A stroll down the road to the postbox this morning became a stroll in the colours of autumn, of greens giving way to yellows and browns, of moss clinging to fenceposts and dead branches, and reflections in the surface water on the road. Steps taken amidst small joys.
It being a bright and sunny Christmas day, I went painting at my favourite bit of sea, ending just sitting enjoying the sun and sound of the sea.
It was such a beautiful, windstill morning I couldn’t resist painting outside despite the temperature struggling to get to 0°C. I don’t know that I would recommend it, but having ink and watercolour freeze as I used it was intriguing. It certainly “sparked joy” as ice crystals gathered on the tip of my brush.
Ending up with paint frozen on the surface of the paper made for something very tactile, inviting my fingers to slide across it. Of course, as soon as the painting was moved to a slightly warmer environment (i.e. indoors), it melted and the paint behaved like “normal”; the paper was cold-damp to its core across the entire sheet and took a little while to dry through.
This was my favourite painting from today, a slice of loch shore, started on location and finished indoors.
I put these three horse mannequins out of paint-splatter reach in the studio at Higham Hall, only for them to conjure up images of the horses of the apocalypse as I looked up at them.
There would, strictly speaking*, need to be four for it to be apocalyptic — a white, red, black, and pale symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death — but it still got me wondering what the three horses of an art apocalypse would be. I ended up with perspective, tone, and colour riding on an Palomino, Appaloosa and a Brindle.
What would yours be?
(* Revelations 6:2–8)
There’s a parking spot on the road next to Loch Oich (between Invergarry and the Laggan swing bridge over the Caledonian Canal) where I often stop to take photos of the trees on either side. The regimented rows of the plantation on one side, with light from behind, and relaxed gathering with dark trunks on the other.
The next is the much-photographed stretch of road through Glen Coe, which in November wears shades of earthy greens, yellows, browns (that these photos don’t do justice to).
Heading from Carlisle to Higham Hall, I head to Upfront Gallery and Puppet Theatre for a coffee, then use random minor roads heading west knowing that at some point I’ll hit a main road again. I’ve met this determined tree before, but still don’t know how to deliberately find it.
In the library of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, there are drawers you can pull out to see some exquisite miniature portraits. Amongst the historical portraits there’s this modern one, which felt like a reward for being curious enough to open the drawers:
That’s if you ever get past the central mural (tip: go up the stairs for a less neck-twisting, closer look).
If you’ve heard of the artist Anton Mauve it’s possibly as I did, as someone who gave Vincent van Gogh painting lessons rather than for his own art. Mauve was also a cousin by marriage, which makes me wonder how much he was ‘persuaded’ by the family into doing so. He gets many mentions in Van Gogh’s letters even though their parting was acrimonious (read: letter to Theo, May 1882).
I came across this page of sheep studies by Mauve while browsing the collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art. (Yes, I really do put “sheep” into the image search on museum websites!)
Click on the photo to see the full-size image, and look for the touches of red, on noses, in ears, around eyes. I particularly like the sense of light catching through the use of white.
It’s also reminded me to paint some pages in my sketchbook a mid-tone, rather than always working from light (white paper).
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.
Four things I walked past: three in Inverness and the fourth at Findhorn Beach.
When last was walking not only about getting somewhere? When last did you walk following a pattern in floor tiles, or stepping on the edge of the to-and fro-ing water on a sandy beach, or splashing in puddles, or rustling through leaves? These small joys don’t stop being there simply because we stopped noticing.