Saturday, 9 February 2019

New Studio! Up and running!

My big project at the start of this year has been to get a wee studio built. I've been planning it for a year and have had a few setbacks for one reason or another.  Eventually I decided to build a posh garden shed, or rather a 'garden room', courtesy of  a firm called Bridge Timber

Doing a building project in this part of the world in the month of January is not an easy task, but the guys set to it very cheerfully, despite freezing temperatures and days of never-ending rain. Within a few days this was how it looked....
 and within two weeks it was fully finished, like this....
I still have a few externals to do, like proper steps and a bit of landscaping. But the internals have been more of a priority.  The space looked so big at first - a lovely empty space - and it took several days to paint it.
But by the time I got the printing press installed and moved the rest of my stuff in from my temporary studio, the space had filled up quite a bit.

It has filled up even more since this point - I suppose a bit of creative clutter doesn't go amiss, but I'm trying very hard to be organised. In the past I have allowed clutter to build up and I found it very frustrating, distracting and bad for creativity: now I have a chance for a new start and I'm determined to be more organised.

At last I've been able to get on with some work. Here's what I've been up to.
Doing a bit of printmaking. (Here's my reflection in the velux window...a kind of arty photo!)

And doing a bit of painting.  Trying to keep my palette simple (not too many colours... and choosing those colours carefully).
I've also been thinking about themes to focus on this year.  I'd like to create a body of work and not be all over the place. The trouble is that the themes that interest me are a bit challenging for picture-making.  Themes such as environmental armageddon - maybe that's too depressing, anyway.  So I'm thinking about metaphors for loss, change and impending doom (nice, eh?)....motifs like abandoned villages, stormy weather, damaged landscapes.  Perhaps my most recent photopolymer print - Skyburst - is along the right lines. Something to build upon perhaps.

 Anyway, I have some themes and ideas, I have the materials and I have the working space, so I really have no excuses now.  I just have to fight off the siren forces of distraction and procrastination.  As you know, life can so often get in the way of art, and that's the biggest challenge of all.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Sketch Book Review

I have been reviewing my 2018 sketchbooks.  I think this will help me to think about what I'm going to do next year.  Once again I am resolved to do more blogging this year - I find it helps me to keep focused on my work and work things out in my head.

Trying to see if there are themes emerging from my sketches. Like the landscapes of home.

Lochcarron and Kishorn.  The sea and the hills.  Rocky foregrounds which I haven't quite perfected yet.  I like rocks and want to keep sketching these in order to get the right look.

And other less familiar landscapes, such as those above in Mallorca.

Then there are the trees at home and abroad. Like this Mallorcan pine tree perched on the edge at the top of the Barranc near Soller in Mallorca.

I was particularly attracted to the exotic shapes of Olive Trees in Mallorca.

 But any tree with character tells me it wants to be sketched, including an old apple tree in Colonsay.


And then there are buildings, groups of buildings and structures.  Like the steading at Balmacara.

 Quiet lanes in Edinburgh's New Town.

The narrow streets of the Alfama in Lisbon.
 And monumental buildings, such as the Belem Tower
Not forgetting the architectural details of buildings in Soller, Mallorca.

And bridges are a favourite subject, including this one nearer home at Duncraig Halt on the Kyle Line.

These are just a few of my sketches from 2018.  However, it's one thing to sketch but quite another to create paintings, and I know I have to spend more time in 2019 playing with sketches and creating pictures. That's probably my resolution for 2019.  Happy New Year!

Monday, 19 November 2018

Golden Days

It seems that we've just hit a spell of good weather up here.  Sunny crisp days.  The hills and summits are so clear.  Had a bit of a hillwalk in Strathcarron yesterday and today I had to run over to Torridon to deliver some calendars, so I took the opportunity to do a bit of sketching.

At this time of year, the grasses are wonderful shades of orange and ochre, and the deer grass has sent out its delicate long stems.  Here's the sketch I did yesterday on a walk in the Strathcarron hills above Achintee. I was trying to get the pattern of the shadows on the hillside, shadows cast by the rocky outcrops. And the lochan kept changing colour as the wind changed. I was able to take a bit of time as it was warm enough and I was quite pleased with this.
Today was similar.  The hills were clearer than ever but there was a cold wind blowing.The shore of Upper Loch Torridon looked cold, in shadow.
Then on through Glen Torridon, stopping for a sketch of Liathach. We stopped at the second car park where there is a stand of pine trees. By this time there was a small cloud sitting on top of Liathach which I was viewing from the east.
On our way back I had time for another sketch of Liathach, a view from the south this time. We walked a bit along the lochside path and I spied a good view with a host of Torridon pines in the shade in front of the hills.
And as a wee extra, Beinn Damh was catching some intense light with interesting shadows so I did a last quick sketch before I headed home.
Lots of material for a few paintings, but this lovely weather is very distracting!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Hand Made

Difficult times. I've had a thumb/wrist problem - De Quervain's tendonitis to be precise - and this has hampered my painting and printmaking. I so need my right hand! However, this week it's been a little better and I've been trying to get back into a bit of painting.
I started on Sunday with a couple of sketches. I drove up the Bealach road, not too far, just high enough to get a good view of the ridge. And then found a space where I could pull off the road safely.  I walked up the hill a bit and did these two sketches in pastel.  I particularly liked the bright yellow grasses bending in the fierce wind and looking bright in front of the hills behind.

Since then I've tried to develop these into paintings.  Making a start on the first sketch, I paused at this point
It's so interesting to look at this again. I now see things in this composition that I've lost going forward....look
The shape of the hill on the left - I've inadvertantly altered the angle and it's lost some tension. But maybe it's not too bad...

In this development, I've adjusted the height of the ridge and softened the dark patch on the right hand side - I didn't think it looked appropriate. But the shape of the hill on the left has got worse! I was also a bit unhappy with the colour - looked a bit washed out! More work needed.
Today I have done this - I think it's looking better. The darkness of the hill is much better, more drama. I've slightly amended the yellow grasses and added more foreground marks. I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about the marks to make to represent the grasses and other vegetation. And I dropped the height of the far-away ridge - I painted it out in a blue-white which I didn't really intend to be the finished colour, but actually I quite like it!  Interesting! It may remain...we'll see.

Painting the other view has been less successful. Here's the start - very loose and rather nice.
But then I did this.  Added lots more marks. Good and bad.
I had gone back to the sketch to check tonal values, and so made the ridge a bit darker, and tried to divide up the foreground to make it read well, all the time thinking about marks.  I took this approach a little further.

Does it feel like a hillside to you? I think it's getting there, but those rocks are bad! Maybe I just need to darken them down. Or maybe dispense with them!  I'm quite liking the sky, though, and the hilltops, so I think it's worth a bit more effort next week.

And maybe some more sketching tomorrow if we get a blink of sun...


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Sketching In The South

I've been off to warmer climes recently - not just once, but twice!  I had a holiday in Soller, Mallorca at the end of April, followed by a 5-day sketching trip to Lisbon.  What luck!  It's been quite a change for me sketching in such bright sunlight, and sketching lots of buildings and exotic trees.

Mallorca was an active holiday - lots of walking in the countryside around Soller.  The landscape in the area is pretty spectacular - it's a World Heritage Site described as a cultural landscape with "the near-perfect symbiosis between the action of human beings and nature, which has occurred for centuries".  It is this integration between human intervention and nature that makes it such an interesting landscape - it is described as "a merging of culture, traditions, aesthetics, spirituality and identity". 

The Barranc de Biniaraix is one of the best places to see this unique landscape.  It's a ravine running from the valley floor all the way up to a high plain and the mountain tops. The most obvious features are dry stone walling, terracing and the cobbled stone path which threads its way up through the terraces of olive groves to the top.  Not easy to sketch, but I gave it a go.
This is a wild landscape that has been tamed by humans, fashioned into terraces of olive groves by the building of walling and irrigation systems.

As you struggle up the steep slope, you can see how there is a constant battle going on between humans and nature, with some of the walling crumbling under the forces of erosion, and the riverbeds and canals all dried up lower down.
I had a go at trying to sketch the terracing and the olive trees, but couldn't do it justice.

I was more successful with my sketches of individual olive trees.  This one was done in pencil at the end of a long walk.  I loved the chunkiness of the trunk contrasting with the delicacy of the foliage and the twigs.
And towards the top of the Barranc, there is more natural vegetation, like this brave pine tree growing on the edge of the cliff.

I did this sketch to remind me of the layers of vegetation - the olive groves sitting within the natural landscape of  the pines and mountains.  I love the darkness of the olive trunks under the pale unruly olive leaves.

The Barranc is a major feature, but the coastline of North-West Mallorca is spectacular.  One day we walked to Cala Tuente - a place where no coach buses may go (the road is too steep and twisty).  This is a fine, strenuous walk in the heat, again mostly on cobbled pathway.  The landscape is a mix of cultivated terraces and native plants until you get over the coastal ridge where nature takes over in more rugged terrain, and you get spectacular views like this.

The town of Soller was no less interesting, but I only managed a few sketches. Like this charcoal one, near where we were staying.
And this part of an old mill (next door to Bar Melino, which was a nice spot!)
And even in Soller, the close relationship people have with nature was clear, with so many pot plants lining the narrow residential streets, framing the well-polished cobblestones.

Lisbon was a much more urban scene - quite a different kettle of fish (sardines, of course, haha).  It is such a big city and we were sketching in only one small part of it - the area in and around the waterfront. Even this limited area is quite diverse in character, with several quite different neighbourhoods.   There were six of us staying in a lovely apartment.  Our first stop was a visit to the World Heritage Site at Belem (the Belem Tower and the Monastery of the Hieronymites (Jeronimos).  However, I took the wrong train to Belem and had to walk back along the waterfront to the Tower where I found some welcome shade for sketching, and a view of the Tower that I liked.
By this time the queue for the Monastery was too long (I wasn't going to wait in the sun for an hour and a half), so I decided to head for the tropical botanic garden nearby.  I thought it looked a bit neglected, but it was quiet and I was determined to do a couple of sketches.  I managed to find a bench in the shade eventually.  I wanted to bring a peacock into the pic as I'd been listening to several of them mewling as I wandered through the garden.
After lunch I managed to get into the Monastery and did a couple of sketches, but they're not very exciting. The architectural style is Portuguese late Gothic, termed 'Manueline', and I find it a little fussy for my taste.  And it was very busy etc.

Another day I spent in the Alfama area, where our apartment was, and I walked up to the Portas do Sol beside the castle and did this pencil and charcoal sketch.  It was very busy here too but no-one noticed me standing in the shady corner.
It's surprising that the Alfama is not part of any World Heritage Site as it's the oldest part of Lisbon (the earthquake destroyed the main centre) and you feel a certain timelessness there. 

The Alfama is a maze of narrow streets, a vibrant community, full of life during the day and in the evening.  While I was sketching this scene (left) shops were opening up and people were putting out shelves of fruit and veg for sale.  Tour guides were walking through with their parties, and old ladies and old men were setting themselves up to sell their home-made cherry wine.

Other spaces were quieter, more residential in character.  Like this quiet breathing space. 
And here was another quiet, cool flight of steps where you could just make out the sea in the distance.
I was noticing the shadows and the colours of reflected light on the walls of the buildings, but neither of these spots was comfortable to sit for long and so I added colour to these two sketches later, back in the apartment where I sheltered from the midday sun.

In the busier streets there was less shelter from the sun.  I loved the dark tree trunks against the bright house walls, like this one.

And when I was able to find a spot to look down on the townscape, there were some wider views, like this.
Other days were spent walking around and sketching - here's a selection - and I have lots of photos of details such as tiling and street patterning.

 I thought the city quite beautiful, with a strong artistic tradition, and, of course, references to sardines everywhere.  Definitely worth visiting.

What shall I do with all these sketches?  Ahhh....that will require more thought!