WIP : Le Cingle de Limeuil, Dordogne

‘Le Cingle de Limeuil, Dordogne’
ETAPE …. En Progres …

Oil on Canvas
65 x 54cm (approx 25,5 x 21,5 inches).
© The Artist.

Le cingle = the meander of the dordogne at Limeuil




Too much  like Cézanne? Ahh maitre Cézanne, you who have given me so much? It sometimes seems to me  that even the farmers plough their fields  as if by your hand,. Your vision has helped shape  the vision of many artists, including myself,  who followed on behind you. It was by looking at some your many ‘half-finished’ paintings – works in progress – that I partly leant to oil paint.


Cezanne - WIP

Work in progress by Cézanne


WIP ….WORK IN PROGRESS – watercolour – a tonal ‘notan’……WIP

I’ve been working on a large oil painting these last three weeks. A commission. It’s 130 x 81 cm – approx 51 x 32 inches. Bigger than my usual size. Good to be doing something different. A lot of work, which I’ll post as WIPs (work in progress) here. Thank you for all your comments. So many of them, makes me feel that internet is full of readers who care…

Large plein-air paintings require extra attention at the planning & conception stages, especially if they are a commission ie take into account of the customer’s wishes of what is to be included in the painting.

Here is the composition sketch:

I always do one of these for every painting. Knowing what goes where is a big big relief. Which takes the stress off somewhat so one can just concentrate on the painting, and panic less about the composition. Doing one of thee is visual thinking & can’t be replaced by assuming an intellectual idea of what goes where is enough. Note how it’s a ‘plastic’ process. The framing grows or shrinks to fit. Look & see how the frame lines go on last of all. I even had to fit on an extra page so as to make the size of the sky fit. Actually I went for a longer panorama in the end & not the more rectangular format of the above compositional sketch. The point is that my mind was now more orientated towards the painting & possibilities of how it might unfold.

The next stage is the tonal sketch. A ‘notan’. I say notan cautiously because a pure notan is in fact, a sketch for Japanese wood cut engravings aka Hokusai & not all the lovely subtle graduations of one tone washing into the other that you can get in watercolour. The point is to work out:

  • where are the major blocks of light & dark?
  • where is the centre of interest ie where do you want the eye to go to?
  • where is the light source?
  • what quality of light?
  • what is the incline of the sunlight?

You can click on the notan & tonality categories on the side of this page to read more.

see the finished painting

This is a commission 🙂

It’s great to be doing a large plein-air oil again 🙂 It will take several more sessions on site & several more back in the studio. Way bigger than usual, so good to be working ‘out of the habitual box’. Tables & studio easel outside, on the edge of a step slope. lol, the buzzards were just waiting for this… beware whilst stepping back 😉

Here it is at the lay-in phase. Because there was just so much more drawing than in a normal size, I did something that I don’t usually do. That is I didn’t lay-in the sky right from the beginning & key everything to it right from the outstart. I do however know what lighting conditions will be more or less in the final painting.

Work In Progress ….. WIP at the lay-in stage
130 x 80 cm ( approx 51 ” x 32″)
oil on canvas
© adam cope

Here is the compositional drawing:

And here is a zoom-in on the bright spring greens, so bright here in the south of France. Again at the lay-in stage:

I find myself remembering a bright spring green painting from May 2007 ( a few weeks on from now), a small scale plein-air alla prima :

WIP: Lay-in, Large Oil, Plein Air

WORK IN PROGRESS – WIP 81 x 65 cm (approx 32 x 26 “)

This large work in progress from last year… again now is the time the poplars are in bloom… ‘bronzage’, with their bronze crimson yellow catkins on white-grey-violet trunks with yellow fungus…

Why so big? Why o why why? Humanly impossible to do it one plein-air session! Left it to stew under a building site when the roof came off the house last year. Have some doubts about it…


post script – large plein-airs  are… difficult.

WIP – Pechers de Vignes, Finished State

‘Pechers de Vignes 1’ – Finished State
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
15 F
©adam cope
WIP = Work In Progress
These lovely trees seem to have an ‘inner fire’ in autumn, as if they were lit up from within. Beautiful tree, I’ve planted one in my garden 🙂 Confess to being happy with these two paintings.Here’s the unfinished state from last autumn ( I date the work from the time of inception & not completion).



Here’s the partner of the diptych. Nice & ‘smokey’, soft glowing mid-tones in an overcast autumnal day.


‘Pechers de Vignes 1’ – Finished State
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
15 F
©adam cope

Here’s the diptych together.


POSTSCRPIT 2013 : the plum orchard behind the peach trees was cut down & grubbedout. There are few pruneaux d’agen which remain…. these paitings are already ‘history’ from another time.

Chromatic Black in the Colourist Palette


medium size oil on canvas
15 F
©adam cope

Chromatic Black in the Colourist Palette

Experimenting with a new mix for ‘black’. Lets call it a ‘chromatic black’ (as does Dan Smith oil paints) in the hope that it’s more colour friendly than soot (lamp black)& burnt bones (deadly death black).

To make chromatic black, the mix is basically the same as the transparent watercolour mix of a bluey green PG 7 pthalo viridian & a bluey red magenta. This gives a very blue black. I like it in watercolours but when mixing down with white in oils, I find it way too blue, so I add some opaque Indian Red to pull it back over to a broken neutral, more grey than blue.

These last five years I’ve been using dioziane violet (normally … but often with some burnt umber) as black. Looks like black but is ‘cleaner’ in mixing on palette than the soot & bones. But.. it’s very slow drying & is complicated to work with in colour mixes. Especially with the warm colours. So I’ve tended to isolate it & not allow it to mix with the other colours. Which thus isolate my black values… making them too black? Too moch like ‘black holes’ or black cut outs. This is exaggerated by photography’s very poor performance in registering colour in very dark values. Result : not enough fluid run down through the upper mid-tones?

In the above painting, I’m using more yellow ochre than cadium yellow pale, thus softening & muting even more the mid tones.

Same old connundrum of bringing Values into harmony with Colours, especially for my preference for a colourist palette of heightened bright colours.

Anyway, the mistletoe makes fun circles doesn’t it ? 🙂

UNFINISHED STATE WIP work inprogress
‘Ilots, Pontours, Dordogne – 2’
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
70 x 33 cm
©Adam Cope

Actual Size Detail – to give you an idea of how the paint is applied

Palette of muted winter browns in weak sunlight. Bright ultramarine reflections of the sky on still waters. Running rapids broken bluish greys & browny umbers. Ominous deep shadows revealing the black underside of the river. Deep violet angerous depths, quiet capable of killing anyone who has the misfortune to falling in. Local legend has it that a dragon lives in the cliffs at St. Front, the next cliff downstream. I can believe it. Here the river crosses a flat bed of rock but with treacherous chasms of up to three meters deep. Dangerous places. The little islands – ‘îlots’ – are perfect bird sanctuaries.I’m still having difficulties with the top left corner & so reserve the right to work some more, when I can see what is needed. Any suggestions? What do you think?

Painting fast flowing water isn’t easy. Sometimes you have to look at it with the eye of a fisherman, studying the underworld beneath the surface. Other times with the eye of a draughtsman, holding on for dear life to the quarter tones. The long low shadows establish the surface plane, which should be more or less flat. Except in this case, where my eyes were bobbing up & down as the water reared up white crested over the rapids….


Look at this quarter tone cut out via photoshop to see how tone has to be exact.

‘Semillion, Labadie, Monbazillac’
Large Size Oil on Canvas
81 x 65 cm (approx 26 x 32 inches)
©adam cope
Here’s the finished state. Here’s the link to its Work In Progress : Lay-in for Plein-Air Large Oil Painting.I went out the next day for a second plein-air session with a mental note ‘yellow & grey and not yellow & pink’. As you can read in the WIP blog entry …. “actually I quiet like the overcast mid-tone grey. Still the weather will dictate to me this evening”. What the note meant was to hold fast to the prior, premeditated decision – made calmly in the studio looking at the WIP – to go for a yellow & grey major colour harmony and not yellow & pink. As a sunset progresses, it generally gets pinker & pinker. If I wanted to keep to grey overcast skies as the major, with only some bands of pink as the minor, I would have to ‘fix’ or ‘stop’ in my mind’s eye the sunset at a relatively early point of its progress.

A tip for Plein-Air Painting

A tip to help this difficult plein-air trick is to consciously divide one’s painting time between sky & land. But then, the danger is that they won’t correspond correctly…. A 4pm landscape on a 6pm sky! Sometimes you have to tinker with plein-air paintings back in the studio to correct this issue.

What do you think? Does sky & land correspond correctly in my above painting?

Here’s the painting with a grey frame so as to keep true to the yellow/grey colour theme.

WIP : Lay-in for Plein-Air Large Oil Painting

‘Semillion – Labadie, Monbazillac’

Large Size Oil on Canvas
81 x 65 cm (approx 26 x 32 inches)
©adam cope

Lay-in for Plein-Air Large Oil Painting

The vigorous semillion still have their leaves on the south & south west facing slopes. They turn to a pure shinning yellow-gold (cadimum yellow pale) with no oranges nor reds. This year with the early frosts in october & then none since, there’s only a little of the yellow ochre, the dull crispy burnt dead scar tissue. Still, the second week of November is late in the season…the grapes are all in, except the occassional third vendange. All the red ‘cepages’ (vine types) have fallen, the golden muscadelle has gone, the cabernet sauvignon looks tired & the frost pockets and cold parcels have stripped off the rest of the leaves.
This lay-in was done quickly, painting into the sunset. I knew that I’d not finish in one plein-air session & thus some of time-pressure was off. What’s the point of being rushed & thus making paintings that look all rushed & frentic?

I’m hoping to get the plein-air part finished this evening. Which is why I deliberately left the sky unworked … sod’s law, actually I quiet like the overcast mid-tone grey. Still the weather will dictate to me this evening. Clear skies with cirrus clouds this morning. That’s beyond my control (thankfully).

Le Forêt de Biron, Dordogne

‘Le Forêt de Biron’
Medium Size Oil on Canvas
65 x 50cm (approx 25,5 x 20 inches).
© adam cope
The forest is in flower, mauves of heathers & yellows of plantagenesta (broom, the heraldic flower of the Plantagent dynasty). Down in the deep dark wood (guffalos), the eiry ‘brame’ , the wailing of the stags.
Here’s a WIP of day one.

And day three, when it was getting towards the  finished state.


Too much like Cézanne?  Master Cézanne haunts me, I’m sure he does…


It was painted on the same sandy path as another medium sized oil dating from Janurary 2008.

Medium Size Oil on Canvas
61 x 50 cm
© adam cope