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…
It’s been a productive day, better weather than yesterday and a chance to get outside in my local area and practice more plein air painting, sketching in oils (water mixable) on a small board.
My focus at present is on getting accustomed to the ergonomics of my portable painting setup and on loosening up my painting in a more energetic and playful spirit , letting go of the restrictive urge to try to produce perfection that has so often tightened up my paintings and driven me to over-work them.
I’m quite pleased with today’s effort. I overcame my Sunday inertia to get out and paint, dealt with a passing rain shower, as well as cold hands and an uncomfortable seat. I set myself an hour and kept to that limit.
This little stand of Birches and Bracken caught my eye in the warm afternoon sunlight and chilly south westerly breeze. I’ve always been drawn to the way the whitish bark contrasts against the darkness of other trees, the warm leaf colours defying both the shortening days and the efforts of the wind to dislodge them, holding on against the approaching winter.
I had planned to do some more plein-air oil sketching during yesterday’s walk, west of Bannockburn, in an area that looked promising for a lot of points of interest and a day with a fine weather forecast. My body decided that it needed sleep more than an early start, after a very busy week, so by the time I got moving and organised, I knew it would be uncertain whether I had enough time to explore a new route, stop to paint for nearly an hour and still get back to the car before dark. (Want to see what equipment I bring? Click here.)
In the end I managed a quick ink sketch in my little book but the paints and mini-pochade box, plus small tripod, remained in my rucksack as training weights! It was a glorious walk, during which I took practice video clips and lots of photos; here’s one of the highlights, a view north-west over the low-lying clouds through which I’d spent the last two hours walking:
This is a place to which I shall return, both on my own account and I hope with students on a training expedition for their Bronze or Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards, as we’re operating under new guidelines and criteria now.
By the time I reached the car again, it was dark and I realised that I had made a correct decision to press on, exploring unfamiliar and often indistinct paths through varied forest and woodland; a surprisingly wild feel to this area given the proximity of a small city and busy motorway. I resolved to make the effort to paint, the following day.
Today’s outing was very local, a foray into the woods about a kilometer from home, keeping it short and simple in order to be free of any excuses for prevarication. The weather had turned wet, very much a “dreich” day, not really conducive to outdoor painting or drawing, more a day for wellies, a brisk walk with a wet and happy dog, hot strong coffee, cake and a good book indoors. I’ve lost my wellies, have no dog, nor cake, so postponed the coffee and book and hauled my rucksack and gear on, fetched a big umbrella and trudged off into the squelchy woods.
Despite the grey overcast, the remaining autumnal colours glowed still and I found an inviting spot by the weed-covered pond near the Dunmore Pineapple, a folly built in that shape in the 1700s, apparently as a gift to the wife of the estate owner at that time.
I am still getting used to the handling and arrangements of my outdoor painting equipment, a little more challenging under an umbrella, but managed a small, fairly loose sketch. I was more focused on practicing the logistics of it all than on concern over the quality or accuracy of my painting, other than that I wanted to work pretty freely and concentrate on the main colours and contrasts that caught my attention. I painted for a bit less than an hour, surprised to be visited and dined upon by a few persistent midges and using the resulting itching as a practice in relaxing and focusing my mind on seeing and painting.
I was hoping that the oils would tolerate occasional raindrops better than acrylic, though I hadn’t fully considered the fact that these are water-mixable…. ha ha..! A couple of stray drops of rain added some natural spontaneous “environmental interventions”, just to keep me alert!
This sketch was on canvas board but, in part to save on costs but also to help me feel more able to play and explore without feeling I’m “wasting” good materials, I have a stock of thin salvaged mdf/hardboard which I’m priming with gesso. That will become my preferred oil “sketchpad”. I’m still deciding whether I want to use mainly my home-made squeegee “brushes”, mentioned in an earlier post, or proper ones. Today I used both, slightly too generous “wet on wet” but enough to tempt me back to bristles, at least for more detailed or accurate work in due course.
After about 50 minutes of actual painting, the rain was falling steadily and I was feeling satisfied that I’d done enough and achieved my main objective, I packed it all away under the umbrella and walked home, The coffee, and the biscuits, were lovely!
If you are wondering what equipment I took out with me, here’s a photo. The stuff to the left of the maps, compass, whistle and torches (I strongly recommend carrying a whistle and a light of some kind on any trip like this, even in summer) is all for painting, drawing and recording, that on the right is for my comfort and safety – this is for going into relatively wild places after all.
The list is as follows: L-R
Paint box with: cloth, paints, palette knife, water bottle, 2 spring clamps, brushes (cut short to about 7″/17cm) , squeegee brushes, spare canvas/board, plastic bag.
Mini pochade box with 1/4″ camera screw mount, canvas 7×5″, palette (thin sheet of metal – ex offset litho plate)
Cloth and water jar with lid.
Folding fisherman’s seat and piece of camping mat.
Small camera tripod with quick release plate (1/4″ screw)
Maps, compass, whistle, bike lights (good battery life, small ones are cheap and very good emergency lights). Mobile phone – also used to record.
Sanitiser, scarf/mask, cream, spare glasses, flask of hot drink, snacks. In summer, add midge repellent and a head-net (on the West Coast and especially Skye, a midge jacket… seriously! https://bit.ly/3kb83qT )
Warm hat, gloves, spare warm jacket, waterproof jacket and trousers, all on an emergency survival bag.
Climbing sling – useful for tying things to other things, a short length of light rope would be useful instead and cheaper.
First Aid kit (not shown). Swiss army knife. Walking boots.
Optional extras, depending on conditions, would be a telescopic walking pole and a large umbrella (not in a windy situation!!).
Today I was trying out a new plein air setup with oils on the slopes of Ben Vorlich, north of Stirling, then collecting other people’s litter & dog poop on the way down. It’s been a beautiful day, very crowded near this local honeypot, I was lucky to find a space to park at all, down by Loch Earn.
5″x7″ canvas, with a simplified Pochade Box setup for the canvas, with a spacer, and the palette (a piece of thin metal sheet that can reflect a nice neutral grey) Winsor & Newton water mixable oils. Home-made squeegee-brushes. Once I’d got started I enjoyed it, I may do a bit more on it at home this week in what remains of any daylight, or do a larger version based on this and a couple of photos, but try to focus on the underlying dynamics of what I was seeing behind the facade of “reality”…. I’ll return later when the weather is more uncertain and deters the crowds; I’ll also get up earlier!
Work in progress, the beginning of a longer term project. I need to refine this a bit and get a lightweight camera tripod that allows me to tilt the board and stand up to paint at it. I got the general idea from Andy Beck on this video: https://youtu.be/Q4c6NbRP5Q4 but simplified it as I didn’t have a specific tripod to fit the palette section to and this is very small, to fit easily into a rucksack.
More soon, I’ve been very busy of late, unable to post or even do much art. And now, to sleep, ready for another Monday.
Image and words, “locked down” in body but not in mind:
I imagine… Opening the doors again Stepping out into air And sunlight, The song of birds whose Voices are grown stronger From being allowed The space in which to sing.
I imagine… Carrying my boat to the water, Launching on the flood tide Riding sparkling waves and Surprising the seals who thought We’d gone away, to plunder And pollute another, distant, ocean.
I imagine… With you, and you and you.. Painting a new view, Of health, home and wealth For each of us, by right of simply Being here, the soil a human needs To grow and bear our natural fruit.
I imagine… Embracing you again and Walking, hand in hand, Through Autumn leaves, To join the gathering of folk And, together, round the fire Fuelled with old and rotten Furniture we’ve kept too long, Begin our steps towards, To borrow better words, The early days of a better nation.
I’ve been away from paint and canvas for a while, at least nine months, I think. Apart from sketches in my little sketchbook, that is. My creative energies have largely been occupied with the gestation and birth of a kayak, plus paddles and now some associated equipment that I have had to make specifically for it. The boat has been launched and passed initial trials, then came the lockdown and all I can do for now is plan trips and do land-based versions of emergency drills; patience, it will pass and the sea remains.
Today, Easter Monday, I managed at last to put oil paint onto a small canvas, another tiny square one. I like these, it’s possible to complete a painting in a morning if I wish and can work successfully “wet-in-wet”. Although it was bright and sunny, the air was cold, but I was able to paint outside, dressed as for a winter’s day. Plein Air painting was a nice bonus.
The landlord’s shed opposite my wee cottage has acquired some character over the years and gets some good light angles during the mid- to late-morning, now that the sun is high enough again to illuminate the garden properly.
I’ll put up some photos of the recent sketchbook work in a while. Meantime, best wishes to you for health, mental stability and hope in this time of disruption and much tragedy, and here’s today’s painting:
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.