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.
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.
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…
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.
Phone charging opportunities are too infrequent at present to keep this blog updated en route so I’ll post something on return when I have mains electricity again.
Meanwhile, I’ve been lucky so far with the weather and winds, I had help uphill this afternoon, after a morning of beautiful cycling but arduous steep pushes on slopes up to 25%, rewarded by a long fast cruise into Scourie and a very pleasant campsite this afternoon.
I’ve made a reasonable number of sketches so far, lots more photos, though today I used the camera much more due to the need for making distance.
Here’s a sample from my first camp near the impressive Stac Pollaidh, a wild camp on a beach by the Loch: