Sunday, 23 January 2022

Watery Thinking

Last month I wrote that I thought I would start to explore a Biosphere-related theme. I'm happy to report that I've managed to develop this a little further.  I haven't been confining my work exclusively to biosphere-related ideas, but I'm trying to stick with it.  

I haven't been back to Garve, to my favourite black river, but I've looked back at my sketches and thought about progressing with the work.  And I've done further sketching in woodland.  However,  I first thought I'd try something out in oils....

Black River - Small Oil WIP

This is a very small oil pic, a study, really.  I'm not sure about this composition and if I was going to do a larger pic I think I'd need to go back and do a series of sketches.  There are some things I like about this, so I think I'll park it and resolve to return to Silverbridge.  

As a trip to Edinburgh is looming, I decided to focus on a different sketch of the river and redraw this on film in preparation for making a new photopolymer plate at Edinburgh Printmakers. The one I thought might make a good print is this one looking across the river.  Here's the final drawing I made on film. I think (hope!) it's got potential....

Black River With Trees

On Monday this week, I returned to my favourite woodland lochan at Achnashellach for more sketching. Of course, this year's mild weather means that there's no snow and ice, so no frozen lochan - I find the lochan's watery surface much more difficult to handle than an icy surface. The interplay between viewing the reflection on the top surface and seeing into the murky depths – it's hard to capture that.  I suppose that's what intrigued Monet about his waterlilies and ponds. Anyway, in this week's sketches I struggled to capture such visual effects, as you can see....



Sketch 1

Sketch 2
 Sketching was difficult enough, but what about turning these sketches into finished work? Well, all I can say is that I've made a start with this acrylic study - but there's a long way to go. 








Because I'm heading into Printmakers next week, I was thinking about other Biosphere-related images that I could use as the basis for making a new plate. This took me back to earlier sketches I had done of the river at Achnashellach.

Sketch 3

Sketch 4





I did several re-drawings from these and other are a couple of them.

And here's the final drawing on film, ready for making the new plate.

Dark Tree By The River

So this month there's a lot of work in progress and a few unresolved questions.  Will I be able to turn these new finished drawings into new plates? Will they print out well? Can I master the challenge of painting the lochan to show the dreamy interaction between reflected and refracted light? I suppose that's my challenge for next month...


Thursday, 30 December 2021

Starting A New Chapter


2021 has been a busy year and I've never found the time to do any blogging. I've missed it! I think blogging helps me to reflect and improve on the work I'm producing. I shall resolve to try and create more regular blog posts over the next year, using this as my springboard.

I'm developing ideas for a new body of work. I live in a beautiful part of Scotland which was recently designated a UNESCO Biosphere. I'm thinking about doing a series of paintings and prints that are focused on the Biosphere, maybe trying to explore a particular angle or angles. For instance, I was thinking about 'extremities' or 'extremes', or maybe something weather-related with a theme title like 'elemental'.

The Wester Ross Biosphere covers an enormous area with a great variety of landscapes and so another thought is to do several different groups of paintings in an attempt to describe the diversity of the landscapes here. With this in mind, as a start, I've embarked on a series of riverscapes.

Sketching By The River

Sketch 1 in pastel
I went for a walk and a sketch at Silverbridge, outside Garve. Garve happens to lie at the eastern extremity of the Biosphere (and so it also fits with the 'extremities' idea - another reason for sketching there). I had heard about this river – the Black Water - and I found it to be a beautiful, atmospheric place. I took lots of photos too.  It was cold and damp.  I haven't done much sketching by rivers, and so it was a bit of a challenge.

Sketch 2 - pencil drawing of the Wade Bridge

Sketch 3 in charcoal
As I sat sketching, I was reminded of the paintings of Tom Thomson (one of the Canadian Group of Seven). I felt that the combination of the fast-flowing river, the pines on the riverbanks, and the sculpted rocks was redolent of the Canadian landscape (or to be more precise, the Algonquin landscape, I think). This was in my head as I sketched, and it came back to me in the studio when I was developing the sketches.

Developing ideas 1
Developing ideas 2







The river was in such spate, fast-flowing with foaming waterfalls, yellowish peaty water, and rich dark depths. I had done several sketches on both banks of the river and I re-drew these, also referring to photographs. The mixed woodland (pines and birches) provided a dark backdrop, and as it was a gloomy day, I couldn't see the hills beyond the trees.  



Paintings so far.

Painting 1 (so far)

I decided to focus on three images.  I liked the contrast between the rich black pools and the foaming water, and I loved the amazing rocks. 


Painting 2 (so far)

These paintings are all acrylic on paper. I may go on and do an oil painting based on one or two of them, but for the moment I am resting them – setting them aside before deciding if they are finished or not. I've also been seeking out appropriate river poem quotes. I tried MacCaig first, and found this from his poem “Falls of Measach” - “Waterfalls marking the stages to some rich plunge into the dark”. This did seem to fit with the foaming rapids cascading into darkly rich pools. 


Painting 3 (so far)

 I also found these lines by Mary Oliver from her poem “At The River Clarion”-

“I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.”

It strikes me that this might be a good way of describing the mystery of sketching.  What do you think?

Monday, 7 December 2020

The Treeless Landscape

For someone who loves trees (and loves drawing trees.), I find myself sketching landscapes without trees quite a lot. Many are coastal scenes, but hilly landscapes in this region also tend to have few trees. I suppose it's inevitable in these parts where the original tree cover was largely removed several centuries ago. It's a legacy of our industrial heritage, mostly down to shipbuilding and iron smelting, followed by sheep farming. Nowadays, the remaining shreds of our native woodland are so precious that many of them are protected by law.

Anyway, I love the wild windswept look of treeless landscapes: they motivate me to get down to a bit of sketching, even on a moody day like this.  


 I like that elemental feeling that you get from a landscape pared down to its topographical purity, with perhaps the occasional small plantation intruding here and there. However, in compositional terms I can find these landscapes a challenge. The shape of a hill becomes hugely important, as does its dominance within the scene. And the overriding focus becomes colour and texture.

In  spring I embarked on a few larger oil paintings. I love using oils but find them more of a challenge than acrylics, and often get a bit stuck. I was determined to produce a result.

Marsco (on Skye) is a hill with a beautiful angular shape.  We have walked into Glen Sligachan several times and I always have to stop and sketch the view. Glen Sligachan is quite bleak – sandwiched between Marsco and Sgurr Nan Gillean – and perfect to allow the shape of the hill to become the focus of the scene. 


I had already painted a couple of acrylic paintings from my sketches, but I was not altogether happy with these. I felt the colour was a little too realistic!




I made a start to an oil painting with some under-painting trying to get a feeling of lightness and that welcoming lure of the hills, and thinking about the marks to use in the treatment of the ground cover.  The first layer ended up like this (below left). 

Then I painted over this layer to get better depth of colour. All the time I was trying to maintain a similar palette and the lightness of colour.  I also tried to improve on the composition by turning the river into a lochan and raising the height of Marsco to allow it to dominate in a more pleasing way. 

So it ended up like this (below right).






Torridon is another largely treeless landscape.  I find the moorland behind (to the north of) Liathach and Beinn Eighe a great spot. The hills rise directly out of the boggy floor, like ships on the sea. I have sketched Beinn a Chearcaill several times, and painted it in acrylic, like this.

When it came to rendering the scene in oils, I decided to adjust the palette and use more of a geometric approach to the moorland, including the rocks.  Initially I couldn't quite get the look I wanted, and then this misty mysterious look emerged, and that seemed to work. So that's why it has ended up like this. 

However, the presence of such dominant hills takes the eye away from the emptiness of the moorland. I have realised that if I want to paint empty moorland scenes I have to think more about skies. So I have been working a bit harder of portraying clouds and skyscapes.  Then I thought about developing this sketch I did in the Fisherfield area.

Working in acrylics, I realised that the composition (the emptyness) could be enhanced by adding more sky. I had done the sketch on a bright windy day with the clouds scudding across the sky and I sought to capture this in the sky.

These three finished paintings have found their way to a show in the Lemond Gallery, Bearsden (Glasgow)  – the Big Christmas Show 2020. I got them nicely framed locally by Emma Noble in Kyle – she's done a great job. Look at the two oils!


Anyway - the work is all online at the Lemond Gallery which is now planning to reopen on Friday 11th to Monday 14th December for its final session (now that Covid-19 Rules permit!).   If you would like to take a look, here's the link

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

More Printmaking Experiments

Happy New Year!
I'm having a happy time in the studio trying out various different things.  I've been having great fun making chine colle prints - adding bits of Japanese paper onto prints to give them extra colour or texture.

I started with this one. I felt a little tentative about adding the chine colle and I was teaching myself as I went along, so with this first one I used Japanese paper with wavy lines in order to give the sea a bit more interest. It's a bit tricky as you have to add glue to the paper and then place it on top of the printing plate glue side up so that the paper sticks to the printing paper.  As this result ended up not too messy, I was quite pleased with this as a start and thought I'd continue.
My next effort was to add some colour.  This time I was using an aquatinted copper plate which I had cut off a larger plate I hadn't been happy with.  I had burnished it then re-aquatinted - I was trying to salvage something from this!  'I must be subtle' I thought to myself, so selected some cream-coloured tissue which I hoped would improve the look of the sky, and offset this with a cream-coloured paper with coloured fibres in the foreground. 
Making these prints was stimulating me to think about blocks of colour in the landscape, and also accentuating how light might fall. At this stage I was still trying to be subtle. So here was the next effort with another new photopolymer plate.
But then I got bolder and I thought I might try more of a landscape colour, using the same plate. It's really interesting to compare and contrast the two results, isn't it?
I then thought I'd try colour on another small plate. I wanted to use an orange-coloured paper as the image on the plate was based on an autumnal view in the Gruinard area (near Poolewe).

The first colour shape looked a bit too contrived. So I had a second go with a simpler geometric shape, then with my third go, I finally settled on a simple triangle.

I think this simpler shape has the effect of making the image look more abstract. So now I'm thinking about how to create new images where I might add chine colle colour shapes like this.

The great thing about doing this is that there's always an element of surprise when you pull each new print!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Last Blog Of The Decade

What a poor year it's been for blogging.  I'm afraid I have fallen short of my aspirations.  Instagram is much quicker and easier to do and I think I've been distracted.  However, I can't let the year draw to a close without one last effort.

It's been a busy year and I've filled many sketchbooks.  Observational sketches of trees and landscapes. But every interruption means that I lose my train of thought - and so I end up going off down various avenues - heathlands, hills, seascapes, woodland.

I think my main inspiration this year has been Victoria Crowe.  Having seen her work at both the Scottish Gallery and the City Art Centre in Edinburgh in the late summer it has come home to me just how much hard work one must do to produce any meaningful work.  There really is no shortcut - as she says, there are no easy solutions or quick hits. There is only hard work, overcoming difficulties, and things that emerge from the process, the process of making art.  I realise that I should try to be more 'process-driven'.  It's that stage from sketchbook to finished work that is so important.

I thought I might focus on woodland or gardens for a bit, (a theme from the start of the year) and set about some work after an autumnal visit to Attadale Gardens.  I enjoyed loosening up the colour and thinking about bringing a figure into the picture. I came up with these two paintings which I quite liked. 

However, this avenue of thought was interrupted by a trip up to Poolewe - more sketching of amazing landscapes and beautiful colours. The Autumn colours were particularly lovely this year.

And then another trip to Edinburgh was looming and I was keen to prepare some new printing plates at Edinburgh Printmakers, so I had to set to work on some finished drawings on film, ready for exposure.

 I've been thinking too about how to add some colour to my prints to make them more interesting.  I have a few colours of etching ink, and I can print plates with more than one colour, but it doesn't always turn out well.  Also, thinking about Victoria Crowe's approach, she often brings in a wash of colour as a compositional device. I liked the idea of chine colle as a way of introducing compositional colour, so I read up on the technique, sent away for some Japanese papers and I've now had a go at it with some of these new printing plates. This was my first attempt using a paper with wavy line patterns  - I thought it was kind of interesting.
And then I tried a copper plate - experimenting with different colours and different arrangements.

It makes the printing process even more exciting - you never quite know how it will turn out! You have to take time to think it through before you make the print. It's certainly something I plan to try further - I have lots of ideas and I'm thinking about subtlety and boldness and what works best.  Or maybe there is no best....just different.

So as usual, there is much to consider....

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Verona Reflections

Back from a fab sketching trip with pals to the wonderful city of Verona at the start of May: now trying to make something out of my sketches.

My aim was modest - to do SOMETHING from my sketches.  However, I set myself a challenge....not just to reproduce one of my sketches, but to play around with motifs and details and try to come up with something a bit more interesting. I also set a time limit - 2 weeks.

I started by scribbling and working things out in my sketchbook.  Thinking about composition, really, but also thinking about the essence of the city - what did I love about it?
What I found particularly fascinating was how the city has adapted itself through time - Roman details in mediaeval buildings, the preponderance of brickwork, and the dominance of the Adige River...and so on. But already I was forgetting things, and the trip was taking on the feeling of a dream
Anyway...initially I did some small watercolours.

Then trying larger ideas in acrylic.

 Thought I'd try to combine different motifs on one picture plane.  
However, this one looked a bit too busy

So I cropped it....and refined it, but it probably needed more space.

 I then decided to play around with a few details to enrich the picture-making. Not just brickwork and castellations!  I referred back to photos I had taken of details and drew these out with a dip pen. Hard work!
Then back to painting, thinking about using some of the details.

But convinced myself that a double-arch motif didn't really work in this one.

And finally decided to simplify by losing the main arch and adding a bit of shadow.
This is where it is now.

Then I had another idea, based on arches and statues, from memory.
And then I refined this, referring back to a very quick sketch I had made at the theatre colonnade - trying to get the proportions better. And I wanted to make the statue a bit dreamier. So this is how it looks now.  Interesting to compare....maybe the first version was better...
But I really didn't think I had achieved what I had (somewhat vaguely) set out to do.  And, in a flash of inspiration, I thought I'd have a go at making a couple of monoprints...well three actually.

I think these are kind of interesting and they're closer to achieving the 'dreaminess' of Verona that I was trying to capture.
And it has taken me 3 weeks to get here, so I think I probably have to move on now....
Comments welcome!