The Winter Vale

The changing scene… Winter into Spring | Resident Artist

by Geoff Butterworth

There is always inspiration to be had as an artist from the changing light from early morning through to evening and, in certain times of the day the quality of light reaches a peak. In those times the light can be mellow or the shadows grow long, the sun low on the horizon, early morning or late in the day. We call it the Golden Hour, those times in long summer days when everything settles down, the rush of the day passes and a peaceful calm takes over. That is, if you are in the right place, West Bradford cement works wouldn’t do it but Rydal Water might. Joking aside even the cement works would benefit from a rosy evening glow. Capturing light is a challenge and that is something I love about painting in particular with watercolour. The light varies through the seasons too and the change from the winter colours to the light of spring is what we are focussing on at the moment. As I write this now we are in a period of drastic rainfall, the worst for over a
hundred years, they say, and soon we will plunge into an arctic frost with heavy snow. Two months on and we are coming up to spring. The variety of weather never ceases and so the inspiration is always there.

This watercolour, “The Winter Vale…” was painted a few years ago and is set just a few hundred yards away from my house in Whitworth, Lancashire. Frozen rain has glazed the tree branches and a couple of inches of snow has done the rest. The low sun casts a pure light giving strong contrast; black and white but with blues, violets, and pale greens browns and ochre’s forming the rest of the palette. As explained before, there is no white paint here just the paper unpainted. The brilliance of the light comes from the use of strong contrasting colours. There is an under painting of soft washes with the paper wet so as to blur the colour and using masking fluid preserves the highlights for the later stages of the work. The final touch is my red signature. I have used the same tube of Cadmium Red for about thirty years now. A Daler/Rowney lead tube which is now almost completely gone, just the shoulder of the tube with the screw top still on. A brilliant red which gives strong cover over dark areas, my paintings all have this same red, but what when it is done… well I found another.

And so now on to Spring… with the short days over, the sun rises high and Lancashire warms up. The trees the grass and the sheep all regenerate, I get new film in my camera and I shove off to explore the ground. What will I find out there, well pretty much what I imagine. I set off out with a title in my head and try to find the subject that fits, a rather mad way of going about it but it works. This next watercolour happened that way, I just blundered around until my view fit the title. Other times I am halfway through a painting before the title comes, this is when I am working from photos that were taken at random. Strong light is the key that attracts me and if the light is good then I know the painting will be too. ‘Return of Spring..’ was found in an area near Burnley on
the road to Todmorden, a good walk from the road but the subject is a strong one. All the elements are there that fit the title and the painting turned out ok too.

The same can apply to the town as well as the country. My next two paintings show the same change from winter snows to spring daffodils in two small hamlets both set close to northern towns but far enough away to be a distinct place apart and worth a visit. The two are also linked by monumental structures nearby which gives them added interest and makes it easy for anyone to find them; you can see them from miles away.

Winter starts then at Holcombe near Ramsbottom in Lancashire, set high up on a hillside up Rawson’s Rake as it is known and prone to catch the snow earlier than the lower town below. The Church lane view looks upward to the high hill beyond where Peel Tower stands a monument to Sir Robert Peel who was born in Bury and no doubt it can be seen from that distant town on its 1,100 foot vantage point. The painting shows the celebrated view and set on a glorious sunny day in mid winter gives a very saleable image that is available as a fine art print. The link continues with the next painting which is set high over Todmorden at the edge of the small hamlet of Lumbutts. Thick walled stone cottages follow the road as it climbs upwards to the high hill where Stoodley Pike stands. The monument originally commemorated the victory at Waterloo but had to be replaced due to lightning strikes so we now see a stronger monument. The daffodils set the scene and greens and yellows now take the place of whites, blues and blacks. A new palette for a new season.

All the paintings in this article can be purchased as limited edition prints available through my website at