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Showing posts from 2013

A Little Old Man

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"Sunlight on the Old Man" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm Another very small painting and probably the last one this small that I'll do for a while. The small size doesn't make them any easier to paint. If anything, the difficulty seems to increase as the size decreases. I feel the need for more space for freer brushstrokes. The subject of the painting is the famous rock stack, known as The Old Man of Hoy, in the Orkney Isles.

Sunlight on Ben Loyal

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"Sunlight on Ben Loyal" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm I drove over to Tongue, in Sutherland, today to deliver paintings to an exhibition at the Ben Loyal Hotel. I always enjoy that journey, especially the bit where you emerge from trees above the village to see this view of Ben Loyal. It seems such a shapely mountain and its position, at the head of the Kyle of Tongue, makes it seem much bigger than it really is. Art Exhibition at the Ben Loyal Hotel, Tongue 18th October to 15th November 2013

A Rough Crossing

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"A Rough Crossing" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm This is the ferry that runs between Scrabster, in Caithness, and Stromness, in Orkney. I didn't tie myself to a ship's mast in a storm as JMW Turner is reputed to have done, but it felt a bit like it. I was at the sea-front in Thurso and the wind was so strong that I was having trouble staying on my feet. At one point I was being blown along and could only stop myself by clinging to a lamppost. I thought the ship and the stormy conditions made a dramatic subject, but all I could do in circumstances was take a blurry photograph. It was enough though, with my memory, to make this painting in more comfortable conditions. This painting will be on show, with several others, at the Wave North Exhibition at Caithness Horizons in Thurso throughout October.

Homemade Watercolour Blocks

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Here is a tip for people who like the idea of using watercolour blocks, but don't like the price of the ones that you can buy: it's not difficult to make your own. You will need 10 to 15 sheets of watercolour paper cut to a little larger than the size you want the finished block to be; a similar-sized piece of mountboard or stiff card (it should be acid-free if possible); two more similar-sized pieces of thick card of any type; PVA adhesive; a sharp craft knife and a heavy cutting guide. Make the watercolour paper into a stack with the piece of mountboard at the bottom, and mark out on the top sheet the exact size of the block. Cut down through all of the sheets and the card to leave a clean edge. This needs to be done carefully as it's easy to let the angle of the knife drift and end up with a bevelled edge. It won't affect the function of the block, but it doesn't look so good. The best way is to use a light pressure and gradually cut through. F

More Cotton Grass

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"Sunlight and Cotton Grass" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm More cotton grass; at the southern end of Loch Calder. It's a popular place with fishermen, but it also has an interesting mix of marshland and heather moorland. Brawlbin Farm sits on the edge of it all.

Cotton Grass

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"Morven and Cotton Grass" - watercolour - 19 x 29 cm It was noticeable this year that there was a lot of cotton grass on the moors. There was more than I have seen in recent years, so presumably it had something to do with the late spring. Whatever the reason, some areas were a sea of white fluffy tufts, looking almost like a return to the snow of winter. Most of it is disappearing now though, to be replaced with the purple flowers of the heather.

Sea Caves

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"Sea Cave at Holborn Head" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm I think most people probably find caves interesting: a primordial fascination with the feeling of a portal to an unseen world. If this applies to a cave on land, it must be even more the case for the kind of sea cave which can only be reached by boat. There is no way of knowing, from dry land, what lies beyond the entrance: how far it extends or whether it leads to a vast cavern. We can watch the waves wash in and disappear into the depths, maybe listen to the crashing sounds from within, and then see the resulting surf wash out again. Sea birds also, come and go from their roosts high up in the cave, inhabiting a world we can never be part of; a world we can only try to imagine. Perhaps the greatest attraction of caves is the way that they allow our imaginations to play.

Sunshine and Storm Clouds

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"Sunshine and Storm Clouds" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm    Often the simplest subjects can make the most dramatic paintings. One day I noticed these trees, with their bright Spring foliage, against a background of dark storm clouds. The nearly complimentary colours of deep blue and warm yellow added to the drama.  I used only French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna for the whole painting.

Sunlight on Dalnaha

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"Sunlight on Dalnaha" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm   Another view of the cottage at Dalnaha. This gives more of an idea of how secluded it is. It's also an example of how useful clouds can be; throwing shadows on the landscape, and providing tonal contrast in a subject which could otherwise appear flat and uninteresting.

Dalnaha, Strathmore

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"Dalnaha, Strathmore" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm Beyond Loch More, in upper Strathmore, there are few buildings still in an inhabitable state. There are some old shooting lodges, and a small community around Altnabreac railway station, but most of the old buildings are ruins now. The cottage at Dalnaha is one of the survivors. It's not lived in permanently, but it's furnished and presumably used as a holiday cottage. With no other properties within several miles it would be a very peaceful place to stay.

Bone Caves

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Further south from Smoo Cave, which I wrote about recently , there is another limestone cave system near Inchnadamph. The Bone Caves are a group of four caves, which were probably formed at the end of the last Ice Age by melting ice. Excavations have revealed the bones of various animals, including Lynx; Brown Bear; Arctic Fox; Reindeer; and even a Polar Bear. Human skeletons were also found, dating from earlier than 2,000 BC. Materials used: Bockingford Rough paper, 300 gsm Rembrandt Artists' Watercolours - Raw Sienna Raw Umber Burnt Sienna French Ultramarine Pthalo Green Stage 1 I made a brief drawing with a 2B pencil to give me some guidelines to work to. Then I dampened the paper all over and applied weak washes, letting them run together without worrying too much about keeping to the pencil lines. The colours used were French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna for the grey; Burnt Sienna with a little French Ultramarine for the brown; and Raw Umber and Pthalo Gree

Secrets of Loch More

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"Lochmore Cottage" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm Next to the dam at Loch More is a cottage which I presume was built to house the water bailiff responsible for controlling the flow of water into the river. Nobody lives in the cottage now but it is still used by fishermen. While looking into the history of Lochmore Cottage I have discovered that it is thought by some people to have a connection with a couple of mysteries of World War II. In 1942 Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, flew alone in an unarmed plane from Germany to Scotland. He was apparently hoping to land at Dungavel House, the home of the Duke of Hamilton who had supported appeasement with the Nazis before the war. Hess was unable to find somewhere to land and had to parachute out, after which he was captured. The reason for the flight has never been completely explained, but there are theories that he was intending to negotiate peace terms with the government, or even that he was intending to meet Na

Brims Castle

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Brims Castle, a few miles West of Thurso, is in a ruinous state now. It's rather overshadowed by the large, modern farm buildings next to it. Originally, I think, it would have consisted of a strong tower with a courtyard around it. The beach below would have formed a natural harbour. Later it seems to have had a large house added on to form a more comfortable dwelling.  I used the controlled-wash method again for this painting and just three colours: French Ultramarine; Burnt Sienna; Raw Sienna. Stage One Starting on damp paper, I applied Raw Sienna to the bottom of the sky and then mixes of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna over the rest. While it was still wet, I dropped in stronger mixes in some areas to establish some of the colour and tone. Stage One Stage Two I let the whole painting dry and then I started to build up the mid-tones, still keeping everything fairly loose. I think, with hind-sight, I probably could ha

Ghost Washes

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I've often heard stories of people holding failed watercolours under running water to wash the colour off. They then paint over the faint image that's left. Some artists make this part of their usual practice by starting with an overall variegated wash. Trevor Chamberlain calls this a “ghost wash”. I haven't tried washing a painting off before. If it's that bad I usually just start again on a fresh piece of paper. I had been reading about the ghost wash idea, so I thought I would try it with an old reject. It worked well and I liked the idea of covering the paper and quickly establishing the general colours. It's definitely something that I am going to try a bit more. I took some photographs while I was working on the painting to show the progress. The colours are a bit off because of the light, but the finished view is fairly accurate. Stage One I held the painting under a running tap and gently wiped the paint off with a brush. T

Fifies off Wick

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"Fifies off Wick" - watercolour - 35 x 51 cm Having finished a few smaller paintings of the fishing boats, I felt confident enough to tackle something larger. This was the commissioned painting that all the preparatory work had been leading up to.

A Fishing Fleet

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"A Fishing Fleet Sailing Out" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm Fishing at sea is a dangerous occupation, even with modern vessels and communications. I can only begin to imagine how tough it must have been in past times. In their sailing boats they were at the mercy of the wind and couldn't be sure of reaching a sheltered harbour quickly. They didn't have the luxury of modern weather-forecasting either. Something about this piece reminds me of the watercolours that Winslow Homer painted at Cullercoats. He spent a few years there living with the fishing community and recording their lives. Some of the most memorable images for me are the women waiting on the shore and looking for their menfolk returning. "Fisherman's Family (The Lookout)" by Winslow Homer "Returning Fishing Boats" by Winslow Homer

Traditional Boats

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"A Fifie Taking in Sail" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm     In the days of sail, when boats were built locally, each part of the British Isles had its own traditional design. I don't know much about boats but I doubt whether modern vessels have so much local character. One of the most common boats on the East Coast of Scotland was the “Fifie”, a sturdy wooden vessel with a long, broad hull and two masts. It occurred to me that my mother would have been pleased to see these paintings. She used to paint seascapes in oils, under the name of Mary Lowe. She loved the Dutch seascape and landscape paintings of the 17th Century and she worked in a similar style. "Fishing Boats in a Harbour Mouth" by Mary Lowe - oil - 18 x 26 cm