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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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).
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.
I’m busy with a couple of competing things, today, or that’s what my distracted mind is saying just now (“then just STOP! Re-focus!” says my inner mentor). A friend posted a series of photographs, earlier, that sparked an inspiration to paint, based upon two or three of them. Her son, strolling on the beach, distant squalls making a looming sky, curtains of heavy rain and sharp lines of bright light from waves and lens flare.
I’ve grabbed some acrylic paint and brushes and the remaining blank pages of a sketchbook and made a fast study of the fluttering and shifting images in my memory, like catching a falling leaf under waving wind-blown trees, crushing the pristine form of the airborne leaf in my efforts to grasp it.
I must clean the palette of rapidly dried paint, brushes too, attend to whatever else seems so important, then return to this later.. perhaps in oils. For now, I have something; the effort to mix and apply paint has helped give a muscle-memory to the vision. What will result? It’s uncertain but I have a starting point, a seed to plant.
Twenty years ago today, I was also painting: walls and ceilings of a friend’s house in which I was to live for several years, a happy home. I was called through to the living room to see the breaking news from New York, in time to witness the live broadcast of the second plane strike the second tower. It was shocking .. and clear then that it was not an accident. I had a feeling, then, of some seismic processes stirring.
I send out wishes for healing and rest from pain for all those who suffered then and since.
It’s a day of soft grey overcast and rain, the air still warm and the crops glowing golden with fringes of white-yellow and warmer oranges and greens to give the fields a dynamic colour, contrasting with the lush greens of the still-productive foliage around.
I tried some early blackberries (brambles) today, sweet and tasty, not yet moisture bloated. The spiders who normally guard them had retreated to their silken indoors to avoid the pummelling of raindrops that must be, to them, like medicine balls would be for us (remember them from the old gymnasium equipment, anybody?).
A few weeks ago, I bought a new sketchbook from my old regular art supplies shop in Aberystwyth, Wales, during a holiday visit to family and friends. This one has nice heavy watercolour paper that takes a wash well and invites play with media.
Friday afternoon (yesterday) was the conclusion of a busy but productive week, the schools are back in Scotland now, which left me feeling more energised than usual with a stimulating but slightly uneasy buzz of creative mental activity that at the time felt inspired but that I know from experience does not always translate into useful nor quality productivity. I spent a while in a cafe in central Stirling, watching the end of afternoon activity from a pleasant window seat, trying to capture some of the postures and groupings of people nearby, without staring directly at them, allowing my streaming thoughts to run like over-excited children until they tired and curled up in a quiet heap, somewhere in my mind… no tears, luckily, but a relaxed and reasonably focused state with just a babbling brook of thoughts as a background to my main focus.
A family group, the young boy full of energy and impatience, pushing himself up into a stretch in his chair. Two older adults, central, still. Three young women, pulling up their feet from the pavement and blending conversation, coffee and texting, as if curling inwards to make a small, intimate space of themselves. After my main sketch, I added analytical thumbnails, exploring what I was actually seeing or experiencing… notes for future reference, perhaps.
Inside, what appeared to be older parents and two young men, a contrast of body language and activity was what struck me, the conversation sounded relaxed in tone, but this young man was deeply intent on his phone and whatever remote world it took him to, his (I guess) father looking on. I wondered what the communication between them was like… there was something suggesting intensity and drama about the young man’s postures.
Back home, I added watercolour washes, returning briefly to the sketching frame of mind. Then, enough, time for a shower, food, relaxation.
Outside, the gentle hiss of rain falling and tempting the snails to risk their lives crossing paths and roads. Inside, time to stop and sleep.. Goodnight and I wish you a peaceful sleep.
We’ve been fortunate, here in central Scotland, to have beautifully clear, cold weather over this Easter break. I’ve been busy with my other projects for most of the time as this is a good opportunity to focus on home-based work, given the continuing travel limits, but have had a couple of glorious days out in nearby hills and on the bike.
I was determined to make at least one proper attempt to do some plein-air work, whether drawing or painting and a cycle trip to the historic and beautiful village of Culross brought that opportunity.
I found a pleasant spot by the old church and Abbey ruins, sitting in the sun for a change! The solid wooden door and its shadows caught my eye and I set up my tripod and box and set to it, a dry sketch first then watercolours, taking time to look for a while first. I’m pleased with the result, not just for what’s on paper but for the process I went through, which was really the point of it. I plan to get the oils out again soon but this was a useful re-awakening; Easter always has this feeling of a second New Year for me.
For the last few months my creative energy has been directed into video editing as I begin to set up a YouTube channel and produce material for an online course for beginners in navigation and map-reading. I have ideas for another, arts-focused, channel but that is for later.
This has, inevitably, reduced the time and energy left for sketching and painting but, for now, that’s ok.
Still, it was good, yesterday morning, to ride out into the fresh, bright air and make a small sketch of the ruined Kennetpans distillery, near Kincardine on the River Forth. Pigment ink pen (Uni pin) and Inktense pencils, plus a water brush – now among my favourite field sketching tools and media.
I will be glad of the Easter break, when I do plan to squeeze fresh oil paint onto the palette and rediscover the joyful, and committing, feeling of spreading the first marks on a new board or canvas. Perhaps I’ll leave a camera running…