The derelict croft house that is the subject of this month’s painting project is down the road and on a bit from my studio. I’ve walked past it many times though I’ve never ventured inside, partly because the ground around it is very water logged and partly because it feels like it wants to be left alone. I have, however, taken many a photograph of it in various lights and weather conditions. If the sun’s in the right spot, that gangly tree casts intriguing shadows on the wall.
In this photo, the sky has been blown out white by my camera. Judge how clear or cloudy the sky would have been by the shadows in the photo (or the lack thereof), as well as the colour of land in the distance and the sliver of sea in the distance on the right beneath the hills of Waternish Peninsula. To my mind the answer is: it’s partly cloudy, with cloud over the building but sunshine in the distance.
COMPOSITION: I would leave out the other houses to the left of this one because they’re more modern don’t match the ruined building. They’re just a distraction, as are the pine tree and electricity poles.
Whether to include the fence of not is a harder choice. It adds location and character, but doesn’t want to distract from the bulding. Certainly you don’t want it heading neatly into a corner as it in the photo. (Have you noticed that this pole is round and goes above the top strand of barbed wire, whereas the other fence posts are square? It’s because it’s a more substantial pole found at a gate or the corner of a fenced field.)
The roof windows are also something I would consider leaving out, because I enjoy the colour and pattern of the corrugated iron roof so and they interrupt it. The wooden pallet across the doorway is to keep sheep and cows out; you’ll need to decide whether it’ll make sense in a painting or not.
FORMAT: The photo is in landscape format, and this is probably how I’d paint it but that’s because I’ve taken numerous photos and from those selected this one. So in some way I’ve already consider possibilities even though I haven’t drawn thumbnails. I think a horizontal format echoes the horizonal length of the building, and the horizonal bands of colour to the right. The broken wall on the right-hand side feels to me like it’s having a conversation with that part of the scene, like it’s inviting it in or trying to escape into it. (I do realise there’s a bit of overactive imagination going on there.)
COLOURS AND STYLE: This scene lends itself to all sorts of possibilites, from realism with the enjoyment of painting the details and textures (possibly with a close-in crop), to expressive conveying a sense of the emotion and character of the building, to collage and even abstract, where you might reduce the building to shapes of colour and lines echoing its decline.
You might use only black and white to give a sense of sombreness, perhaps sepia and white. You might use realistic colours or you might exaggerate colour for dramatic effect. You might use corrugated cardboard for the corrugated iron roof on the building (in the style of contemporary painter Pete Monaghan) and texture paste for the stone walls.
SUBMISSIONS TO THE PROJECT PHOTO GALLERY: As always, you’re invited to email me a photo of your project painting to include in the photo gallery. This can be first name only, under a pen name, or under your initials if you prefer, just let me know in your email. I look forward to seeing your results!
The photo below was taken a little further up the road from the house, in summer which is why it’s all so green. I’m including it here to give you some other views of fences and fence posts, as well as an idea of what the road past the house looks like.