Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Limner's Contract

Seaham Looking Northeast (Day 78, November 17th 2003)
Today I was on the cliff top and was near the edge. The upper half of the cliffs are made from bedded sand from a glacial lake left about 9,000 years ago. I kept running away from the easel. I thought the cliff was moving. I would carefully walk back and start painting again. I thought I should tie myself to a fence post.
copyright Jon Hall

"What's a 'Limner'?" I hear you asking. Well according to a dictionary it's a middle English term meaning to describe or depict by painting or drawing.

Jon Hall's "Limner's Contract" was to paint every day for a year between 1st September 2003 and 31st August 2004. After the exhibition held at the end of the contract, he has just completed a website which documents every part of this project.

Unlike some of the recent painting a day projects that people have been undertaking, Jon's contract with himself wasn't a question of painting a small still life indoors when the weather outside wasn't great. As the website indicates..........
This is a contract to sketch every day from life on location for a year along a section of England’s Heritage Coastline of Durham. This part of the project involves the coastline of Durham and several miles inland. Every sketch is completed on site. The project has been several years in the making. Drawing on a lifetime of experience, painting from life on location every day for a year. It is a journey with one goal, to complete the contract.
Jon calls his work "sketches" in the same sense that Constable used the term.

You can see all 366+ of his "sketch" paintings - each painted in acrylics on boards approx 15" x 25"together with Jon's comments and photos of Jon's easel set-up in front of the subject on his website Suncage. It has one page which he has just published specifically devoted to being the introduction to each of the months.

Some classic quotes on the website include the following.......
A pal of mine suggested I take a dictaphone and record the more rarified thoughts and when I played it back it sounded false and kind of forced except for all the interruptions where I'm cursing " the £^%$@ wind and the &^%£$ rain.
Painting with acrylics in the rain has its benefits. One benefit is that your palette doesn’t dry out.
The thing is when you are standing still for a while sketching the cold gets right into you in a way that doesn’t bother you when you’re walking. But It’s not so easy to walk and sketch at the same time.
Those who paint plein air on a regular basis are bowled over by the quality of Jon's paintings and his fortitude to paint from life on location every day for a year. An observer comments.....
Standing in the gallery, one is a virtual tourist and scarcely imagines how it actually feels to paint on location. We see countless canvasses that were created right there in front of the subjects they painted....there will be a special room in heaven for artists who painted on location. If you have never done it, it may be hard to imagine. What wilderness hiking is to tourism, location painting is to art.
Clothing for this particular version of art combined with wilderness hiking and the more inclement weather involved wearing the following (from the feet up):
  • waterproof breathable boots (with insoles)
  • a base layer of thermal underwear under everyday outdoor clothing.
  • cold days - an all in one suit on top (the kind that is used for work in cold stores) with a high neck covering and a hood to keep the body heat in when not moving around.
  • wet or windy weather - loose fitting lightweight breathable waterproofs on top
  • thermal waterproof gloves
  • a warm hat (even when the weather is mild)
  • windy and/or standing on beaches - earplugs. The constant sound of the wind roaring in the ears can be damaging after a while.
As Jon points out, it's best to dip in and out of the section of the website devoted to the paintings because if you took a minute to look at each work you'd spend more than six hours looking at the whole body of work completed during the year!

Jon's new website page devoted to the project had only been up for a day before he got a serious offer for the whole project. I gather that he's pondering it. Having painted it for himself I wonder whether he could ever really bear to part with these paintings?

Castle Eden Looking West (Day Three Hundred and Sixty Six August 31st 2004)
The Last Day........
I looked into the afternoon light and sketched. I’ve learned so much from this project. I have mixed feeling about this last day. I know now that I can go out anytime of the year sketching in any conditions. I hope that this contract with myself is the start of a series. I hope that I have encouraged others to consider doing some outdoor sketching and if anyone would like to then please contact me. Thank You for looking at this introduction to the contract. I hope you enjoyed seeing what it is like to go limnering outdoors.

copyright Jon Hall

Note: The Heritage Coast in Durham is the only place in the country where a magnesian limestone plateau emerges both close to the surface and close to the sea. It gives rise to a unique habitat - you can read more about it here.

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  1. I looked at the site earlier today. Very very impressive. I find the few minutes in the cold and rain to do a quick sketch bad enough. However makes me think I should invest in some acrilycs.

  2. Julie - you were one of the people I thought of as having the potential to do this. You've definitely got the commitment and discipline - and with some acrylics you'd be away. :)

    Have you seen the photo where one of his kids gets to act as the easel?! ;)

  3. Thank you Katherine for alerting me to this, its facinating. Plus a beautiful new word!
    I love the sissinghurst sketch BTW, a favorite garden of mine.


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