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 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!
It was time to design some new Christmas cards. I just needed a little prompting and then I sat at my big kitchen table, got out my paints, brushes, jam jars of water and a random assortment of paper. I stuck with greens and reds, traditional colours I know. I was tempted at one point to paint a snowman in a snowstorm, but sanity, or something, prevailed, and I ended up with three designs I was happy with. And still am happy with. The pictures somehow distilled and became simpler, as I tried out different ideas. Before I started, I had a trawl on Pinterest for images of holly and hellebores (Christmas roses) and Christmas trees. I do like Pinterest for sparking off ideas; I like collecting images onto boards, without having to print anything out. I don't use it a huge amount, but enjoy revisiting my boards every so often, changing the cover photos and adding more images when I find them. I'm sure I don't make the best use of it, but it works for me.
The cards have now been printed and are available from Buchanan's Bistro in Banchory and here on my website.
It's that time of year again, when my thoughts turn to putting together a calendar for next year. This year seems to have flown by. My age is creeping up on me, I suppose, and while it feels like it must only be about March-time, it's nearly the end of October and the clocks change tonight.
I had a sift through the photographs I've taken over the past year (and a few from the tail end of last year) and have been pleasantly surprised by what I have found. I tend to take a lot of photographs if I'm out and about somewhere - at the beach (any beach), out in the woods for a walk, down at Stonehaven for an afternoon, over on the west coast for a long weekend. It's easier to take pictures when you're on your own, I find. It takes more concentration than I used to imagine, to capture images that are worth looking at again later. And one tends to walk very slowly, looking at things along the way. Up through the trees, down at the shells in the sand at your feet, over at the rock formations of the cliffs or the rocky shore. The bit of the whole process I love most is the looking through the images afterwards. It's like opening presents - free ones, ones from myself to me. Gifts of memories, instants in time. The slope of a roof, the brilliant colour of flowers or leaves against an azure sky, the patterns made by lichens on old wood. With the help of friends and followers on Facebook, I've whittled the images down to twelve, for inclusion in next year's calendar. It was tempting to put two together, one of abstract images and one of purely flora, but I managed to resist. Time to get on and finalise the order - I'll let you know when they arrive! There is already a watercolour paintings calendar available for 2015, on the Store page.
This week, I've been helping out with the hanging of an annual exhibition of local artists. Somehow, I volunteered to be on the committee last year and so have been involved in organising some of the publicity for the event. This has included getting posters and postcards printed and setting up a Facebook fan page.
Nothing too onerous or complicated.
And then it came to hanging the exhibition. Everyone on the committee turned up at the hall on Tuesday morning to help out. We were variously armed with lists, hooks, hammers and sticky labels. Some people were wise enough to bring a packed lunch. Suffice to say, it took a while. There really is an art to hanging an entire exhibition. I have only ever had to hang about a dozen paintings before; all my own work and in a reasonably small space. And that has been tricky enough. It never looks right at the first attempt. Often it doesn't look right after the third one. Quite often, it's back to what looks remarkably like the first attempt before it looks right.
I gradually came realise that what looks "right" to one person will not necessarily be how someone else thinks it should look. There are so many factors to take into account; size, shape, subject matter, orientation (portrait or landscape), frame size and colour, boldness of colours of the image, to name the main ones. I'm sure there are many more that I have no clue about. Oh, and spacing between the paintings. And height above the floor. Oh yes, it's a tricky task indeed. And despite the fact that there are these factors to consider, it is, at the end of the day, not a scientific decision, but an artistic one. By the time we left, we were all happy with our efforts. I'm hoping that everyone attending this evening's preview will be suitably impressed!
The MBC festival Art Exhibition is on at The Phoenix Centre, Newton Dee, Bieldside, on Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th August, 10am - 5pm. Teas and coffees and cakes available too.
It's that time of year again. I am preparing for an exhibition of my paintings, to be held in the GALE centre in Gairloch, Wester Ross. The same place where I held my Local Letterboxes exhibition last year. It is a lovely place; specially designed to be energy efficient - lots of wood and glass and light. There are huge floor to ceiling windows along the front which look out over the sea towards Skye. Not just towards Skye, you can see the north end of the island. I took some photographs of the building last year, which you can see above. I'm not quite sure that whoever put the sign together in the top middle photograph had fully thought through what the finished article would look like. Perhaps I am just being childish. Not that that is such a bad thing.
I am busy framing paintings, deciding which paintings to reproduce as prints, mounting work, putting together new sets of greetings cards and generally gathering my work together. It has given me a good chance to review what I have done in the past year. I realise I have probably not been as focused as I might have been. I start out with good intentions - to paint a series of boats, or buildings, or birds. And I end up with a smattering of each, a few birds, a few sheds and houses, some more boats. Perhaps that doesn't matter. This year's exhibition is entitled "Inspired by Scotland", so all of these subjects can happily be included. It's an eclectic mix. It will be interesting to see what people think.
I could put it off no longer. The idea that had been fermenting in the back of my head for a significant period of time had come to fruition. Although if it was fermenting it should surely by now be an alcoholic beverage. Never mind the detail. I had an idea, ages ago. As you already know, I live in northeast Scotland. The referendum about whether or not Scotland should become independent from the rest of the UK is happening this year. On 18th September, to be precise.
Travelling around the country, I've noticed signs in windows, declaring the inhabitants' voting intentions. Personally, I never do this. Declare my intentions. It's an inherited trait; my parents never told each other how they were voting, in anything from local to general elections. Sometimes I haven't decided until I read the ballot paper. Sometimes I have. I don't believe it's anyone else's business. So I have been intrigued to see the signs in house windows. Playing on my own extremely indecisive nature, I thought it would be fun to create a painting incorporating the sense of history, along with the possibility that different members of one household are likely to have different opinions. A recent trip to Perthshire provided me with the source material; a photograph which I took of a quintessentially Scottish house. A large house in the country, true, but a sandstone one and typical of the area. The rest of the task involved putting pencil to paper, brush into water, into watercolour and a fair bit of time. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours.
Now for the next task; to decide on a title.
"So, is there anything to do round here, then?" I was asked by someone I met on the beach the other day. They had never been to the area before.
My answer at the time was a bit glib -
"Well, there are no shops or cinemas, if that's what you mean."
I meant clothes shops, department stores and multiplex cinemas, of course. There are grocery stores, a very good butcher and a rather well-stocked book shop. Since then I have been thinking.
It's all a matter of what you want to do. This is your kind of place if -
- a stroll on the beach, gathering cockle and limpet shells, empty sea urchins and the occasional starfish appeals to you
- you can stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore, without being impatient to move on
- you see the rapidly changing weather as a source of fascination and varying light conditions
- carrying a camera is a way of life
- carrying a sketch book and pencil and maybe a small box of watercolours is a way of life
- you like mucking about in boats and fishing, both fresh and salt water
- you enjoy any kind of walking - hill-walking, mountain climbing or a brisk march along a sandy beach
- you play golf
- you like horse riding
- you don't get phased by single track roads and know the appropriate polite gestures to use when driving on them.
I don't think I'm finished with this theme. To be continued.
One of the many things I love about the west coast is the light. More specifically, the way the light changes. One minute you can be walking along the beach with blue skies all around and the next, the sky is slate grey and so is the sea. And more often than not, there are wet spots on the stones and pebbles on the beach, or pock marks in the sand, if there is a significant amount of precipitation. There may be a gleaming patch of sunlight on the sea, in the distance. Not so much a patch, perhaps, as a sliver, a sliver of silver. And then there are the beams of light which come down through the clouds, a reminder that the sun is in fact still up there, waiting to put in another appearance. This rapidly changing light is great for photography, but much trickier for painting in situ (or plein air, as they say). It's a good incentive to work quickly so as to capture the moment. Soon it will be warm enough again to do some outdoor sketching and painting again - I'm looking forward to it.
Last weekend I discovered that it's not easy to take photographs with gloves on. The air was chilly, as one would expect at the start of February in the Scottish Highlands. The pale turquoise soft wool gloves I received as a Christmas present nearly worked, though I struggled to take the lens cap on and off. Still, some photographs were taken; more "source material", as I have come to call it, for my boat paintings. And also some photos which I think work well just as they are - like the ones above. They are bits of a boat which has been lying on top of the harbour in Gairloch in Wester Ross for quite a while now. It's a great subject - I've taken pictures of it before. I love the peeling paint, where layers have come off to show what lies underneath; the corroded metal, like verdigris - perhaps it is.
Before Christmas, at a little fair where I was showing some of my recent work, an American lady asked me why I was painting boats. I hadn't really thought about this; I like them, the shape of the them, the colours. But it is more than that. I only started to discover the answer when I told them that I used to sail. And now I have thought about it some more and these memories have come to me.
I used to sail a lot when I was young. I sailed at school, in the sailing club; in a dinghy, on Linlithgow Loch, on summer evenings. And then we sailed as a family, a wee blue wooden dinghy to start with, then a slightly bigger boat, a cruiser with an inboard engine and bunk beds, a gas stove for making toast and tea and heating soup. We sailed on the Firth of Forth during term time and then on the west coast of Scotland during the summer holidays The boats were towed north and then south. Long days were spent trekking the trailer down the shore, waiting for the tide to come in, floating the boat off and then mooring her safely in the bay. I was never so keen on sailing in the cruiser. There wasn't the immediacy, the closeness to the water, that one felt in a dinghy. The sound of the water lapping at the bow, the feel of the rudder in my hand, the tautness of the sheets, held against the wind. Watching the luff of the sail for any flapping, indicating that you were sailing too close to the wind. Or the homemade woolen telltales tied to the stays, showing exactly where the wind was coming from. All these memories, there in the back of my head; there whenever I paint another boat. There is more about this in there - more for another day.