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Last look at summer at the winter solstice

I finished this today. After alternating between people and landscapes and, maybe because of the weather – it was the middle of the freeze – I thought back to summer, and that brought me to roe. Red and green were a subconscious reference to the traditional Christmas colour scheme. The simplicity of the two colours gave me a way in. I drew directly onto the canvas, with the deer occupying the central two thirds and the vegetation in two bands above and below them to suggest space.

(The blurring of the lines happens when I seal the drawing into the canvas before I paint. Otherwise the graphite tends to get mixed in with the paint.)

The last week of July is the height of the rut. Early one summer morning thirty years ago I belly crawled through a dew soaked meadow to get close to where I had seen two roe chasing the night before. They had been right up against the edge of a wood where they would have been basing their courting, only occasionally coming into the meadow to browse the clover and dandelions. In the dark I could not see them but I heard their ankle bones clicking so I knew they were there. When the light came up, they were there, resting in some scrapes they had made in the weeds along the fence line, flattening some of the plants to bed down.

I rearranged the set up and took liberties with their limbs for the sake of composition, moving the two deer closer together to have rhyming shapes with the doe behind the buck as if he was guarding her as she slept. More changes were made when I began to paint. I have a cast of a sleeping duck from Babylon that fits comfortably into the hand and that suggested the oval shapes lapped one above the other. I marked the difference between them by putting the buck’s antlers in the centre of the image and elaborating the caudal tush of the doe to the right.

The animals are massed in almost a single block of Light Red. Looking closely you will see that adjoining blocks in their coats have different brush stroke directions following the contours of their bodies. The coarse hair in the buck’s ears and the pearling on his antlers and the caudal patches are painted impasto. Their faces have been worked up in several layers of semi dry brush strokes over the red base.

The deer are darker than they normally appear because I had seen them in the low light before sun up. The dark red I used as a base for their coats set the colour pallet for the background vegetation and the weeds around them. Dark foliage for the background hedge and acid greens for the weeds in the foreground. The weeds are arranged aggressively to emphasise their vigour and splayed out horizontally to remind you of what the animals had done to make their scrapes. At the bottom left they have been reduced to a paste.

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