than fancy wooden ones. Also their lids come off and fit underneath when in use so their footprint is halved.

 

Richard Suckling, "Zennor Magic," pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 19 ¾ x 9 ¾ in. A recent Cornish pastel based on a location sketch. Looser than my usual studio style benefiting from my plein air experience.

Richard Suckling, “Zennor Magic,” pastel on Sennelier LaCarte, 19 ¾ x 9 ¾ in. A recent Cornish pastel based on a location sketch. Looser than my usual studio style benefiting from my plein air experience.

 

A small selection of pastel pencils is added especially Carbothello’s deep dark and indispensable 1400/770 which is my “go to” sketching colour. Masking tape, great for some sharp edges and baby wipes for cleaning up and moving pastel around water resistant surfaces. A small spray water bottle and pastel pencil sharpener, just less aggravation when travelling than craft knives!

As to the all-important matter of painting surface for plein air painting involving travel, I love Sennelier LaCarte. It is such a luxurious surface to work on but just not in pad form from now on. Loose sheets in a small folio arrangement is so much more practical. I also take sheets of card prepared in advance using Art Spectrum pastel primer so I can spray the first layer of pastel with water to make a kind of underpainting.

 

Richard Suckling, "Spanish Interior Landscape," Unison pastel on board primed with Art Spectrum pastel primer, 10 ¾ x 10 ¾ in.

Richard Suckling, “Spanish Interior Landscape,” Unison pastel on board primed with Art Spectrum pastel primer, 10 ¾ x 10 ¾ in.

 

The whole trip was a real eye-opener for me; I learnt a lot more than merely how to improve my plein air paintings. I was reminded that pastel painting does not have to be a constant isolated battle with your artistic demons alone in your studio but is something to share and involve others. Although the finished painting is always my ultimate aim, there is great value in showing people the process. An artist friend said to me the other day that she was just looking for some kind of recognition but really, if we are honest, aren’t we also looking to show off a little sometimes and plein air lets us do it? If you haven’t yet given it a go, take a deep breath and dive in; yes, it is a little nerve wrecking but it is great fun and the adrenaline rush is a little addictive.

 

Richard Suckling, Spanish work in progress, pastel on Sennelier La Carte, 17 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. A studio piece from drawings and photos collected whilst on the Costa Blanca.

Richard Suckling, Spanish work in progress, pastel on Sennelier La Carte, 17 ¾ x 19 ¾ in. A studio piece from drawings and photos collected whilst on the Costa Blanca.

 

I had to admit that when Gail asked me to write a feature on my experiences painting plein air, I was a bit apprehensive. However, I figured that if I could handle painting in front of people, I should be able to share the experience on paper with other artists too. Thank you Gail, it has been a delight.

Richard Suckling

 

~~~~~

Thank you Richard. Sooooooooo inspiring!! I may have to get one of those Carbothello pastel pencils to try instead of charcoal – a bit more control I’m thinking. Had to chuckle at the few references to me 🙂

Now, we want to hear from you! Have you been wanting to experiment with on-location painting? Has this post encouraged you to try it out? Or are you already an avid plein air painter? If so, what keeps you at it? We’d love to know!

~~~~

 

Speaking of plein air painting, why not join me this September in Croatia. I’ve never been to Croatia but I hear it’s absolutely beautiful!! To read more, click here.

AND, it’s now confirmed – I’ll be teaching on the Costa Brava in Spain in May 2018. That’s north of where Richard was painting. It’s stunning landscapes and towns along the lines of Richard’s subjects. Let’s be inspired by his work! Find out more here.

 

Gail painting en plein air

Join me on location!

To see me in action and learn more about painting on location, you can also purchase my online course, Pastel Painting En Plein Air.

 

~~~~~

 

So that’s it for this time. I am really stuck into my BIG project (I hope to tell you about it soon!!) so I can’t promise when the next blog will be. Hopefully I won’t be away for tooooooo long.

 

Thanks for being on this pastel journey with me!

~ Gail

 

23 thoughts on “Richard Suckling – Studio Artist Takes On Plein Air Painting

  1. Robert Sloan

    Great article and I love your plein air paintings. I especially love what you do with those blues, I am inspired! One thing I’ve found helps a lot is half sticks. A 36 color Unisons box can hold 72 half pieces and give your full range in a pretty small footprint, their card boxes are very sturdy.

    I did buy the aluminum box with the clear lid version of a 72 color set, but that included the card box inside it so I was able to swap the full sticks set out and my 120 Half Sticks set in without even handling the sticks. I do that because at home I like to see all the colors but do not like my cat sleeping on all the colors. If I were out, the card box would be a better choice.

    I also love that Colourfix primer. It comes in Clear as well as white, which means I can tint the card or paper or whatever anything I want as long as it’s not metallic. I tried using metallic gold acrylic under it and it turned into a flat non-metallic ochre color after priming. So I washed over it with gold iridescent watercolor, which works.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Glad you enjoyed the article Robert! And thanks for your input and ideas around supplies for plein air work – your pastel set up (and avoiding cat napping!) and primer ideas. Thank you!!

      Reply
  2. Lauraine Laframboise

    Thank you so much for all your work! This article…like all the rest…is excellent! I’m a great fan of all you do! Many thanks!

    Reply
  3. Gill Trulsow

    Wow! Richard’s work is amazing – wonderful colors and confident, energetic strokes. The courage it takes to paint in such a public area is not something I possess, but aspire to so that I can loosen up and not be so precious. His comment about the preparation involved and the weight of materials is something I struggle with. I would love to see the easel set up he created when he returned home.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Yes, working in public is one of the, shall we say, interesting things about painting on location. The thing to do Gill, is to start in a non-crowded place with the smallest amount of pastels that you can. Also, if you work like Richard did in Spain, ie without an easel, you can be a little less obvious. I laughed when I read your question about Richard’s set up because we thought about including a photo of his set up. I hope to update the post with a photo.

      Reply
  4. Micheline Comte

    Hi !
    I am a beginner in pastel, usually work with watercolor, acrylics, mixed media, collage… I try everything !
    I am enchanted with my work in pastel.
    Your blog has helped me in many ways; the information about the material is precious and discovering the work by different artists soooo inspiring.
    Your encouraging words are helping me to continue… i’m having fun !
    Thank you and all the generous contributing artists.

    Micheline Comte
    Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Hi Micheline,
      Many thanks for leaving a comment. I am so glad that you have discovered the wonder of pastels and that my blog is helping you in your learning process. Keep having fun!!

      Reply
  5. Marie Marfia

    Love Richard Suckling’s work! I’ve been wanting to do more outdoor painting and his wonderful color choices and squiggly line work make me want to get out there myself! Thanks for spotlighting this wonderful artist. I wouldn’t have known about him if not for this post.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Marie I am so glad to have introduced you to this fabulous artist!! I know what you mean about Richard Suckling’s work making you want to get out there and paint!! Let us know how it goes 🙂

      Reply
  6. Pingback: No. 86, Arielle | Marie Marfia Fine Art

  7. Sandi Graham

    Wow! Wow! Thank you for giving us Richard Suckling’s work! His paintings are so colorful and free!
    He is my new favorite artist! (Other than you) !
    Thank you to Richard for your generous information about your pastels and process.
    Just Terrific! I’m very inspired.🎨🎨🎨

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Sandi, feel your enthusiasm from here and so happy to know you’ve been inspired! And I totally agree with your descriptions of Richard’s work as colourful and free. Yes yes!!

      Reply
  8. Paula Buran

    Thank you Gail for encouraging Richard Suckling to share his en plein air experience. I found it so helpful and inspiring! I have only tried plein air once, but seeing that even a seasoned artist like Richard can be
    apprehensive about it made me feel that I was in good company!
    I love Richard’s work, it explodes with color and movement. I am moved to be more spontaneous and will definitely seek out the plein air experience again!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Paula I am so pleased that you have been moved by Richard’s work and words to try plein air painting again. It IS hard work but ever so rewarding. It’s amazing to feel so fully in the moment, to experience the world around you as you paint. And yes, I too have been inspired by his colour and mark-making!!

      Reply
  9. Deborah Lonergan

    Hi, Gail, I enjoyed Richard’s guest blog. I avoid pleine aire painting but I am trying to ease into it with some occasional sketch outings. The possibility of a free beer or glass of wine and tapas (or the local substitute – where I live, chips and salsa, I fear) just might push me to get a bit more courageous. Still, just the thought of planning, equipment hauling, and most of all, the inevitable concern about abandoning my setup for a intermittent visits to a comfort facility (one can only hope to have one nearby, preferably with a flush toilet) is daunting.

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Deborah, plein air painting is tough, no doubt about it. But truly worth the effort. And yes, motivation can come from those free offerings…or just being outside on a lovely day. At first, keep equipment simple – small box of pastels, board with paper and glassine, then find a chair or a rock. Laughed when I read about the toilet part. Staying close to home is a good option!!

      Reply
  10. Susan Glover

    Beautiful, beautiful work! Perhaps in my next life I’ll be able to paint as well. Gail, you will love Croatia. My sister in law traveled there several years ago, coming back with hundreds of wonderful pics screaming to be made into oil paintings. She complied and has sold so many she went back again this past year. Happy travels!

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      Delighted you enjoyed the post Susan! It’s such fabulous work!
      Thanks for the encouragement about Croatia. You’re right, I’ve heard fabulous things about the place and seen such inviting photos. I really can’t wait!!

      Reply
  11. Michele Ashby

    Thank you so much for this inspiring article Gail and Richard, I enjoyed it so much.
    Once the weather is a little warmer I would like to go out and pastel away too!!
    Many thanks indeed,
    Michele

    Reply
    1. Gail Sibley Post author

      So glad you were inspired!
      I too am waiting for the warmer weather Michele. I am in awe of those painters who stand outside and paint in the cold of winter!

      Reply

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