Slioch and Loch Maree
9 x 13.5 inches (23 x 34 cm)
I have just been watching a television programme about the wonderful wildlife of Loch Maree - White-tailed Sea Eagles, Black-throated Divers etc. - so I thought I would show a painting of the loch.
Loch Maree lies between the Torridon range of mountains and the Fisherfield Forest, also known as The Great Wilderness. The steep slopes of Slioch (The Spear) dominate the north side, to the south is the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and the village of Kinlochewe is at its eastern end.. The area around the loch has some of the last remaining scots pines of the Great Caledonian Forest.
I've been working on a few commissions recently. This one was a view of Strathmore from Strathmore Lodge. It caused me some problems because it was in a wide landscape format, whereas I usually paint what I can see more or less in my field of view. I knew how I wanted to compose it, but I had several attempts at it and each time I ran out of space on the paper. It didn't help that I needed to move the hills a bit to the right in order to get the river in front of them. The solution in the end was to treat the two halves of the view as separate sketches and then join them together. Then I was able to transfer the whole image to the watercolour paper.
The Coigach area of Sutherland was looking spectacular last weekend. I took advantage of the good weather to do some hill-walking before the winter weather really sets in.
My destination for the day was Cul Mor. It's not one of the highest hills in the area, nor is it as interesting as some, but it has good views over the surrounding mountains and out over The Minch to the Western Isles on the horizon.
Views from the summit: -
Ben More Assynt
On the way down I came across an area of glacial erratics - loose rocks left behind when the glaciers melted after the last Ice Age. As I looked at them a thought occurred to me. Most of them probably hadn't moved in all that time. The smaller ones might get nudged by passing deer and the snow and strong wind in winter might have some effect, but the larger ones were probably too heavy for that. I had an urge to turn one over and reveal a surface that might not have seen the sun for 10,000 years, but then I decided to leave no evidence of my passing by. This was an example of how this landscape always reminds me of my place in the vast scale of the Universe.
Sunset is towards the end of the afternoon at this time of year and the mountains were lit up with an orange glow. I just had time to do a quick painting of Stac Pollaidh, or Stac Polly as it's better-known.
Sunset on Stac Pollaidh
7 x 10 inches (18 x 25.5 cm)
The popular route up Ben Hope is from the parking area beside the Allt á Mhuiseil. This is the shortest way up but it is very steep and eroded. I set out to try the longer route which follows the Leitir Mhuiseil ridge. It starts from the ruined broch at Dùn Dornaigil and goes up next to the farm buildings. After a short distance I reached a farm track and this led uphill, until a path branched off to the left and continued to the ridge. A rougher walk follows the Allt na Caillich up, by a dramatic waterfall, to reach the same point.
Ben Hope from Dùn Dornaigil
At the point where the route crosses the Allt na Caillich (The Stream of the Old Woman) I found a memorial to a young man who lost his life on the mountain. I don't know what the circumstances were, but it was a reminder of how mountains need to be treated with respect. At this point my eye was caught by the way that the blue water disappeared over the edge of the waterfall, contrasting with the brown hillside behind. I felt that it was something that I needed to paint, so out came my sketching equipment.
Allt na Caillich
The crossing of the burn was easy enough and the route continued along the ridge, climbing steadily. The well-worn path followed the edge of the crags with airy views down into Strathmore. In bad weather it might be better to walk on the short heather further back from the edge. The dramatic cliffs called for a sketch in pencil.
I followed the edge of the escarpment for two miles, until I reached the point where the main path joins it. The red deer rut was in full force, so all the way I was accompanied by the sound of stags roaring on all sides.
From here a steep climb up grass and scree eventually led to the summit. The views from the top were tremendous, taking in most of the mountains of northern Sutherland. To the north was the sea and the northern coast as far as Caithness. The Orkney Isles were on the distant horizon.
Looking out over the Kyle of Tongue to the Orkney Isles
The morning had been sunny and I had been very warm while climbing. However there were patches of ice on the summit and, when the sky clouded over, the temperature fell dramatically. I went over to have a quick look at the crags on the North Ridge, but it was getting too cold to stay any longer. The weather was heading downhill and so was I!
Looking down on the North Ridge
Going down the steep slope was more difficult than climbing up. The surface was very loose in places and it would have been all too easy to slip, with the added danger of the distracting views!
Ben Hee and Strathmore
It was getting late by the time I was back down on the ridge, and it had started to rain, so I decided to continue on down the main path. It was very wet and slippery, with heavily eroded sections, confirming that the ridge route is much more pleasant. I found a couple of subjects to sketch on the way down. Watercolour was out of the question in the rain, so I used pencil and applied the colour when I got home.
Allt á Mhuiseil
The final two miles along the road back to the starting point was a bit of a slog, but there was the compensation of the stags challenging each other on the slopes below the crags.
When the economic crisis first started I feared the worst for sales of artwork. There did seem to be a slow period at the beginning of the year, but that time is usually quiet anyhow.
However sales have been good over the summer - at least they have in this part of the world. Maybe people still buy art in depressing times in order to cheer themselves up.
I've recently had my third successful year at the Society of Caithness Artists annual show, selling all the paintings I exhibited. I'm pleased to say that this painting is now in the collection of HRH The Prince of Wales and Duke of Rothesay.
Rock Stacks at Armadale
10 x 14 inches, 25 x 35 cm
Suilven is a mountain in Sutherland. It's not particularly high, but its isolated position and striking profile mean that it dominates the surrounding landscape. It towers over Lochinver, the largest settlement in the area.
Suilven and Lochinver
I meant to make this a demonstration painting, but forgot to take the photographs, so I only have the under-painting to show.
A friend was asking today about my equipment for painting outdoors, so I thought I would show my set-up here.
I use a lightweight watercolour box, into which I squeeze tube colours. I have a selection of brushes for different sizes of paintings. I usually only use one or two. I like to paint standing up, so I use a lightweight easel. This is made up from a camera tripod and a board, with a special plate for attaching it to the tripod. I often have my paper taped onto a thin piece of MDF or card, so that it is easier to handle in the wind. I then clip this watercolour board to the board on my easel.
If I am walking a long way I usually leave the easel behind to save weight. In that case I sit on the ground to paint. I might even fill my paintbox before I go out and leave the tubes behind.
We've had some sunny weather here again recently and the bright light has made the landscape look a bit washed-out. I went to the coast, looking for some cliffs with their strong shadows, and found these at Peedie Sands. The sandstone has some nice colours and has been worn away by the sea to create interesting shapes.
Altnabreac must be one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. It is 4 miles from the end of the nearest public road and 15 miles from the nearest village with shops etc. There are only a couple of houses and all around is a large area of forestry plantations and peat bogs. Only two or three trains pass in each direction per day, I think, and it's mostly used by hikers.
My final walk in the Cairngorms took me over the high mountains and down to Loch Avon.
I set off from the Ski-centre car park and passed below the Northern Corries on a good path.
Coire an t-Sneachda
After an easy climb I reached the slopes of Cairn Lochan and I stopped to sketch the view. The wind was strong at this elevation and I had to hang on to all my materials to stop them blowing away. At this point I was high above the top of the Lairig Ghru, where I had been sketching a few days before.
The Devil's Point from Cairn Lochan
A little further round the hill I ran into a group of friendly reindeer. I saw them coming towards me and waited to see what they would do. I thought they would keep away, but they came right up to me and grazed quietly beside me.
From this point the route would be much rougher. I was going down Coire Domhain to Loch Avon. The path was wet and stony and any false step could result in a nasty fall. I tried not to be distracted by the view across to the Avon Slabs.
Carn Etchachan and Coire Domhain
The Avon Slabs
Loch Avon is in a remote and lonely spot in the middle of the Cairngorms. One of its best-known features is the Shelter Stone. At some point in the distant past, a huge boulder fell from the crag above and landed in such a way that it left a space underneath. Here five or six people can shelter and it has been used as a refuge by travellers throughout history.
The Shelter Stone
As I settled down to sketch Shelter Stone Crag, the wind seemed even stronger than it had up on top. The resulting drawing was very rough, but it should be good enough to remind me how it felt to be in that place when I come to paint it later.
Shelter Stone Crag
I now had an equally steep route back up onto the plateau, but going up was much easier than coming down.
Having reached the top I stopped to rest and sketch the dramatic view across to Cairn lochan. There was then just an easy descent down to the car park, and the end of a wonderful day among some of Scotland's highest mountains.
The next day in The Cairngorms was wet, and the clouds were down over the hills, so I decided to do a low-level walk. As well as dramatic mountains the area also has some wonderful old pine forests, which are remnants of the Caledonian Forest that once covered large parts of Scotland. A forest walk is ideal for a wet day, with the trees providing some shelter and the mist creating interesting backgrounds.
I started from Glenmore, a popular centre for Cairngorm activities, and followed the Allt Mor which flows down from the Northern Corries into Loch Morlich.
The Allt Mòr
After several miles of winding paths through the forest, where I met only a few other people, I came to Ryvoan Bothy. This was originally an 18th Century croft house, but is now maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association as a shelter for hikers. I just about finished sketching before it starting raining heavily.
On the way back I managed to get one more sketch of the forest when the rain eased off a bit.
The Glenmore Forest
Water-soluble graphite pencils
I've just come back from a trip down to the Cairngorms. The weather was pretty wet but I managed to get a couple of days of hill-walking. It was great to be up among some of the highest mountains in Scotland and I got some good sketches and photographs.
I didn't take my watercolour box with me this time as I intended to try using watercolour pencils. I haven't had much success with them previously, but when you are sketching on a mountain in gale-force winds, it's much easier to hold a few pencils instead of a paint-box and water pot. They are so much more convenient that I think it's worth persevering with them. I used a small selection of Derwent watercolour pencils, three Karisma Graphite Aquarelle pencils and a Pentel waterbrush. This last item is very useful for sketching as you don't have to carry a separate water pot and keep dipping the brush in it.
The first walk I did was into the Lairig Ghru, one of the two great passes through the Cairngorms and an ancient route for travellers. The route took me below the Northern Corries of Cairngorm to the Chalamain Gap, a remnant of the last Ice-age.
The Chalamain Gap
Karisma Graphite Aquarelle pencils on A5 cartridge paper
The Chalamain Gap
Once I had scrambled over the boulders that filled the Gap I descended into the Lairig Ghru.
Entering The Lairig Ghru
Mountains towered on either side and steep scree-covered slopes closed in on the path. I could have found lots of subjects to sketch, but I had to limit myself a bit as I wanted to reach the top of the pass.
The Lairig Ghru and Lurchers Crag
Eventually I reached the top and had some sandwiches while I sketched the view down the other side.
Looking south from the Pools of Dee
I returned by the same route and sketched some of the views I hadn't done on the way up. The weather had been good and the day was only spoiled by the midges which descended on me whenever I stopped. Regular applications of insect-repellent were required!