After the soaring success in 2015, Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year is back for a new series this year. Howard Weaver won the first place in the semi-final with his painting of Scotney Castle, impressing the judges in creating a relationship with the scene and real essence of the landscape.
Howard grew up in Amersham, in Chiltern Hills. After falling in love with the landscape very early as a child, his love of painting transformed into a career in the film industry as a scenic artist, from the young age of 18.
His practice explores many different medias and he has developed his technique as a fairly traditional oil painter. Now living in Wales, he also works in both Hungary and Transylvania.
We caught up with Howard for a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to be part of this year’s competition, painting in plein air and being part of the set design for Game of Thrones…
Hi Howard! Congratulations on winning your heat! What was the experience like painting at Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year?
The competition was an unusual experience. I'm used to deadlines as I work in films but the 4 hour restriction was a real challenge. Before the competition I practiced some four hours paintings and I found that very beneficial. It was good to be a part of it however and I enjoyed meeting all the people involved.
Your practice sees you painting a variety of landscapes, from rivers and abandoned spaces to the coast. Are there any differences in painting each landscape - do you have a favourite?
I don't really differentiate between the different subjects apart from choosing the medium that suits the image. I usually work on 4 or 5 paintings at the same time as many of my pictures are layered in a way that parts need to be dry before other parts are added.
You use both watercolour and oils to achieve your work, which medium do you prefer?
I am now using oil paint mainly, as I love the fact that it is so malleable and infinitely adjustable although I still like the immediacy of watercolour and the happy accidents that can occur.
I prefer Winsor and Newton and Georgian Oils, as the quality of English paint is far higher in my opinion. If I can afford artists’ quality, I like to use it where possible, though for large pieces this can be quite expensive. I use a lot of English brushes and the brushes Cass Art supplied for the competition were very good.
I like to use both Synthetic and Bristle brushes for different effects – especially for the architectural stuff. Synthetic brushes create smooth gradations between colours, which are more soft and delicate – the fibres are comparable to a sable brush. I tend to work in detail with sable brushes.
I use Bristle and Hog brushes for the more textured stuff – grass, foliage – as it gives a more textured feel. For old stone walls I use palette knives, pieces of wood on its side like a squidey, even crumpled paper.
Do you prefer painting in plein air or do you translate your landscapes into paint back in the warmth of the studio?
It’s difficult to say which I prefer. In a physical sense, there is more time inside than outside, which can present all manner of obstacles; from wind and rain to insects, which means it isn’t always easy. However I love painting outside, it allows me to closely capture the natural colours of a scene, bringing true values from life into the painting. When working in the studio, I like to capture oil sketches outside before working up bigger pictures from those. I prefer to work outside initially to get a sense and feeling of place, but if it is necessary I use photography too.
Painting on the set of Game of Thrones must have been a real challenge. What was it like painting for set?
My career in scenic art started when I was 16 and has sustained me to this day. All the time I have been working in the commercial world I have continued to take a keen interest in my own work. Inevitably there has been some effect each upon the other. Although Scenic art encompasses many aspects of painting, in the majority of my work in films it has been necessary to be as realistic as possible in a very short hand way which has meant using a minimal amount of colour and detail to create an image that is both naturalistic and believable.
I have used some ideas and some of the techniques acquired in scenic work, in my personal work and find the paring down of the real world very interesting when used on a much smaller scale. I like the idea of the eye being tricked into seeing detail without it actually being there.
Whilst the scenic work is generally dispassionate, I hope that my artwork conveys some of my feelings towards my subjects.
I needed to mix generous amounts of colour before I started each piece, which I mixed within large dustbins to make sure I didn’t run out of colour before the end. Thai made a reference to this way of working when filming the show, as I mix a whole range of colours before I start, which comes from this practice of preparing for large scale set works. I bring this process to all my work and its how I continue to work in the studio.
I use great big rollers and six inch brushes to capture a scene, giving an illusion of detail because of the scale and time to finish a piece. It is a much broader way of painting. This was especially true when creating a forest scene for the Chronicles of Narnia film series – it was over 200 metres long, and with only 3 weeks, you cannot achieve high levels of detail.
What was it like painting at Scotney Castle?
Scotney Castle was a dream location, a subject one I would have chosen by myself. May be in the future I would like to go back there to do some more paintings. I saw many potential paintings on the day of the competition.
Finally, when the pressures off, how long to you usually spend on a single painting?
When painting "en plein air" I would spend between an hour and 8 hours per painting. My more complete studio paintings take between 2 and 5 days. If I am painting for studio or set, it usually takes between 3-4 weeks to complete a large piece.
What to Look Out For
Travelling the country, painting en plein air, landscape artists will battle it out to be crowned Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016. We’ll be interviewing each heat winner exclusively after every episode, so check out our blog to get some behind-the-scenes insight into the featured artists’ experiences.
Read our interviews from last year’s Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2015 on the Cass Art Blog.
Stock up on your own painting supplies and perfect your own landscape painting. Try your hand at Watercolour Painting or master Oil Painting with our range of artist quality paints on the Cass Art Website.
Catch the second episode of Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2016 on Tuesday 18th October on Sky Arts from 8pm.