1. Inspiration

How I find inspiration, and on working en plein air.

I live in a dramatic landscape that includes the Kleinrivier (Little River), Kleinriviersberg (Little River Mountain) and Akkedisberg (Lizard Mountain), abundant Fynbos flora, the leafy historic village Stanford, many farms, a coastline and a few precious Milkwood forests.

Choosing my subjects

I find my subjects on my walks around the village and along the Wandelpad, or when going out for breakfast or lunch at one of the many farm restaurants around Stanford.

My walks around the village are not always with the specific goal of taking reference photographs or finding inspiration or new places to paint en plein air, but I always have my phone with me and so I’m often documenting ideas for paintings when I’m out and about.

When I do go out on walks specifically to find enticing spots to paint, I generally do this early or late in the day when the shadows are longer and the light more dramatic on the Klein River and on the mountains.

The Kleinrivier Mountains are a prominent feature of my paintings, not surprisingly, as they were a big factor in my decision to choose Stanford as my home.

I keep a list of the public places that I like to paint near Stanford, click here if you’d like to refer to it. I like revisiting places to see the differences in the landscape in different weather conditions and seasons.

Painting En Plein Air

I like to work en plein air as much as possible, to immerse myself in the experience of the landscape while painting it.

The practical challenges of painting en plein air: the time constraints, weather and working in public, conspire to inject energy into my expressions, causing me to work quickly to capture the fleeting light.

My approach to choosing a composition and preparing to paint

Whether I am working en plein air, or at home in my studio, I take multiple photographs of the place that I intend to paint. Although I most often paint en plein air, I like to have a reference in case I am unable to finish the painting in the one session, and also to give me reference to my parameters for starting off my value sketch.

Baardskeerdersbos, April 2023
Waterfall Farm, Stanford, March 2023
Blue Moon Farm, Stanford, December 2022

I will often scribble a few small Notan thumbnails of potential compositions to see which design appeals to me the most.

Once I’ve chosen a composition, I do a three-value pencil sketch in my sketchbook. I take about 15-20 minutes to plan the composition out carefully, figure out which of the shapes fit where, and draw in the mid and dark values.

View from Zesty Lemon Restaurant
Sketchbook value study, Zesty Lemon, Stanford, August 2022
Colour study for oil original painting
Value sketch and colour study for Across the River, May 2022
Tracy Algar sketchbook value sketch of Klein Rivier with riverboats, Stanford.
Sketchbook value study, Kleinrivier, Stanford, February 2022

Some notes on how I use photographs as reference

I take reference photographs, but I prefer to paint from life.

A painting painted directly from a photograph tends to have the flatness of a photograph, while a painting painted from life has more depth.

I find a photograph useful in my initial stages of choosing a subject, as I can easily crop photographs to test compositions before I sketch them out.

As far as using photographs as reference for a studio painting, you just has to remember to allow for atmospheric perspective and adjust your values and colours accordingly.