New marks, distant ceremony

Early stages of a new painting, while the air becomes more autumnal and I listen to the broadcast of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Outside, a bird sings, a late white butterfly flutters on the neighbour’s flowers, a spider on my window frame catches a tiny insect.. life and death, perpetual motion.

I wish Elizabeth Windsor and the family well; however strong one’s sense of duty to an inherited role, it can’t be easy, being so much in the public eyes of the world. So whatever my feelings about the institutions of our country’s government system or, indeed, the qualities of our present government, I think these are appropriate ceremonies for someone who carried out a demanding and sensitive role very well, given our long and complex history.

For my own part, I am planting the seeds of what I hope will be new and fruitful projects.. I feel I’m making some small advances in my art, that’s part of it. Here’s a detail…

These water-mixable oils have a pleasant but faint smell; just as well given that my “studio” is an area in my bedroom too!

Have a good week and good luck with anything new.

If you like this, it’s now possible to:

Buy Me A Coffee button

New Work: Near Letham – harvest shadows

I wasn’t expecting to complete this painting today but I just found a sort of flow with it and feel happy with the result. It’s a strange process, deciding when a painting is really “finished” and normally I’ll let it sit a day or two for the continuing processing in my mind to settle, before actually signing the work. Today I felt able to “sign it off” straight away, allowing myself some leeway if I feel, on reflection, a minor adjustment is needed.

Near Letham – harvest shadows – oil on canvas board 18″ x 22″/46 x 56cm

This time, I used a small sketching board, primed with tinted gesso, in parallel with the main canvas, on which to try out ideas and test colours. It’s not primarily intended to become a secondary version of the painting but I want to keep that possibility and use spare paint to do so if it seems to be going somewhere. I’ve sometimes found in the past that I’d inadvertently produced something interesting on a spare sheet of paper I was using to test colours or to use up leftover paint, especially with quicker-drying acrylics; so why not use a board and make it a mini-painting in its own right, if that’s the way it’s developing?

What do you think? I’d be interested in your thoughts in the Comments..

Near Letham – harvest shadows sketch – oil on board – 5″ x 6.5″ / 13x17cm

The main reference was a sketch I did on site in my little sketchbook, using a drawing pen and Inktense pencils, applying a wash to it later. It was one of those breezy, warm days in August, the crops (oats, I think) ripening and creating a beautiful range of golden-yellows, each type of grain with its own texture and subtleties of movement in the wind and well-defined shadows moving swiftly over the land. It’s a sight I suspect many who are unfamiliar with Scotland might be surprised at, if their idea of the country is of either post-industrial urban harshness or the grandeur of the “wild” Highlands, with the odd “hairy coo” for good measure!

Sketchbook original – drawing pen, Inktense pencils, water wash

I was out for a short bike circuit in the area, sketchbook in rucksack – I ride a touring bike and am pretty sedate, one of the joys of cycling is the ease of stopping and a reasonably stable “easel” of sorts to lean/sit on. There are large arable fields all around here, between Falkirk and Stirling, close to the River Forth. The Ochil hills provide a modest mountain backdrop and a reminder of their larger siblings to the West and North, mountains I want to revisit soon, after a long gap engaged in other priorities – family stuff, video editing, sea-kayaking and the like.

The next painting ideas are surfacing, to be noted and pondered in my workbook, and I have videos to turn to tomorrow (Monday off from work – hurrah!) – a project nearing completion for my YouTube channel. I’ll get the canvas ready on the easel, to challenge me to action by its blank tempting presence.

More to report soon, I hope. If you have any questions about either the painting or the process, please put them in the Comments, below… I do read and respond to them!

Thank you and best wishes.

If you like this, it’s now possible to:

Buy Me A Coffee button

Tasting the impressions

Yesterday was a Good Day, spent in the Scottish National Gallery at the “Taste of Impressionism” exhibition, meeting friends there for lunch and diving back into the exhibition with my workbook and eyes open to soak up as much learning and inspiration as I could in the time.

I was impressed by the exhibition and the supporting information, even though I wasn’t able to hire an audio guide – they were all out in use! Most of the paintings were acquired by Scottish collectors and it was a superb opportunity to see both some well-known works and some paintings by artists I wasn’t aware of.

Among these was Pierre Bonnard, arguably not an “Impressionist” as such, but carrying the ideas to a new level and offering me the chance to reflect, observe and learn, to see what I can carry into my own painting practice.

There is more I could write, were it not (again) getting late enough that I need to choose between the sleep I need and the early-hours inspiration and creativity I want…. as I need to drive to work in the morning, sleep wins.

detail from “Poplars on the River Epte” by Claude Monet

Still, it’s been a Good Weekend, with some productive painting time this morning, adding to a new piece of work while rain fell outside. The work may be slow and sporadic but it is in progress. Have a Good Week!

detail from work in progress

If you like this, it’s now possible to:

Buy Me A Coffee button
Buy Me A Coffee button

Thank you! 🙂

Summer cloud

It’s been a while, too long really, since last painting. Other forms of creativity have occupied the time and energy I’ve had over the last few months. Then, stepping off the bus near home on Friday, I was struck by thesight of billowing cumulus over the Ochil hills, green crops rippling in the wind. Now, at last, the time to squeeze out fresh paint and make a sketch, referring to the fresh memory and a hasty photograph.

It’s not finished but, having started, it will be.

Pumpkin soup – art vs appetite.

In the last week I completed a second still life from some of the splendid seasonal squashes I bought recently. Having to fit my painting around work days, especially at this time of shortening day length, is sometimes frustrating, though necessary for the time being.

One of the challenges of a still life involving food, for me, is that I fully intend to eat it and don’t want to leave it too long “on stage”, however tempting or even necessary this may be from the point of view of the painting process. Once I had cut open the pumpkin, the pressure was on and I managed to complete the essentials within a couple of afternoons, in fading light.

Preparing soup – still life. Oil on canvas board – 30 x 25 cm 2021.

I used virtually the entire pumpkin, this time, roasting then frying the seeds and thinly-pared skin with seasonings to make a chewy but tasty snack, turning half of the flesh into a delicious houmous and the rest into part of a tasty and sustaining soup, with parsnip and served with homemade bread.

The wine was nice too! (Beyerskloof Pinotage 2020).

The remaining squashes are still in a bowl, slowly becoming more interesting as the skins develop varied contrasting colour spots. I feel tempted to make some more, quick, studies of them, even in artificial light, which I can at least do in these dark evenings after work.

Meanwhile, I have ideas for two other, unrelated, paintings based on observed situations from long ago and very recently but they will take a bit longer to develop.

Golden Fields of Arcadia

Oil painting - landscape, bright golden harvest fields, rolled bales, top edge shows distant water and white refinery buildings , impressionistic style.
Oil on canvas board approx 12×16″

I have been looking at these splendid harvest fields for a while, over the last few years I’ve been in this area. This part of the Forth valley has a lot of large arable fields, any old hedges that may have been there are long gone and they are ploughed, planted and sprayed right up to the edges, little or no “headlands” of uncultivated ground left for wildflowers to grow in and provide a modicum of refuge and food for insects. The main crops seem to be various grains – wheat, oats, possibly some barley – and rapeseed or similar oil-seed plants. The fields appear to be intensively cultivated, though hay is grown and gathered into these impressive and slightly surreal-looking cylinders that have been a feature of UK farming for many years now. They ripen into vibrant, vast areas of rich golds of varying hues and textures, depending on the forms of the various crops, with darker lines that emphasise the form of the land, tracks of huge tractors and baling machines, then the harvesting machinery.

In my walks and cycle rides around here, I’ve also been struck by the ambiguous beauty of the Grangemouth refineries (Ineos, I think, is the company that operates them). They are responsible for both providing the necessary fuel, fertilizers and other agrochemicals for our present agriculture, significant local employment and for a lot of hazards and pollution of the local and wider environment. Flares are regularly to be seen, occasionally huge rolling flames and sooty fumes, following, I’m told, emergency pressure relief procedures. I understand that the company is fined on a fairly regular basis for these releases of gas, though I’ve seen and heard no sign of meaningful remedial action. As with many things, the situation has many facets.

Large-scale engineering, ships and industrial buildings have always fascinated me; there is an element of the frustrated engineer in me for sure, I was never able to get to grips with the mathematics. Far from finding them “ugly” in the conventional sense, I often see the moments of beauty and subtlety in them, especially in certain light and weather conditions. A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I remember glimpsing the huge cement works at Chelson Meadows in Plymouth, Devon, on an early morning drive. It appeared as a vast castle, in blocks of pale grey and pink, in the morning misty sunlight. I made several drawings of it, to the puzzlement of several people who asked me “why are you drawing that eyesore?” That works is long-demolished, the ground landscaped, I believe, and perhaps my drawing is now a historical document of sorts, but this is a digression.

On a cycle ride along a path into the woods near Skinflats, I stumbled across an art installation called “Inscriptions in Arcadia”, by Audrey Grant, very nearly and inadvertently stealing part of one of the works … until I saw the sign! The theme of the installation intrigued me and resonated with some of the thoughts that had arisen, back in 2019, when I had looked out over ripening summer fields towards Grangemouth:

“Yellow Gold – ….enriches & touches our desire & emotions, feeds our egos… enables our electronics, lifts our aesthetics.

“Black Gold – in our myopic ignorance we burn this, mostly, the stored solar energy of ancient Earth feeds our industry, ..engines, ..our restless desire for movement & the illusion of a limited, short term freedom, while we poison our air & water & are still blind to its true value as a raw material.

“Green Gold – growing silently in the summer sun, welcoming the rain that we bemoan, refreshing our atmosphere, filtering our dust and detritus, feeding our restless, dissatisfied bodies and minds…”

Sketchbook 31 – 14 July 2019

This painting has emerged from these notes and subsequent observations, pulled together with the idea of an Arcadia, an imagined idyllic land but that is still touched, if not tainted, by destructive and harmful processes. I had not been aware, until a comment on my previous post, of the more classical associations:

Et in Arcadia Ego
Even in a pastoral idyll, there is death.

https://www.historytoday.com/archive/foundations/et-arcadia-ego

…which adds an interesting layer, I think.

This is not a specific view but a combination of local elements from several sketches, photos and observations. When approaching the painting, I wanted to focus on my initial visual experience of the vivid yellows and golds and of the softer reflections and uncertain forms from across the estuary, aware of darker and more contradictory processes behind it all. As with all these paintings, I feel I’m learning and discovering at each step; I’ve certainly enjoyed painting it.

Thank you for reading this far! What’s next? I’m not yet sure, I have unrelated videos to attend to …. however, I hope to start another soon.

Gallery page update

I’ve just added the new works to the Oil Paintings page, link at the top of this page.

Now for a short stroll in the fresh air, moody overcast hanging like a dark ceiling over the Ochil hills to the north while the wind snatches bright leaves off the branches; the birds haven’t given up singing though, which is encouraging.

Time to think of the next painting…

New work – the full picture(s)

Oil painting - landscape, bright golden harvest fields, rolled bales, top edge shows distant water and white refinery buildings , impressionistic style.
Golden Fields of Arcadia.
Oil on canvas board approx 30x40cm

The last few days of last week gave me the opportunity to be productive on the art front, two new paintings in oils completed. A few minor adjustments in the last couple of days and I’m happy to sign them off now.

Pumpkin Soup – still life.
Oil on canvas. 19x25cm

I’ll add these to the Oil Paintings gallery page over the weekend. These photos seem to give a pretty good colour match, though in the end a lot depends on your own screen.

I may have a little more to say on the “Golden Fields of Arcadia”, why I chose that name and so on, but not this evening… it’s too late and the internet is going slow here…

Have a good weekend!

Between the Showers

Following on from yesterday’s post, “Catching a falling leaf…”, I set to work, today, to paint a more finished version of the ideas arising from the photos and sketch I referred to, this time in oils on board (Windsor & Newton water-mixable oils).

“Between the Showers” – oil on board, 36 x 24.5cm approx

I painted it in about 4 hours, to judge by the radio programs I heard during the process – I was not keeping a close eye on the time! This is pretty quick by my standards, especially in oils in the “studio” (interpret that term loosely! I long for such a luxury!). Now I must let it rest and the paint cure and attend to the things I was telling myself were more important, this time with a clearer mind and a feeling of achievement. I’m pleased with the result, which feels like a step in the right direction for me; working with consideration and some preparation but not over-thinking it, taking a looser approach, allowing more expression and impressions to emerge.

And so to the washing of brushes, dishes and self as I prepare for another busy week ahead. With best wishes to you and thanks for reading this.