Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Story of the Tree

As some of you may know, I've recently done a print - a photopolymer gravure to be precise - of a Scots Pine tree, and I've been lucky enough to get it selected for the current open exhibition of Visual Arts Scotland 'FLY2016'.  I thought I would record what lies behind the picture.

If you drive along the road from Lochcarron to Shieldaig, you go through a forest of Scots Pines just before Shieldaig.  I can only assume this is an old native woodland, maybe even an ancient wood, and it stretches from the shores of Loch Dughaill up the slopes of Ben Shieldaig.  It is lovely to drive through, and I'm always happy if I have to linger in a passing place there.  It is difficult to draw off the road, but you can find a spot.

We did stop one time, and I chanced upon a tree with character and ended up reaching for my sketch book.  Here's a photo of the tree in question.
As you know, the image captured in a photo is a distortion of the real thing, as is a sketch. But I think you can see a similarity between the two.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but then Matisse did advise 'Exaggerate in the direction of truth'. I also realised that I'd have to draw the tree over two pages in my sketch book to try and describe the crookedness of its character.  I think I used graphite and pencil on this sketch.

I never quite know what I'm going to do with my sketches.  Initially with this one I did nothing.  This tree has such a strong character.  Would it be suitable as the main motif in a painting?  I suppose I shied away from that as I thought it would be too dominant.

And then a few months later I was looking through my sketchbook for ideas for making new photopolymer plates.  I'm trying to do a few smaller plates in order to have cheaper prints to sell.  Anyway, I thought this might make a good picture, and re-drew it in ink on a type of transparent film (MMR film).  This is the drawing.  You can see the edges of the film which is lying on top of paper.

Finally, after exposing this on to photo-sensitive polymer plate (using a lightbox), I ended up with a type of 'etched' plate (but it's not strictly 'etched' as it doesn't go into a bath of acid to create the lines to hold the ink: that's done through a photographic development process: sometimes this process is sometimes called 'solarplate').  The final print which I pulled off the plate is looking like this - it's quite true to the final drawing I made.
So that's the story behind the 'Shieldaig Pine'.  The print is hiding away in one of the back rooms of the VAS exhibition at the RSA until 27th December 2016.  See if you can track it down when you go along and please let me know what you think when you see it in the flesh!

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Harris in Glorious Colour.

Just back from a short break in Harris.  10 days of the best Autumn weather ever. And, of course, time for a few sketches.

Last time we went to Harris we never saw the top of Clisham: this time we climbed it.  We did it the day after we arrived just in case the weather didn't hold.  It was quite a good day - good enough for a sketch on the top - and what a view we got, down over the ridges of the North Harris Hills.  Even managed to make out St Kilda on the horizon.
Day 2 was a bit windy and so we explored a few beaches.  There was Luskentyre, of course.
And the stormy seas on Traigh Iar
And the beach at Horgabost (Niosabost) - a quick sketch as the sand was blowing into my eyes.

Day 3 - a bit more energetic.  We headed to Huisinis, planning to walk over to Loch Cravadale.  It was very windy, and the wind was funneling down the valley, making sketching difficult.  Nevertheless, I sheltered behind a rock and managed to do this.  Wanted to capture the stormy sea!

And I loved the view of the three lochs

And I managed a very quick sketch of Scarp and the other wee island.

Day 4 we had a bit of a lazy day around the cottage.
We were in a lovely cottage at Seilebost  http://www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk/accommodation/seol-mara-seilebost-p553931  


It was lovely to walk out on the beach

And those pale evening colours

Day 5 - off to Rodel and the walk to Borrisdale.  It was such a warm day and the colour of the grass was such an intense green.  Lunch overlooking the bays with Skye and the mainland on the horizon.
We walked out on the Dun. Looking back, I loved the abstract shapes (very quick sketch!)
Day 6 - a trip to Scalpay and the lighthouse at Eilean Ghlas.  The Shiants were clear and I wanted to capture their shape.

Lunch in that great seafood place in Scalpay https://www.facebook.com/NorthHarbourBistro/ (well recommended), and a couple of sketches on the way back to the cottage.

Day 7 -a quieter day.  But still time for sketching - this one is of Ben Luskentyre from the cottage.

Day 8 - it rained a little! But it was good enough for a walk up the Coffin Road.  Trying so hard to work out how to capture the grain of the landscape, the look of the rocks and the grass.

And coming back - more rocks and grass, but a view over one of the lochans to Luskentyre.

Day 9 - over to the Golden Road, and our favourite place - walking out from Manais.  I love the old fishing pools and this is a great example. And that's the mainland on the horizon.

Found an island and a half to sketch at lunchtime (Eilean Mhanais)

And after the walk we headed south again and stopped at this point in the bay of seals.

And then another quick sketch of a lochan on the road back over to Leverburgh, trying to get the colour of the moorland.
Day 10 - weather still good - off to climb the hill at Northton - Ceapabhal.  A steep little climb on a hot day.  Great view from the top over to to North Uist and beyond...looking into the sun. Could also see St Kilda and Hirta clearly from the top.
Then a quick sketch back at the bottom of the hill looking over Northton beach.  Great lazybeds at the bottom of the hill.

And finally a last (very quick) sketch of Seilebost beach, looking toward Luskentyre.  Still with the amazingly bright colours.

We were so lucky.  I went to Harris hoping for some moody skies and stormy atmosphere, but I got some beautiful weather with lovely colours.  Much more challenging for me to take forward!
And a bit of decision-making - which sketches have the makings of a good picture?
Watch this space....

Saturday 11 June 2016

Just a wee snippet of 'North Coast 500'

The big news in this neck of the woods is the success so far of 'North Coast 500' - the new name given to the roads following the coast around the north of Scotland. The route goes through Lochcarron, but this week Peter and I decided to head north for a few days to sample some different North Coast delights. And of course I took my sketch book with me.

On Tuesday we headed for the area around Kylesku and Scourie and the sun was shining its heart out. Now, I love the drama of the landscape around Kylesku but it was looking positively cheerful this time.  I would have preferred a little more moodiness, but that's no excuse!  And anyway Quinag and the other nearby hills still provide a dramatic backdrop.

Here's my initial sketch of Quinag from Kylesku. I hadn't realised how much it dominates the local landscape. Feel so smug to have climbed it already - well...two of the three tops. Great to see it in its proper context. Must go back and do that top that I missed out!  Next time....

Sitting in the same spot, I did this quick sketch looking up Loch Gleann Dubh. A bit featureless, but I really wanted an accurate contextual sketch for future reference.

Then we went across to Kylestrome and I sketched a panoramic sitting on the shore, looking back south over Kylesku and Loch Glencoul towards what I now think must be the Stack of Glencoul.It's such an iconic little top.

Further north, we found ourselves at Badcall Bay - it wasn't bad at all really (haha).  An array of pretty little islands.  The outlook from Upper Badcall is quite lovely, but lower down the islands look better, I think, against the backdrop of the Drumbeg and Stoer peninsula.  Very sheltered and somewhat midgy.

On Wednesday we wanted to climb something and luckily it was not so hot and sunny.  Ben Stack beckoned. We took the eastern route - the long way up - and were rewarded by some fine easterly views, like this one, looking down Loch More and the smaller loch in front, Loch nan Ealachan. They were interesting views with cloud waterfalls coming over a few of the cols as the day started to warm up a little.

It was a bit gloomy on Wednesday, so my sketch of Foinaven and Arkle from the summit of Ben Stack is somewhat lacking in brightness and hasn't really captured the essence of these stark and chunky hills. But it was worth a try.

The sun was back on Thursday and we were on the road coming south again, but to Achiltibuie, stopping for sketches and photos. Drumbeg was the first stop for a sketch - the view back to Badcall and Eddrachillis Bay, Handa Island in the far distance.

Clashnessie was the next sketching stop. Had to be a colour sketch here, but I found the pastels a bit frustrating for capturing the intensity of the colours. Maybe I was just being too hesitant in using them.

After Lochinver, I couldn't resist getting the watercolours out when I saw this view. There's a lovely spot on the road where you can see Stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag and Cul Mor all lined up, but I couldn't fit them all on the sketch, despite the fact I used a large piece of paper.  I'll leave you to guess which of the hills I've depicted here....

Finally, after so many stops, we arrived at Achiltibuie in glorious sunshine. Only managed one small sketch of the Summer Isles - hard to do them justice on such a perfect, lovely day. I do want to return and spend more time drawing and painting in and around there.  One day soon, I hope. Maybe in winter?

Friday we came home, but we did manage a short walk before we got to Ullapool, down to an old fort, Dun Canna, now reduced to a large pile of boulders. This is, however, a fantastically exposed viewpoint where you can look southwest over the sea towards An Teallach and the surrounding hills, and so that was the obvious subject of my last sketch - trying hard to get the right tonal values.

This was a great wee break and I'm so glad to have gathered a few sketches. I'm hoping that this will re-energise my painting efforts as well as providing some material for new prints.  Time to get down to work!

Wednesday 30 March 2016

At Last....A Little Sketching.

Been so busy with the Lochcarron Gallery set up that I haven't sketched for ages - maybe a whole month - I have missed getting out and about sketching but there's just been no time!
This afternoon I escaped for a little sketching outing. Went to Shieldaig for a walk around the aird.
It started well with an atmospheric view of Shieldaig Island.

Sheildaig Island
 There was some bright sunlight in the sea which I haven't really captured here - I wanted to try and record the sea patterns. But already there were a couple of raindrops - you might notice the smudginess....

Wet sketch!
Anyway, I walked on and found the perfect spot for sketching a long view down Loch Torridon. A nice rock to sit on. I made a start...but then the heavens opened and my paper got soaked. Look at it! But it is a good composition, isn't it? I think it has a bit of promise for a big pic. Such a shame to be rained off.  Anyway, I think I can remember where that spot is, so I'll be back.

Contorted Birch

Carried on round the aird and saw a birch tree I couldn't resist....here it is.
It's so windblown and contorted. Might be a good subject for an etching. But I would need to work out what sort of background to include. I also liked the fact that the path is right beside this tree and should somehow be included in the pic.

Finally got to the farthest point and the sun came out. It's such a beautiful spot. I could see the hills of North Harris from here today (there was a chill in the air). And I could also see Beinn Alligin and Liathach, both with snow on their tops.  I identified what I thought was a good composition - a long portrait-sized pic. But the only dry paper I had was a little lightweight so I had to use pastel and pencil only. Spent a lot of time looking at the colours of the sea.

Well, it's a start. I'm hoping to get back to painting in the studio soon too!

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Trying to keep it all going....

It's been a busy start to the year. I fear that life has been getting in the way of art. Nevertheless I have managed to get into the studio and to the Printmaking workshop a few times in January and February.

In January I was in Kishorn for a workshop with Jonathan Shearer. It was a great start to the year, very helpful for encouraging me to get down work again.  In this workshop I focused on two images I had sketched earlier.  Here are the original sketches I used.

 Strome (done the day before the workshop)

 And various Applecross sketches, done in November.
The painting exercises built on these sketches


My sketch at Strome was fresh in my head. I was thinking about that glow in the hills and that ambiguity between the sky and the hills.  I was painting in acrylic, but quite watery, almost like watercolour and on quite a large sheet of paper. It ended up looking a bit like this.I was forced out of my comfort zone to use much warmer colours on the hills - none of my usual blues.


 And  a similarly watery approach taken to the Applecross image, keeping to warm hill colours again.  This again is a large painting.

Since then I have continued with these motifs, doing a number of different paintings and studies. With the Applecross image, I have come up with these.

 I've been experimenting with the foreground, trying different treatments, based on the rocks and the grass that I observed from the shore.

And with the Strome painting, I have continued further with what I started, trying more of a layering technique.  I think this gives more interesting and richer colour. And I have tried a couple of smaller images based on the same scene.

The main development for me is that I'm now working a bit harder at my paintings. Rather than abandoning paintings that I'm dissatisfied with, I'm finding ways of working further into them to achieve richer effects and arriving at a painting that pleases me a bit more.  I feel this is progress.  What do you think?