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Showing posts from 2010

Fresh Snow

Fresh Snow Watercolour 16 x 26 cm
As predicted, the snow has returned, and it's deeper this time. It's nice having the roads free of traffic, but I wouldn't mind a spell of better weather now, so that life can get back to normal for a while.
Best Wishes to everyone at Christmas.

Pine Trees in Glen Quoich

Scots Pines in Glen Quoich Watercolour 25 x 16 cm
The snow suddenly disappeared in much warmer weather, but after a brief respite, arctic weather is set to return in the next few days. Meanwhile, here is another painting of the Cairngorms. This pair of pine trees, in Glen Quoich, was just across the river from the group of trees I painted earlier.

Causeymire Windfarm

Sunset at the Windfarm Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
Travelling north to Caithness much of the road hugs the coastline and is hemmed in between the sea and the hills. However the route to Thurso branches off and crosses a vast area of peat bog , known as The Causeymire. It is an amazingly empty landscape and comes as a complete contast to the coast road. At the northern end of the open country, there is another contrast as the road passes the twenty-one turbines of the Causeymire Windfarm. A landscape which feels almost primaeval gives way to another which couldn't be more modern.

I was driving home one afternoon on snowy roads, worried about getting home, when I saw the last of the sunset over the wind turbines. Fortunately I had my camera with me, so I stopped and took a few photographs before the light finally faded.

First Snow

Snow at Calder
16 x 26 cm
What a difference the arrival of winter can make to a landscape. This is the same view that I painted a few weeks ago in autumn sunshine. Now it's covered in a blanket of snow.

Colour palette

On my last post Caroline asked about the colours and papers I use, so I thought I would take the opportunity to give a few details.

My usual palette consists of seven colours:-

Raw Sienna
Burnt Sienna
Permanent Rose
French Ultramarine
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)
Burnt Umber

Occasionally, for flowers or bright objects, I add Winsor Yellow and Scarlet Lake.

The colours are all transparent and are spread evenly around the colour wheel -

I find that this gives me the greatest number of possibilities for mixes. Most of the time I only have to mix two colours together. I can make a good range of warm greys with Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna, or cool greys with Winsor Green and Permanent Rose. Both mixes produce a very dark grey at full strength. In fact Winsor Green/Permanent Rose will give me as close to black as I ever need. I have Burnt Umber for dark mixes as well, but I tend to forget to use it because Burnt Sienna seems just as good for that purpose.

I don'…

Autumn at Braemar

Autumn at Braemar
25 x36 cm
When I visited Deeside I was hoping to see some wonderful autumn colours in the trees and I wasn't disappointed. There is a hill above Braemar, called Morrone, which has it's lower slopes covered with birch trees. A short climb leads to a viewpoint with a panorama of the Cairngorm Mountains.

Old Brig o' Dee

Old Brig o' Dee Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
I have a wonderful book of Diploma Paintings by members of the Royal Watercolour Society - The Glory of Watercolour by Michael Spender. One of the paintings in the book is "The Old Brig o' Dee" by Samuel John Birch, so when I was in Deeside I was keen to see the bridge for myself and make some sketches of it. The trees have grown a lot in a hundred years, so the view is less open now. Birch may also have used a bit of artists' licence to show more of the bridge. That's certainly what I did for this painting; when I sketched it I couldn't see the left-hand arch. I have made a pencil sketch of Birch's painting for comparison.

 Sketch of the painting of "Old Brig o' Dee" by Samuel John 'Lamorna' Birch

Autumn Sunshine

Autumn Sunshine
16 x 26 cm
Among all the gales and rain we are still having some sunny autumn days here.

Cairngorms in Autumn

We've been down to the Cairngorms and had a wonderful week with all the autumn colours. Here is a selection of some of the photographs I took.

Trees at Braemar

Cloud-inversion over Braemar

Ben Macdui from Morrone, Braemar

Glen Quoich

Lochnagar and Glen Quoich

Glen Callater

Loch Callater

Abernethy Forest

Coire an t-Sneachda

Carn Etchachan

Munsary Peatlands

Munsary Cottage Watercolour 16 x 26 cm
This is one of the more remote places in Caithness. It is a large area of blanket bog, owned and managed by the conservation charity Plantlife. Apart from a small farm, there is no human habitation for miles and there is complete peace and quiet. The only sounds are the birds and the wind, and an occasional dragonfly as it flies by.

The cottage was built originally as a shooting lodge, but it's used now as a field studies centre.


I was exploring the area beyond Loch Caluim, recently, and I spent a night camping beside the loch. The weather was calm and dry and there was a feeling of complete tranquillity. I woke early to the sounds of ducks on the water and a Red Grouse clucking somewhere close-by. I lay there for a while, listening to the day come alive and watching the sky get lighter, then I noticed the first rays of sunlight catching the hills in the distance. It would have been nice to have sketched the scene, but the inevitable midges would have made that a far from tranquil experience! Instead I took a quick photograph and then retreated into the tent, behind the netting door.

This is the painting I made later, at home, to try to convey my feelings on that morning.

 Tranquillity, Loch Caluim Watercolour 25 x 36 cm

When Things Go Right

Boathouses on Loch Scye Watercolour 16 x 26 cm
Some people like to really work at their watercolours; sponging, scraping, scratching, moving paint around, until they have the effect that they want. I have what I feel is a purer approach, reminiscent of Oriental painting perhaps. I like to lay on the washes as cleanly and simply as possible, retaining their transparency and only over-painting where necessary. There are fewer opportunities for correcting mistakes with this method, so not every painting is successful, but when things go right there is a beautiful glow from the light reflecting through the paint, almost like the effect of a stained-glass window.

Forgotten Roads

Bridge over Torran Water Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
This bridge is on a track that leads out to Loch Caluim, a remote loch in the Flow Country. While I was searching for information about other routes, I discovered that this one is an ancient road linking Caithness with Sutherland. It was known as the Ca na Catanach. I'm tempted to try to walk the whole length of it, but it's hard to see on the ground in places now and conifer plantations cover other parts. I find these old roads fascinating, with their echoes of a forgotten world. Many are little more than overgrown paths now, but in previous centuries they must have been the main highways between communities. The Road to Loch Caluim Watercolour 25 x 36 cm

More information on Heritage paths of Scotland.

A Royal Invitation

I had an exciting day last weekend. I had a phone call from The Castle of Mey to say that The Prince of Wales would like to see me. They said that he liked my paintings and he would be interested in seeing any that I had, framed or unframed. I wasn't sure how many to take, so I loaded up the van with as many as I could manage and drove over there.

When I got there I was directed through the police cordon and met, at the gate, by Prince Charles's equerry. He took a handful of paintings from me and led me through passages and up winding stairs to the private rooms, where HRH was waiting. He was very friendly and informal and we were soon spreading paintings all round the room on the furniture. He asked questions about some of them and we talked a bit about painting (he paints as well when he can). Then he said that he liked the one that he bought last year and would like to buy another. He chose this one of 'Peedie Sands', which I've shown here before. I think he lik…

Up in the Clouds on Foinaven

I went for a two-day walk over Foinaven recently. I didn't have time for sketching and the midges were too bad to stay in one place for long, so I only have photographs and memories from the trip. The weather wasn't as good as I'd hoped for, so I was in cloud for much of the time. I'll definitely go back in better conditions sometime.

 The walk in along Strath Dionard.

Loch Dionard.
It soon got very boggy.

Midges!! I'm glad I remembered to take gloves, even though it's summer.

A close look at midges!

There were some good examples of the amazing geology of the area.

Getting up into the mountains now.

Deer. I told them to keep their heads down now that the shooting season has started!

Up on the ridge.
Lord Reay's Seat.

A mountain shelter on Cadha na Beucaich.

Still more climbing to do.

The cloud cleared for some views down into Coire na Lurgainn.

Heating soup on the summit.

Off the mountain and across the moors.

The Kyle of Durness.

Doocot at Westerdale

Doocot at Westerdale
25 x 36 cm
Another subject beside the river at Westerdale. This one is a doocot (dovecot) belonging to Dale House. Doocots are common throughout Scotland in the grounds of big houses. They housed doves, which were used for food and for their eggs.

Ackergill Tower, Ebb Tide

Ackergill Tower, Ebb Tide
16 x 25 cm
There are some popular subjects, which I find myself painting frequently. The problem with these is how to maintain the interest. In this case I set myself the challenge of using just two colours: French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber.

Beside the Thurso at Westerdale

Beside the Thurso at Westerdale Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
While I was painting this watercolour I kept thinking of Constable's "The Hay Wain" and "Willy Lot's Cottage". It was because of the shape of the building, surrounded by the trees, and that was what attracted me to the subject in the first place. I managed to resist the temptation to paint in a hay wagon!

Sun and Rain at Dounreay

Sun and Rain at Dounreay Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
I thought it was about time that I did a painting of Dounreay Nuclear Power Station again.

The site is being decommissioned and the whole process is expected to take 35 years or more. I've heard that they are planning to dismantle the famous golf-ball-shaped containment building. I hope that's not the case, it's such an iconic feature. It would be nice if they could clean it up and make it safe enough to turn into a visitor centre. I think it's just as much a symbol of our time as castles and other old buildings are of theirs.


25 x 36 cm
Quinag is the most northerly mountain in Assynt. It is actually a range of peaks, in the form of a forked ridge, and includes three Corbetts (mountains over 2,500 feet). The highest summit is Sail Garbh at 808 metres. This wild landscape is now protected by the John Muir Trust.

Fisherfield Forest

Beinn Dearg Mor
25 x 36 cm
I painted this from a sketch I made on a short walk up Gleann Chaorachain, below An Teallach. Beinn Dearg Mor is one of the mountains of the Fisherfield Forest, which is a remote mountainous area in Wester Ross, between Kinlochewe and Dundonnel. It is sometimes known as 'The Great Wilderness' and, although it is called a forest, it has few trees now.

Duncansby Head Lighthouse

Duncansby Head Lighthouse
20 x 25 cm
Duncansby Head is the most north-easterly point in the British Isles and it really feels like the end of the mainland. The view looks out over the Pentland Firth and the next land in sight is the islands of Orkney.

Forss Mill

Falls at Forss Mill Watercolour 25 x 36 cm
I've tried to paint this subject a few times before. Each time I've ended up over-working it because of all the detail. This time I concentrated on what interested me most, which was the waterfall, and tried to paint the rest as simply as possible.
The mill is no longer working, but fortunately it was acquired by the Highland Buildings Preservation Trust. They have converted the building for residential use, while retaining most of the original features.

Ben Klibreck

Ben Klibreck and Loch Naver
16 x 26 cm
Ben Klibreck is the second most northerly mountain on the Munro list. It stands in a fairly isolated position, so although I don't think it's a very interesting mountain to climb, it does have tremendous views.
Ben Hee from Ben Klibreck

Ben Loyal from Ben Klibreck
The last time I was there, when I got close to the summit, I came across a ptarmigan. She was looking very agitated and appeared to be trying to distract me away from a nest.
Ptarmigan on Ben Klibreck