Last June the water in the river at Sligachan was so low I sat under the new bridge to sketch the old (see: Being a Troll). Sitting nearby was the USA-based artist Michael Chelsey Johnson, who has now turned his small gouache sketches from Slig in a larger studio painting, described in his blogpost Sligachan: The Story Behind the Painting.
Michael says he decided “to treat it as a picturesque landscape, where there is little indication of man and much of raw nature.” Have a read of Michael’s blogpost to follow his choices and reasons, and see how his painting developed here.
For yet another view of this location through an artist’s eyes, have a look at the paintings of Skye-based plein-air painter David Deamer.
My last studio painting inspired by Sligachan was this one, influenced by sitting here on sunny summer days:
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.
What do you see? Make a list of at least six things. Do not use single words such as “washing”, “bus stop”, “road”, “clouds”, or “grass”.
How about “sun burning through the billowing clouds”, “wind catching the sheets on the line”, “shadow pattern of the wooden fence posts on the road with counterpoint played by white road markings”, and a “seat for Godot in the bus shelter”?
Did I think all this when I stopped to take this photo? No, I was out taking photos for my new reference book for my next Higham Hall workshop. I’d been hoping to find some laundry, as a reference for elements to include in a painting, and that’s what caught my eye, then the pattern on the road. The sun and clouds had been with me all afternoon, so I noticed it only in terms of not looking directly into it. Godot and the bus shelter, that came to me as I was looking at the photo to write this.
What are the thoughts on your list? Post a comment and let me know!
[Edited to add comments from Facebook]
Lyn Asselta: This is a fabulous exercise! Brilliant! I am always asking my students to stop looking for “nouns” (or objects, things).
Julie Rysdale: Smudgy bus stop windows telling the story of who waited; fenced fingers waiting to trip the unwary; green inky grass to smear on the evidence; alphabet shirts flapping their code to whoever will listen; sunshine fleeing the scene of time; the mysterious clouds the only witness to the drama unfolding!
Kit Wells: Refraction of light, bubbling clouds, stark shadow, moisture in air, contre jour washing, division of observed field into classic parts.
Maddy Buckman: Smeary windows, marching pickets in a fence, a peek at fields beyond through the gaps, billowing clouds on the move, lonely chairs in the empty space, soft but definite shadows, washing lifting in a breeze.
Photos taken on the journey to drop off my paintings for the Lochalsh Art Fair which is on until Wednesday.
First stop was the classic view towards the Cuillin. A visitor who was parked here, looking on her phone when I stopped, got out and asked me what the speed limit was because everyone seemed to be wanting to go really fast. I later saw her pull into a parking spot to let cars past.
Second stop the most-photographed-waterfall-on-Skye:
Though it’s more the view in the opposite direction I still want to paint:
Obligatory Eilean Donan Castle shot:
What caught my eye far more were the patterns by the road bridge:
Went into Balmacara for the “dark wood”:
And stopped near Kyle for hillside colours (last of the purple heather and bracken turning autumnal) :
Obligatory shot from the bridge at Sligachan (it wasn’t really this dark, I had the exposure set for the bright cloud):
Plus moody clouds:
Abstract minimalism with Glamaig:
Reflection of the sun:
And the usually ignored beautiful little bridge:
Stopped at Aros (outskirts of Portree) for a photo of the house across the bay with its becoming-autumnal trees:
And headed into the pine plantation (thanks for the reminder of how rich a location that is Izzy!):
And a final stop for moody cloudsand sea near home:
PS: I think I’ve got my websites all moved to the new webhost, but if you see anything strange or missing, let me know! I’ve seen some quotation marks changed to question marks!
What I’ve found out: Adrian Hill presented BBC “Sketch Club” from 1958 to 1962 (way before Tony Hart‘s show), was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London during the First World War (the first, according to his Wikipedia entry, which also says he went back to art college afterwards, worked as a professional artist and art teacher, and coined the term art therapy) and he wrote quite a few books. There are a dozen of his paintings on the UK public art collection website, and a short BBC radio interview.
But back to the book I found. It’s written in a style you don’t find in contemporary photo-led books, when sentences could be longer and have more complex constructions, language more descriptive and poetic, and opinions more strongly stated. It’s like listening to an artist thinking aloud on various aspects, with the thoughts organized not random.
I suspect quotes will make their appearance as Monday Motivators, but here’s one for today, from Chapter 6 which is called “Timidity and Courage”:
“…once perfect freedom of execution has been enjoyed, a little self-disciple will generally make itself felt, and the rebel will turn docile; whereas the law-abiding student will rarely ‘break bounds’ without persuasion.”
I do wonder if it caught my eye because my mind’s been on my introduction to watercolour workshop on Monday (still spaces if you’d like to join us). How when you know next-to-nothing about a workshop attendee other than they want to learn about watercolour painting you have to prepare approaches that’ll work for wherever they turn out to be on the spectrum from cautious (timid) to expressive (courageous).
I came across it via a circuitous journey that involved a new book on trees by the photographer Art Wolfe. Initially it wasn’t anything in the poem that struck a cord, but rather that it’s dedicated to the painter Wolf Kahn, who’s on my list of favourite artists.
The poem overall is one that’s in the “mmmm” category for me, but the line above intrigues my imagination. I find myself replacing “colour” with “branches”. Possibly because at certain times of year the sun sets ‘through’ the woodland at Uig. As yet ill-defined thoughts of a tree painting with sunset colours collapsing into the branches.
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.
The last three days have seen us (the American artists on an art retreat on Skye and me) sketching on the Quiraing, Staffin beach, and Eilean Donan Castle. Shades of green from deep blue-green to improbably intense yellow-sap green (which I mentally think of as radioactive green). It’s not only been sunny enough to dig out the sunblock, but I even ended up looking for a shady spot yesterday at the castle.
My thanks to Michael Chesley Johnson for the pastel demo of rocks at Duntulm. It’s so intriguing, mesmerising, inspiring to see familiar landscape through the eyes of artists seeing it for the first time.