The sea forecast for Fraserburgh, with waves over four metres heading straight-on to the shore, enticed me to the northeast coast amidst the sleet showers, though not with oil paints and a big canvas to lash down so as to channel my inner Joan Eardley. It was hard enough keeping myself upright in the gusts! I haven’t yet looked at the photos I took on my ‘big camera’ to see if I managed to hold it still enough in the wind, but these snaps on my phone give you a sense of how tempestuous the sea was.
There’s such minimal colour the images are almost black and white, but using a photo editing b&w filter in the photo below shows what subtle greys there are and the variations in white.
Will I translate it into thick paint, or wet-into-wet watercolour, or with mixed media, or might I try monoprinting? I don’t know, yet.
Pennan is a tiny, historic, postcard-perfect Scottish seaside village around the corner from my favourite pebble beach. The access road is a steep single-track with blind corners down the hillside, popping out between houses at the sea. What Pennan is famous for depends on whether you’re into cinema or geology; let’s just say I didn’t take any photos of a red phone box.
But it’s not a historic fishing village entirely stuck in a timewarp:
At one side of the bay, it’s conglomerates and pebble allsorts. (For geology enthusiasts: more info here.)
After spending quite some time hereabouts, I then wandered across to the other side of the bay.
At the harbour end, the cliffs are that distinctive red sandstone.
Back home, I discovered most of my photos were in what might be called “urban concrete and rust” category, rather than “picturesque seaside village”.
The setting: huge country house with a formal garden and a large park. Haddo House in middle-of-nowhere Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
My brain: buzzing about like a bumble bee, absorbing all the possibilities for paintings. I felt obliged to tackle the building because imposter syndrome was whispering in my ear about how this is what “real” pleinair painters would do, but truly the colours and patterns in the garden are what’s lingering in my mind a couple of days later.
My aim with my drawing was to be a drawn exploration of a building with so many different parts to it rather than an obsession with perspective. I found myself wondering why the main door that opens onto the gardens isn’t wider, more grandiose. And if the fountain can be turned up be to more than little dribble. And how strong the wind gets given the supports on the small palm trees.
Wrapping up warmly, I took my big camera out to enjoy this morning’s frost. These photos are a selection of what caught my eye. They are about enjoying my garden in late autumn, the way frost changes the appearance of things and catches the sunlight. I am not thinking of them as leading directly to paintings at the moment, though the patterns and strong lines have been added to other memories from the garden.
I couldn’t resist going out with my ‘big camera’ to a patch of trees at the bottom of the village where the autumnal leaf-fall is like walking into one of Klimt’s woodland paintings. I first discovered that the northeast did autumnal colours beautifully in 2014, heading back to Skye from Gardenstown (see this blog) and it’s a joy to now have it on my doorstep.
I did get asked twice what I was photographing, once by a cyclist and the other a farmer who drove up and told me he was looking for an escaped bull, to which my first thought was that this was what crofters tell wanderers on Skye too, but then I realised that the bull I’d seen in the neighbouring field this morning wasn’t there. I did manage not to enthuse to either of them about Klimt and limited myself to a simple “the colours of the leaves” explanation.
I may have only painted sporadically in the five months since we moved (not counting all the metres of interior wall) but have had a colourful summer thanks to the wondrous flower garden. There are still new plants emerging, new flowers opening. One of the latest is this (an echinacea the PlantFinder app tells me):
I think it’s almost impossible to look at without tracking along the squirls and spirals in the centre, then out along the petals which seem determined not to touch one another.
In the photo below my camera blew out (overexposed) the colour in the petals. For me it’s become one of those “abstracts from nature” images, with the oranges and greens of the centre feeling as if they’re reaching out towards me, whilst the petals have become a gentle background rather than part of the flower.
Another flower that’s strongly grabbing my imagination with its lanky stems and blobby ends is Japanese anemome. I’ve had a go at painting the pink flowers (see this blogpost) but I also think that there’s something to be explored in the curves and lines without the flowers.
This could be minimalist, as lines against white paper, or a dominant layer of pattern/line/shape against a background of broken colour (like the out-of-focus colours in the photo below).
It’s not all about bright colour either. There are plants with grey foliage and flowers that have gone to seed where the colours are more muted, inviting explorations of “interesting greys and browns” along with line and pattern.
I’ve spent time watching various pollinators too. This globe thistle is such a favourite I’ve been able to get up close without them flying off.
Three of the apple trees we planted are “unknown apples”, ones at half price because the labels had blown off during a storm. Looking at the apples, they’re all different varieties of reds. Which creates possibilities for a “still life with red apples” investigation of reds. If they survive that long before being turned into apple crumble.
Giving the white tables and chairs that were in the garden a fresh coat of paint is on my to-do list, but they won’t rust to bits over another winter if I don’t manage before it’s too cold. The in-house art critic and I have enjoyed many a coffee sitting there.
It was six minutes off low tide when I got to Banff. I can be this precise because I checked the tide times before walking along the stretch of white sand that’s hidden at high tide.
First I had to resist some pebbles to get onto the sand.
The sand stretches almost all the way to the harbour, along with a robust wall that suggests the sea can get wild at times.
There’s a set of concrete stairs towards the other end of the sand, and a few precarious-looking vertical metal ladders up the wall further on.
A section of the harbour is being rebuilt, and the water pumped over the wall.
Parts of the harbour are the very old vertical block construction I first saw at Portsoy, which is a bit further north. It’s a pattern that so wants to be painted!
But then so do many other bits. This morning’s walk was just about looking, enjoying, absorbing. I did meet one of the two people I knew in Aberdeenshire before we moved here, walking his dog on the beach, so there was some chatting too.
Back along the road, sandy beach, over the pebbles, and home.
It’s only taken me 13 years to stop at the car park for Lealt Falls and take a look. It was fairly early (before seven) and I had to it myself (except for whoever was in the tent bigger than their car that was tucked around the corner from the main car park). I’d met up with someone in Portree at six to deliver a commissioned painting, and decided to drive home ‘the long way’ as it would be quiet.
What also caught my eye were the patterns in the clouds above the Trotternish Ridge, with patches of blue and sunlight. I can’t decide whether my favourite photo is the one with the ‘bump’ in the ridgeline or where it’s smooth like the clouds.
A bit further north, the light breaking through the clouds over the bay at Staffin compelled me to stop again.
Before Lealt Falls, I also stopped for a few snaps of the Storr and loch.
And what would a trip around the north end be without at least one sheep photo?This lamb’s striped socks caught my eye.