At the weekend the forecast was so good I decided to head for North Norfolk and soak up the sunshine by the sea. I set off at 5:45am to beat the traffic and squeeze the most out of the day ahead. The plan was to paint at Morston quay and I was glad to find the tide heading out when I arrived. I enjoy painting the boats amongst the wet mud and sand and it was a real bonus having a cloudless sky to flood the subjects with light. Colours and tones of the boats were crisp and it was a nice challenge to work these in with the more muted and subtle colours of the surroundings. Really, I ought to have started off small but in order to make the most of things I decided to wade in with a 12x16in study of the boats resting in the wet mud as the tide receded (forming a nice S curve as it did so). The mooring posts reflected nicely to provide a bit of structure and I enjoyed painting those blue cast shadows from the boats!
‘Receding tide, Morston Quay’ (12×16 – oil on board) – click images to view larger versions
The next piece was done from the vantage point of the mooring posts seen in the first painting (for the first painting I was pitched in what turned out to be the middle of the second painting. Again, I liked the rhythm of the water channel, the activity of the boats and the distant horizon with Blakeney church tower on the right. As with many of these scenes, there’s often a need to shift things around to try and make the composition work. This can be tricky to do plein air as you don’t necessarily have the time to plan the piece as much as in the studio. I find it’s more instinctive on location and you get a feel for how things might work best. The same goes with the water and I shifted the areas around a bit to try and make the design backbone hold together. I enjoy using the notes of colour but try not to get too carried away with too many bright accents.
‘Towards Blakeney, Morston Quay’ (8×16, oil on board)
I spent a bit of time in the afternoon trying to find a B&B (everywhere seemed be booked!) and managed to squeeze in a study of Cley Mill in the evening sunshine. I’ve attempted this before but wanted to really try and nail the colours in a fresh, economical manner (just as well because there was no time to hang about with the late sun).


‘Cley Mill, evening light ‘ (6x16in, oil on board)
Day 2 (Sunday) and first up was Brancaster Staithe. I initially thought about painting the boats but turned back to view the boat house and liked the contrast offered by the jetty. Again, a nice cast shadow from the boat and a family paddling in the water made the ideal note of interest to link from the distance to the foreground. I would actually have considered a wider format, taking in more of the boat house and the water on the right but settled on 8×16 as more sensible first attempt of the day
‘Sunday morning paddle, Brancaster Staithe’ (8x16in, oil on board)

For the next piece I ventured up onto the walkway which heads out towards the creek linking to the sea. I was struck by all the activity of the boats and people, it was a a classic summer’s day scene. Lots of happy family sounds, kids and dogs splashing in the shallow water, people messing about in dinghies, I find the sounds can become a memorable part of the painting experience with the senses firmly tuned in. I had a job knitting all the elements together, shifting the people, boats and water to try and make it work as a whole. The light moved round quickly and almost became contra-jour by the end of the session.

‘Summer Sunday, Brancaster Staithe’ (8x16in, oil on board)

The third painting was done at nearby Brancaster. I was rather taken with the old boat sheds and with the water at low tide I thought I’d take advantage. I like the contrast of the busy shed area with the quieter foreground elements. The tonal structure was important in this one so I paid particular attention to judging those as accurately as possible. Nice to have the ping of the blue boat to work against the warmer colours in the buildings.

‘Old boat sheds, Brancaster’ (12x16in, oil on board)
After this I headed back to Brancaster Staithe in search of my flask (which was still in my bag all along….I blame the heat!). Whilst there I bumped into my friend Graham Webber (purely by chance), who I’d been painting with down in Essex the previous weekend. Small world indeed! I summoned the energy for one final study back at Brancaster and found a nice spot to the side of the old boat sheds where the late evening light was catching the side of a boat. It was too good to resist! Only enough time/energy for an 8×10 though, barely 40 minutes or so in fact. The note of orange worked nicely against the blues of the water and without wanting to get bogged down in detail it was all about creating the right notes of colour/tone to get to the essence of the subject. After initially suspecting it could be a wiper I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. Nice to end the short trip on a good note. I’ll certainly be heading back to North Norfolk again for more easel action, it really is a great place to paint.
‘Late evening light, Brancaster’ (8x10in – oil on board)