The cold weather seems to have come earlier this year. Already we have had more snow than in recent years, together with sub-zero temperatures during the day. Familiar scenes have been transformed and colours have become almost monochrome.
I love to paint this farm. It is just down the road from where I live and often catches my eye as a subject. The buildings all combine nicely to make a unified area of strong tone. Also it stands on its own on a bit of a hill, so that it makes a nice shape against the sky.
On this occasion I liked the way the old buildings seemed to stand strong and firm in the face of the elements, as they have for a hundred years or more.
Wind and Snow
Watercolour, 10 x 14 inches, 25 x 35 cm
One of the things I love about the Scottish mountains is the Gaelic names. They are so much more romantic than their English equivalents. They also tend to be more descriptive and give a sense of what life might have been like in the past, in these remote regions, when they were much more populated than they are now.
Coire nan Arr
Watercolour in A4 sketchbook
This sketchbook study is from a recent trip to Wester Ross, where I found some wonderful subjects around Applecross. "Coire nan Arr" means "The Corrie of the Giants" and standing there, surrounded by towering cliffs, the name seems entirely appropriate. In the same area is the "Beallach na Ba", one of the highest mountain passes in Britain. The name, which in English means "The Pass of the Cattle", reminds us of a time when livestock were an important resource, and cattle-droving was a common occurence.
Watercolour, 10 x14 inches, 25 x 35 cm
This is another 'Big Sky' painting. It is composed entirely of blue and brown colours.
The sky is mostly French Ultramarine, with a little Winsor Blue towards the bottom. The clouds are ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. I used Ultramarine with a little Raw Umber to make a cool grey for the sea.
The distant hills, cliffs and foreshore were all Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. These last two are my most used colours. Together they make a wide range of greys and browns and, when used at full strength, combine to give a colour close to black, but with a bit more vibrancy.
One thing which is noticeable about Caithness is the 'big skies'. In that respect it is similar to the fen country of Eastern England and, interestingly, some of my favourite artists painted in that area. Peter de Wint was an early master of the watercolour sketch and excelled in depicting the flat landscapes of Lincolnshire. His influence can be seen in the work of Edward Seago, who produced wonderful paintings of the skies and countryside around his Norfolk home.
I don't often paint sunrises or sunsets as I find they too easily become garish. However, when I saw this dawn sky from my window I knew it would make a great subject.
After nearly nine months of painting regularly outdoors, I have been thinking recently about how it is going. On the whole I am still enjoying the experience and I don't think I would like to work entirely indoors now. Curiously, although it has been much easier in the better weather of the summer, I found the rougher conditions of the winter more inspiring.
One thing that I have noticed is that I am becoming a bit restricted in my way of working. Because I have been using an easel and medium-sized sheets of paper, I have needed a certain amount of bulky equipment. This has lead me to look for easily accessible locations and to keep returning to the same ones. However, when I use a very lightweight easel, or none at all, and work on a small surface I tend to go further afield and more off the beaten track.
It was brought home to me recently when I packed the minimum of materials in a rucksac and set off for a walk across the moors. I found this subject and did a small painting of …
I went for a walk last week in Dunbeath Strath. Through the trees, across the moor, and up onto the hill where an ancient stone stands looking out over endless tracts of wild country. It has been there for thousands of years and probably will be for many generations to come. As I sketched, surrounded by tombs and cairns, I was aware of a connection with the past, as well as a sense almost of timelessness. Hopefully, some of that feeling has found its way into the painting which I made later.
Caithness abounds in ancient remains and it must have had a large population for those days. I read somewhere that the climate then was warmer and drier, so it would have been a pleasant place to live, with fertile soils and good fishing. The Vikings thought so too when they arrived in more recent times.
Although it is part of Highland Region, Caithness is actually a low-lying, predominantly agricultural area. However the southern part of the county does have a small range of mountains, so when I feel the need for a more vertical landscape this is where I often go.
The main mountain in the range is Morven, and getting to it involves a long walk from the end of the public road. An estate track leads to an abandoned farmstead and from there an indistinct path leads across the moor to the foot of the mountain.
Although I love hill-walking, as an artist I often find that the best subjects are to be found in the valleys, where the mountains make a dramatic backdrop. This subject is a good example: The old building with Morven towering over it made a wonderful composition.
One of the things I love about where I live is that it is right on the edge of The Flow Country, the largest area of blanket bog in Europe. On one side I have agricultural land, with fields full of lambs at the moment, but on the other I look out over miles of empty wilderness.
The landscape is mostly uninhabited now, but in the past there were small crofts scattered throughout the area. They usually consisted of a small cottage, with maybe only two or three rooms, a few stone outbuildings and a small area of fields, which had been cleared and maintained through hard labour. Life must have been tough for the inhabitants of these places, where the nearest community of any size might be several hours away, if they had a horse, and much more on foot.
On a recent walk out over the moors I passed several ruined farmsteads. The only inhabitants now are birds of prey and a few sheep. On a day when the weather is good they are nice places to stop and listen to the silence and experience the c…
This was an unusual subject for me, but it is good to try something different now and again.
It was one of those dreary days when the clouds seem to come down to the ground, but as it wasn't actually raining I thought I might be able to get something done. There were no distant views and the poor light meant that the tones were all grey, so I needed to find some colour. I came across this old vehicle which was being used for forestry work, so I thought I would have a go at it.
I hadn't been painting for very long when it started raining and there didn't seem to be any sign of it stopping soon. I have sometimes painted from inside my van in conditions like these, but I dislike doing it because it literally cramps my style, so this time I tried something else. I set up my tripod inside the vehicle and I stood outside, so I got wet but the painting didn't! I found that it worked very well and I think I might be able to use this technique a lot more to paint in bad weathe…
We have been having some nice weather recently, so I set out, the other day, hoping to find a nice sheltered spot to paint in and enjoy the warmth of the sun. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything that appealed to me where I could work in comfort. The subject which really caught my eye involved painting facing into a cold wind. I thought about not doing it, but it was too good to miss and I didn't want to waste any more time looking around.
As it turned out, the sun proved to be a nuisance, combining with the wind to dry out the washes too quickly. In several places I only just got away with working into previously laid areas without the paint running too much. I will have to remember to put the washes on wetter as the weather gets warmer.
The wind was also a problem as usual. I like to hold the brush at the end of the handle and move it with my whole arm, but in a strong wind it is difficult to make it go where I want it to. On this occasion, when I was painting the sea , a…
I had problems with showers again recently. Normally if I think that it is going to start raining I turn my painting over and wait for it to pass, but this time a shower of sleet came up behind me and took me by surprise! Spots appeared on the paper before I could do anything about it, but actually I don't think they have done any harm. They seem to add to the feeling of being outdoors in the weather.
I suppose some people would use an umbrella to protect them from rain, but I don't like having too much equipment to worry about. There are practical considerations too: In the Caithness winds I would be likely to take off, bringing a new meaning to the term 'aerial perspective'!
There is a popular misconception that watercolour paintings cannot be altered once they are finished. In fact there are a number of techniques which can be used to rectify any mistakes, one of which is lifting paint off with a damp brush or sponge.
Some friends pointed out a compositional mistake in one of my recent paintings, and once I had seen it I wasn't happy to leave things that way. The offending watercolour is shown below and has a line of fence posts, which look too small, and which lead the eye out of the painting.
By lifting off the paint with water and a brush I was able to remove the posts. I then painted over the area and used a clean, damp brush to soften the edges. I also lifted off a bit of paint to make the remaining posts a little taller. The result, I think, is a much better painting and shows that it is always worth trying to rescue any failures.
I had quite a battle with this one - 50 mph winds and frequent blustery showers.
I managed to find a bit of shelter under a low cliff, and worked on a small watercolour block on my knee. Even so, it was difficult to hold the brush steady against the wind.
I was painting near Dounreay Nuclear Power Station the other day and there were some big waves. Every so often two or three very big ones would come in, with foaming crests and wind-blown spray.
It was a challenging subject and I could only do it by carefully watching for a while, and then quickly getting an impression down on the paper.
Looking at the finished painting, it occurs to me that something profound could probably be said about the contrast between the power of Nature, in the foreground, and the man-made power behind.