Sometimes it is the things you see every day which inspire you. A colour or texture catches your eye, and you're hooked. The itch starts, and you find you have to paint it. Whatever it might be. This happened for me a couple of years ago, when I was working with the lovely Vital Veg at Midmar. Every week I packed beautiful, colourful veg into veg bags for customers. Some of the veg came home with me. And some of that came with me to the weekly art class I was attending.
I wasn't aiming for still life. Nor was I trying to make an exact, photographic image. I was aiming, I think, for a celebration of deliciousness. I laid the veg (the larger the better, some soil was often present too) on a sheet of white paper on the table I was working at, with a large piece of (usually cartridge) paper beside it. I had seen that this was how the wonderful Elizabeth Blackadder paints her gorgeous flowers. I am a great admirer of her work, so off I went...
Another influence fed into this process. A few years ago, I attended a workshop with Sofia Perina-Miller, whose work I also greatly admire. She paints fabulous striking flowers, as well as many other subjects. She showed us how to paint directly onto paper, without doing any initial drawing. This was an entirely new experience for me - and I found that I loved the freedom of it! Instead of feeling constrained by the pencil lines, I was "free" to paint directly, loosely, using vibrant colours, which resulted in more lively work. Sofia usually adds meticulous pen and ink details to her work. I left mine as they were; as I may have mentioned before I have rather limited patience!
There is always a certain amount of fear involved in painting this way. I had to learn to be brave, to trust that the colours I was choosing and the marks I was making were strong and true and confident. This was no time for fiddling around with details and tentative marks. Before I started, I would look carefully at the veg, get a feel for the overall shape and size and proportions, the main colours, the shadows on the paper. Really look, and get a feel for it. It helped to stand up, to have everything I needed to hand and to just do it, quickly. I love this way of working; writing this makes me want to do some more of this kind of work.
Some of my veg paintings are available as digital downloads from my Etsy shop.
Various items (prints, mugs, phone covers, tote bags etc.) sporting my veg paintings can also be found on Redbubble.
All the paintings can be viewed in my gallery (most originals are available)
I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my paintings. The simple answer is that I go out for a wander. I always go armed with my camera. Sometimes, I am caught unawares and will take photos on my phone, if something catches my eye when out and about. I love the response I heard once to the query "what's the best camera to use for taking photos?" - "the one you have with you!" Makes perfect sense to me.
I mainly paint from my own photographs; when I get home I transfer all the photos I've taken onto my laptop, and then print out ones that appeal to me onto A4 paper. I then use those as a reference. I never set out to produce an exact replica of the photo; there will always be omissions or additions, depending on the subject matter, my mood or level of patience on the day! A favourite haunt is Footdee, or Fittie, in Aberdeen; I love the buildings and sheds, and their brightly coloured doors. It's a great source of inspiration. The shed above appealed to me - the photo was taken just a few days ago, with the painting done several years ago. It's had a lick of paint recently!
I based "Fittie Deckchair" on the photo above; missing out the people and using a certain amount of "artistic licence" with colours, composition and construction. Sometimes, I will take photos which I feel work best staying as photos; I'll write about this another time.
I finally broke into the 5' wide roll of Fabriano watercolour paper which I bought in a flurry of enthusiasm nearly two years ago. Yes, sometimes it takes a while to get around to doing things. This was verging on the ridiculous, so when I knew we were to be painting landscapes at art class yesterday morning, it was time. The paper is deliciously thick (300g for those of you who are interested), more like card than paper. I did have to cut it, sadly, as I don't have a board large enough to put it on to paint. It stayed rolled after cutting, so I wet it, stretched it and taped it onto the widest board I own (a great £2 offcut from a well known DIY store). There is something very satisfying about this process of preparing the paper. Almost like a meditation.
And then, finally, to painting. My favourite brush was nowhere to be found (a 1 1/2 inch wide woodwork brush), so I picked up a wide brush with a long wooden handle. It has a proper name, which I can't recall now. It may come to me. I love using a big brush and lots of water. I may even see if I can acquire something bigger. The only limitation is the size of the watercolour pans of paint. There is always a way. Some of the day's efforts are shown above; they will be on show from next weekend at my North East Open Studios event with Art at the Phoenix at the Phoenix Centre at Newton Dee (I am number 263 in the book this year).
A friend asked me the other day what I'd been up to recently. I answered very unsatisfactorily, I suspect. "Oh, this and that," I said. I managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently to mention a couple of reasonably concrete things - a new outlet for my work, plans for the open studios event later in the year. I feel as if I have been pretty busy recently, but it's all fairly disparate, with not a lot of tangible results for my efforts. Perhaps it is time to take stock, see where I am with various projects, and start prioritising what to do next. North East Open Studios seems a long way off (it's not really, it's in 4 months' time!).
This is the problem I find with working creatively, on my own. The lack of a sounding board, someone to say "that's not one of your best ideas, what about that other one you mentioned the other day?" - the less brutal version of "that idea is rubbish.... next!" I find I am often full of ideas, but whether it is worth pursuing them can be a difficult decision. Recently, I have done a bit more drawing, as well as some sketching out and about (sitting on the harbour at Portsoy was so lovely, especially in the sunshine). It made me recall how much I enjoy this; absorption is total, concentration absolute, focus intense. Time just disappears. I had hoped to do a pile of sketches, and managed three or four. I tried doing a few in the city centre the other day, but found that I needed to find a quiet spot, somewhere I could sit, as I felt too conspicuous otherwise. The practicalities of balancing sketchbook, water pot and tiny box of watercolours also have to be taken into account. Of course I took photographs as well, many of Portsoy harbour. I very much admire the work of John Glynn, who I believe is now based in Moray. When I got back to my shed/studio I had a go at doing a simplified drawing of Findochty harbour, inspired by his style. It was an interesting exercise, which made me focus even more clearly on the shapes I was seeing, and avoid making "sketchy" marks. Plans are afoot to do some drawings like this, using some of the reference photos I've taken recently of northeast harbours. There we go, a plan has been crystallised before my very eyes! Thank you for listening/reading :)
Quite often, I find that I do not end up doing what I set out to do. That doesn't mean that I don't achieve my goal, I just do it a different way. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
It's a bit like going to the shops to buy bread and milk. Yes, just bread and milk, that's all I need. But do I come home with only bread and milk? Of course not. I'll pick up cheese and avocadoes (if they are on offer), maybe a mango (ditto). And then of course we might be out of oatcakes and pasta and rice. Better pop some in the trolley. And plenty of other unhealthy options which I won't mention here, for fear of giving the wrong impression (moi?).
Or, if I go for a walk in the woods, I won't intend to take photos, but something will catch my eye. Some bright green moss, yellow lichen on a rock, feathery lichen hanging from a branch. So I come home with more than I intended. More images to save and look at again and take pleasure from. I might even pick something up along the way - an interesting twig, some larch cones or a fern frond. A feather.
So it was when I went to art class over on south Deeside the other week. I was planning to paint some landscapes; had printed out photos in my bag to use for inspiration. As I went to load my art kit into the car, I noticed the dead head of a hydrangea (from my neighbour's garden) lying on our drive. Of course I picked it up. It was one of those lacewing ones, with a few lifeless petals clinging on at the edges. It sat on the passenger seat as I drove to my class. When I got there, I could see the remnants of rosebay willowherb beside the track where I park each week. I picked some. I couldn't not pick some. I had always wanted to paint this transitory plant, with its bright pink flowers which turn to bean-like seed pods and then fluffy floatingness. Today was the day. I'd missed the flowers, of course - I'll have to wait a while for those to appear again. What a joy it was to paint these - of course I did a few sketches of the serendipitous Hydrangea head as well.
I was on the west coast over New Year. The weather was mainly wet, wild and windy. And pretty cold. We strode out on the beaches and through the woods during the dry spells of daylight. We visited the garden at Inverewe, marvelling at the rhododendrons in bloom, both there and in the lovely arboretum at Flowerdale. The fire was lit, as were candles on the table with nearly every meal. I didn't do any drawing or painting, but I did take photographs when we were out and about. And I knitted a hat. In a day. Sometimes it's good to move away from one creative stream and into another. I needed a break, and I had one. I am still not feeling very creative, but there are ideas bubbling away gently, which I hope will surface sometime soon. I keep thinking of that beautiful beach on Harris last summer and how I would like to capture it in a painting, or a series of paintings. I just need to make it happen. Find a canvas, or a board, and look out the paints, assemble some brushes or palette knives, or both, and get on with it. That is my tiny and only, resolution for the New Year.
It's that time of year again. Artists and makers will be opening their studios, garages, front rooms, shops, galleries and other miscellaneous spaces this weekend, to show the public what they do.
It's my 6th year taking part - once again I am in The Cabin in my back garden. This year I'm number 227 in the directory. There may well be baking. I have been tidying and sorting through my work from the past year, deciding what to put on show. The Cabin is quite small, as those of you who have visited before will know - I am contemplating having an outside exhibition space, weather permitting (and if I can find where I put the little gazebo...), in order to show a wider range of my work.
There are more artists than ever included in the trail I'm part of - this year called The Lower Deeside Trail (see image below). I have also posted this on my Facebook page, and paper copies will be available at any of the entries listed on it. Time to get planning where to go - I have started making my list already!
I look forward to seeing you and welcoming you to The Cabin!
Delighted to say that this painting, "Letterbox at Mellon Udrigle" is off to a new home after the local art exhibition which I took part in last weekend. Apparently the buyer (I did not meet her) had been to Mellon Udrigle, so there was a link. It's one of my favourite beaches on the west coast - take a turn off the main road at Laide, north of Gairloch, Poolewe and Aultbea, but south of Gruinard, and out along a single track road past a string of houses, over the little bridge across the burn and then up over the hill and back down to the coast again. Watch out for seals along the coastline. And seabirds - gannets diving perhaps. It was on Mellon Udrigle beach a while ago, on an overcast day, that I glimpsed a movement to my left, as I stood taking photographs of the sea. At first I thought it was a dog, but then I noticed the way the animal moved. A sort of lolloping, ungainly gait. It was an otter, headed from the dunes down to the water. They are built for swimming, of course, not running. I was not quick enough with my camera, choosing to enjoy the moment, instead.
Mellon Udrigle beach, photos taken early April, 2016.
I was "on duty" at Monymusk Arts Centre the other day. There was quite a lot going on - exhibitions were being changed over, artists came and went with their work. I managed to fit in some work of my own. It still doesn't really feel like work. I sketched what was to hand, much as many people do. Crayons from the tub provided for visiting small people, a blue pen from my handbag, my reading glasses. All good practice and good to switch off and focus completely on the task in hand.
Of course I should have been painting some landscapes (my plan for this summer) and finishing a garden commission which for some reason keeps slipping off my "to do" list. I recall an artist friend saying she was really struggling with a commission (a portrait) and simply told her client that she was very sorry, but she could not do it after all. She said that almost immediately, she felt freer and lighter and was able to paint the portrait in a loose, free style that would not come to her while she struggled with the "c" word. The brain is an amazing thing, but it can also be a bit of a handicap at times. With artistic endeavours, it seems to me that I am best not to "try too hard". I have to switch off most of my brain and "just do it". I've played a little golf in the past and that maxim has served me well - don't try too hard, relax and just do it. Without caring about the result. That's the plan for now. I'll keep you posted about how it pans out!
Do you recognise this painting? Yes. it's one of mine! The Green Boat, gracing the cover of The Leopard magazine.
A wee while ago, a lovely lady called Annie Woolridge contacted me, asking if I would be happy to be interviewed for an article she was writing on artists based in northeast Scotland. There was to be a series of articles. I happily said yes. Annie came to The Cabin one morning a couple of months ago. We drank coffee and chatted; she admired my paintings hung around the walls. I had tidied the studio a bit. At some point she turned on a very unobtrusive recording machine. It was all very relaxed and pleasant; I felt as if we had known each other a while.
I partly forgot about the process. then realised last week that the article might be in the current edition of the magazine. I popped into our local Co-op (I knew they stocked it) and lo and behold, there was my painting on the front cover! Above it on the magazine stand was the Scottish Field, with Alexander McCall Smith's name writ large upon it. I was thrilled to be in such excellent company, even in print! In fact I was so excited (not a very accustomed state for me, as those who know me well will confirm), I mentioned to the poor young lad at the checkout that it was my painting on the cover of the magazine, when I purchased a copy. He smiled politely.