Painting on Location - Great Wall of China -
Rob Pointon, painting on location at the Great Wall of China

British artist Rob Pointon, whom we discovered on Instagram, shares his experience of painting outdoors at the Great Wall of China, and on location at the Painted Hall in London.

Rob Pointon is a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the British Plein Air Painters, and the outdoor painting group the Northern Boys. He has been a professional artist for 13 years, after postgraduate study at the Royal Drawing School in London. All his work is produced on location; he has particular interest in wide-angle perspectives and representing movement.

Painting the Great Wall and the Painted Hall


Painting on Location - Great Wall of China -
Rob Pointon, “The Great Wall at Simatai,” 50 cm x 40 cm

“The Great Wall at Simatai”

The wonder of the world not to be missed when staying in Beijing is the nearby Great Wall of China. An estimated 20,000 km of wall snakes a pale ribbon over dramatic mountaintops north of Beijing. This astonishing feat of human engineering was begun circa 500 BC and was built upon for over 2,000 years.

Despite the relative proximity to Beijing, it was clear that this was going to be the most challenging painting of the trip. I could only afford a day’s worth of time and so was against the clock to get there, climb it with the equipment, and produce a worthwhile piece of such a vast subject.

I chose Simatai as the section of the wall I would attempt to paint. It was a three-hour drive in a private hire car, so not the closest section but described by guidebooks as one of the more picturesque. Despite the 5 a.m. start, I was not on the wall painting until 11 a.m. It had proved difficult hiking all the equipment up and getting a shuttle bus through a holiday complex they have built around the base of the wall. These frustrations in getting going soon evaporated as I began the adventure of climbing up to and onto the wall itself. At Simatai the wall sits astride a dramatically steep axe-edge ridge. I cannot imagine any plundering barbarians from the north seeing this section as a viable option for breaking through!

Seeing a foreigner painting a picture on the wall was a good excuse for any red-faced, short-of-breath tourist trudging up the steep steps to stop and have a five-minute break.

Painting on Location - Painted Hall, London
Royal Gala Dinner celebrating the conservation of the Painted Hall

Last year I was honoured to have the opportunity to paint the most spectacular dinner, celebrating the relaunch of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London. The guest of honour was HRH the Princess Royal, who spoke to me briefly and discussed the painting at the end of the evening.

The Princess Royal discussing the painting with Artist Rob Pointon
The Princess Royal discussing the painting with artist Rob Pointon

I spent over a month working on this piece, developing pen sketches and small oil paintings to establish the composition and limited colour palette. I had a volunteer from the Painted Hall model for me as the waiter with the silver tray.

This piece marks a new chapter in attempting larger works with compositions dominated by figures. I spent eight days prior to the dinner painting inside the hall on this large canvas, trying to predict the conditions of the evening, table layout, lighting, etc.

Painting on Location - Painted Hall, London
Artist Rob Pointon developing the painting on location during dinner preparation

Of course my guesswork wasn’t that accurate, and it took a frantic few hours painting during the dinner to pull my image towards the reality. The time limit helped to inject some fresh energy and dynamic brushwork into the piece.

The painting now hangs in the Admiral’s House in the Old Royal Naval College.

Additional Paintings by Rob Pointon

Plein air painting
Rob Pointon, “Heavy Rain, Princess Street,” 80 cm x 80 cm
Plein air painting
Rob Pointon, “Piccolino, Manchester,” 40 cm x 50 cm
Plein air painting
Rob Pointon, “Sunlight through the Mercury Pool Cascade, Alcazar of Seville,” 40 cm x 50 cm
Painting on location
Rob Pointon, “In the Cloud Above Deansgate,” 24 x 30
Plein air painting
Rob Pointon, “Reflected Sunlight, Rio de la Panada,” 24 x 18

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