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.
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.
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.
Is it too late to wish you a Happy New Year? Probably, especially as the harsh realities of national and international events loom large in our attentions, nevertheless, if this is the first visit you are making here since Hogmanay then I send you good wishes for health, happiness and genuine wealth of the kind that cannot be stolen..
I am becoming very busy with non-art matters, to do with work and starting the steps to making a change to an area of paid activity to which I wish to return in order to feel inspired rather than required. This is, naturally, slowing my art productivity but is essential to it; I have found over the years that I need to feel able to relax and have my basic needs met in order to experience the artistic urge. I do not resent this shift of focus, it is both necessary and in any case enjoyable in its own right, though my fingers twitch when I see art that I like.
My exploration of oil paints continues, at least with the more practically usable water-mixable oils. I like the medium. I have continued with the painting I began in my last post, back in December I think, and have, more or less, finished it. I’m happy with this one, at the moment anyway. I’ll let it settle for a bit before deciding whether it’s ready to sign and find a name for.
This photo’s not the best, the light wasn’t good and the lamp makes reflections off the brushstrokes, but you can get the gist of it. It comes from a moment of clearing clouds on a windy, dramatic day on Ben Vorlich, the western one on the edge of the Arrochar Alps, at the north end of Loch Lomond, back in the Autumn. I went up with a friend to whom I am grateful for revealing this superb mountain. The canvas is roughly 35 by 25cm, canvas on board, a nice surface to paint on.
I have other photos from that day to use as starting points for paintings, also from more recent, subsequent hill days, inspired by moments of light on dark, contrasts, shapes of sunlit land or water and cloud. And the snow and ice are returning, while the days begin to lengthen.
It’s been a cold, damp, misty day, good for staying indoors and painting. .. so I did.
A fresh air walk to the river this morning gave me some warm-up inspiration, a couple of quick sketches, then back to start on the next version of a painting from a dramatic day on Ben Vorlich, near Loch Lomond.
I’m trying oils, new for me, and beginning to like the feel and extended workability of the paint. A small detail, here:
Tomorrow’s forecast may tempt me out onto the hills, as I have a day’s leave, but it’s a good feeling to have a clear focus for some artwork.
It was a pleasant cycle trip to Kincardine and a lunch of coffee, pancakes, bacon and maple syrup at Marko’s Kitchen.
Fuelled by food and exercise, another study inspired by my weekday commute past the fields and farms to Bannockburn. Sheep are in charge of the fields just now, grey-white ovals on warm orange, cool grey skies, muted light. Oils on brown paper.
It’s showery outside today, my mind is distracted with diverse matters and the mood to paint, something, anything, even just some blobs and smears to show myself I’ve lifted a brush.. this urge has been an insistent presence in the argumentative board meeting in my head.
Well I’ve made a small sketch in oils on brown paper, another evolutionary step for this subject,
I plan another study on return but now my body is itching for activity, a shower has passed and it’s a good time to make a visit over the Forth on my bike to a cafe in Kincardine.
I feel a restless energy, this evening, it’s still windy outside, I should be going to bed now but the urge to paint again is returning, after a long period of observing, reflecting, sketching, seeking inspiration from others in exhibitions, doing other things..
The most recent catalyst was spending time in the Van Goch Museum in Amsterdam, including a painting workshop, about which more in a subsequent post.
Since returning and diving back into a very busy time at work, with its own circumstances to drive my restlessness, I managed finally to start some acrylic sketching on Sunday night; just acrylic on brown parcel paper, the tone and texture of which are perfect as a mid-tone.
This evening, a quick and rough self-portrait study in a small mirror by poor light and using up the last paint in the palette …
I feel like something’s going on, a step forward, it feels to me…
Among the benefits of cycling to work is the ability to stop and enjoy the splendid views around here, be they of the mountains or a small plant or insect. Unencumbered by a car for which to find a parking space, I can pull over and take photos or make sketches fairly spontaneously; time and weather are the only limitations.
From both of my main routes into Stirling, the mound of the Castle and old city seems to mimic the near/distant forms of the mountains beyond; Stuc a Chroin, Ben Vorlich and, left and west, Ben Ledi and Ben Venue, all fine summits that lead into further glorious vistas, space defined by forms.
I stopped here yesterday afternoon, in strong wind and bright sunshine after morning rain and cloud, sketched while holding the pages of the book still. A mile of so further on, I gathered a perfect giant puffball mushroom which has made two delicious meals, the first time I’ve tried this wonderful fungus; harvesting earth.
No spores, perfect!
Fried, dipped in egg and seasoned flour, fried again.. delicious! Bon appetit!
The fields are full of gold which the farmers are steadily gathering in, grains of various kinds and hay for silage. Above and behind, the wind is gathered and turned into electricity. The harvest of sun and wind. It is stirring ideas for some painting in due course.