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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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

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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.