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:
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.
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.
Resisting the urge to go for a walk onto the gloriously snowy Ochil Hills today, the second small painting has emerged from sketchbook onto canvas.
I am remembering a walk on the beach at Scheveningen, Den Haag, after a refreshing swim by the pier. Finding a café table, sheltered by glass panels from the wind, sketching people on the sand. This girl caught my eye, absorbed in her sand sculpture despite a strengthening wind, embodying the essence of one of the great joys of childhood.
I bought a few very small canvas boards, while my car was in a garage in Glasgow. I plan to work on a selection of sketchbook material on them. Sketches of people, singly or in groups, transient situations and relationships in composition and implied or inferred between the subjects.
Today is a good day for painting, it’s damp and chilly outside, sleet has given way to snow and now slow rain. I’m enjoying getting used to the feel of the oils too.
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.