Edward Seago

I knew of Seago of course, after all he was one of Britain's best known and most widely collected twentieth century artists. He was notably collected by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, and other members of British royalty. Today, Seago’s paintings are found in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Royal Collection in London, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. He died on January 19, 1974 in London, England.

However, I was not that familiar with his work until I signed up for an intensive oils course at the Norfolk School of Painting, under the tutelage of the exceptional artist Martin Kinnear. Seago was listed as one of many artists often studied during courses at the school.
As it was, we did not actually cover Seago on my course, concentrating instead on artists like Brietner, Monet and Winifred Nicholson, although not my usual subject matter or painting style I nevertheless reveled in been nudged out of my comfort zone, gaining a real respect for these impressionistic artists along the way.

The course itself lived up to its title, pretty much full on and painfully highlighted just how little I knew about art in general. This lack of knowledge has inspired in me a new enthusiasm for further study. So, on my return I purchased books on a variety of artists and subjects like colour theory. I am at heart an old fashioned landscape painter so decided that Seago was to be my first study subject.

Palette and Brushwork

Seago worked in a late or post Impressionistic style with lively brush work especially in his skies, but still carried a realism in his final product. His love of skies and big landscapes (so similar to my own subject of choice), are characterised by carefully observed colour plans and good technical skills. His landscapes of Norfolk and and the east coast I had seen, often had a blue / yellow leading to green bias, with cool, desaturated colours interspersed with warm tones to liven and introduce atmospheric perspective .
The idea of suggesting detail and still keeping it impressionistic is something I endeavour (not always successfully) to bring to my own work, so I found that my interest was piqued. At the same time I readily expected that the colour plan might pose a few problems for me? as I tend to drift away from a natural palette a bit.

My Seago work to study

I had just recently finished a painting "The Boatyard at Brancaster Staithe" See it Here and knowing that Seago painted in that very area of Norfolk it seemed fitting to do a google search for "Brancaster", this brought up the following work which really appealed to me as very similar to own subject matter.

Brancaster by Edward Seago
Fig2. Brancaster by Edward Seago.

I had recently sketched out a scene for a future work composed from a couple of my photos,some imagination and a bit of artistic licence. A big view over Burgh Marsh on the English side of the Solway Firth, looking towards the Scottish shoreline. In the near foreground, King Edward 1st monument stands approximatly where he died of a surfiet of lamprey, on his way to fight the Scots in 1307

Not a perfect match for my Seago study, but one I think could work with a bit of artistic licence

Burgh Marsh towards Scotland
Fig3. Burgh Marsh towards Scotland sketch.
Burgh Marsh towards Scotland
Fig4. Burgh Marsh towards Scotland.

Prepping my painting surface

After already determining that there was a blue green bias, I first applied an absorbent white Gesso to a 24 x 20" MDF board allowing me plenty of room to paint some lively strokes, I then stained my surface by applying an imprimatura of Raw Sienna applied with plenty of medium to allow me to rub the surface almost dry with a rag, leaving a light earth yellow/orange surface but still allowing the luminous white ground to shine through

Applying an imprimatura
Fig5. Applying an imprimatura.

Selecting cool and warm colours

To try and match what I thought was Seago's colour plan, I selected the following cool and warm palette colours. Cerulean and Ultramarine blue, Violet (warm blue/purple), Raw and Burnt Sienna (oranges), Lemon Yellow, Cadium Yellow plus Titanium White and Ivory black for shades and tints. The only deviation from a natural palette was a new and untried tube of Turquoise which I may introduce to beef the sky if needed. I was not sure if my colour choice is correct? but certainly some of those colours or similar would have been on Seago's palette, and as previously stated we are creating a study not a direct copy .

Selecting a colour palette
Fig6. Selecting a colour palette.

Painting the sky

Normally, I would sketch in a scene using paint in either a raw umber or blue/grey, but this time I elected for graphite. After roughly but carefully sketching in the main features of my scene, I was ready to begin adding my sky (always my favourite part of a painting ). Using a size 12 filbert brush and lively brush strokes, really rubbing pretty hard with my brush but still trying to leave some of the impraturra showing through.

Using cool Cerulean and warm Ultramarine blue with White tinted and desaturated with Raw Sienna and cool lemon to give some interest to the highest value clouds, and with addition of some violet and burt sienna to create some nice blue greys for my darkest cloud mass. I was trying to follow a similar pattern to Seago's but not slavishly. One thing became apparent quickly from the start, I was a bit too lively with my brush work and did not leave enough clean space for my lightest lights, I was in danger of creating muddy areas so a vigorous rub back with kitchen towel before resuming helped

Painting my sky
Fig6. Seago style sky.

I did not want to overwork the sky too much so apart from a bit of feathering using a soft dagger brush I left it alone as soon as I felt the main areas were in, although I may strengthen a little when dry. It was time to begin adding the foreground starting at the distant Scottish coast. I believe Seago was a plein air painter and may have painted this quickly in one go, but I will have to do it 2-3 stages due to other family commitments.

Adding the distant Shore

Normaly I use a freehand stroke, but on such a big panel it is important to have a level eyeline where sky and land meet, if not the eye soon picks this up.
It is very easy to lose the level, and in fact my first attempt did just that and dipped to the left and I had to correct later in the painting using a tee square. I put in the shorline with a coool mix of sky colours with just a shade deeper but with found and lost edges

My lightest sky area runs from center to right and combined with broken cloud, casts lights and shadows over the the whole scene. This was a common method of Seago to bring interest to large areas of featureless landscape. I try and do something similar but Seago was a real master of light and shadow

Almost there
Fig7. Foreground blocked in.

Finishing Off

The scene I chose, is not overly challeging with very little in the way of focal points, a building or two as in Seago's would have helped greatly to bring the foreground forward, but still felt it was unneccessary to try and get too detailed as a compensation. I just needed to ensure that my distant use of cooler greens and warmer tones to the foreground created the atmospheric perspective I required

Of course you can never better an artist like Seago and I dont think I came all that close to his use of colour, but I did manage to keep fairly loose and impressionistic so I was pretty pleased with my attempt, after all is is just a study not a direct copy. As I have never seen the original I can only base my study on the image I found online.

All in all it was a very enjoyable experience and I learned a lot about mixing cool blues and greens and gained a little glimpse into the great man's thinking. .

My Seago Study
Fig 8. Burgh Marsh - A study after Edward Seago