These photos were taken at the top of Loch Harport (look for Carbost on a map of Skye), heading towards high tide, on a windstill morning. Some were taken as a reminder of the context of the other photos, some as information or photos references for paintings, and some I think work only as photographs.
The latter got me thinking about the differences in composition between paintings and photos, not only cropping a scene but also depth of field (what’s in focus and what isn’t). I also realised how much easier I find it to narrow my focus on details when I’m exploring a landscape with my camera, or just walking along looking, than when I’m sitting with a sketchbook and tend to feel I want to get “everything” in.
The reflections in the mirror-still sea make me want to add the caption: “Don’t sneeze!”
What the photos don’t show are the midges, which love summer windstill days. I’ll be back in the autumn when they’ve gone and the hills are wearing different colours.
Each season has its own beauty. Snow shows the shape of the landscape anew, stretched tight over the skeleton (until more falls, then it lies like a comforter), in a more limited palette of sepias, umbers, whites, blue-greys, and at times bright blue in the sky. Perylene green’s a useful colour too.
It happened to be low tide when I went out with my sketchbook yesterday, extra low as it’s spring tide. Even more of those enticing rocks to sketch, but which viewpoint would I choose, where would I sit? I wandered out a bit, further than ‘normal’, awkwardly as the rocks were rather slippery, getting distracted by pattern and colour.
This slab of black rock has become a favourite, and against the sun I was mesmerized once again. But beautiful as this was, I can’t sit with my back to the sea, even when I know it’s hours until high tide.
These are not fossilized dinosaur brains:
This is not where I spilt yellow paint:
Justification/evidence for adding lines of colour amongst my rock drawings:
There’s something about a pile of old rope:
Nature vs built environment. This is my favourite photo from the day but it also makes me wonder why I’ never noticed this juxtaposition before; perhaps because I usually sit on the wall rather than stand looking up at it:
Eventually I did pick a sketching spot, against a big stone that broke the breeze:
Then a rain shower snuck up behind me. Suffice to say, watercolour isn’t a wet-weather medium.
Yesterday afternoon I was at the Uig woodland, mostly sitting at the shore looking towards the ferry pier and Waternish Peninsula. This is a favourite spot, but this time the light was particularly beautiful, the juxtaposition of light and dark shapes, the clouds. Minimal colour when looking into the sun, but not entirely monochrome.
If I moved a little, there could be some green in the foreground.
This is the wide view you see when you emerge from trees.
A few steps further back.
Puddles and reflections can be distracting.
Where I sat to sketch, on an array of flattish stones, the grassy lump being a bit damp.
My sketching kit: watercolour box (my indulgent, big one which holds a flat and a rigger brush), pencil box (with coloured pencils, sharpener, and some acrylic inks, Payne’s grey, yellow, and red earth), watercolour paper (A3 350gsm NOT) in a plastic folder which also acts as a board, couple of clips to hold paper, water container , and a bag to carry it in.
I don’t regard any of these as successful pieces, but they do all have potential for being continued /reworked in the studio.
The first, the one on the left, has bits that work but don’t work together.; this might be resolved by overworking it with pastel or opaque paint. The middle one I stopped because I liked what the hematite watercolour was doing but suddenly thought I wanted more rocks/seaweed in the composition but would mess it up if I tried to alter it, and so started the third. That lacks contrast, but the 350g paper needed to dry totally so that subsequent layers of paint didn’t just spread around and soak in. It’s a “stopped too early” painting.
Will I rework these? Maybe, rather than probably. What my fingers are itching to do is to paint the greys and light on a large canvas, lots of texture and interesting greys.
Sitting in the sunshine listening to the tinkling of the river at Sligachan today (I mean sketching), I looked left towards the Bundt-cake peak (I mean Glamaig) and noticed a triangle of cloud that you could impossibly put in a painting as it’ll just look wrong.
Yesterday I caught the ferry from Uig to Tarbert to deliver a painting, being met at the terminal because the ferry turns around rapidly, 20 minutes between scheduled arrival and departure. It was a nary-a-cloud-in-the-sky day with glorious sunshine, albeit wish-I’d-remembered-my-gloves cold.
As one of my current commissions involves a sweeping white beach, I took it as an excuse to go do some fresh drawings at Coral Beach. And, as it’s about to close for winter, I also popped into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle.
First stop was on that hill where you see Coral Beach for the first time. Go a little to the left of the path and there’s a stone wall which provides shelter from a breeze and a viewpoint without spectators. There’s something about double swoop of the coastline that I enjoy so much, an echo of shape but contrast in colour and texture.
As in most places on Skye, there was a convenient rock to sit on, and another to prop up my watercolour paper.
As so often is the case, the view looking “the other way” would also make an interesting painting.
After a while I wandered up to Coral Beach. I was fortunate with my timing: the people who’d been on the beach had left and if I only looked north I had the beach to myself (if I looked behind me, there were another four groups of people heading to the beach).
There’s something irresistible about playing with long shadows. I did wonder if any of the other people would end up photos of the beach with a person holding an A3 shiny bag (with my sheets of watercolour paper in it) doing strange poses on the beach.
And then there were the sparkles of light:
And a strange feather with a white spot:
After Coral Beach I went into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle, which were looking superb and with far more things flowering than I thought there might be. I think it was even more beautiful than when I was there in summer. My thanks to the castle’s horticultural team for the recharge of my colour batteries. Here are a few things that particularly caught my eye:
I’ve been asked by the children of the local primary school what my favourite location on Skye is, for a project they’re working on. Needless to say, there’s an abundance of inspirational landscape on Skye, without even considering how different the same locations look as the seasons change (and the weather). But if I were to pick one, there’s a spot in the Uig woodland, next to a river through a wooden gate, where I love to sit. It might come as a surprise that my favourite location isn’t a sea view, but that’s my everyday joy; the river I have to go to specifically.
In mid-summer it’s a cool leafy respite from the sun. In mid-winter it’s frosty and bright as the low sun penetrates past the trees. In autumn there are yellows and browns; in spring fresh greens. The sounds: birds singing, leaves rustling, water gushing or trickling depending on how full the river is. Yes, there are days when it’s wet and less poetic, but I don’t go here on such days. And, yes, the main road is nearby but, for me, the traffic noise doesn’t penetrate. I find it an ever-enticing dance of colour and shadow that never fails to charge my creative batteries, even if I don’t stop for long. Park at the Uig community hall, stroll along the beach, through the gap in the stone wall, follow the path amongst the young tree trunks then past the oaks, around the corner and on a bit, and I’m there.
The reflected colours, light and shadows in the water are mesmerizing, constantly flickering as the water flows past.
This January light became a 100x100cm painting called “Summer Glow”. (I didn’t call it “Winter Glow” because the painting doesn’t feel wintry to me.)
One autumn, after strong wind, all leaves had blown off the taller trees, but the leaves on a short tree had been sheltered, creating a splash of bright colour.
The page from my sketcbook, with my colour and observation notes.
It became a 100x100cm painting with the official title “Flowing Past”, though I think of it as “The Little Tree That Could” painting.
This is what I generally have with me when I’m sketching on location (plus a sketchbook).
It’s that time of year again when the sun’s moved north and is setting past the tip of the Waternish peninsula and late (about 9pm) making for hours of enticing patterns and colours on the expanse of the Minch (sea between Skye and Harris). My fingers have been itching to paint it again (see Moods of the Minch catalogue). Here are a few work-in-progress photos, canvas size 120x60cm.