For the last few months my creative energy has been directed into video editing as I begin to set up a YouTube channel and produce material for an online course for beginners in navigation and map-reading. I have ideas for another, arts-focused, channel but that is for later.
This has, inevitably, reduced the time and energy left for sketching and painting but, for now, that’s ok.
Still, it was good, yesterday morning, to ride out into the fresh, bright air and make a small sketch of the ruined Kennetpans distillery, near Kincardine on the River Forth. Pigment ink pen (Uni pin) and Inktense pencils, plus a water brush – now among my favourite field sketching tools and media.
I will be glad of the Easter break, when I do plan to squeeze fresh oil paint onto the palette and rediscover the joyful, and committing, feeling of spreading the first marks on a new board or canvas. Perhaps I’ll leave a camera running…
It’s been a productive day, better weather than yesterday and a chance to get outside in my local area and practice more plein air painting, sketching in oils (water mixable) on a small board.
My focus at present is on getting accustomed to the ergonomics of my portable painting setup and on loosening up my painting in a more energetic and playful spirit , letting go of the restrictive urge to try to produce perfection that has so often tightened up my paintings and driven me to over-work them.
I’m quite pleased with today’s effort. I overcame my Sunday inertia to get out and paint, dealt with a passing rain shower, as well as cold hands and an uncomfortable seat. I set myself an hour and kept to that limit.
This little stand of Birches and Bracken caught my eye in the warm afternoon sunlight and chilly south westerly breeze. I’ve always been drawn to the way the whitish bark contrasts against the darkness of other trees, the warm leaf colours defying both the shortening days and the efforts of the wind to dislodge them, holding on against the approaching winter.
I had planned to do some more plein-air oil sketching during yesterday’s walk, west of Bannockburn, in an area that looked promising for a lot of points of interest and a day with a fine weather forecast. My body decided that it needed sleep more than an early start, after a very busy week, so by the time I got moving and organised, I knew it would be uncertain whether I had enough time to explore a new route, stop to paint for nearly an hour and still get back to the car before dark. (Want to see what equipment I bring? Click here.)
In the end I managed a quick ink sketch in my little book but the paints and mini-pochade box, plus small tripod, remained in my rucksack as training weights! It was a glorious walk, during which I took practice video clips and lots of photos; here’s one of the highlights, a view north-west over the low-lying clouds through which I’d spent the last two hours walking:
This is a place to which I shall return, both on my own account and I hope with students on a training expedition for their Bronze or Silver Duke of Edinburgh Awards, as we’re operating under new guidelines and criteria now.
By the time I reached the car again, it was dark and I realised that I had made a correct decision to press on, exploring unfamiliar and often indistinct paths through varied forest and woodland; a surprisingly wild feel to this area given the proximity of a small city and busy motorway. I resolved to make the effort to paint, the following day.
Today’s outing was very local, a foray into the woods about a kilometer from home, keeping it short and simple in order to be free of any excuses for prevarication. The weather had turned wet, very much a “dreich” day, not really conducive to outdoor painting or drawing, more a day for wellies, a brisk walk with a wet and happy dog, hot strong coffee, cake and a good book indoors. I’ve lost my wellies, have no dog, nor cake, so postponed the coffee and book and hauled my rucksack and gear on, fetched a big umbrella and trudged off into the squelchy woods.
Despite the grey overcast, the remaining autumnal colours glowed still and I found an inviting spot by the weed-covered pond near the Dunmore Pineapple, a folly built in that shape in the 1700s, apparently as a gift to the wife of the estate owner at that time.
I am still getting used to the handling and arrangements of my outdoor painting equipment, a little more challenging under an umbrella, but managed a small, fairly loose sketch. I was more focused on practicing the logistics of it all than on concern over the quality or accuracy of my painting, other than that I wanted to work pretty freely and concentrate on the main colours and contrasts that caught my attention. I painted for a bit less than an hour, surprised to be visited and dined upon by a few persistent midges and using the resulting itching as a practice in relaxing and focusing my mind on seeing and painting.
I was hoping that the oils would tolerate occasional raindrops better than acrylic, though I hadn’t fully considered the fact that these are water-mixable…. ha ha..! A couple of stray drops of rain added some natural spontaneous “environmental interventions”, just to keep me alert!
This sketch was on canvas board but, in part to save on costs but also to help me feel more able to play and explore without feeling I’m “wasting” good materials, I have a stock of thin salvaged mdf/hardboard which I’m priming with gesso. That will become my preferred oil “sketchpad”. I’m still deciding whether I want to use mainly my home-made squeegee “brushes”, mentioned in an earlier post, or proper ones. Today I used both, slightly too generous “wet on wet” but enough to tempt me back to bristles, at least for more detailed or accurate work in due course.
After about 50 minutes of actual painting, the rain was falling steadily and I was feeling satisfied that I’d done enough and achieved my main objective, I packed it all away under the umbrella and walked home, The coffee, and the biscuits, were lovely!
If you are wondering what equipment I took out with me, here’s a photo. The stuff to the left of the maps, compass, whistle and torches (I strongly recommend carrying a whistle and a light of some kind on any trip like this, even in summer) is all for painting, drawing and recording, that on the right is for my comfort and safety – this is for going into relatively wild places after all.
The list is as follows: L-R
Paint box with: cloth, paints, palette knife, water bottle, 2 spring clamps, brushes (cut short to about 7″/17cm) , squeegee brushes, spare canvas/board, plastic bag.
Mini pochade box with 1/4″ camera screw mount, canvas 7×5″, palette (thin sheet of metal – ex offset litho plate)
Cloth and water jar with lid.
Folding fisherman’s seat and piece of camping mat.
Small camera tripod with quick release plate (1/4″ screw)
Maps, compass, whistle, bike lights (good battery life, small ones are cheap and very good emergency lights). Mobile phone – also used to record.
Sanitiser, scarf/mask, cream, spare glasses, flask of hot drink, snacks. In summer, add midge repellent and a head-net (on the West Coast and especially Skye, a midge jacket… seriously! https://bit.ly/3kb83qT )
Warm hat, gloves, spare warm jacket, waterproof jacket and trousers, all on an emergency survival bag.
Climbing sling – useful for tying things to other things, a short length of light rope would be useful instead and cheaper.
First Aid kit (not shown). Swiss army knife. Walking boots.
Optional extras, depending on conditions, would be a telescopic walking pole and a large umbrella (not in a windy situation!!).
It’s traditional barbecue weather this weekend in Edinburgh, where I’ve stopped over to help celebrate a friend’s birthday. Being outdoorsy folk, a couple of awnings and waterproof jackets dealt with the precipitation and we had a good time.
Now I’m enjoying a few leisurely hours in the city centre, watching people and situations and practising peripheral vision sketching.
Overhearing fragments of untold stories. .. if I were better at recalling phrases. .
My coffee cup is drained, only crumbs remain of the cake, time to find a train back to go home, where the beginning of a new painting awaits me.
Outside, the sun has broken through the clouds. . Happy Sunday!
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.
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…