Category Archives: Updates

New Work: Softly, Autumn comes.

This is the working title of my latest painting, also a previous blog post from just over a year ago. The experience and sketch I referred to in that short post inspired this version, supported by further recent observations, sketches, photos and reflection in the same nearby location; the dyke along the banks of the River Forth. This dyke keeps the ancient tidal marsh as fields, for now, the closest thing to polders that I’ve seen here.

“Softly, Autumn comes ” oil on canvas board 22″ x 18″ / 56 x 46 cm

As before, I have used a smaller primed board to test colours, marks and ideas before committing to the main canvas, resulting in a second painting alongside it. It serves as a sort of play area, a “doesn’t matter ” space in which I find it easier to relinquish the attempt to over-control my painting.. steps in development. I don’t mean to imply that I am avoiding improving my technical use of the paint, I’m working on this in small steps as I learn and watch others too; whether you are seeing this in my work is less certain.. what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Test board “Softly, Autumn comes ” oil on board 7″ x 5″ / 18 x 13cm

This is a special time of year for me, a time of memories and often changes too. This time that has included losing two friends of fairly recent acquaintance but deep connection; the reality of impermanence and uncertainty hits home, stripping away complacency, revealing attachments, reminding me of what is really important.

So now I let this one rest and cure (oils dont really “dry” in the way that, say, watercolours do) and begin to look through my sketchbooks and photos for ideas for the next painting. My focus is on landscapes at present, there is an open exhibition I have in mind to submit work to in the Spring and they need time to harden enough for framing.

Walking to the bus, earlier today, I noticed the contrast between the advance of Autumn, accelerating now as the trees let go their gold-brown-yellow burdens of leaves and days shorten, and the air temperature, which is still very mild. The shorter days leave me with a feeling of greater urgency to seize any opportunities to be outside but also to paint, a conflict I have not yet really resolved.

More soon. Best wishes and thank you for visiting.

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New marks, distant ceremony

Early stages of a new painting, while the air becomes more autumnal and I listen to the broadcast of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Outside, a bird sings, a late white butterfly flutters on the neighbour’s flowers, a spider on my window frame catches a tiny insect.. life and death, perpetual motion.

I wish Elizabeth Windsor and the family well; however strong one’s sense of duty to an inherited role, it can’t be easy, being so much in the public eyes of the world. So whatever my feelings about the institutions of our country’s government system or, indeed, the qualities of our present government, I think these are appropriate ceremonies for someone who carried out a demanding and sensitive role very well, given our long and complex history.

For my own part, I am planting the seeds of what I hope will be new and fruitful projects.. I feel I’m making some small advances in my art, that’s part of it. Here’s a detail…

These water-mixable oils have a pleasant but faint smell; just as well given that my “studio” is an area in my bedroom too!

Have a good week and good luck with anything new.

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New Work: Near Letham – harvest shadows

I wasn’t expecting to complete this painting today but I just found a sort of flow with it and feel happy with the result. It’s a strange process, deciding when a painting is really “finished” and normally I’ll let it sit a day or two for the continuing processing in my mind to settle, before actually signing the work. Today I felt able to “sign it off” straight away, allowing myself some leeway if I feel, on reflection, a minor adjustment is needed.

Near Letham – harvest shadows – oil on canvas board 18″ x 22″/46 x 56cm

This time, I used a small sketching board, primed with tinted gesso, in parallel with the main canvas, on which to try out ideas and test colours. It’s not primarily intended to become a secondary version of the painting but I want to keep that possibility and use spare paint to do so if it seems to be going somewhere. I’ve sometimes found in the past that I’d inadvertently produced something interesting on a spare sheet of paper I was using to test colours or to use up leftover paint, especially with quicker-drying acrylics; so why not use a board and make it a mini-painting in its own right, if that’s the way it’s developing?

What do you think? I’d be interested in your thoughts in the Comments..

Near Letham – harvest shadows sketch – oil on board – 5″ x 6.5″ / 13x17cm

The main reference was a sketch I did on site in my little sketchbook, using a drawing pen and Inktense pencils, applying a wash to it later. It was one of those breezy, warm days in August, the crops (oats, I think) ripening and creating a beautiful range of golden-yellows, each type of grain with its own texture and subtleties of movement in the wind and well-defined shadows moving swiftly over the land. It’s a sight I suspect many who are unfamiliar with Scotland might be surprised at, if their idea of the country is of either post-industrial urban harshness or the grandeur of the “wild” Highlands, with the odd “hairy coo” for good measure!

Sketchbook original – drawing pen, Inktense pencils, water wash

I was out for a short bike circuit in the area, sketchbook in rucksack – I ride a touring bike and am pretty sedate, one of the joys of cycling is the ease of stopping and a reasonably stable “easel” of sorts to lean/sit on. There are large arable fields all around here, between Falkirk and Stirling, close to the River Forth. The Ochil hills provide a modest mountain backdrop and a reminder of their larger siblings to the West and North, mountains I want to revisit soon, after a long gap engaged in other priorities – family stuff, video editing, sea-kayaking and the like.

The next painting ideas are surfacing, to be noted and pondered in my workbook, and I have videos to turn to tomorrow (Monday off from work – hurrah!) – a project nearing completion for my YouTube channel. I’ll get the canvas ready on the easel, to challenge me to action by its blank tempting presence.

More to report soon, I hope. If you have any questions about either the painting or the process, please put them in the Comments, below… I do read and respond to them!

Thank you and best wishes.

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Gallery page update

I’ve just added the new works to the Oil Paintings page, link at the top of this page.

Now for a short stroll in the fresh air, moody overcast hanging like a dark ceiling over the Ochil hills to the north while the wind snatches bright leaves off the branches; the birds haven’t given up singing though, which is encouraging.

Time to think of the next painting…

New work – the full picture(s)

Oil painting - landscape, bright golden harvest fields, rolled bales, top edge shows distant water and white refinery buildings , impressionistic style.
Golden Fields of Arcadia.
Oil on canvas board approx 30x40cm

The last few days of last week gave me the opportunity to be productive on the art front, two new paintings in oils completed. A few minor adjustments in the last couple of days and I’m happy to sign them off now.

Pumpkin Soup – still life.
Oil on canvas. 19x25cm

I’ll add these to the Oil Paintings gallery page over the weekend. These photos seem to give a pretty good colour match, though in the end a lot depends on your own screen.

I may have a little more to say on the “Golden Fields of Arcadia”, why I chose that name and so on, but not this evening… it’s too late and the internet is going slow here…

Have a good weekend!

Landscape in oil – new painting.

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.

Morning Peaks – Ben Lawers & An Stuc from Meall Garbh
Oil on Canvas Board 30.5 x 25.4 cm (12″ x 10″)

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.

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!

Back on the ground

I’ve moved, a few miles closer to where I work and from two floors up in a flat back to the earth in a small cottage in an old village that was once a port until land was reclaimed, Dutch-style, and the Forth was pushed back a few hundred metres behind a long dyke.

It’s a good little sun-trap, better than I’d anticipated, and I can even get the internet to work by the cunning use of my mobile in an upstairs window!  Now begins the slower task of sorting and purging my stuff and designing storage shelving that fits the quirky dimensions of the new spaces and has some degree of aesthetic quality!  I may even be able to start doing some painting again , later in the Summer; for now, I have enough to do in wood.  I’m also well into making a dining table, to be followed by benches to go with it, a project I aim to finish in July.

Meantime, we are getting some wonderful weather, especially for Scotland, which makes for very pleasant cycling to work.  Yesterday evening, there was a beautiful sky, it looked like the angels had been combing their hair, between heaven and earth, swifts flew and whistled…

angels hair with swifts