Thursday, December 20, 2012

Season's Greetings



I was looking for images to use for Christmas cards and I came across this watercolour I painted a while ago. It was nice as it was, but I thought I could turn it into an even more traditional Christmas scene. I darkened the sky by wetting the whole area and dropping in stronger colour. Then I used white gouache and a spattering technique to create the falling snow. I also put a few more shadows into the foreground to give it more depth. The result is my seasonal greeting to all my readers.


Happy Christmas
"A Welcoming Light" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Flow Country Boathouse

"A Flow Country Boathouse" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm



One of the most popular activities in Caithness and Sutherland is fishing. There are some well-known salmon rivers and numerous lochs full of trout. One of the remotest of these is Loch Caluim in the heart of the Flow Country. It was popular with the late Queen Mother when she was staying in Caithness.

The bigger lochs usually have one or two boathouses on their shorelines, but most of them don't seem to be used any more and are falling into disrepair. I suppose the estates no longer have the staff to maintain them. They are one of the few signs of human activity in these remote places.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Soft Winter Sunset

"Soft Winter Sunset" - watercolour, 18 x 26 cm



Another of those quiet winter sunsets, when the day seems to slip away softly without any fuss.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Caithness Skies

'Sunset at Loch More' - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

Caithness is known for its big skies and each season brings out different aspects. I find summer sunshine a bit uninteresting because of the lack of clouds and the washed out light. Rain showers bring spectacular rainbows though. The late sunsets mean that days are very long and it hardly gets dark.

Winter is a complete contrast. The days are very short and the sun is low in the sky. The light is often poor, but on cold sunny days it can be very clear and the afternoon sunsets are beautifully soft and colourful. The following long nights are crystal clear with spectacular views of the stars and the white streak of the aptly-named Milky Way. A bonus this year has been good views of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Not as spectacular as the view from Arctic regions, but impressive even so.

'The Northern Lights' - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ackergill Tower

"Winter Light on Ackergill Tower" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm



Scotland has many examples of tower houses, dating from medieval times to the 17th Century. They consist of tall, tower-shaped structures, with thick stone walls and small doors and windows. Surrounding the tower there would have been wooden service buildings and maybe a curtain wall or stockade. They were the strongholds of clan chieftains and local warlords at a time when parts of Scotland were fairly lawless.

Ackergill Tower seems a bit unusual to me in that it stands in an area of flat land next to the sea. Usually tower houses were built on rocky promontories or on higher ground. Perhaps the surrounding land was marshy at one time, which would make approach more difficult.
Even if it wasn't good for defence, it is ideal for the present hotel, which stands at the end of two miles of sandy beach, with a view out across the bay. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

Breaking Waves at Wick Harbour

"Breaking Waves at Wick Harbour" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm

Another painting of waves. Wick harbour is usually quite sheltered. It lies in a bay which faces east, so it's protected from northerly and westerly gales. On this occasion though, the wind was from the east and the waves were crashing over the breakwater, sending a heavy swell up the river.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crashing Waves

"Crashing Waves" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm

I wonder what it is about waves that we find so fascinating. Is it the rhythmical sound that soothes our souls? Or is it a sense of the awesome power of nature? Or maybe it's something more primaeval. I just know that I never tire of watching them.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Cold Water Surfing

"Surf and Rocks at Mey" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm


"Riding the Surf" - watercolour 18 x 26 cm


It's surfing time again at Thurso. The UK Pro Surf Tour is coming to town for the Thurso Surfing Championships.

We're not talking here about bronzed bodies and blue skies. Well the sky might be blue, with a bit of luck, but the surfers will be wearing wetsuits with sea temperatures of below 10 degrees C at the moment. This was a revelation to me when I first came here, but cold water surfing is actually very popular with its own professional circuit.

It seems that the surfing at Thurso is particularly good. I've heard of people who have moved to the area and taken whatever work they can find, just so that they can surf here. I don't know much about surfing, but as an artist I certainly find lots of inspiration for dramatic seascapes here.

To coincide with the competition there is also the 'Wave North Festival' of arts and events. I am entering a few paintings and these are two of them. I don't usually paint human activity but I had some sketches of surfers and it was a perfect subject for the occasion.

Link to Wave North Festival

Link to UK Pro Surf Tour

Monday, September 17, 2012

Impressions of an Untamed Country

I'm having an exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery, at Elgin Museum, during October. This is a selection of the paintings on show. Most of them have been shown here before, but I think the first one is new.

Lone Pine and Lochnagar - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm













Link to Elgin Museum

Monday, September 10, 2012

Going With The Flow

Shower over a Loch - Watercolour - 18 x 26 cm




I was reading a piece recently on Bruce Sherman's blog, where he was talking about painting without doing any underdrawing. I usually do some preliminary drawing, but it's very brief and I try to use it as just a guide. This time I decided to try doing no drawing at all. It's a quick and exciting way to work and there are two ways of doing it. Either you can start with a clear idea of what you want the painting to look like; 'drawing' with your mind you could say, or you can start with a loose or semi-abstract lay-in and allow something to emerge from it. In this case I intended producing a reasonably close interpretation of the subject, so I set out with an idea of how the painting would look. Even so, and especially with watercolour, there is still an element of 'happy accident' and the main thing is allowing these to happen and making the best of them when they do. It's all about, in the words of John Singer Sargent; "Making the most of an emergency"!

I painted this partly from a photograph and partly from memory. I've included the photograph to show the subject for comparison.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Landscapes of the Far North

This is a selection of paintings from my 'Landscapes of the Far North' exhibition at Eden Court in Inverness, running during September.

A Highland Shelter - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm 


Ben Hope over Eriboll - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm


Caithness Moorland - Watercolour - 18 x 26 cm


 Foinaven and the Kyle of Durness - Watercolour - 23 x 34 cm


Stac Pollaidh and The Minch - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm


 The Old Man of Stoer - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm


The Road to Durness - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Society of Caithness Artists

Sunlight on a Farm - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm



The Lookout Tower at Thurso East - Watercolour - 25 x 36 cm



I haven't been finding much time for blogging recently, but here are a couple of images to keep things going. They were both sold last week at the annual show of The Society of Caithness Artists.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Mountain for All Tastes

Ben Nevis from the West
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



I've mentioned before how Ben Nevis has two distinct characters, making it seem very different depending on which way it is approached. The southern side has a rounded profile with steep slopes. Most visitors climb the mountain from this side by a zigzag path called the "Pony Track". It was made at the end of the Nineteenth Century when a weather observatory was built at the summit. For a number of years men were stationed there permanently to make recordings. It must have been a tough assignment in bad weather. The building even had to be made taller so that it wasn't buried under the snow in winter.

Although the Pony Track is steep in some places, it is a fairly easy route and makes the mountain seem deceptively benign. However the approach from the north reveals a different prospect. A glacier, like a gigantic ice-cream scoop, has carved away the side of the mountain, leaving 600 metre high cliffs. They are popular with climbers and in the winter they provide some challenging ice-climbing routes. However there is also the risk of avalanches from the snow cornices which form at the top of the cliffs. The only walking route from the north is by a narrow, precipitous ridge. Such dramatic conditions are fitting for the highest mountain in Britain.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The First Crop

The First Crop
Watercolour
18 x 36 cm



For weeks we had fairly dry weather when more southerly parts of Britain were having torrential rain. It was cold though, so the grass was growing slowly in the fields. Now we have warmer weather but it has turned wet as well, so farmers are held up with the hay-making. A few fields have been cut for silage but a dry spell will be needed for a hay crop.

Harvesting exposes the fresh new shoots and at this time of year there is a patchwork of of bright yellow-green fields.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Free Expression

A Mountain Pass
Watercolour
22 x 16 cm



In all forms of creativity I think we probably do some of our best work when we don't think about it too much. Sometimes our rational minds get in the way. The other day, as I was trying out a new brush on a scrap of paper, I began to see a picture emerging so I decided to continue with it. I didn't know how it was going to develop and I was just making marks without thinking too much. The only bit of real thought involved was the adding of a bird in the sky to give a sense of scale and life. The result, I feel, was a little gem of a painting. Maybe the composition isn't perfect, but there is a feeling of freshness in it which I like.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Great Wood of Caledon

The Northern Corries from Glenmore
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm


I've talked before about the ancient pinewoods of Scotland: At one time the Great Wood of Caledon covered most of the Highlands with a more-or-less continuous area of forest and mountains.

Caledonian pine forest is a mixed woodland of Scots Pines and other native trees. It forms a unique habitat and home to some of Britain's rarest species, including the Capercaillie and the Scottish Crossbill.

Over the centuries much of the forest has been cleared for grazing land and for shooting grouse and deer. A few areas survive and some of the largest are in the Cairngorms National Park, where efforts are being made to allow them to regenerate naturally.

The main threat to these forest now is overgrazing by deer. There are no large predators in Scotland and the size of the deer population has become a problem, especially for the regeneration of forests. Any young trees that become established are browsed by the deer, resulting in a dying habitat that has only old trees. Where deer are fenced out or controlled the young trees can grow undisturbed and regeneration can take place. There has been some discussion of the possibility of re-introducing wolves to control the deer, but it seems unlikely that there could ever be agreement on that.

It's remarkable how quickly empty areas of heather moorland can be colonised by trees. The bare mountain slopes we see today are a man-made landscape, which could eventually return to a new Great Wood of Caledon with a bit of help from us to undo the damage we have done.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moorland Fires Again

Sunset Fire
Watercolour
18 x 26 cm



We've just had a couple of serious moorland fires again in Caithness. They've been put out now with the help of the rain, but I expect they will smoulder for a while yet. Once the fire gets into the peat it can burn underground for a long time. I don't know how these started. It's too late to be moorland management so I expect it was accidental: just throwing a cigarette out of a car window can be enough. It's strange that we had no fires when the weather was warm and dry recently, but we've had them now that it's cloudy and cold.

I didn't get out to see the recent fires: I don't like "ambulance-chasing" in any case, but this painting was from another one that I sketched a few years ago. From a painter's point of view the smoke and the setting sun combined to make a wonderful subject.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Brochs

Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



Throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland there are the remains of ancient round towers, called brochs. The best-preserved ones are in the Orkney Isles, but there are some impressive examples on the mainland in Glenelg, in Wester Ross.

These mysterious towers were built during the Iron Age and experts disagree over what they were used for. They seem to be defensive structures, but they may been intended to show off the wealth or power of their owners.

The most complete of the surviving brochs are around 25 metres tall, but they may originally have been higher than that. The walls were hollow with staircases ingeniously built into them to give access to upper levels. There were no windows and just a small, low doorway. They were built of stone and amazingly no mortar was used to hold them together. The fact that they have survived at all, after two thousand years, is a testament to the skills of their builders.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A New Angle on the Stacks

The Coastline at Duncansby Head
Watercolour
25 x 36cm



In the usual tourist view of the rock stacks at Duncansby Head (*) they look pyramid-shaped. However from further along the cliffs they can be seen to be quite thin ridges of rock, almost two-dimensional in appearance.

The colours were from the same primary palette that I used for the last painting.

* link

From the collection of HRH The Prince of Wales.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Experiments with Colour

Sunshine in the Lairig Ghru
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



One thing I've been experimenting with recently is choice of colours. I've always used a palette built around a selection of earth colours, but I was wondering whether I was getting a bit lazy with colour-mixing. It's all too easy to find yourself using a few favourite mixes and not exploring the full range of your palette.

I decided to try using a primary colour palette of just six colours, which would force me to mix them together for the secondaries and tertiaries. I already had most of the colours I needed except for a red-orange. As I have also been trying out Rembrandt watercolours, I chose Permanent Orange from that range. Unfortunately that wasn't quite red enough and made greenish mixes with Ultramarine, whereas Burnt Sienna makes warm greys. I think Vermilion might have been a better choice. My palette of six colours was as follows:-

Winsor Yellow - Winsor and Newton
Permanent Orange - Rembrandt
Quinacridone Rose - Rembrandt
Ultramarine Deep - Rembrandt
Pthalo Blue (Green) - Rembrandt
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) - Winsor and Newton

Looking at the painting I don't think the different palette made much difference. I found that I was just mixing the primaries to make the same earth colours, which also made the process slower. I think it shows that it's not the palette that's important, but the way that you use it. I suppose I'm more of a tonal painter than a colourist and maybe it's too late to change now.

I found that the Rembrandt watercolours were good quality and nice to use. They are significantly cheaper than Winsor and Newton, so I will continue to try them for a while.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ben Hope from the North

Ben Hope from the North
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



I've just realised that I haven't posted anything here for a few weeks. Preparing paintings for exhibitions has been taking all my attention recently. I've also been experimenting a bit with my painting and I'll probably have something to say about that if it leads to anything.

Meanwhile, here is a painting of the wonderful Sutherland landscape. The mountains of the far north of Scotland have a character that sets them apart from the rest of Britain. The geology of the area tends to form isolated peaks instead of the mountain ranges of other areas. They also often rise from nearly sea-level, so they look higher than they really are. Ben Hope is one of these mountains and it looks particularly impressive from the north.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Cuillins of Skye

Light on Marsco
Watercolour
25 x 36 cm



The Isle of Skye is famous for the Cuillins, probably the most impressive range of mountains in the British Isles. There are actually two separate parts of the range, lying on either side of Glen Sligachan. On the northern side are the Black Cuillins, composed of very old, gabbro rock. They have a very jagged outline and provide some challenging climbing conditions. To the south the mountains are known as the Red Cuillins, because of their pink granite rocks. They have a more forgiving, smoother outline. These hills include Marsco, the subject of the painting, with slopes which sweep down into Glen Sligachan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Crags on Arkle

Crags on Arkle
Watercolour
25 x 18 cm



This is a small watercolour of some crags on Arkle, a mountain in North-west Sutherland. I was pleased with cliffs and the feeling of recession, but the top half of the painting felt a bit empty. I thought that an eagle, soaring on the updraughts in the background, might give it a bit of life and a sense of scale. It's amazing how a simple brushstroke can transform a painting sometimes.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Abandoned Farmstead

Abandoned Farmstead, Watercolour, 25 x 36 cm


I love painting these abandoned farmsteads. They usually make a good focal point in an empty landscape. This one isn't too decayed yet and is still weatherproof. I think it's used as an overnight shelter sometimes, probably by fishermen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Heroes of the Grey Corries

Heroes of the Grey Corries, Watercolour, 25 x 36 cm


This is the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge. The British Commandos were formed during World War II to take part in raids against occupied Europe. They had their depot at Achnacarry Castle, where they went through tough training in the surrounding mountains. Later, they were joined by US Rangers and commandos from other countries. The famous monument was set up in 1952.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In the Corrie of the Snow

In the Corrie of the Snow, Watercolour, 25 x 36 cm


When I first visited Coire an t-Sneachda, in the Cairngorms, it was October and already there was a covering of snow. The cloud level was low and the surrounding cliffs disappeared upwards into the mist, making them seem even more dramatic. The floor of the corrie was covered with scattered boulders that had fallen from the crags above. The scene was desolate, but there was also a peacefulness in the complete silence. I hope I have managed to convey some of that feeling in the painting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spear Head, Scrabster

Spear Head, Scrabster, Watercolour, 18 x 25 cm


More of the wonderful coastal scenery of Caithness. This is just a short distance north of the ferry port of Scrabster, but it could be miles from any human habitation. There are just dramatic cliffs, rock stacks and sea caves, and the ever-present seabirds gliding by effortlessly on the thermal up-currents.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sunset at Latheronwheel

Sunset at Latheronwheel, Acrylic, 20 x 25 cm


This winter has been very different from the last two. So far, instead of snow and ice we have been having mostly wet and very windy weather. The other day there were heavy showers of hail and wind gusting at over 60 mph. It was very noisy at home, so I decided to go over to the more sheltered east coast in search of some peace and quiet. I took my pochade box with me and found a good painting spot in the car park at Latheronwheel Harbour. Even at the foot of the hill the wind was still blustery, but using the box I was able to paint from the comfort of my vehicle.

As it happens, with the wind coming off the land, the sea was quite calm and there was nothing else in the subject to indicate the rough conditions. It just looks like a calm sunset!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sunshine in the Dales

Having just painted a large watercolour, I then had a commission for a large acrylic as well. It was also to be on a gallery-wrap canvas, which was something I hadn't tried before.

The brief was for a painting based loosely on a photograph of a Yorkshire Dales landscape. I used to live in that area, so it was a subject I was very familiar with.

Stage 1
I did a few pencil sketches to try out different compositions and then drew the outlines onto the canvas.



Thumbnail sketches



Rough outline
I started the painting by establishing all the darkest areas.


Stage 2


Stage 3
Then I covered the rest of the canvas with loosely applied paint for the middle-valued areas. The lightest values were left as white canvas.


Stage 3


Stage 4
From this rough groundwork I then continued to build up thicker and stronger colours.


Stage 4



Stage 5



Stage 6


Stage 7
At this point I reassessed the painting and saw a few things that needed changing. The woodland on the hill was too dark in tone, so I scumbled over it with white and a little bit of blue to make it look more distant. The middle-distance fields looked a bit empty, so I added more field boundaries to break up that area more. I also repositioned the barn. In the foreground, I felt that the colours were too bright and the river was too straight. A few glazes took care of the colours and a few stony areas made the river more interesting. The final touches were some birds in the sky and sheep in the fields.


Sunshine in the Dales, Acrylic, 51 x 76 cm


Finally, I had to paint the sides of the canvas, so that the painting continued around the edge. I probably should have done that earlier, but I didn't want to stop to take the canvas off the easel.