Category Archives: painting

Sunday sketch

It’s been a slow, overcast, misty day, damp and good for indoor things.

I went outside though, down to the great river… a quick sketch before returning with the rich scents of mud, water, wet grass and wild roses filling my mind while Cormorants hung out their wings to dry in the humid air, high above the low-tide water on a navigation marker.

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An afternoon of words, with echoing visual and olfactory impressions in the back of my mind and a background hum of contentment over having achieved one sketch today.

In a few hours, Monday… have a good week.

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Evening exploration – hidden waterfalls, smugglers’ caves.

Yesterday late afternoon, after a successful trip to get a new expedition rucksack to replace my old worn-out pack, I decided on a quick walk up onto the edge of the Ochil Hills through the deep and atmospheric Alva Glen.  Previously I’d left the woodland by a path that leads up onto open hillsides and a steady ascent to the ridges above.  This time I decided to turn left and follow the path further up the glen itself; gorge is really a better term.

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The path becomes precipitous, in these lower and more popular parts there is a sturdy fence to prevent a fall into the deep gorge below, hissing with concealed waterfalls in deep channels with occasional huge rounded boulders that indicate a period of immensely powerful spate, probably resulting from the collapse of lakes forming above behind ice walls as the Ice Age gave way to a warmer climate.  Many of the trees here struggle up against vertical rock, exposed roots enlarged and contorted by long gripping the cracks and edges in their upward growth; long, arthritic twisting limbs supporting trunks with dramatic shapes, reaching for the narrow band of sky.

I emerged from the forested section onto a rougher, rockier path around a tall spur and pinnacle.  As I reached the top, I saw the dark overhang of the so-called smugglers’ cave below me, where the hard lavas had resisted the water and only given way in a grudging compromise with a thin, dark channel for the water that had scooped out a cave-like section.  Climbing beyond on steadily narrower paths on a steep slope, I kept an eye out for future small camping spots, mindful of the occasional undercut soil and fragile nature of the path.

The gorge continues, with at least one hanging valley discharging a tall and lovely waterfall into another wooded and atmospheric bowl on the eastern side.  I saw this as I climbed up the western slope through short-grazed bilberry plants and, a welcome change from bracken, well-established ferns and heather.  I had to choose whether to stop and sketch, my original aim, or press on to reach the head of the glen; I chose to sketch before returning.

Evening cool was setting in and I wanted to get back in reasonable time before sunset so the studies were quick.  I enjoyed the process and think I’ve captured something of the feel of the view there.  My phone battery was too low to take photos so I spent some time just looking, letting go as best I could of the concepts that kept popping into my mind and that I find interfere with clear perception and inspiration.  I don’t think I had much success but the practice is the thing.

 

Later, at home, looking back through my landscape sketchbook, I found these from a bigger day on Ben More and Stob Binnein in the snow back in March, when I found a sheltered snow seat on the south side of the summit of Stob Binnein and made some quick studies in water-soluble Inktense pencils, tried to add a wash and found the water freezing in the brush despite the bright sunlight.

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Looking SE from Stob Binnein – Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin

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Ochil Hills – walking to Rough Castle Roman fort.

A few days earlier, I’d taken a walk from my flat in Falkirk to the old Roman fort known as Rough Castle, a major encampment on the Antonine Wall.  The snow remained on the hills, no longer keeping us off work, but the clouds were low, the hills hints of different tones.  Then the clouds made gaps and the hills revealed themselves briefly, partly camouflaged by their snowy coat.

There are a lot of full berries growing on the Rowan trees, some say that is a sign of a hard winter to come.  I’m looking at a new pair of winter mountain boots, a purchase for the Autumn, more comfortable than my present ones and better for arduous winter days and icy slopes.

In the meantime I’m also looking again at my sketching and painting equipment, at ways of making it more efficient and easy to use on the hills, lightweight and fitting the practical demands of being outdoors in what may be poor conditions. I’m looking back at the studies I made in acrylic on brown card last year during a trip to Mull.  I’d like to do more like that but am still getting the hang of dealing with paint, water, slow drying in damp air and the rigors of a box squashed into a rucksack.  Work in progress.

 

Three Bridges.

There is a nice cycling route I can take from where I live now that is mostly free of motor traffic and that brings me into the ancient Kingdom of Fife at Kincardine, with its rows of red-tiled cottages that remind me of similar buildings I have seen in the Zuiderzeemuseum at Enkhuizen, in the Netherlands; whether there is any historical link I am not sure, though there is a lot of reclaimed land on the south of the river that is almost a classic polder.

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Today I went with the wind, out from Airth and over the Clackmannanshire Bridge on its row of smooth concrete pillars, along a narrow path behind the flood defences, keeping an eye out for interesting driftwood and sketching inspirations, then back over the old Kincardine bridge and then an old humped stone bridge that spans a substantial creek that appears to be a breeding ground for car tyres.  In the fields beside the narrow road, plump, curious heifers came over to greet me, blowing through their moist nostrils and nudging each other.  I noticed that their left ear tags included names for them, something I hadn’t noticed before; Miracle, Mauve, Lesley, Mirador… I turned to sketch the old bridge, then another small herd, sitting chewing their cud and making a colour contrast with the green grasses and Ochil Hills behind.

Finally, homewards past fields of wheat and other grains transforming into rustling gold, to make my dinner and get down, at last, to the task of renewing car insurance and organising my council tax. Prevarication has made me late to bed, again, but given me a good Sunday afternoon out and sketching.  So as I bid you good-night/day (depending upon your location), here are the results:

Sketcher-gatherer.

I’m getting settled into the new house, a mix of decorative and edible plants are growing in their new, crowded, pots outside, furniture in a functional style is taking form from former pallets and scaffolding planks and this period of very European weather is a welcome contrast to the winter cold and brexit chaos. I can sit outside with coffee and cake and watch a seagull seize the opportunity to help clear one of the other tables.

My painting fallow period is extending a bit, which feels fine. I’m still sorting out a space at home for artwork and am enjoying the three-dimensional process of working with wood to make useful things. In between work and domestic matters I am observing, reflecting, sketching and gathering impressions, ideas and inspiration from my local travels and occasional visits to galleries; two recent exhibitions in Edinburgh have given me much to mull over and aim to experiment with, once the outdoor conditions become relatively less inviting or distracting.

Chris Bushe’s wonderful impressionistic landscapes, on show at the Open Eye Gallery was inspiring. It was recommended to me by one of the staff in the nearby Greyfriars art shop, a rare example of a proper art shop with people who know their products. As soon as I stepped into the gallery I was struck by the scale and texture of his paintings, I felt a simultaneous sense of atmosphere of the open landscape and the almost physical sensation of the painted surface; content and surface, figurative and abstract elements coexisting. This is what I enjoy about painting with acrylic, perhaps I could grow to feel the same about oils with more practice too.

The Royal Scottish Academy open exhibition had a wonderfully broad range of work on show that got me thinking and filling sketchbook pages with thumbnail sketches and notes to browse through and decipher over subsequent coffee.

My cup is empty, the bus departs soon. Next post will have some recent sketches, clover from a fallow field, fixing nutrients for a future harvest.

Happy weekend to you!

Wild sketch, 1 of several. .

Phone charging opportunities are too infrequent at present to keep this blog updated en route so I’ll post something on return when I have mains electricity again.

Meanwhile, I’ve been lucky so far with the weather and winds, I had help uphill this afternoon, after a morning of beautiful cycling but arduous steep pushes on slopes up to 25%, rewarded by a long fast cruise into Scourie and a very pleasant campsite this afternoon.

I’ve made a reasonable number of sketches so far, lots more photos, though today I used the camera much more due to the need for making distance.

Here’s a sample from my first camp near the impressive Stac Pollaidh, a wild camp on a beach by the Loch:

Favourite places

I returned to mid-Wales, a week ago, to visit my mother, join the celebrations of a good friend’s birthday and meet friends not seen for a long time. It was good.

The surf forecast proved reliable too, though with strong winds that made it hard actually to catch the lovely waves that break here more often than people expect. The water was colder than I’d experienced there for years, about the same as the North Sea!

The next day, before going to visit an artist friend, I sketched the south end of the beach :

I’ve caught more of it than I’d thought at first. something to build upon.

Wonders, and New Colours

Monday was a contrast to the weekend. After a splendid couple of days in the mountains, camping in a wild place and achieving my objectives of ascending Ben Vorlich and Stuc a Chroin, I had a day at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh to visit the “Ages of Wonder” exhibition of Scottish art.

I had carried a small box of watercolours, some of the pans I’ve had since I was in my late teens, before the age of home computers, when the only mobile phones were on Star Trek! My plan had been to use them on the mountain but the combination of strong, cold wind and freezing air with the exhilaration and desire for movement meant that I only made a couple of quick pencil sketches from the summit.  It was only on the walk out, later on, that I was struck in the sunset by the glowing quality of the land and, more subtly, sky and attempted to capture something of this with the paints; partially successful.

Relaxing in cafes and in the gallery, I felt the urge to sketch and, later found the superb Greyfriars Art Shop, in Dundas Street, where I found both a type of palette that I’d seen in a demonstration recently and decided to try some new colours from tubes rather than pans, to allow me to use the paint in greater density than is easy with pans.  The same demonstration left me feeling re-inspired to explore watercolours again, for their qualities and also the relative ease of use in the typically awkward situations I end up painting in, even at home; it’s why I do not use oils, despite several people urging me to do so, it’s just not practical in my present situation.

It’s reminded me that I really enjoy sketching, both with pencil and pen, and like what can be achieved with watercolours, even if I have so far largely failed to get the kind of results I would really like.

Here are some of them.  I may write more in due course about the exhibition and my impressions of some of the works, but I have an early start in the morning and need to sleep soon… and there is a heap of dull but necessary paperwork to be sorted…. I hope for a stormy weekend in which to deal with it and leave me feeling I can play more freely… self-created inefficiency for which I alone am responsible.

I hope you like the sketches.