Monday 31 October 2011

Back in the Studio Again

I was glad to get back into the studio and back to my thumbnails today.  Trying to keep the momentum going.  Basically it's more of the same, so not very exciting.  I've decided it is a good idea to 'warm up' by doing a charcoal study, so I had a go at yet another version of Lochcarron View.
Emerging Slumbay View With Trees copyright Aileen Grant
I do think this view of Slumbay has potential, but I'm just not sure where to place the trees.  So as I progressed with it, I added some extra trees in.  So by the time I finished, it looked like this.
Slumbay View With Trees copyright Aileen Grant
I don't think this picture works.  I think the composition is too jumbled with the extra trees.  The question is - would it work in colour?.  Is it worth trying?  Not sure.  What I do like is the curve of the shore.  It's got a nice dynamic, a nice feeling of movement.  So I may revisit it in a different version.

After this, I did another colour study using oils.  I wanted to have a go at the one of the blue blue sea. It turned out like this.
Shingle Spit and Blue Sea (small study) Copyright Aileen Grant
This turned out better than I thought.  I think it benefits from a resticted palette.  And I like the dark shoreline. My biggest decision was where to position the white boat.  I gave this a lot of thought, but I don't think it is in quite the right position yet.  Ah well, for another day.

Saturday 29 October 2011

A little success

Have had a couple of days running around and organising things, so no work done on my precious non-working day.  However, today I was in Paisley to view the results of the Scottish Drawing Competition.  I'm pleased to report that my two drawings were on the wall, and just to prove it, here I am with my big drawing.
The picture (Edinburgh's Disgrace (No. 1) is the drawing I did at the end of term at Leith School of Art when we had the trip up Calton Hill (see my blog for 24th June 2011)  The colonnade is of course known as Edinburgh's Disgrace - a big project started but never finished....does this sound familiar in current times?...that's why I called it No. 1..haha.

Anyway, I'm very pleased to have this and my little drawing of the Harbourwall at Fisherrow selected for the competition.  It's good to have a little success!  There were a few works by other artists with LSA connections - Jacqueline Watt, Kitty Jones, Jane Couroussopoulos, Ruth Nichol - so I am in good company.  What's more, it's a great show and it goes on until 26 November.

Monday 24 October 2011

Back in the Studio

After the distraction of sketching on Friday, it was back to the thumbnails today.  I suppose I felt that going out sketching had slightly interrupted my flow - and I'm determined not to get distracted from focusing on these pictures.  So I started with a black and white as a kind of 'warm-up'.  I tried to re-draw the cottage I had sketched at Fearnbeg. It turned out like this.
Fearnbeg Cottage copyright Aileen Grant
I used the ususal - charcoal, oilbar, acrylic and black ink. It's a bit messy, this, but I suppose it has a bit of liveliness, and the environment at Fearnbeg that I was trying to portray was a bit messy and unkempt.  I wasn't sure about the composition, and I struggled with the foreground. So there's a couple of things I still need to work on.  I then decided I'd had anough of acrylics and got the oils out to do some little paintings, re-working a couple I had already done.  My favourite of course is the view from the Applecross viewpoint (see post on 8th October), so I started with that.
Raasay View (Oil Study) copyright Aileen Grant
This little picture is only 18x24 cms.  I felt reasonably happy with it, but it is only small. How would it look as a larger picture? Shall I try it? Anyway, quickly on to another oil study, the one towards Attadale (see post of 15th October).
Attadale View (Oil Study) copyright Aileen Grant
There's quite a lot of sea in this, and I wasn't sure if I could make it interesting enough, but again I think it's turned out all right.  I might try this at a larger size and see how it looks.  For both these pictures I limited the palette to ulramarine, lemon yellow and crimson allizarin - I think these work well for Scottish colours.  If I do them in a larger size, I might add a little bright red to get some orange hues, but I'm not sure about this.

I also had a go at finishing off a couple of other pictures, and this one now looks satisfactory, I think.
Bass Rock from Seacliff copyright Aileen Grant
I've toned the red rocks right back to give them a more mysterious feel and added a little yellow/orange. I also made the bass rock more angular.  Anyway, I'm not sure if this works or not.  But I'm not doing any mre to this picture!

Saturday 22 October 2011

Sociable Sketching

I had a break from the studio yesterday - went sketching with a few friends (Rona, Heather and Mhairi). Surprisingly the weather stayed fair, but it was a bit windy so we had to deal with the hazard of flapping paper.  But no other excuses, really.  We met on the Mound - an excuse to go for a nice coffee in Porto & Fi - and then it was down to business.  I wanted to sketch Victoria Street, but it was really windy up on the Terrace, so I drifted round to one of the closes off Johnstone Terrace.  I had spotted these interesting gables earlier in the week, and as a fairly simple image I thought it would be a good start.
Old Town Gables (Charcoal Sketch) copyright Aileen Grant

What I liked about these gables is the way the wee small windows are scattered apparently at random. The forms look so solid, too, harled and ancient, arising out of a jumble of buildings.  I then went down to the Grassmarket and found a bench to sit on - always makes sketching a bit easier.  The townscape looked a bit complex and daunting to sketch, but I found a good view looking out of the Grassmarket towards the Cowgate.

Sketch of Cowgate from Grassmarket copyright Aileen Grant
I used a graphite stick which rather suited the grey austerity of the buildings at this time of year.  The only two bits of colour were a little turquoise on the window frames in the Cowgate, and the red frontage of Armstrong's shop so I added just a little colour in oil crayon to remind me. That church steeple (must find out what the building is!) rises out of the darkness of the Cowgate and its shiny grey roof and golden cockerel weather-vane really catch the light. They form such a contrast with the darkness around.

I then attempted a skech looking up Victoria Street, but I really needed a taller sheet of paper and I was a bit cold. So stopped for lunch shortly after this.  After we got warmed up, Heather and I carried on sketching in the afternoon.  We both sat in Lady Stairs Close which had a bit more shelter. My effort in the afternon was a bit more interesting.
Sketch of Lady Stairs Close copyright Aileen Grant
Spent a lot of time trying to get the texture of the stonework - again using graphite stick (this photo doesn't quite catch it) and I was remembering how in first year at College we had these awful "Building Sheets" to do.  One of them was on stonework - ashlar, random rubble, coursed and snecked rubble, etc.  How we slaved over those A2 building sheets to try and draw the details perfectly in pencil. And now I try not to draw the stones too exactly, not to show the coursing and the mortar joints, but (through a lot of rubbing out and re-drawing) try to achieve a lightness of touch and a mystery about the stonework and the windows.  Trying to get the essence of these austere and forbidding but beautiful facades and those narrow escape routes out of the Old Town.
So it was a good day's sketching, and lucky with the weather.  Our next session will be November in Portobello...looking forward to it.....brrrr.

Monday 17 October 2011


Today was another day in the studio working on the thumbnails I did on Friday.  I have decided to work through each one in turn and then review the studies to decide which to take further.  In order to make a start, I got the charcoal out, and focused on the view from Applecross over the coral beach towards Skye.  Using a large sheet of paper I made a few marks.
Emerging sketch Coral Beach and beyond copyright Aileen Grant
I carried on with oilbar, oil crayons, white acrylic and black and blue ink, and the picture ended up looking like this.
Coral Beach and Beyond copyright Aileen Grant
This looks a bit overworked, so I decided to stop. I'm considering adding a bit more texture for the sea and the beach. Maybe also a bit more work on the sky over Skye.  It could be another in the black and white series.
After this, I wanted to do a bit of colour and so I had a go at a picture of the shingle spit at Lochcarron.  I gessoed up a sheet of paper for a change and then, before I realised it, the picture was taking shape and looked like this..

Emerging colour study Shingle spit with boat copyright Aileen Grant
Actually, looking at it now, I think it looks quite good.  Maybe I should have stopped there. But, no, I ploughed on - what a fool I am!  To be honest, I was trying to get the right colour for the sea - that purply navy blue colour - and while I was painting I was thinking about a particular picture by Arthur Melville. I think it was the combination of the rich blue sea, the white boat and the orange of the seaweed.  This then became a goal for me.  This was where I took it to.
Colour study Shingle Spit copyright Aileen Grant
Have I overworked this? I'm not sure.  I think some parts of the picture look a bit overworked, and I don't think I should have added the green.  But this is just a colour study, and between the two versions I think I have enough for a further picture using oils.  I do like the richness of the colour (but I'm afraid this got the thumbs down from Peter, so maybe I should limit this to just a small oil picture).  This richness of colour is a bit different from another study I did on Friday.
Colour study Attadale View copyright Aileen Grant
This view is based on the view south over Loch Carron. In this study I used a much more resticted palette than I used today - I added a little yellow today to bring the foreground out. I don't like these colours as much as the Shingle Spit picture with the navy blue sea, but on the other hand, I quite like the trees, and there is potential to explore the atmospheric aspects if I take this picture further.  Plenty of scope for future work.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Studio Planning

Yesterday was a studio day, and I was a bit unsure about this - I've been struggling with studio work recently.  I think my sketches are not bad, but when I get into the studio and try to take something forward from a sketch, I seem to lose focus - haven't really worked out properly how to do this on my own (without help from a tutor on a course at Leith).  I've been having a real think about this and so yesterday (with my head still up in Lochcarron) I decided to use my recent photos and select some scenes which had a bit of interest - something to work on - and do thumbnails of these as a starting point.  So that's exactly what I did....

Lochcarron thumbnails copyright Aileen Grant
It was interesting doing this.  It allowed me to get a feel for these views.  Although they are so familiar to me, it's a different matter to try and paint them, and paint them in a meaningful way.  It's so much easier if I have done a sketch, and even easier if I've done a colour sketch.  Doing a sketch allows me to look at the scene with greater concentration and intensity and I can recapture some of this in the studio.  (I think I need to do more colour sketches.)
Anyway, I had to decide which thumbnails I should run with first, and I thought I would have a go at the view I did the colour sketch of - the view over to Raasay and Rhona (posted in my previous blog).
So I re-drew it in charcoal to start with.
Charcoal of Raasay View copyright Aileen Grant
I used charcoal to map out this picture as I thought this would allow me to keep loose, and hang on to the emotion of the view.  There is some oilbar in this too.  Then I got the acrylics out - first white, then some blues, purples and a little lemon yellow, and more charcoal.  I was trying to keep that intensity of light on the sea. And I felt that little bit of roadway (the route in front) was important to the picture. I finished with this.
Raasay View copyright Aileen Grant
It needs more work - another picture.  For another day. (Maybe I should call it the road to the isles..haha.)
So then I had a go at another thumbnail image - the view of Attadale.  My start to this was this
Attadale - quick sketch copyright Aileen Grnat
Again I used oilbar to keep the treatment loose. (Interesting to look at this again).
The next step was to introduce some colour and some painting i.e. using brushes.  I got as far as this.
Over to Attadale copyright Aileen Grant
I was trying to capture something of the view of the trees, the glade behind them and the mystery of the topography behind the trees. And capture the feel of the light.  And also the feel of the sea in the foreground.  This is the view from the cottage at Lochcarron and I have sketched it so often, but seldom tried to paint it.

So, a couple of thumbnails done, several more to do.  I must ty and keep focused on these. I've decided to make the end of the year a target - to come up with one big picture in oils by then - one of these images.  And work towards this with a number of smaller studies. I think setting a target like this will allow me to settle  down into the work and stop me being too impatient...hopefully....I certainly feel happier about this approach.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Applecross Sketches

Yesterday we were in Applecross, and it was as beautiful as ever!  We had a leisurely afternoon, making the most of the blinks of sun, and I managed to do a few sketches.  Our first stop was in Fearnbeg - we always stop there because it is the "place where Donald stayed in the 1970s", and we feel a sort of affinity (especially after going back there with Donad earlier this year).  We go to check out how regeneration (gentrification?) is progressing. There's not much change in Fearnbeg - it seemed deserted - and so it was an ideal sketching spot.  After a poor sketch of a contorted apple tree, I spotted this view of the gable-end of one of the cottages.  I liked the window in the gable, the fence and the power-line up the hill.  These elements are the essence of the character of these cottages which seem to spring out of the turf (and in some cases, return to the turf).
Fearnbeg Cottage copyright Aileen Grant
This sketch was done in charcoal, quite quickly in the cool of the afternoon. I think there's enough in this sketch to take a bit further in the studio.
Another cottage south of Fearnbeg also caught my eye. I really love the juxtaposition of the pine tree and the house.  I have sketched it a few times before, but in charcoal or ink.  So this time I did a quick pencil sketch.
Applecross Tree House Sketch copyright Aileen Grant
It's in a great location this "tree house". Although it's in a bog, it has the most fantastic view of the Isle of Rhona and Raasay.  I'm wondering if this cottage is being restored - the roof looks very good and I'm sure when I did my previous sketches, there was a hole in the roof. I want to live here in this elemental place!! It has such a desolate beauty.  It's my favourite Applecross cottage!
I also did a colour study, making an attempt to try and capture the colours of Applecross quickly in pastel.  There is an official viewpoint in between these two cottages where there is the most fantastic view of Rhona, Raasay and Skye.  I cheated and sat in the car to do this sketch - while the rain drizzled and the north wind blew.
Sketch of The Sound copyright Aileen Grant
Every time we come to this spot it seems to be cloudy and bright, and these pools of intensly bright light move across the water, ever-changing.  I have shied away from sketching this view in the past, but by using pastels I had more speed and the potential to make marks a bit like the wind rippling over this expanse of sea. On reflection, I now remember that John Houston used pastels a lot to capture the mood and colour of the sea. Anyway, I found it difficult to capture the colour of the sea (as well as the movement), but I have to say this sketch is much more like what we saw than the photos we took.  I need a little bit more colour in the foreground though.
But now we are back in Musselburgh. Very sad to leave the north-west, but I have a head full of vivid images.  I'll try to keep these images alive in the studio on Monday.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Lochcarron Days

We've been up in Lochcarron for the last week.  A mixture of hillwalking, catching up with friends, and a little bit of sketching.  I was hoping to use this week to get some good source material, but the weather has been atrocious since Sunday (altho' Sunday was exceptionally beautiful).

I was looking forward to seeing the colour in the hills - the oranges of the bracken and the sedge-grasses, and true enough, we drove through Torridon yesterday (far too wet to even think about getting out of the car!) and the orange slopes shone through the gloom.  They were offset by the navy-blue of the tops.  Sitting in the car,  rocked by wind,I did a colour study of Beinn Alligin.
View north to Alligin copyright Aileen Grant
This was just an attempt to capture the colour - that gradation from orange to navy blue which is the essence of these hills in these conditions, and the boiling dirty turquoise sea.  So moody!
Today, I was down in my favorite place, Kishorn Bay, and the colours were similar.  However, I was sitting on the shore and so the sea was not turquoise, but was more inky black.
View towards the Bealach copyright Aileen Grant
But I had only a limited amount of time to do this sketch before the next rain storm imposed itself.  It was another attemt to capture the colours. Done again in pastel for sheer speed and getting intensity of colour.
But to be honest, I had come up north thinking about trees, wanting to sketch trees. But the only trees I've sketched are those within Lochcarron itself rather than out in the wilds. Is this sad? Or just inevitable because of the weather.
Seafront Tree, Lochcarron copyright Aileen Grant
Every time I come here, I have to sketch this tree (it's outside the door - I can see it through the window).  It seems to me that it is quite vulnerable in this exposed position, but a great survivor. It's a cherry tree.  I was hoping it would have turned an interesting colour, but no, it's just managing to survive.  The other tree I love is the Lochcarron Larch.
Larch Sketch copyright Aileen Grant
This sketch is OK as a sketch, but is not a good representation of this tree which is a far more interesting shape.  I did it in pencil, sitting down on the shore and looking up at it, snatching a few moments in between rain showers.  Then I finished it off at home.  I think that's why I've lost the distintive shape.  But I quite like the feel of the tree, the featheryness of the branches, and that is what I was trying to capture, along with the windsweptness......everything is windswept here!
Anyway - enough - tomorrow is another day and the weather forecast is better!