Category Archives: Updates

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.

 

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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

Recovery and reconnaisance.

I had a setback, just after Christmas, when I was admitted to hospital with abdominal pains that led to me having my appendix removed; very tidily via ‘keyhole’ surgery.
This forced me to stop everything for a while but it also provided me with an opportunity to try out media and subjects that I’ve neglected for too long. I set up a simple still life composition and picked up some old Conte pastel pencils that I was given many years back.

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I had forgotten how pleasant it is to build up colours and tones slowly, without the urgency imposed by rapidly drying watercolour or acrylic paint. There is a pleasing feeling of control of the process with dry media that I find can help to deepen my observation of the subject. This is in turn beneficial when I decide to use paint.

My assortment of coloured pencils was not quite working for me though, each type had noticeably different characteristics, including the need for applying fixative, which I wanted to avoid.  I made the decision to clear out my stock, which I gave to the school art department for students to use, and invest in a new set of good quality coloured pencils. After trying a few different types out, I settled on the Koh-i-Noor Polycolour pencils, which have good quality colours and a nice softness without the powdery nature of pastel pencils.

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So now I am starting to explore and play with these nice new colours, it brings back that feeling I had as a child, the joy of simply making marks and building up areas of colour, even just in little thumbnail trials, as here.

I’ll post more in a while, it’s too late to photograph the other sketches just now and I have started back at work.

Little Journeys

My little journey began in the studio at Trigonos, with a mug of coffee. The members of the group, from Art North Wales and Helfa Gelf, dispersed slowly and deliberately on individual explorations around the site, which offers many lovely perspectives on the area around Nantlle.

I took my time, with sketchbook and paints in hand, to focus my attention on my whole experience of the stages of my walk, making notes in words as well as sketches.

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My route took me out to the car park, to greet and watch the chickens as they scratched and squabbled and chuckled to each other, apparently indifferent to the rain and wind and glowing softly in autumn coloured plumage.

I noted small clusters of bright flowers, hanging on into the autumn and making strong contrasts with the predominant rich greens, greys, browns.  Stacks of slate slabs in the walls reminded me of piles of books, the layers of history in this land, tied together with twisting bands of saturated green ivy.  The slanting slabs of the slate fence around the edge of the slate waste heaps are bound together with red-orange rusting wires like straighter versions of ivy stems, contrasting strongly with the blue and purple-grey stone. A few sheep grazed nervously nearby, their wool looking damp and with a slight mossy green tint.  Returning to the site, I noticed a creamy-coloured puddle ringed with variously-shaded slate pebbles and gravel.  Back inside the welcome warmth of the studio, I set up a small, simple still life arrangement from the objects available.  Fresh coffee, … and now to work on pulling this varied material together.  The result:

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Outdoor sketching – Pembrokeshire

I’ve had a brief but relaxing trip to a campsite near St David’s in Pembrokeshire (Wales, UK). Three excellent days of reunion with friends, sunshine, warm rock to climb on, some small but clean waves to surf and comfortably cool water to swim in. I did also manage a couple of hours out sketcning, something I’m not doing enough of right now, in the face of other priorities.  Here’s a sketch from a walk down to Porth Clais, where families were catching crabs while people jumped off the jetty at the harbour mouth.

Crabbing at Porth Clais - pencil & watercolour sketch, approx 5x8in

Crabbing at Porth Clais – pencil & watercolour sketch, approx 5x8in

Tomorrow I start again on a portrait painting I began last October, as a demonstration in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, where the Wolverhampton Society of Artists had its biennial exhibition.