I’m taking the opportunity, during my daily walk or cycle exercise excursion, to explore some corners of my local area and, if I can , to ensure I make at least one sketch and/or photograph. I’ve been too occupied by making a kayak in the last few months up until January to do much 2-d art but my inspiration is returning, especially during this period of relative confinement.
A few years ago, I made a short series of edited images with words for the international project “A Book About Death” and related themes, which I will post in due course. It’s been a while but I like working with image-editing software to create something new as a digital collage.
Here, words and image :
I wish you all well, mentally as well as physically.
The mountains were calling, today, with a good layer of recent snow for well over a week now and a reasonable weather forecast. I packed my gear and made an early start, before dawn, driving up to Loch Tay and the Scottish National Trust car park between Ben Lawers and Tarmachan ridge.
The first part of the ascent was in bright morning sunshine, only one other person already ahead of me. As I neared the upper slopes of Beinn Ghlas, the forecast cloud began to come in, subtly at first, a light haze that scattered the sunlight in strange ways and produced a second sun at one point, the reflection from Loch Tay brighter than the “real” one.
Then I was into a near whiteout for the next few hours, a cold northerly wind making it a “proper” winter day and giving me practice at navigating in challenging optical conditions, the uniform light making it almost impossible to judge scale and distance until very close to an object; edges and references vanish and you have to take care not to walk over a concealed drop.
It was too cold for pushing the sketching envelope today but I did manage a quick sketch to back-up the photos I took – I wanted to draw as well as shoot, the action of sketching helps to capture and focus my mind upon what I am seeing/perceiving/feeling… what is the experience I am having? I now have some material and ideas for a future painting or at least study. Whan I will do that i am not sure; I am engaged in making with wood in 3-D at present. I have, however, had a genuinely “quality mountain day”, a set of memorable walking and visual experiences that are adding to the stock of mental material.
It’s been a while since my last post and this is merely a quick update as I’m in a very busy period at present, with work and other activities that are very much about laying the foundations for steps forward, which is all the level of detail I’ll put here for now.
Artistically, it’s been a quiet few months, I’ve been out a lot with the local Canoe Club, enjoying trips and company while refining my skills and building my experience, attending training courses to upgrade my outdoor qualifications and making things, especially in wood. I am drafting a new set of pages on this site which will both show some of the previous artefacts that I’ve designed and made in the last few years and will show the recent projects, including a big one I’ve just taken the first steps in: making myself a sea-kayak – a wooden frame with a nylon cloth skin. I’ll blog the build as I am able to make each of the steps, over the next few months.
For now, my creativity is mostly channelled into three dimensions and objects that are both useful and, at least to me, aesthetically pleasing.
The trouble with Summer, for me, is that it is in many ways the hardest time for me to get down to any painting. Pleasant weather and long days, especially here in Scotland, make for good plein-air painting conditions, for sure, but also for walking, cycling, kayaking and canoeing, all of which are important activities for me, especially as I am in the process of updating my outdoor qualifications; steps for a shift in direction.
I’ve been working in small stages on a small landscape in oils, the second in what I intend will be a series of mostly Scottish landscapes. This weekend I’ve chosen more restful activities than usual of late and have finished this one.
The scene was among the literal and emotional high points of an overnight trip to the Loch Tay area to make an ascent and traverse of the Ben Lawers and neighbouring peaks. I had walked in along tracks to a fine bivvy spot beneath the eastern end of the ridge and made a dawn start on a clear, cool morning. It was a superb day, hazy but spacious and with a cold wind that kept me a comfortable temperature while carrying a pack up hill.
From Meall Garbh there is a steep descent to the bealach (saddle or pass) and a steeper, scrambling, ascent up An Stuc; a few moments of concentration needed to make moves with a full pack to interfere with my balance. This was the best direction from which to tackle this peak while carrying a load. It was helpful to see the first human being of the day, ahead of me and travelling light up what looks a near-impenetrable wall from the angle of the bealach.
It was a day for taking photographs, too chilly to sit comfortably for long to sketch in exposed viewpoints and, in any case, I was full of the urge to move and maintain a good speed over this wonderful set of hills; my mind and body were for moving.
I reached Ben Lawers summit around 1130, meeting the first people arriving at the top that morning and feeling good to have made full use of the daylight. After this, I slowed my pace, sat in sheltered spots and lingered in the bright light and feeling of space, hesitant to descend to the car park and “complete” my adventure. I had achieved a walk that I had wanted to do since my first ascent and visit to this part of Scotland a few years ago and was in no rush to drive home.
I’ve had to work mostly from the photos I took that day as a reference, a prompt for refreshing the experience of the place, rather than a subject to try to copy, although the forms and light are important elements for me. I am not ready to abstract this too much to allow a more expressive interpretation, though this formed a stage in preparatory thumbnails.
The picture is resting, now, I’m happy it’s finished. I have a list of others to choose from to begin soon. More as it happens… Have a good week.
It’s traditional barbecue weather this weekend in Edinburgh, where I’ve stopped over to help celebrate a friend’s birthday. Being outdoorsy folk, a couple of awnings and waterproof jackets dealt with the precipitation and we had a good time.
Now I’m enjoying a few leisurely hours in the city centre, watching people and situations and practising peripheral vision sketching.
Overhearing fragments of untold stories. .. if I were better at recalling phrases. .
My coffee cup is drained, only crumbs remain of the cake, time to find a train back to go home, where the beginning of a new painting awaits me.
Outside, the sun has broken through the clouds. . Happy Sunday!
It’s been a productive time, in the last few weeks, working on these small canvases with simple subjects from old sketchbooks that hold more than just artistic memories for me; nearly every sketch has its accompanying associations and story that returns to me as I browse through them. This can slow me down when cascades of remembered emotions and situations return to the surface of my mind as I turn the pages. I am temporarily back there, people, places, animals, atmospheres, reveries, ideas, inspirations, hopes and longings… they pass, of course, assume new forms in the perspective of time and subsequent layers of experiences. For a moment, though, they are vivid flashes in my flow and web of thoughts.
They are in no particular order, just the ones I felt most inclined to paint at the time. I am working more slowly and with a shade more deliberation than previously, trying to become aware of how the painting seems to want to develop and to recognise the point at which I should stop, before I lose the point of the painting or overwork it, something I am prone to doing.
Some days I find I have the time and inclination to work for longer on a painting, wet-in-wet with oil is tricky but I quite like doing this too. Today’s painting (Square 6) is one of these. The only drawback of these days is that I may well find, in subsequent days, that there are details I’ve missed that I want to correct, though this is much easier in this medium.
The canvas texture and relative coarseness of my brushes limit the detail I can achieve, a limitation that is good for me I think. I like the original sketches, drawn quickly under constrained conditions, they have some life about them that is easily suffocated by a tightness and hesitancy or reticence I struggle with in transferring them to a “finished” painting. This is one reason I chose these small canvases, even though I like to work at a larger scale. They allow me to paint with a relative looseness – something I am trying to grow – in a very small area whose limits actually enable me to find the confidence to take a less self-constrained approach.
I intend to paint more of these, as time goes on. For now, these six will be enough, there is a seventh in progress, to allow me to start on a landscape – Scottish mountains and other places. I spent this afternoon looking through reference photos, something necessary as the mountain walks and climbs are rarely conducive to carrying and spending time in painting. I try to use the photos as triggers for my memory of the experience of being there, keys to mental doors that may reveal something I can feel and attempt to allow to express through the movement of paint and contrasts of tone and colour. I have much more to do and practice is the only way.
I hope you enjoy these, visit the Oil Paintings gallery page for larger views. I welcome constructive feedback so please feel free to comment.