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...


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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!




Saturday, 24 February 2018

Winter Lingers On

January/February is the time of year which gives me the best opportunity to get on with new work. The village is quiet, the Gallery has been closed and the New Year surge is still fresh. Lots of time and motivation to get on with work you would think.

Well, there are always distractions, and, as I mentioned in January, the snow has been a huge distraction, or then again, perhaps it's been an inspiration! The transformation of the landscape with a blanket of white, the change to the light. And the roads have been a bit icy so it's been difficult to get out and about for new sketches.

More Snow pictures

I've been continuing to try to capture the joy of the snow – I do love it! And because it's come and gone and come again this year, the snow patterns have changed. One day I was preoccupied by the 'iron filings' patterns on the hills, the next I was transfixed by the shroud of ice on the shore, and another day it was the sweeping snow showers. I've also been trying to come up with a satisfactory painting of Meal Cean Dearg, one of the Strathcarron/Torridon Munros.  I got as far as producing these two, but not satisfied with either.



However the snow inspired me to make a new linocut plate too. 
I made a sketch of the kale in the garden of Seabank Cottage in Lochcarron - here's a photo 



I could see that there were the makings of a good black and white picture - loved the black patterns of the kale leaves.  So I've made this linocut and have called it 'Winter Garden'.
'Winter Garden'

  Trip to Inverewe

Despite the ice and snow I managed a trip to Inverewe Gardens in January. A number of artists met up – there was a residency on – and we managed a walk and a couple of sketches in a weather window, until the sleet started. I loved the bleakness of dead plants in the snow and managed to do a few sketches such as this one of dormant Gunnera. I was intrigued by the black shapes against the snow, but I haven't thought through where to go with this idea.

However, I'm starting to think that gardens might be a good focus for me this year. I find plant forms (and trees) interesting and I think I would like the challenge of a slightly different focus this year.

Making New Prints

Just last week I was down in Edinburgh for a few days and managed to get a couple of sessions in Edinburgh Printmakers. I was making a couple of new photopolymer plates, like this one that a re-working of an older print.  It's known as 'photopolymer gravure' as I make the drawing first on a piece of transparent film.  Here is the drawing on film and the Toyobo plate I produced.
 And here is a finished print I made this week.  I think if anything it's more expressive that the drawing, so I am pleased with it in that respect.
 I was also trying to improve an aquatinted plate that I wasn't happy with.  I realised that the composition was not good enough and so I cut the plate and did a further series of aquatinting to bring out the landscape, and here's how the finished print looks.
 It's based on a view of a lochan in the hills above Achintee, on the south side of Loch Carron.

They were good sessions – I think the new plates are OK. Now I just have to get down to printing out editions...on my printing press up here. But at least I have made a start.

Painting vs Printmaking

I find it difficult at times to switch from painting to printmaking. I think you must use different bits of your brain. With printmaking you have to be so clear about what you're trying to achieve – plan it out properly in advance – whereas painting is more of an exploratory activity. Matisse said something along the lines of drawing is of the mind but colour is of the senses and I suppose this explains the difference. Anyway, I feel as if I'm in a drawing and printmaking zone at the moment, so that's my focus for the coming month...I think...

Friday, 19 January 2018

Fresh Start

The start of another year always seems like an opportunity for a fresh start and this year is no exception.  Last year was just a bit too busy and this blog has definitely suffered.  And the blog is important to me/my work as it helps me to reflect on what I'm doing (and not doing!). Ah well...

I've been very distracted by the snow - we've had so much of it - and every time I pick up a brush, I just want to use black and white. Perhaps this is a good thing, a good restraint. I sometimes use a little bit of colour - as in this one, which is a view of the bay and shore near where I live.

I quite like the looseness and lack of detail I've managed to achieve in this one.  Perhaps it's looser because this started out as a larger pic and I've cut it down.  It's a much better composition now.
I did this pic at the same time, using the same palette of black, white and some blue and brown.
I think this one is just a bit too studied and static, but then it was on a very cold still day.  The thing about snow is that you get these heavy dark lines appearing and this helps me to focus on the structure of a landscape. I've been thinking about this more in snowy studies I have done over the last 2 weeks.  Here's a charcoal drawing which is based on a sketch  - I loved the lines of the shore disappearing into the sea.
  Then I tried it in ink and acrylic with a little gold oilbar.  But it's not nearly as satisfactory as the charcoal drawing, is it?
I think the angles of the shore are not quite right and this is because I did it sitting down, not at the easel - should know better!  I also thing the hills look a bit boring - a slab of white.  However I thought the gold oilbar was a good idea, so I used it in this view which I did last week too.
But I'm not very satisfied with this - I think it's a bit woosy, trying too hard to be realistic, but being neither one thing nor another in style.  I had another go at it today, with this result.  I find this much more satisfying, being bolder and bleaker.  More graphic, I suppose.  And the composition perhaps works better (for a mood of bleakness).
I did do one other woosy one last week, which is this one of the path alongside the shore.  Again it looks overworked and scratchy, but some of the inky marks are quite good, and the light is not bad.  I was getting a good effect by mixing yellow ochre with white.  I haven't re-done it as I'm not sure if this composition really works.
I can only conclude that although I have made a start to the year, there's a lot more work to be done. Choice of materials is so important, and I need to focus on the materials which produce the best results for me.  Boldness with charcoal or graphite usually gets me off to a good start, I think.  The challenge is always there.



Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Venetian Reflections

The thing about being away with a group of artists is that there's all sorts of talk about "making something" out of our sketches.  Let's have an exhibition!  The GOOD thing about this is that it keeps focus and momentum going.  Although I'm writing this now, in September - in the run up to our Viva Venezia exhibition - at the time when we got back from Italy, there was no realistic prospect of an exhibition.

But the talk alone was enough to keep me focused. I knew I had to get on with things as I was moving house in July.  I also wanted to work while images and thoughts were fresh in my mind.

In reviewing my sketches (previous blog) I realised that I had homed in to detail a lot.  The beauty of the buildings, the craft of the metal railings, the plasterwork and brick patterns - these details had attracted my attention.  Also the beauty of the decaying buildings, with stucco giving way to old brick, crumbling steps, rotting wooden doorways, the spread of green mould - I loved these colours.  And the typography of street names and house numbers, repeating motifs in plasterwork and in brickwork - I was fascinated by these.  They are all part of the richness of the Venetian cityscape.  I decided that Venice is a city that has become a landscape.

There are so many artists who have made images of Venice that it's hard not to have these images in your head when you go to paint.  There are very few of us who have not fallen in love with the work of artists of the past like Turner, and contemporary watercolour artists such as Angus McEwan - masters of their craft. So the first hurdle to overcome was to try not to think about these.

And sometimes we think too much.  Best really to get on and put things down on paper.  So this one was a start.  I was striving for the Venetian colour palette - a certain shade of red alongside Canal green.


As was this
And this

I was trying to do 'experiments' to see what would emerge - not trying to complete a painting.  I was also thinking about printmaking and what might make a good image for a photopolymer print.  This next motif had been the subject of one of my first sketches on our first day, so I re-drew it in charcoal and pencil.
Maybe the composition was too busy, so when I redrew it in ink ready to make a plate, I rationalised the composition to focus on the canal and the boats.  Something lost and something gained....
I was trying to get a certain dreaminess into the image - taking that canal wateriness as far as I could - but incorporating a few of the details (doors and windows) I had observed too.
The other print I did was also a bit dreamy, but on reflection, perhaps less obviously Venice.
But then, I was not really aiming to be anything that shouted 'Venice' - I was, I suppose, searching for 'Venice beneath the surface' - the older Venice, the timeless Venice, the real Venice ?

I did a bit of reading around the history of Venice to understand more about its development. I read that in early years it had been a successful city state with a benign form of government that recognised the value of its workers and rewarded them accordingly.  Because of its defensive position in the lagoon, it retained a separateness and independence from the rest of Italy as well as being an important and wealthy trading place.  Later it expanded primarily as a place of entertainment, a playground.  That 'film-set' appearance is part and parcel of the 'real' Venice.  I also read articles in the press about the fragility of Venice, how threatened it is by damage caused by cruise ships and how this could be better managed but only if adjacent municipalities would work together. Also another threat emanating from the popularity of Air BandB which is driving full-time residents out of Venice.

So beauty and fragility continue to be two key aspects of Venice.  I rationalised that the canals are the source of the main threat - not just from cruise ships but also from Climate Change - and the beauty lies in the craftmanship and detailing and the organic nature of the city.


These thoughts led me to focus on doorways and watergates.  Rather a roundabout way to get there, perhaps.  But what followed on from this was a realisation that I couldn't do my usual free and easy acrylics, but that I'd need to take a little care over details such as fanlight and window grills in order to convey that beauty.  Hence I decided to use watercolour and ink.

I wanted to do really small paintings - like this study - smaller than A5.....


...but I needed a bit more room to recreate enough of the important detailing.  My pics have ended up roughly A4 in size.  Here's a composite with a selection. I'm not sure if I've achieved what I set out to do.  I would like to continue to develop this work and perhaps even go back for more sketching...time will tell.

And now for the advert...our exhibition is
Viva Venezia
in the Birch Tree Gallery, 23a Dundas Street, Edinburgh
14th to 29th October 2017.  Here are the details

Hope to see you there.  :-)