Plein air adventure – the olive tree

Come along with me as we take a walk with the dogs into the olive groves and paint in a semi-abstract way.

September 2022. A hot day in Southern Spain. I knew that the local farmer had just watered his olive trees, which they do about once a month by flooding the “field”. This transforms the dry and dusty landscape for a couple of days until finally the water sinks into the soil, creating a sticky mud. But for these two days the water sits there on the surface, reflecting the sky and creating wonderful patches of bright blue amongst the ochre of the land and the green of the trees. It was time to get out there and paint.

The dogs got excited as I put on my old straw hat and gathered my oil kit together, and I knew I had to take them with me. They are safe and free to roam in the valley, well away from any roads and traffic. And they can chase rabbits to their hearts content.

My kit

I try to take as little as possible with me, especially when walking out into the countryside. So here’s what I took that day:

  • a homemade folding palette that clips onto the legs of an easel to form a shelf. When it is unfolded the left side carries a range of brushes and on the right side I clip on some paper towel. In the center palette part I have taped down a sheet of grey palette paper which is easy to clean or throw away at the end.
  • a few water-mixable oil paints – the fewer the better both for carrying and for producing colour harmony. I used two blues, ultramarine and cerulean, permanent yellow medium and pyrrole red. Plus titanium white. That’s really enough to create all the colours I’ll need.
  • a sealed water container and a water pot
  • a mix of brushes

And that’s all, apart from a 30 x 30cm gessoed MDF board to paint on and a lightweight aluminium easel.

So, let’s get going!

I walked up and down the path a few times looking for the most interesting tree shape, and eventually plumped for this one. It was a bit lopsided and had some interesting shadows cast on the aged trunk. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old and have been cultivated by generations of the same family through those years, and still produce a healthy crop of olives today.

I set up in a patch of shade cast from a tree behind me and quickly set to work. I’m trying to loosen up and create something of what I feel about a place as well as what I see in front of me. So my aim was not to cover the whole board with paint but to leave much of it white and to make dribbles and splashes around the main subject. These should connect it to the edges of the picture, avoiding a cut-out loo to the main subject.

I drew in the rough outline of the tree, the bank of earth behind it and the olives behind that, using pure red paint. I wanted to leave patches of this red showing through the green of the tree to create a bit of a zing to the colours. Then with quick and bold marks I attacked the board, dashing in a mixture of muted greens and browns, not aiming to paint every leaf, but to get the feel of the leaf masses that were there. The bank was added with an orange mix and the background trees with a green-purple.

Using horizontal strokes of cerulean and dark green I added some hint of the sky reflected in the water. But I wanted a more abstract and looser feel to the whole picture so I splashed clean water onto this area and allowed it to mix with the paint and run down in dribbles. I also spattered on some colours with watery paint (this is where water-mixable oils come into their own – there’s no harm to the artist or the environment!).

The whole painting took maybe half an hour or so. It was a physical thing – my arms flailing around and much standing back and stepping forward towards the easel. It was also fun, and I was quite pleased with the end result. For me it captured the scene.

Oh, and the dogs were unsuccessful in their hunt, so I’m pleased to report that no rabbits were harmed during the making of this artwork!

I hope this is encouraging for you. If you liked the post please give it a thumbs up. Thanks


  1. Beautiful free expression. I also like the fact that you’ve proved the exception to the rule with the placement, it works so well.


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