Upstairs, the soft scent of water-mixable oil paint on canvas…. after a gap, I’ve started a new painting. Images and perhaps more to follow in a while. Meantime, I finished one sketchbook and started a new one..
It’s been a while, too long really, since last painting. Other forms of creativity have occupied the time and energy I’ve had over the last few months. Then, stepping off the bus near home on Friday, I was struck by thesight of billowing cumulus over the Ochil hills, green crops rippling in the wind. Now, at last, the time to squeeze out fresh paint and make a sketch, referring to the fresh memory and a hasty photograph.
It’s not finished but, having started, it will be.
I have been looking at these splendid harvest fields for a while, over the last few years I’ve been in this area. This part of the Forth valley has a lot of large arable fields, any old hedges that may have been there are long gone and they are ploughed, planted and sprayed right up to the edges, little or no “headlands” of uncultivated ground left for wildflowers to grow in and provide a modicum of refuge and food for insects. The main crops seem to be various grains – wheat, oats, possibly some barley – and rapeseed or similar oil-seed plants. The fields appear to be intensively cultivated, though hay is grown and gathered into these impressive and slightly surreal-looking cylinders that have been a feature of UK farming for many years now. They ripen into vibrant, vast areas of rich golds of varying hues and textures, depending on the forms of the various crops, with darker lines that emphasise the form of the land, tracks of huge tractors and baling machines, then the harvesting machinery.
In my walks and cycle rides around here, I’ve also been struck by the ambiguous beauty of the Grangemouth refineries (Ineos, I think, is the company that operates them). They are responsible for both providing the necessary fuel, fertilizers and other agrochemicals for our present agriculture, significant local employment and for a lot of hazards and pollution of the local and wider environment. Flares are regularly to be seen, occasionally huge rolling flames and sooty fumes, following, I’m told, emergency pressure relief procedures. I understand that the company is fined on a fairly regular basis for these releases of gas, though I’ve seen and heard no sign of meaningful remedial action. As with many things, the situation has many facets.
Large-scale engineering, ships and industrial buildings have always fascinated me; there is an element of the frustrated engineer in me for sure, I was never able to get to grips with the mathematics. Far from finding them “ugly” in the conventional sense, I often see the moments of beauty and subtlety in them, especially in certain light and weather conditions. A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I remember glimpsing the huge cement works at Chelson Meadows in Plymouth, Devon, on an early morning drive. It appeared as a vast castle, in blocks of pale grey and pink, in the morning misty sunlight. I made several drawings of it, to the puzzlement of several people who asked me “why are you drawing that eyesore?” That works is long-demolished, the ground landscaped, I believe, and perhaps my drawing is now a historical document of sorts, but this is a digression.
On a cycle ride along a path into the woods near Skinflats, I stumbled across an art installation called “Inscriptions in Arcadia”, by Audrey Grant, very nearly and inadvertently stealing part of one of the works … until I saw the sign! The theme of the installation intrigued me and resonated with some of the thoughts that had arisen, back in 2019, when I had looked out over ripening summer fields towards Grangemouth:
“Yellow Gold – ….enriches & touches our desire & emotions, feeds our egos… enables our electronics, lifts our aesthetics.
“Black Gold – in our myopic ignorance we burn this, mostly, the stored solar energy of ancient Earth feeds our industry, ..engines, ..our restless desire for movement & the illusion of a limited, short term freedom, while we poison our air & water & are still blind to its true value as a raw material.
“Green Gold – growing silently in the summer sun, welcoming the rain that we bemoan, refreshing our atmosphere, filtering our dust and detritus, feeding our restless, dissatisfied bodies and minds…”Sketchbook 31 – 14 July 2019
This painting has emerged from these notes and subsequent observations, pulled together with the idea of an Arcadia, an imagined idyllic land but that is still touched, if not tainted, by destructive and harmful processes. I had not been aware, until a comment on my previous post, of the more classical associations:
Et in Arcadia Egohttps://www.historytoday.com/archive/foundations/et-arcadia-ego
Even in a pastoral idyll, there is death.
…which adds an interesting layer, I think.
This is not a specific view but a combination of local elements from several sketches, photos and observations. When approaching the painting, I wanted to focus on my initial visual experience of the vivid yellows and golds and of the softer reflections and uncertain forms from across the estuary, aware of darker and more contradictory processes behind it all. As with all these paintings, I feel I’m learning and discovering at each step; I’ve certainly enjoyed painting it.
Thank you for reading this far! What’s next? I’m not yet sure, I have unrelated videos to attend to …. however, I hope to start another soon.
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…
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.
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!
Following on from yesterday’s post, “Catching a falling leaf…”, I set to work, today, to paint a more finished version of the ideas arising from the photos and sketch I referred to, this time in oils on board (Windsor & Newton water-mixable oils).
I painted it in about 4 hours, to judge by the radio programs I heard during the process – I was not keeping a close eye on the time! This is pretty quick by my standards, especially in oils in the “studio” (interpret that term loosely! I long for such a luxury!). Now I must let it rest and the paint cure and attend to the things I was telling myself were more important, this time with a clearer mind and a feeling of achievement. I’m pleased with the result, which feels like a step in the right direction for me; working with consideration and some preparation but not over-thinking it, taking a looser approach, allowing more expression and impressions to emerge.
And so to the washing of brushes, dishes and self as I prepare for another busy week ahead. With best wishes to you and thanks for reading this.
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…
Among other things, I’m capturing some Outdoor Moments. Here’s a sample: https://youtu.be/V1VGhYHCN5c
Meanwhile, I wish you a good week in these uncertain, tentatively hopeful, times.
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)
Sketchbook (A6), pigment ink pen, water-brush, selection of Derwent Inktense water-soluble pencils
Camera (Osmo Action), stick, tripod, spare batteries
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!!).
Today I was trying out a new plein air setup with oils on the slopes of Ben Vorlich, north of Stirling, then collecting other people’s litter & dog poop on the way down. It’s been a beautiful day, very crowded near this local honeypot, I was lucky to find a space to park at all, down by Loch Earn.
5″x7″ canvas, with a simplified Pochade Box setup for the canvas, with a spacer, and the palette (a piece of thin metal sheet that can reflect a nice neutral grey) Winsor & Newton water mixable oils. Home-made squeegee-brushes. Once I’d got started I enjoyed it, I may do a bit more on it at home this week in what remains of any daylight, or do a larger version based on this and a couple of photos, but try to focus on the underlying dynamics of what I was seeing behind the facade of “reality”…. I’ll return later when the weather is more uncertain and deters the crowds; I’ll also get up earlier!
Work in progress, the beginning of a longer term project. I need to refine this a bit and get a lightweight camera tripod that allows me to tilt the board and stand up to paint at it. I got the general idea from Andy Beck on this video: https://youtu.be/Q4c6NbRP5Q4 but simplified it as I didn’t have a specific tripod to fit the palette section to and this is very small, to fit easily into a rucksack.
More soon, I’ve been very busy of late, unable to post or even do much art. And now, to sleep, ready for another Monday.