November Light, Bosham - 72cm x 36cm
Let's be honest, the weather 'aint been great these last few days! For those of you in the UK, it will not have escaped your notice that this week has been grey. Leaden skies of steel and mercury, graphite and granite. Life under a blanket of schist and slate.
One of my tasks this week has been to do a full-sheet painting of autumnal Abbotsbury in Dorset. It is a stunning, expansive vista with many subtle changes to the light being splashed across the landscape. Being able to take advantage of quality daylight flooding through the studio window helps greatly in the quest for colour accuracy. No chance - my 4600k daylight lamp is a good substitute and has been permanently on-call since Monday, but is ultimately no replacement for the real thing. As the painting has progressed, my mind has been wandering back to November. It is the time of year when landscape light is at its very best and I recalled a scene I painted a short while back: a celebration of November light at Bosham. I'm not normally given over to moments of maudlin nostalgia, or the winding-back of clocks, but let's not worry about that today - come with me to Chichester Harbour on a cool November afternoon and embrace an opportunity to lighten the mood.
It is hard to determine precisely why - although science has something to contribute - but I notice that the light in November has a quality to it that is different to any other time of the year. The best quality. As an amateur landscape photographer I have noticed a consistent luminosity in the shots taken in November that sets them apart. What's going on? First, the science. Cooler air in November tends to carry less moisture than it does during the warmer spring and summer months; atmospheric moisture promotes haze and a lack of visual clarity. In autumn, the troposphere (lower atmospheric layer) carries far less particles - dust, pollen, pollutants - reducing the interference and dispersion of light waves, hence a crisper, more luminous light on clear days. The obvious question is "So what's so special about November? Why isn't the light better from December to February?" This is where we have to set the science aside and employ the more subjective, but no less credible, discipline of "but Olly thinks it's because.....!"
Often in November there is an auspicious combination of atmospheric conditions and optimal leaf coverage on the trees. There is a sparseness to the leaves that allows light to penetrate, revealing a tree’s structure, but not so few that the colourful, autumnal canopy is lost altogether, as it is from December to March. On a clear day it seems to me that the sun drips through the gaps in the foliage, an arboreal colander, while the remaining leaves transform into billions of small, golden bicycle reflectors, helping to bounce the light around, encouraging it to investigate nooks, crannies and shadows that would otherwise remain hidden. Quite possibly there has been a recent shower too; rain drops add another dimension to the lighting rig, scattering the sunlight with their refractive properties. A radiant fusion of received, reflected and refracted light, as if the landscape has been dipped in the glossiest varnish. This is not scientific, but nor is it fake news. It is evident from my photos over the years that November light wins. No contest. There must be a reason; this is mine, but please feel free to contradict and posit alternative theories.
Mention must be made of the beautiful Sussex village of Bosham, sitting on the edge of the shore, dipping its toes into the shallows of Chichester Harbour. It is often more dramatic in the spring - when the highest tides flood over the lower Shore Road and the car park - but not better looking. There are very few trees in this scene, but just enough to reinforce my theory. Observe the crisp highlights of sienna and ochre, the rich shadows of purple and umber; a limited palette of colour, awash with every possible tint of grey and brown without the relentless monotony of a week in late January. A shower of rain has just passed through. Bosham is a place much admired by artists and photographers - the most painted location in England by all accounts. It is a home to small boats, mud flats, stunning houses and the omnipresent Holy Trinity Church - its Saxon/Norman heritage anchoring the village's strong sense of history.
If you haven't been to Bosham before then add it to your shortlist. We can't all trek over there at present, so I thought a painting might be the next best way of banishing the January Blues. Blues? Surely it's time to inaugurate the notion of January Greys.