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Showing posts from 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

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.

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.

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

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. 

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.

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.

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 fe…

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

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 Si…

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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

The Cuillin Mountains of Skye

The Isle of Skye is famous for the Cuillin Mountains, 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 Cuillin, 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 Cuillin, 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.

Location -

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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 ove…