Monday 27 April 2020

Meet the Paintings - Pink Waterlilies in Sunlight

Here’s something a little different, a landscape that’s not really a landscape.  This is ‘Pink Waterlilies in Sunlight’ – it’s quite a large painting, 26 x 32, with a beautiful classic white gold frame.

Here's the photo that I used as the material for the painting.

I’ve been visiting glasshouses and exotic gardens for decades now, as there’s something really fascinating about the abstract shapes of plants – cacti, succulents, the shapes and reflections of leaves on water.  

I’ve painted in the cactus gardens in Barcelona, the glasshouses at Kew in London,  Duthie Park in Aberdeen, the Botanics in Glasgow (the orchid house was a particular favourite), the lilies in the ponds in Central Park in New York and the glasshouses at Edinburgh. Wherever I can find them, in fact.  When I was starting out painting, I used to go twice a week to the Botanics in Glasgow to study the plants and paint , and the rest of the time to Kelvingrove to draw the animal specimens, even being allowed access to the collection in the basement.

Painting plants is a discipline, as it is all about observation – something which was very much drummed into my biology science class at university.  You need to constantly look, and observe.  To understand the importance in art of knowing the basic principles of design in the natural world and botany, I’ll point you in the direction of fellow Glaswegian, Christopher Dresser .

Of course, it’s a bit of a cliché to paint waterlilies – Monet managed it so much bigger, more extravagantly, more audaciously than anyone else could possibly ever do.  Of course, he had the money, and the estate, and six gardeners, and a diverted river to feed his lily ponds, and exotic plants bought in, and vast canvasses and giant studios and good weather.  And the talent. No-one is ever going to top that.

But there is still something fascinating about watching the patterns changing on the surface of things, of the reflections and the light and the colours.  You are painting exactly what you see, but it is all about abstraction and pattern-making, as there are no longer the usual reference points for reading the painting, a lack of easy means of measuring distance and depth.  You are looking down at the sky.  It is a world of invertions, where nothing is quite as it seems.

In the photos, I have included at the end some of my paintings of waterlilies from 30 years ago, along with a sheet of botanical drawings.  I have few photos of early work, which, because they are studies, lie in piles in my studio, unphotographed.

Meet the Paintings - Montbretia on the Shoreline

Time to take a trip along the West Coast of Scotland and the Road to the Isles and Arisaig.  There we’ll find some ‘Montbretia on the Shoreline’.  This is another little painting, all about complimentary colours of blue and orange.

Here's the photo that the painting was done from.

There was a television programme on over the Christmas holidays, where a steam train travelled the West Highland Line in actual time.  That’s all that happened – no competing chefs or Scandinavian murders, you just travelled along in the train and looked out of the window.  It’s known as the most scenic railway journey in the world, and for good reason.  It was very relaxing. 

The train is called ‘The Jacobite’ (although you can also travel on an ordinary train - The West Highland Line) and it takes 5 and a half hours from Glasgow to Mallaig.  It’s known as the most scenic railway journey in the world, and for very good reason.  It’s very relaxing. 

However, the whole journey had me sitting at the edge of the seat waiting to go around corners to bits where I’ve painted (so I guess not very relaxing, actually).  I could spot various trees and houses and views of passing lochs that I’ve photographed and then painted over the years.

After Arisaig, the train goes along by Camusdarach and the white sands at Morar (where I’ve a painted a great deal).  Then near to Mallaig, you can see the bit by the road where I stopped and took a photo of these beautiful, bright montbretia.

When you can, go on the train journey.  There is nothing more romantic than a beautiful day, the bluey green sea and the distant shapes of the islands of the Hebrides on the horizon.  It’s achingly lovely.

Here’s the Google Maps link – although, having waxed lyrically about the scenery, the link shows the layby with piles of not-very-scenic construction and a couple of vans in the way.

Friday 24 April 2020

Meet the Paintings - Grasses in the Dunes

Today it’s a medium sized painting, two foot square, called ‘Grasses in the Dunes’.  The dunes in question are in East Lothian, and in the distance, barely discernable through the grasses, is a little island called Fidra with its lighthouse (and is mentioned in a song by Marillion, prog rock fact fans!). 

Here's the photo that was the basis for the painting.

You can read more about the lighthouse here The Beautiful Island of Fidra and here Wikipedia.

It’s nice to be able to use the paint to get the texture of the grasses, which is done using a lot of liquin to make the oil paint quite loose, and a longhaired watercolour brush.  Then I scratch into the surface to draw in the stiff stems of the sea grasses.  There’s a nice contract between this texture and the flatness of the broad salmon pink tones of the beach.

Here’s the Google Maps link – there’s no road there, but you can take a look at the general area: Link to viewpoint for painting

Meet the Paintings - Grasses by the Beach, Harris and Sand Patterns, Luskentyre

Time for a bit of a change of pace today, with something calming and serene – we probably all need something a little calm and serene at the moment!  Here are a pair of little acrylic paintings called ‘Grasses by the Beach, Harris’ and 'Sand Patterns, Luskentyre'.  They are both in simple cream frames to emphasise their clean lines and give them a beachy feel.

They are both acrylic on clayboard, which means that instead of being all about texture, they are all about the smoothness of the beach.  Acrylic is a water-soluble medium, which means you can get the thin washes of watercolour, but the depth of colour and texture of oils.

Last year I took a painting trip to the Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris.  Here's the photos that I used as the material for the paintings.

It’s a very ancient landscape in the Outer Hebrides, peppered with standing stones, beautifully well-preserved brochs,  traditional low thatched black houses, and modern-day buildings that sympathetically echo the landscape in terms of their shape and construction. I've paired some of the images with my acrylic sketches.

I was fortunate enough to have the most amazing weather.  The beaches in Harris are absolutely endless, with smooth white empty sand, which you pretty much have all to yourself.  The sea is a Mediterranean turquoise under a blue sky.  The short grass is scattered with the flowers of the machair.

Again, I have paired some of my photos with the subsequent paintings.

Here is the link so you can see the actual place and explore the area.   The road at Seilebost, Harris