In the last week I completed a second still life from some of the splendid seasonal squashes I bought recently. Having to fit my painting around work days, especially at this time of shortening day length, is sometimes frustrating, though necessary for the time being.
One of the challenges of a still life involving food, for me, is that I fully intend to eat it and don’t want to leave it too long “on stage”, however tempting or even necessary this may be from the point of view of the painting process. Once I had cut open the pumpkin, the pressure was on and I managed to complete the essentials within a couple of afternoons, in fading light.
I used virtually the entire pumpkin, this time, roasting then frying the seeds and thinly-pared skin with seasonings to make a chewy but tasty snack, turning half of the flesh into a delicious houmous and the rest into part of a tasty and sustaining soup, with parsnip and served with homemade bread.
The wine was nice too! (Beyerskloof Pinotage 2020).
The remaining squashes are still in a bowl, slowly becoming more interesting as the skins develop varied contrasting colour spots. I feel tempted to make some more, quick, studies of them, even in artificial light, which I can at least do in these dark evenings after work.
Meanwhile, I have ideas for two other, unrelated, paintings based on observed situations from long ago and very recently but they will take a bit longer to develop.
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:
“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 Ego Even in a pastoral idyll, there is death.
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.
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…
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.
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.