New approach to en plein air

My series of work inspired by Formby Beach came to a halt around the time I produced two paintings for a commission to paint a family at Formby Beach. The reason that this series halted was not due to having exhausted the Formby Beach theme, on the contrary, I am as keen to return to Formby Beach as I have ever been. The deterioration in my arthritic right hip prevents me from standing let alone walking for any length of time. I am just incapable of carrying sketching gear the distance from the car park to the beach…or from the car to my chosen location.

Felix's Discovery Family on Formby Beach
Felix’s Discovery


Jasper Leading From The Back Family on Formby Beach
Jasper Leading From The Back

Another reason for the lack of landscape paintings being produced from my studio in recent months is that I have been working on a number of commissions and also a series of studies of light entering interior spaces. Below are a some examples of recent work:

Portrait commission
Portrait commission
Street Light, light shining through blinds
Street Light


Burnbank No1, light in a Scottish cottage
Burnbank No1

Nonetheless, the call of working from nature, in particular, the landscape has been too much to resist. I visited my friend and artist, Nigel Leighton, in Scotland recently as we planned a joint sketching trip to the dynamic cliffs close to his home. The problem was always likely to be how to get close enough to the cliffs without the need to walk any distance. Nigel thought that we might be able to drive a car fairly close but where to park was the big question. His wife, Sally, had the brilliant solution that I could borrow her e-bike and that Nigel and I could use e-bikes to reach the cliffs. It was the perfect solution and despite a somewhat flat light, Nigel and I worked en plein air for a short time, returning to his home just before a torrential down-pour!

en plein air in Scotland
Nigel, en plein air in Scotland

The use of an e-bike opened my mind to the opportunities otherwise closed off due to my deteriorating hip. I had used a touring bike to go sketching on numerous occasions but my current lack of fitness and the tourer’s limited ability off-road has prevented me from exploring the landscape on two wheels. I decided to research the e-bike market looking for a bike that was suitable for road and off-road terrain and that could also take a pannier rack to carry my sketching gear. Following a short but intense period of research I chose the Kinesis Range 50 adventure bike,¬† a gravel e-bike to which a rack can be fitted and with 43mm wide tyres giving it a very capable off-road capability.

Winter Hill en plein air sketching
Winter Hill 1

My inaugural ride using the Fazua powered motor to the mast atop Winter Hill left me with plenty of energy to produce a sketch and I had no anxieties about getting home (most of it being down-hill!).

Following a 36 mile reconnaissance ride on my road-bike I vowed to return to a particular farm-track as soon as the light improved. Two days later I loaded my Kinesis Range with oil paints, brushes, palette knives, palette, boards, easel (camera tripod), turpentine, rags, a little fragment of mirror and a fold-away stool. The track was too rough for my touring bike but the Kinesis Range is designed as a gravel bike and coped easily with the rough terrain. The pannier bags containing my painting gear added extra weight but the e-bike carried me and the load without fuss. There are a couple of advantages of riding to a location to paint. Firstly, travelling by car means parking in or around country lanes which can be extremely difficult. Secondly, reaching the precise point of my desired location by bicycle rather than car and then by foot means that it is much easier for me to transport myself and my painting gear. At the moment, my arthritic hip prevents me from reaching most locations as walking is inevitably required. However, cycling does not seem to cause as much discomfort. The advantage of doing it on a gravel e-bike is that I can travel further, over a hillier route, across rougher terrain and still have enough energy to paint and return home.


en plein air on a bike
en plein air on a bike
plein air painting, oil on board
plein air painting, oil on board

Bike: Kinesis Range 50 bought from Green Machine Bike Shop Ltd.

MDF board: 6mm thick cut to size (24cm x 30cm) at B&Q

Carriers for wet paintings: Jacksons plein air board carrier

Panniers: Ortlieb

Oil paint: Michael Harding paints

Easel: second -hand camera tripod using a camera mounting bracket from Ken Bromley Art Supplies

Fold-away stool: Vango Balmoral from