It’s a day of soft grey overcast and rain, the air still warm and the crops glowing golden with fringes of white-yellow and warmer oranges and greens to give the fields a dynamic colour, contrasting with the lush greens of the still-productive foliage around.
I tried some early blackberries (brambles) today, sweet and tasty, not yet moisture bloated. The spiders who normally guard them had retreated to their silken indoors to avoid the pummelling of raindrops that must be, to them, like medicine balls would be for us (remember them from the old gymnasium equipment, anybody?).
A few weeks ago, I bought a new sketchbook from my old regular art supplies shop in Aberystwyth, Wales, during a holiday visit to family and friends. This one has nice heavy watercolour paper that takes a wash well and invites play with media.
Friday afternoon (yesterday) was the conclusion of a busy but productive week, the schools are back in Scotland now, which left me feeling more energised than usual with a stimulating but slightly uneasy buzz of creative mental activity that at the time felt inspired but that I know from experience does not always translate into useful nor quality productivity. I spent a while in a cafe in central Stirling, watching the end of afternoon activity from a pleasant window seat, trying to capture some of the postures and groupings of people nearby, without staring directly at them, allowing my streaming thoughts to run like over-excited children until they tired and curled up in a quiet heap, somewhere in my mind… no tears, luckily, but a relaxed and reasonably focused state with just a babbling brook of thoughts as a background to my main focus.
A family group, the young boy full of energy and impatience, pushing himself up into a stretch in his chair. Two older adults, central, still. Three young women, pulling up their feet from the pavement and blending conversation, coffee and texting, as if curling inwards to make a small, intimate space of themselves. After my main sketch, I added analytical thumbnails, exploring what I was actually seeing or experiencing… notes for future reference, perhaps.
Inside, what appeared to be older parents and two young men, a contrast of body language and activity was what struck me, the conversation sounded relaxed in tone, but this young man was deeply intent on his phone and whatever remote world it took him to, his (I guess) father looking on. I wondered what the communication between them was like… there was something suggesting intensity and drama about the young man’s postures.
Back home, I added watercolour washes, returning briefly to the sketching frame of mind. Then, enough, time for a shower, food, relaxation.
Outside, the gentle hiss of rain falling and tempting the snails to risk their lives crossing paths and roads. Inside, time to stop and sleep.. Goodnight and I wish you a peaceful sleep.
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!!).
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.
The mountains were calling, today, with a good layer of recent snow for well over a week now and a reasonable weather forecast. I packed my gear and made an early start, before dawn, driving up to Loch Tay and the Scottish National Trust car park between Ben Lawers and Tarmachan ridge.
The first part of the ascent was in bright morning sunshine, only one other person already ahead of me. As I neared the upper slopes of Beinn Ghlas, the forecast cloud began to come in, subtly at first, a light haze that scattered the sunlight in strange ways and produced a second sun at one point, the reflection from Loch Tay brighter than the “real” one.
Then I was into a near whiteout for the next few hours, a cold northerly wind making it a “proper” winter day and giving me practice at navigating in challenging optical conditions, the uniform light making it almost impossible to judge scale and distance until very close to an object; edges and references vanish and you have to take care not to walk over a concealed drop.
It was too cold for pushing the sketching envelope today but I did manage a quick sketch to back-up the photos I took – I wanted to draw as well as shoot, the action of sketching helps to capture and focus my mind upon what I am seeing/perceiving/feeling… what is the experience I am having? I now have some material and ideas for a future painting or at least study. Whan I will do that i am not sure; I am engaged in making with wood in 3-D at present. I have, however, had a genuinely “quality mountain day”, a set of memorable walking and visual experiences that are adding to the stock of mental material.
The trouble with Summer, for me, is that it is in many ways the hardest time for me to get down to any painting. Pleasant weather and long days, especially here in Scotland, make for good plein-air painting conditions, for sure, but also for walking, cycling, kayaking and canoeing, all of which are important activities for me, especially as I am in the process of updating my outdoor qualifications; steps for a shift in direction.
I’ve been working in small stages on a small landscape in oils, the second in what I intend will be a series of mostly Scottish landscapes. This weekend I’ve chosen more restful activities than usual of late and have finished this one.
The scene was among the literal and emotional high points of an overnight trip to the Loch Tay area to make an ascent and traverse of the Ben Lawers and neighbouring peaks. I had walked in along tracks to a fine bivvy spot beneath the eastern end of the ridge and made a dawn start on a clear, cool morning. It was a superb day, hazy but spacious and with a cold wind that kept me a comfortable temperature while carrying a pack up hill.
From Meall Garbh there is a steep descent to the bealach (saddle or pass) and a steeper, scrambling, ascent up An Stuc; a few moments of concentration needed to make moves with a full pack to interfere with my balance. This was the best direction from which to tackle this peak while carrying a load. It was helpful to see the first human being of the day, ahead of me and travelling light up what looks a near-impenetrable wall from the angle of the bealach.
It was a day for taking photographs, too chilly to sit comfortably for long to sketch in exposed viewpoints and, in any case, I was full of the urge to move and maintain a good speed over this wonderful set of hills; my mind and body were for moving.
I reached Ben Lawers summit around 1130, meeting the first people arriving at the top that morning and feeling good to have made full use of the daylight. After this, I slowed my pace, sat in sheltered spots and lingered in the bright light and feeling of space, hesitant to descend to the car park and “complete” my adventure. I had achieved a walk that I had wanted to do since my first ascent and visit to this part of Scotland a few years ago and was in no rush to drive home.
I’ve had to work mostly from the photos I took that day as a reference, a prompt for refreshing the experience of the place, rather than a subject to try to copy, although the forms and light are important elements for me. I am not ready to abstract this too much to allow a more expressive interpretation, though this formed a stage in preparatory thumbnails.
The picture is resting, now, I’m happy it’s finished. I have a list of others to choose from to begin soon. More as it happens… Have a good week.
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!
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 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.