Sunday 28 December 2014

Year End Thoughts

This will be my last blog post of the year. I have let the blogging lapse a bit this year, so my resolution will be to get back to some regular postings in 2015. Apart from anything else, I think blogging helps me to reflect on my work, to give consideration to what is good and bad about my painting, and to develop as an artist. Here's a few pics from 2014, some finished, others maybe not...

I'm coming to believe that focus is one of the most important elements of being an artist. There are so many things that grab my attention in the world about me, and a part of me wants to try and capture them all. But that's a sort of scattergun approach and I don't think it will allow me to develop in a meaningful way. I find that when I spend time painting 'distractions' it makes me feel dissatisfied. I realise that I much more satisfied if I focus on a few themes in greater depth. But what are these?
Shed with Green Roof - currently for sale as unframed pic
Fishing huts and sheds is one theme. I keep coming back to these rickety buildings: they excite and fascinate me, their individual histories and how they stand up to the elements. I want to continue to explore them as a theme. Linked to this are old pieces of machinery like petrol pumps, and walls and piers. Machinery as a subject is more of an exercise for my drawing skills and probably a good challenge for next year.
Red Roof - now framed.
Sheds at St Abbs - not sure if it's finished yet
I continue to paint sea scenes, but sometimes my beach paintings bore me, so I think I shouldn't overdo this theme.  This (below) is one scene that excited me in Lewis. The exposure and feeling of being on the very edge of habitable space.  I wasn't surprised to learn that there's a bit of surfing done on this beach.
Stormy Beach, Lewis - now framed - one of my favourite pics!
Applecross is a bit closer to home....
View from Applecross Bay - restricted palette holds the interest (not framed)
Maybe I'd be better to focus on hills. I've definitely not done enough hillwalking in 2014 and I so want to get back up onto the high tops. 
Beinn Damph and Upper Loch Torridon - not sure if it's finished yet
 I feel that I want to explore landscapes which are more complex and seek out the abstract patterns in the world around me.  This next view is perhaps not complex enough?
High Riggs, Summer Morning - now framed
Whereas with this other pic I made a real effort to capture the essence of the moorland by focusing on the ground cover....that beautiful 'deer grass' which you find in the hills up here in late autumn.
Deer Grass Above Achintee - a WIP
However, while I want hills and landscapes to be my focus next year, I know that inevitably I will come back to the sea, its moods and patterns and the challenge of portraying the movement of the waves.
Dark Island - Charcoal and ink and conte to reflect the moody day - now framed

Loch Carron in stormy mood - a WIP
And then again, I do like to draw faces – they are all so different – and I wonder about doing some portraiture. I don't think this would ever become a main theme, but next year I'd like to draw and paint more figures and faces. One possibility is putting figures (or animals) into landscapes and urban scenes – this is always a challenge. Perhaps I should do a few more drawings of Ness the wolfhound and see where it takes me.
Ness - a drawing recently exhibited at St Margaret's House
 See what I mean.....this is already quite a diverse mix. When you add that to my thoughts about media – how much printmaking?...should I make a serious attempt at oils next year?....Or should I focus on working with graphite and pigments? So many questions to be addressed. One thing I think I've learned is that it doesn't pay to be too serious in one's approach. It's important to play with materials and concepts. Whilst I know I must be disciplined and work hard, this does not mean that I should be dull and heavy-handed. Enthusiasm, energy and exploration shall be my themes for next year!

Monday 20 October 2014

A Head Full of Hills

Just back in Musselburgh from Lochcarron with lots of images of the hills in my head. I did a pile of sketching and a bit of work. Now I have to make decisions - what should I focus on next?

I tried working on this image of trees beside a lochan. I really thought there was potential for a moody pic with lots of abstract textures. It started off like this.
Then I added more colour.
 I think this photo makes the pic look better that it really is.  I wasn't very happy with this result, so I started again.
I think I've used a rather confused palette, and I'm not confident about the composition, so I still wasn't happy and set it aside.
I moved on to Beinn Alligin.  I drew a motif out first in charcoal, based on an earlier charcoal sketch I had done at the roadside at Annat. I love this view of Alligin with the seaweed shore in the foreground!
Then I moved onto paper that I had previously prepared with gesso and ultramarine and some pva, and I drew it out again.

Then I added gouache and acrylic, and more pencil marks.
Actually, I quite like the palette I had used on this, but I thought it needed a bit of orange and green for some reason. Clearly I was not thinking clearly!
On reflection, I realised that the extra colour did not help the painting and at this point I thought the hill looked a little too high - as if I'd distorted the perspective. So I painted in more sky.
But then I noticed that the angle of the hill was now looked as if it had been tamed! And I realised that there were too many different colours. So back to the Prussian Blue in order to recapture the drama.
I think this is closer to the result I was after - moody and dramatic. Sadly the colour is not as pure and exciting as the earlier version (but maybe more realistic?) and I'm still not sure about the foreground marks, but I feel as if this painting has had enough attention. So I've set it aside for the moment.

I did try a couple of other images.
Here's a stab at Beinn Eighe viewed from the path to Slioch. I used acrylic, gouache, pencil and conte.

And here's a stab at Slioch - a view looking up from the path, again based on a charcoal sketch I did on our walk.
I like the little bit of colour on the hill.

But it was back in the studio today, thinking about what to take forward. More anon...

Sunday 10 August 2014

My First Commissions!

I'm afraid I've let my blogging slip a bit. I've had a busy and interesting time. I've completed a couple of commissions - my first ones - and that has been a great new experience for me.

One of my commissions was to do a painting of the Mar Lodge near Braemar. It was fun to go on a trip to Braemar and do some sketches in situ.  I first did a sketch looking down the valley towards the Mar Lodge, but sketching was curtailed by the onset of rain. Look at the raindrops on the paper!
So we carried on to get much closer and walked over the bridge to the Lodge. I was rather stunned by the building - almost overcome with the challenge it presented - it's the most amazing pink granite concoction. We got a quick tour round the interior and it is rather fantastic. Another National Trust treasure. Anyway, I opted to make a detailed pencil sketch of one of the wings and took a few photographs. The detailing of the roof and the dormers particularly appealed to me. And that tree.

 Back in the studio I sketched out a few ideas. I found it a little difficult, but difficult is good, I think; confronting a challenge is a good thing artistically. I was trying to find an artistic treatment which conveyed that fairy-tale look of the building without resulting in an architectural drawing. I came up wth three views.
Mar Lodge Study 1

Mar Lodge Study 2

Mar Lodge Study 3
 I also did a study of the longer view looking down the valley with the river and the larch tree in the foreground. I quite like this view, but the Mar Lodge does not figure too prominently in it.
Dee Valley Study

I was a little unsure of what kind of view was wanted.  In the end a photo provided an idea for a better treatment with a bit more drama and I combined this with the details I had noted in my pencil sketch. So the painting has turned out like this. Not so much a fairy-tale, more of a real-life drama isn't it?

The other commission was for a view at Kishorn. Again I approached this in the same way.
I already had sketches and produced this study.
Loch Kishorn Study 1
However, this did not quite fit the bill, so I went back and did a few new sketches and produced a couple of new colour studies.
Loch Kishorn Study 2

Loch Kishorn Study 3

I decided to take both of these forward to the next stage, so the finished paintings ended up like this.

In the end, that view of Loch Kishorn with the Bealach in the background won the day - I'm not surprised, it's such a dramatic view!

I did enjoy doing these commissions. They provided a clear focus and I knew I just had to get them done - no changing my mind or leaving them unfinished etc. And I did enjoy speaking to people about the work and what they wanted and why they wanted it etc. However, now that I've finished them I'm back to thinking 'What to do next?'  Well, I think it's back to working and blogging, and maybe I need to arrange other little forays to new places for some intensive study to inspire me. More commissions? Bring it on!

Wednesday 9 April 2014

From Sketch to Painting

Can't believe it's more than a month since I last blogged. I've been busy printmaking and not had so much time for painting. This week I'm in Lochcarron and so I've started some new paintings (of favourite old scenes, of course).

Yesterday we went to Applecross and I did a couple of sketches on the beach at Sand. It was cold but the sun came out between showers and I managed to do these two. I was trying hard to capture the look of the wild sky. The sky did look particularly good yesterday.

Today I decided to have a go at a painting of this view. I thought I'd do one pic with a big sky and another with a big foreground in order to get a good composition.

I started off with my big sky pic looking like this. I was actually referring to a photo as well as my sketch. This is a terrible mess, but I quite like a lot of the marks.
Anyway, I carried on, started another pic, then returned to thie first one. Eventually it looked like this.
It looks a bit smoothed out now, doesn't it? Lost a lot of energy but there's the makings of a good pic in here. I want to revisit this, go back to some of the photos and try and introduce some better foreground marks.

Pic number 2 was to be my sky picture (sky and Skye, I suppose). I forgot to take a snap early on, so I only have the end result.
Again there's quite a lot I like and at least it has retained a bit of energy, I think. It's quite close to the sketch, but with some added foreground and the foreground colour gives it a spring-like ambience.

Of course, neither of these are a patch on the sketches, as usual, so that's my next challenge.

Friday 28 February 2014

The Big Picture

In the studio I've been working on a big painting recently. Oil on canvas. Haven't worked in oils for a year.  The subject is based on this sketch I did of Loch Torridon, looking east.

I made a conscious decision to work on a big painting in oils. I reminded myself of Egon Schiele's approach and started in oil paints and turps, and pencil marks. I got it as far as this on the first day.

I was pleased with this, but it is a bit colourless really. I was wanting to try and capture the beauty of the scene but not be too heavy-handed. I find it more of a challenge working in oils, and have been determined not to lose a lightness of touch that I'm striving for in acrylics and I'm keen to capture in all my paintings.
As we've been up in these parts again this week, I wanted to do some extra colour studies. So I went back to my sketching place and did a couple of sketches in pastel.  First I focused on the long view. I was struck with how colourful the water looked. But I think now I was exaggerating this a bit.
Then I focused on the trees on the promontory. I really want this to be the focal point of the big painting.
When we got back to the cottage, I had a go at painting these views as studies, using acrylic and conte and pencil.  First the long view, trying desperately hard to capture the feel of the water in the loch, so many different subtle colour transitions.
And then the view of the trees, with the dark water and the bright trees. Thinking about colour relationships and juxtapositions...
Interesting....but where do I do from here?  Back into the studio on Monday. The big painting should be dry enough to work on, but the challenge for me is to retain that lightness of touch, I think.

Composition is so interesting, isn't it?

Sunday 9 February 2014

Strathcarron Hills In My Sights

For the last couple of weeks I've been focusing on my sketches of the Strathcarron Hills and working on  a painting using this as a motif. It's a bit of a departure for me cos there's no sea in this view - it's all landscape. And it's quite a complex landscape of hills above hills involving different textures of landscape. I suppose I'm trying to do something a bit different.
Here's the original sketch that I did sitting above Achintee, looking over the Strath. I quite enjoyed doing this and I had time to complete it as the weather was not too cold for once.  I like this sketch!
 I started with a composition which was smaller than the sketch. Used a graphite stick and some pencil.
I thought this was quite a good composition so then got going first with some gouache then using acrylic of watercolour consistency. Yellow ochre was the main colour.
Strathcarron Hills (small) - unfinished?
Now...I quite like this. I like the restraint of colour and lots of white showing through. But on the other hand it did look a bit unfinished. So I carried on in acrylic and pencil. Added Prussian Blue and Ultramarine.
Strathcarron Hills (small) - Finished?
I then got to this point with it. I quite like this - I think it looks quite polished. But it has lost a certain something, maybe a certain mystery? Anyway, I thought I'd try anther version, this time with a wider perspective, with a composition closer to the sketch. It started off like this.
Gosh - it's a bit messy, isn't it? Then I added the acrylic again - using pretty much the same palette.
Strathcarron Hills (large) - unfinished?
This is a great mess, but nowhere near finished so I fiddled around with acrylic paint and pencil till I got to this point.
On reflection, I thought this looked a bit drab and uninteresting. Maybe a bit sedate for my liking. What was the point of this painting? So after a few days I returned to it and tried to add a bit more colour interest to the lower slopes, bringing out the landform and knocking back the high hills a bit. Also did a bit of extra work on the trees.
Strathcarron Hills (large) - finished?
I'm stopping there and I'll leave these alone for a bit.  What do you think? Are these two paintings finished? Or have I gone too far with these?