Updated: Apr 28, 2020
What is the best view in Sussex? It's hard to say and is a consideration that exercises me more frequently than I care to tell. Funnily enough - and yes, this is something of a cop-out - I'm increasingly of the opinion that it is the view that I am currently painting. The Seven Sisters last month, Ashdown Forest the next. For now, Arundel.
The historic market town of Arundel sits proudly in the vale of the South Downs, astride the River Arun. A mere trickle north of Horsham, the river gathers momentum quickly to become one of the UK's fastest flowing rivers, eventually hurling itself into the English Channel at Littlehampton. Sitting authoritatively above the town, with no small amount of handsome charm, is Arundel Castle, the gracious and spacious home to the Dukes and Duchesses of Norfolk for the last 400 years, and seen to best advantage from this bend in the river.
For some time now this scene has been creeping up my painting agenda, so I took a short walk along the river bank to gather ideas and capture some reference shots before the evening sun quickly slipped away. It was early summer last year, but I clearly recall the feeling of excitement on arrival at the scene. The tide was at just the right height (never an accident). The light? A perfect synthesis of warm highlights and soft shadows. On the nose, a sweet spritz of intense natural perfume as I brushed past a honeysuckle bush, disturbing a late shift of diligent bumblebees and an early delegation of moths. The river was still, the gentlest of breezes disturbing the surface here and there, just enough to provoke a dull clunk from the boats knocking against their mooring posts. With all senses tuned in, this, I told myself, is being 'in the landscape.'
It was a challenging painting, the primary concern being to recreate the sense of time, place and meaning - that elusive, painterly notion of 'atmosphere.' Being bombarded with detail at every turn - boats, trees, castle, jetties, reflections, stanchions - it can be easy to strangle the life out of a scene like this. And I love to paint detail. Identifying the importance of the castle, and the intrigue of the jauntily arranged foreground boats, the painting quickly became an exercise in over-simplification. Sky, trees and river were kept as quiet as possible. A whisper almost, allowing the subjects' voices to be heard. With too much chatter coming from those that ought not to be heard the message and memory of a beautiful, early summer evening would certainly have been lost.
As they say "Watercolour is best when it whispers, not when it shouts."