Fire and Water

A bonfire of old paintings on the beach

Last weekend I took some old paintings to the sea to burn; a process long-planned but also long-delayed by other matters.

Conditions were perfect, no rain, a light steady wind, the tide advancing steadily but not too fast, a friend to help but not too many people to become curious onlookers.

Paintings that had served their purpose, for me, studies and finished work that had been exhibited.

Storage for several years, of necessity, in a barn gallery with just enough space for winter storms to blow moisture onto them, to nourish small moulds in the boards; I wasn’t upset to hear the news of that, relieved in fact. I was no longer satisfied with the standard of my figurative work at that stage, the ideas were good, the execution wanting. This was the perfect catalyst to taking time to grow my skills, possibly starting over…. or moving on to a new series.

An opportunity also to let go of former preoccupations and ideas, release what was becoming burdensome, in space and mind.

It was satisfying, watching the decomposition into simpler elements, the action of oxygen and heat on fuel.

Later, at high tide, only a few ashes and bits of charred wood washing between rocks on incoming waves.

The wind held up at the right speed to launch the kite and a camera beneath, a bonus view from the birds’ perspective.

Coffee, cake, memories and home to consider new canvasses in the light of experience.

(There is video, to be edited. When it’s ready, I’ll add a link here.)

New Work: Sunset Track

Finished at the weekend. Oil on canvas board, approx 20 x 24in

After a day of steady rain and a dull overcast, on my journey home, the clouds retreated like a great roof, sliding eastwards, lit by the setting sun in that quality of light that brings out the colours in a subdued but intense way.

There is a small detail in the painting that isn’t apparent in this image…. I may upload a higher resolution photo in due course.

As before, I made a smaller version in parallel, to make running tests of colours and ideas (oil on board, approx 7 x 5in) :

Now to let it settle while I return to make small adjustments to another picture and investigate the costs of framing.

Happy New Year to you if you’re just seeing this in January!

Best wishes for 2023.

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As the rain passes..

Detail, work in progress.

Another helpfully wet day outside but I had necessary admin to do this morning, so the light was past its best when I mixed new colours. A portable video light doubles as a handy daylight, which helps at this time of day.

I got some momentum after painting the first part of what I’d planned and let it carry me along to a natural conclusion; I have to let the paint harden a bit before the final stages. I’m pleased with the progress and the result.

Tomorrow I may add some amendments to another picture that, on reflection and feedback, needs it. Resisting too early a return to this one may take an effort, though another project demands proper attention and that will help my self-control.

Perhaps a finish by the weekend..? I hope so. More soon.

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New Year Restart.

Happy New Year to you, even if you’re reading this at any other time (why not consider now to be a new beginning anyway?!). After a few weeks’ pause for work, family and festive commitments, at last I can return to the painting I started in mid-December.

On New Year’s Day I mixed an area of colour, having to work mostly in a mix of artificial light, that I thought was right. Now, in the cool north-westerly light of a dreich day, it’s no good.. scrape down and start again. In one way, frustrating, in another, a feeling of adventure, boldness and freedom arises. My long struggle with tightening up in my painting continues, especially when working on a “proper” canvas.

So back to just looking at my reference photos, digitally played-with to help experiment with approaches, then turn away and face the process: palette, brushes, canvas and my mind. Will it be a struggle or a dance?

Here we go…

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New Work: Softly, Autumn comes.

This is the working title of my latest painting, also a previous blog post from just over a year ago. The experience and sketch I referred to in that short post inspired this version, supported by further recent observations, sketches, photos and reflection in the same nearby location; the dyke along the banks of the River Forth. This dyke keeps the ancient tidal marsh as fields, for now, the closest thing to polders that I’ve seen here.

“Softly, Autumn comes ” oil on canvas board 22″ x 18″ / 56 x 46 cm

As before, I have used a smaller primed board to test colours, marks and ideas before committing to the main canvas, resulting in a second painting alongside it. It serves as a sort of play area, a “doesn’t matter ” space in which I find it easier to relinquish the attempt to over-control my painting.. steps in development. I don’t mean to imply that I am avoiding improving my technical use of the paint, I’m working on this in small steps as I learn and watch others too; whether you are seeing this in my work is less certain.. what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Test board “Softly, Autumn comes ” oil on board 7″ x 5″ / 18 x 13cm

This is a special time of year for me, a time of memories and often changes too. This time that has included losing two friends of fairly recent acquaintance but deep connection; the reality of impermanence and uncertainty hits home, stripping away complacency, revealing attachments, reminding me of what is really important.

So now I let this one rest and cure (oils dont really “dry” in the way that, say, watercolours do) and begin to look through my sketchbooks and photos for ideas for the next painting. My focus is on landscapes at present, there is an open exhibition I have in mind to submit work to in the Spring and they need time to harden enough for framing.

Walking to the bus, earlier today, I noticed the contrast between the advance of Autumn, accelerating now as the trees let go their gold-brown-yellow burdens of leaves and days shorten, and the air temperature, which is still very mild. The shorter days leave me with a feeling of greater urgency to seize any opportunities to be outside but also to paint, a conflict I have not yet really resolved.

More soon. Best wishes and thank you for visiting.

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Waves passing…

I had hoped to finish my latest painting, today, but I’m finding it hard to settle. I heard yesterday, by the sea at St Andrews, that a beautiful, kind and compassionate friend of mine had passed away the day before.

We had met on an end of year retreat at the Kagyu Samye Ling centre in Eskdalemuir, a few years ago, and kept in touch since with occasional emails and messages to share moments of natural beauty, short chats, humour. A short acquaintance but a feeling of a deeper connection that has brought waves of emotion passing through me, a real feeling of loss.

So this sketch is the best I feel I can do, today, part of a spacious view not far from home, looking towards the upper parts of Falkirk in the distance.

Sketchbook ink line drawing - view over fields
Sketchbook – looking across fields to Falkirk

Yesterday, I thought of her as I dropped into a flow of moments of clarity and calm, riding the glassy, rising face of a lovely wave at St Andrews. Today, I dedicated to her the experiences of autumnal beauty and birdsong in a walk through nearby woods; moments she would have appreciated sharing.

Making a sketch or two helps, while waves of grief pass through. I find it calming, to draw when emotions are turbulent, a physical and mental focus, it’s helped me regain equanimity before, in other situations.

I remembered an early conversation with my friend, over drawing and painting, which she aspired to do but felt very shy of doing and never shared results of, despite my attempts to encourage her creativity and to create a safe place to share it. The whole issue of people’s feelings of shame, incompetence and suppression of their own (and others’) creativity is a topic I feel deeply and strongly about, something I’ll return to in a future post.

Perhaps, after all, I will mix some colours, put some paint on canvas, step back a lot and see how it works out. I have a few hours of daylight left. Whatever is happening for you, I wish you well.

New Marks…. second steps…

Earlier, in the last of the daylight, new colours mixed and onto the canvas…

As I reflect on the original theme and source of inspiration, as I see how the colours and marks build up… the original idea grows, shifts, evolves. Now I have to know when to let go and just allow the process to happen naturally.

Sorry, too tired for photos; greens, ochres and yellows, in case you’re wondering…

Sleep now.

A safe night to you.

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.

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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.

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