Tag Archives: plein air

Sunday sketch

It’s been a slow, overcast, misty day, damp and good for indoor things.

I went outside though, down to the great river… a quick sketch before returning with the rich scents of mud, water, wet grass and wild roses filling my mind while Cormorants hung out their wings to dry in the humid air, high above the low-tide water on a navigation marker.

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An afternoon of words, with echoing visual and olfactory impressions in the back of my mind and a background hum of contentment over having achieved one sketch today.

In a few hours, Monday… have a good week.

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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.

 

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:

Wild sketch, 1 of several. .

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:

Favourite places

I returned to mid-Wales, a week ago, to visit my mother, join the celebrations of a good friend’s birthday and meet friends not seen for a long time. It was good.

The surf forecast proved reliable too, though with strong winds that made it hard actually to catch the lovely waves that break here more often than people expect. The water was colder than I’d experienced there for years, about the same as the North Sea!

The next day, before going to visit an artist friend, I sketched the south end of the beach :

I’ve caught more of it than I’d thought at first. something to build upon.

The Wheel before the Horses.

Yesterday I made a sketching journey along the Forth and Clyde canal from the Falkirk Wheel on the west side of the city to the Kelpies and Helix Park on the east side. I had seen a similar, though much shorter, documented journey that I made in one of my sketchbooks in 2015 on a workshop day with Art North Wales at the Trigonos Centre in Nantlle. It’s an approach I don’t use much, though I do a lot of sketching overall, and when I do I find it very useful in forming a narrative link between the studies and finishing with an enhanced sense of having made a journey, not just a random set of sketches; perhaps I feel a greater sense of completion, though they are not in themselves ‘finished’ pictures.

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I drew with a pen, the UniPin pigment pens from Mitsubishi Pencil Co, which I like for its combination of strength of line, lack of ‘bleed’ through the paper, waterproof nature that allows me to paint a wash over shortly afterwards. I tried a different, more compact, set of watercolours, in a well-designed metal case that doubles as a water bottle and pot. It’s a gift from a friend whose father worked for Windsor & Newton for many years and I don’t think they make anything as good any more. With a piece of old cotton cloth and a water-brush, I was ready.

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I travelled by bike, by far the most pleasant way to move around on such a trip, no parking issues, always the chance to stop whenever something catches my eye and the clean, fresh air, sociability of it and the opportunity for exercise at the same time. The paths along the canal are very good and a tribute to the bodies who refurbished and reopened the canals after the shameful abandonment of them from the 1960s. It’s such pleasant cycling that I feel almost in the Netherlands.

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The access to the canal is not far from where I live at present, from there it was a quick ride to reach the upper canal, the Union, that links to Edinburgh, where it emerges into the top of the Falkirk Wheel. As I’d started a little later than intended, I made this a coffee and lunch stop and found a spot for my first study.
There are usually lots of people at the visitor centre, cafe and watching the Wheel as it turns with its cargoes of boats of all sizes, bringing them between the upper and lower canals, an elegant solution to avoid what used to be many more locks.

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Further along, near Lock 16, I spotted an intriguing boat that I thought at first was a Thames Barge but turned out to be a sailing Dutch barge, with large leeboards on each side (they can be lowered to provide a side-mounted ‘keel’ as the boat is flat-bottomed). Het Leven, from Westzaan. She is a long work in progress for him but a worthwhile, if considerable, project. After talking about the details of rig and how she handles at sea, I set off.
Past the old Rosebank distillery, which, unaware, I pass most days on the way to work and which apparently used to produce a fine whisky. It seems there may be plans to restore the distillery, which would be a good addition to Falkirk. Later, swans grazing by the path while a man on his phone was watched patiently by his dog; he was still there in the same position (definitely alive!) when I passed again later.
A threat of rain began to hang in the air and I pedalled on more quickly to the end of the trail, by the Kelpies, where I celebrated with cake and coffee.

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Notes from the sketchbook:
“There is something about these magnificent sculptures that is more than their form or scale alone, I feel drawn here by a sense of living presence.
Yet it is really created by us, the people who are transforming a place not just by our [own] presence, activity and artefacts but by the meanings we make in our own minds, the relationships we perceive and form from our senses and emotions. It’s more than just the literal history and allusions to the important role the great draught horses played in the growth and prosperity of Falkirk and [the Central Belt]; the horse has a deeper, more emotional, meaning for us, even in this age of distracted mechanisation… most people have become separated from … close experience of the energy and power of horses and other domesticated animals who serve, endure and die for our own well-being.”

Scotland – storms and light

It has been a wild week: low cloud, strong to gale force winds, regular bands of rain or slushy snow,  punctuated by brilliant sparkling sunshine and, on the last day, luminous rainbows framing mountains that I have not made time to climb on this journey.

On the way north, I caught the last ferry of the day, just, to the isle of Mull, which was hiding under a thick grey winter blanket with a cold wind raising a small choppy swell.

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I have achieved all but two of the main objectives that I had for this half-term break. I have spent time with friends not seen for too long, explored some new places, slept under stars and stormy nights in my oldest tent and on a boat, immersed myself briefly in the sea and made a number of paint sketches on most days. I had intended to paint more outside, but the general wetness of everything meant that the car was my main studio, if only to prevent the sketchbook from disintegrating.

Inspired by a recent presentation to the Wolverhampton Society of Artists, I had bought a brown card sketch book to experiment with painting quickly on a nearly mid-toned ground. I have enjoyed the results, in part because I  tried to loosen up my painting and catch impressions rather than details.

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At one place, the enigmatic Clava Cairns near Culloden, I felt a figurative sketch wouldn’t work. Instead I followed a more expressive approach, a response to what I perceived in the place: the sense of the geographical location, the feeling of a flow of something through the site,  the sense of presence I felt standing near some of the cairns and upright stones.

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I’ve been able to get used to using my reduced palette of acrylics in the outdoors or in the car, refinishing the logistics of deploying and stowing paints, water and a brush or two; all good practice for a possible trip further afield around Easter.