Kitchen Table: Music, Whisky and Flo 1/3

Little Flo

‘The Kitchen Table’ is 2021’s theme for the Carluke Jam and Ham Exhibition (online). As I thought about the subject, I realised how much the Kitchen table is the heart of our home and how many stories and relaxed evenings have been spent around it. It brought to mind the highlight of last summer when restrictions were lifted enough for my family to come and visit – a magical time!

I really enjoy sketching the things we use each day – they become more familiar and loved with use, such as our wee red tea pot and the rainbow mug from Grapevine in Alsager.

The Carluke exhibition invites up to three entries so I decided to go for it with a triptych of our table, working out a composition for three stand alone paintings, all on 25cm square wooden boards, which would flow one into the other. I first made tiny thumbnail sketches then drew them at the same size as the boards.

Flo sizing up my sketch book – or perhaps eying up the Glenfarclas!

I love the start and close of each day. It’s at the end of the day that the table lights up and it’s a treat to get out a wee dram and capture the moment in my whisky sketch book.

One of the entries in my whisky sketch book earlier this year

Animals have been a part of my life for many years – this is Flo, our most recent addition to the household, she joined us from Lanark Cat Rescue, a timid curious wee cat and though she is still very shy she seems content with her life on an orchard.

Small paintbox which I carry in my handbag for urban sketching – it has all the lovely ochres and golds perfect for whisky sketches!

The whisky glasses were gifts from our visit to the Union Jack pub Berlin, when they were filled with some very fine malt whisky and great hospitality!

Flo on day one with us – early spring 2020.

I found a few music sheets in the local Oxfam shop which I thought would be useful for collage. I gave them a wash in red and orange inks and tore them into shapes for the flowers which sit in the Burleighware jug from my sister.

Musical flowers

Music from Radio Scotland or Radio 6 late into the night is part of the evening kitchen. If my brother is visiting, then we’ll have a session as he is great on guitar and stories.

Burleighware jug from the Stoke-on-Trent Pottery

Our striped red, orange and turquoise table runner is also something that brightens up the table – from Staffordshire days.

I will sign off with the finished painting. This is the central part of the triptych – more to follow on the other two very soon.

Thanks as always for reading!

Ronnie 🙂

Growing Art in the Garden of Scotland

Being part of the Tolbooth’s new exhibition feels rejuvenating. A call for new work, not shown before, inspired by living in the Clyde Valley – Garden of Scotland, has been a summons to shake out the cobwebs and create something fresh.

It has also been a delight to think of new growth against a backdrop of the traumatic 20th anniversary of 9/11 and two personal family health situations. Life is so complex and I never forget how fortunate I am to be here in the Clyde Valley.

I’ve been working on a few things – taking the Paintbox approach to not putting all your eggs in one basket. I find this freeing as it means I don’t get locked into worrying over one piece of work. It allows a bit of space and time to compare and contrast as I go along.

For the few long term readers here, this is a step away from drawing streets, but only a step. I feel like my current work is only archiving our orchard landscape which is the wider context of the streets.

Here’s ‘Pick the Bloody Ploughman’ – an apple tree growing in our orchard and named after a mythical character who was caught red handed stealing apples…

The Tolbooth only thrives because there are committed people who realise the value it brings to the community.

There’s a great display of work up at the Tolbooth – if you are in the area – please do call in and have a good look around and a chat! You will receive a warm welcome!

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

The Tolbooth: from Jail to Jewel of Lanark

The Tolbooth, Lanark

A recent post by Tolbooth Arts has prompted me to look a little further into the history of this significant Lanark landmark. It sits at the bottom of the High Street with the Provost’s lamp (from the 1890’s) standing outside. The lamp is a relatively recent feature in it’s history – the third of the Tolbooth buildings to have existed on this site since the early 1400’s.

Lanark is one of Scotland’s oldest Burghs and back in the 12th century it was a favoured hunting ground for the Kings of Scotland. Over the years, the town has been a creative hotspot for shoes, gloves, saddlery, weaving, oil, and knitwear whilst the Lanark markets traded in livestock and agricultural implements. A walk through the Closes of Lanark give a great insight into the layers of history woven into the town.

Information boards on the wall of McKenzie’s Close – drawings by Kirsten Harris Art

The Town Council would have had a Council Chamber – a ‘Tolbooth’ in which to hold their meetings and to serve as a base for their officials, the treasurer and town officer. The Tolbooth served as a point for collection of customs or charges imposed on all goods brought in to the town for market. The ‘Customer’ or ‘Tacksman’ based here had control of the weights and the ‘Tron’ or public weighing machine located nearby.

The first building referred to in Lanark records was located approximately on this site and is thought to have been built around 1400. By 1571 it was in a ruinous condition and was replaced by a building which survived until 1778 but the Council didn’t have the funds to repair it.

‘Gentlemen of the Tolbooth’ – Volunteers Ernest, Tom and Millie, Christmas 2019

However, this was when the “Gentlemen of the County” stepped in and offered to pay for erecting a new building entirely at their expense with the one condition that they were allowed to use the Upper Hall as a gathering place. This is the Tolbooth building that exists at present.

There is plenty more on the history of the Tolbooth on the Discover Lanark website and on the Canmore website.

In 2017 The Tolbooth Trustees embarked on the redesign of the ground floor unlocking the buildings potential as a gallery, heritage centre and arts hub open daily manned by a dedicated group of volunteers. For the past few years that I have been living near Lanark, the Tolbooth has indeed been a creative hub and I’ve been delighted to have participated in several exhibitions with many happy hours spent sketching inside and out – a few examples follow:

Streetscape opposite the Tolbooth
Richard Price giving a pottery demonstration in the Upper Hall
Lanark’s town pigeons settling down to roost for the night

The Tolbooth Christmas shop has been a growing success over the past few years and artists are well underway preparing new work for this year’s stock, myself included.

Skilled creative work of local artists in the Christmas Shop
Lanark’s town Crier taking shelter in the Tolbooth, wearing Thomson Blue Tartan

Look out for the next exhibition – ‘Clyde Valley – Garden of Scotland’ coming very soon to the Tolbooth – more on that in the next post!

In the meantime, I will sign off with this drawing of the Tolbooth Lanark. It will be in the Christmas shop from November, or get it touch with me or a volunteer at the Tolbooth. Price is £225 framed (20 x 17in) which includes a commission towards the upkeep of this fantastic community hub.

Thanks for reading, Ronnie

Airborne

Roofline of a Victorian School on Westmuir Street, Glasgow

A hold up, a queue or a gap in the day’s proceedings are a gift to me – if I remember to take it – or if I have my sketch book to hand. Today was one such gift. A slight delay for my sis-in-law as we waited for her pre-flight Covid test on Westmuir Street, Glasgow.

You just have to look up and there’s the skyline full of Victorian chimney stacks, turrets, ridges and eaves.

Birds flying with ease from one perch to another.

I’m almost at the end of this pocket sketchbook – a strange feeling as sketchbooks are companions to me. When a book gets filled up there is a sense of a chapter closing.

A page has turned in our family story as my nephew begins a new life as a student in St Andrew’s, a long way from his home. Little does he know but it’s thanks to him that I have filled the last pages of this sketchbook with Glasgow rooflines and scarlet rosehips!

Listen In

I’m not the first to volunteer to be on air/ video. It’s something that I think many other artists also find hard to do but when the reasoning behind the idea is so compelling – well I just have to get over myself.

Stephanie Whatley and Christine Brown are both glass artists who work in Biggar and Lanark respectively and were moved by how many artists are ‘swiped away’ on social media. They were moved enough to set up a podcast and interview local artists at work in their studio, simply to get to know them a bit better. This is such a generous and supportive move of their fellow artists – how could I refuse when they asked to come and chat to me!

Pause a moment with Steffi and Chrissy as they join me in my studio for a wee art blether.

From their podcast web-page:
“Stephanie Whatley and Christine Brown are both glass artists who work in Scotland. Frustrated by the amount of art on social media that is easily swiped away, they want to stop…take a minute and talk with the artists behind the art, Track & Trace the processes, materials and thought behind the creations. With lively discussions, in a podcast that doesn’t take its self too seriously. The podcast may be based in Scotland, but they are keen to talk to artists from across the world whither they are painters, sculptors, potters or glass artists.

I’m hoping that you can find the podcast from the above link, but if not here is a different link.

They loved our view over the River Clyde….

If none of the above links work – then here’s my studio buddy Josh. My wee Staffordshire Moorlands laddie quite at home sat on an underpainting of the orchard.

As always, thanks for reading, and many thanks to Ian Hamilton for his editing of the above podcast 🙂

Ronnie

Fluid Lines, Floral Structure

The Flower Shop at Silverbirch – Clyde Valley

There’s a new florist in the Clyde Valley. It’s exciting to witness this new business appear. The Flower Shop at Silverbirch (Silverbirch Garden Centre), is full of life and colour and only a few minutes from where we live in Hazelbank.

It’s all the more exciting for me as my new body of expressive flower work is now on the walls and available to buy from The Flower Shop at Silverbirch.

As artists, we are always looking for outlets to support and collaborate with us at various stages of our work. These last few years it has felt like many doors have closed; to have some open up feels so encouraging! I would like to extend a big thank you and a warm welcome to the Clyde Valley to @john_gold_floristry for giving me this opportunity to share and sell my new work.

Summer Garden Extravaganza workshop at Paintbox School of Art, Cockenzie

You might be wondering how I’ve moved from drawing buildings to flowers. In short it’s in response to living on an orchard and wanting to express the vitality of the plant world. As ever, Paintbox – the art school by the sea, was there with a four day workshop ‘Garden Extravaganza’ where we immersed ourselves in the structure, textures, colour and variety of the gardens at Cockenzie House.

Jemma Derbyshire and Robin Wu – Paintbox tutors

There’s a clear process as to how to approach a subject at Paintbox – I like the structure of the exploration – settling into a particular place in the gardens, responding to colours, forms, textures, shape, line and movement and simplifying what we experience into bold black and white drawings at a big scale – then moving along. Here we were given a 4 leaf concertina sketch book, each page A2 in size. We prepared the paper with white emulsion paint to give a tooth and texture.

Large scale concertina sketchbook for black and white studies

Things move at quite a pace and next up are some fast colour plays on what we have experienced to make material for collage. It also makes a great surface to cut down into a small concertina sketchbook – everything has a use!

Hanging our work out to dry in the garden

Next along was to find details from our black and white explorations that called for further development. I loved the sea thistle and so we looked at several colour palettes adding in our collage material as a disruptor.

Exploring colour palettes for our subjects

Here you can see how these giant drawings of nasturtium leaves serve to form the base of these paintings – the flat round leaves forming a contrast to the wild lines of the sea thistles.

Foxgloves are a favourite of mine as they appear in the warmth of summer with their vibrant pinks contrasting against rich purples of the undergrowth.

We taped off sections and worked freely on large sheets of paper. Although time ran out, I knew what to work on when I got back home.

‘Sea Thistle Morning’ (top) White Swans (left) and Summer Dew (right)’

It’s always a highlight to see the work finished, cropped, framed and named.

‘White Swans’

Many thanks to John Gold for the thoughtful display – here are a few on the walls.

‘White Swans’ and ‘Summer Dew’ framed and on the walls of The Flower Shop at Silverbirch
‘Jubilant Geraniums’

Silverbirch Garden Centre is a great destination here in the Clyde Valley and the Flower Shop is located right beside the main entrance, open Tuesday to Sundays, 10-4. If you are in the area – why not call in?

Thanks for reading

Ronnie 🙂

Rekindling the Sketchbook

Boats in Cockenzie Harbour

My ‘handbag sketchbook’ has been dormant for a while. It’s a hand-sized book which I normally sketch in when out and about but over the last year or so, trips out have been straight to the point and home again.

I realised how much I had missed capturing some of the day-to-day aspects of life when I was waiting for my second Covid jab. This chap was ahead of me in the fast moving queue at Ravenscraig Sports Centre and it struck me that I should get the moment down even if it was just a few lines.

Roll up your sleeve!

I was surprised at how l had fallen out of the habit of these short sketches – I’ve been drawing and painting plenty of other things (more on this another time) but these sketches are my visual diary. Life goes past so quickly that I sometime wonder what I was doing last week and these capture the moments when I pause.

These sketches are for me – I don’t mind how haphazard they are as long as I sketch something of the moment. I had added a wash of yellow ochre on one of the pages – it’s a simple but effective background to liven up a few hasty lines.

A ten minute wait for a routine vet visit was a great opportunity to sketch the profile of the church at Lesmahagow.

Lesmahagow church – waiting outside the vets

Here’s my first café sketch in over a year – looking up to the shelf where there was a line up of colourful Edinburgh Gin bottles.

Coffee out at the Red Barn

A visit at last to see my sister in York for her birthday. She placed these beautiful lily-of -the valley flowers in a vase that came from Kerry, the part of Ireland that my mother came from.

Window sill in York

In-person classes have resumed at Paintbox – the Art School by the Sea – over in Cockenzie. You can catch the feel of a place in just a few lines – enough to remind you of the day.

Tide ebbing

If I arrive at Cockenzie a little earlier than class starts, I have a coffee from my flask and sketch the view from the car.

Tide flowing

The perspective is skew-whiff on this one below but I loved the crow-step gables against the red roof and bright blue sky.

Side of Cockenzie House

I’ve been over to Cockenzie many times but not stayed to have a look further up the coast so we set Midsummer’s Day aside to go out to Bass Rock. Another few minutes waiting our turn to board the boat and I sketched what was in front of me.

Bass Rock is spectacular! Located just off the coast of North Berwick, it’s high-rise accommodation for 150,000+ gannets! We had booked on an hour trip which took us right up to the side of the rock where we got a great view of the birds and their young chicks.

The only way to pick up where you left off is to turn the page and pick up a pen.

As always, thanks for reading 🙂

Ronnie

Castor and Pollux – Symbols of Brotherhood and Unity

Gemini is the sign of the zodiac from 21 May to 21 June and depicts the mythical twins Castor and Pollux, the names of the brightest stars in the Gemini constellation. Twin sons of Zeus and Leda, they appeared in both Greek and Roman mythology and were worshipped as gods who helped shipwrecked sailors.

This association is linked to the natural phenomenon called St. Elmo’s fire which occurs during certain stormy weather conditions. It appears as a glow on the top of tall pointed objects, such as the masts of ships, and is often accompanied by a cracking noise. When stars appeared on the heads of Castor and Pollux during the Voyage of the Argonauts, the twins became known as the protectors of sailors. From that time, sailors believed that St. Elmo’s fire was actually Castor and Pollux coming to protect them during a storm.

The Romans also considered Castor and Pollux the gods who watched over horses and their riders. There is a lot more to read up on these two but to summarise – they stand as symbols of brotherhood and the bond that unites two people even after death.

When I completed these paintings, I wanted to add something celestial so I added tiny dots of pure gold, starry highlights above the genuine earth and mineral pigments.

These roundels can be found on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem (below). It was funded entirely by public subscription from 1859 onward and built with the intention of making art, science and literature available to all. At the time, the estimated cost was £4,000 and the six year construction period began in 1863 with an official opening by Earl de Grey in 1869 as a library and school of art.

The facade is spectacular for all the sculpture, symbolism and stories woven in. Looking at the band of sculpted panels – these depict the working stages of pottery manufacture. They are elevated above the window arches.

Above these are the months depict the turning of the year and the continuous cycles of life. High at the top are the astrological signs of the celestial heavens which crown the arches with jewel-like mosaics.

This style of architecture is known as ‘Venetian Gothic’ and was made popular by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. I have a book ‘John Ruskin Artist and Observer’ which gives an overview of the scale of artistic skill, passion and observation he had for life – put it on your birthday wish list – it will fire you up to sketch and draw!

Coming back to these drawings/paintings all completed using hand made paint with natural earth and mineral pigments. Here are May and June, the months which span Gemini. May ‘depicts a young woman growing mature as the plants are maturing in the ground’.

Let’s not think too far ahead but already June is ‘depicting an older man shearing a sheep’

All the original artworks for the months and zodiac signs are now available to buy from Barewall Gallery Burslem. When you buy through Barewall, you also support the livelihood of the Burslem community so more people benefit. After all, I am only painting what another artist has created a century before me!

Card sets are also available to buy in my Etsy shop. Can’t find what you need – don’t hesitate to get in touch!

As ever, thanks for your time reading!

Ronnie 🙂

A Wynd up For Bernard

Now is that a ‘wind up’ as in a coiled spring or a ‘wind up’ – as in your sails? With all the subtleties of the English language it’s easy to to get confused but here a ‘Wynd’ has yet another meaning – a narrow passageway or a Close as they are called here in Lanark.

Bernard’s Wynd is one of Lanark’s twelve Closes which map the course of the town’s circulation between the High Street and the surrounding streetscape. Back in 1777, it was declared a common passage to the South Vennel. From the High Street, (south side) all that you see is this narrow entrance.

Located between the Horse and Jockey and Hays Travel – you will see that the entrance is set back – revealing a small slice of the old building which marks the line of the earlier street frontage and one of the locations that William Wallace lived in during the 13th Century.

If you look around the back and look up, you can see medieval window arches within the masonry, which thanks to Kirsten giving me a timely nudge, I’ve since been included on this drawing!

Bernard’s Wynd once led to the factory of Bernard Bell, principal shoemaker in the Royal Burgh. It was during the 17th and 18th centuries that Lanark’s biggest and richest craft was shoemaking – helping to meet the demand for stout footwear in Glasgow.

When I began planning this exhibition, I was going to work on A4 size boards but this format wasn’t ideal to capture the feeling of being enclosed in a narrow space. It was time to rethink.

No window arches on this format!

The proportion 2:3 was a better fit to express the narrowness of these Closes and to include some of the details that remain as clues to the past, like the fragments of window arches.

Work in progress – building up layers of colour

I wanted to simplify the work to highlight the Close itself – they have been fitted with new lighting to invite movement through them in safety – they are such important aspects of the town’s history and newcomers to the town may not realise their significance.

Back to work in progress. There are a few tips to help guide yourself along – one of which is to hold the image up in a mirror and view it in reverse, or to stand back and view it from a distance but a great tip is to flip the image into black and white to check the tonal composition is balanced.

As I sign off, I’m really happy to know that all the artwork prepared by Kirsten and myself is now framed and ready to hang over the weekend ready for open doors on Monday 26th April 2021.

‘Close Encounters’ is on at the Tolbooth Lanark until 8th May. All very welcome – please wear a face covering and keep to social distancing – thank you, and thanks as always for reading.

Ronnie

Close Encounters

The Closes of Lanark remind me of the ‘Snickelways’ of York.  ‘Snickelway‘ is a word conjured up by Mark W. Jones in his 1983 book A Walk Around the Snickelways of York and it weaves together the words snicket, meaning a passageway between walls or fences,  ginnel, a narrow passageway between or through buildings, and alleyway, a narrow street or lane’.

York has many of these pathways, mostly medieval and often with unusual names such as Mad Alice Lane and Finkle Street. Lanark too has twelve remaining ancient pathways called ‘Closes’, hiding in plain sight along both sides of the High Street.

Wide Close on Bloomgate, Lanark

Wide Close, Duncan’s Close and Hunter’s Close show up on my drawing of 1-51 High Street (shown in full here).

The Closes map rich histories with their narrow footprint, architectural fragments and tiny details such as this doorbell in Shirley’s Close.  

Miss Shirley Baxter – door bell in Shirley’s Close

The Closes have recently been part of a project by Discover Lanark to make them safer, brighter and more welcoming and the latest stage in this project has been to install a series of information panels highlighting the history of each Close.

Kirsten Harris has brought layers of Lanark’s history to life with her wonderful artwork which fires up the imagination with the stories held deep within each of the Closes. You can read more about Kirsten’s creative process with the panel artwork here.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on ‘the backs’ – the parts of the Closes where clues remain to remind us of what’s been before as part of ‘Close Encounters’, an upcoming exhibition at The Tolbooth, featuring the history of Lanark’s Closes as well as the framed originals of Kirsten’s Closes artwork.

Kirsten recently posed a question: ‘Has Covid changed your artwork?’ This was such a rich question that I’m still reflecting on the answer but this project shows me that it has definitely changed my work.

Previously I would have reached for my fine-line mapping pen but this time, I went for a broad brush to paint lots of yellows and golds to reflect my need for brightness and light after a Covid winter. I drew with the ink dropper straight onto the prepared surface with a feeling of urgency and that to hesitate is a not an option.

For this series of twelve rear views of the Closes, I had a strong idea from the outset and did a rough concept sketch below. A bright optimistic background as foundation with grimy and colourful history overlaid, keeping a narrow strip of light to draw your eye into the close.

I chose a tall, thin 2:3 format to reflect the vertical feel of the Closes – to walk along them you can almost feel the stones close in as you pass through centuries of witnessing walls.

With the composition sketched out I then added ink washes of Payne’s Grey on top of the prepared surface to give an underpainting toned with yellows and greens – the colours of April.

Underpainting the rear view of Wide Close

The next part was me having fun working in some gorgeous rich pastel colours (by Unison), responding to the tones beneath and keeping in mind the title of the exhibition ‘Close Encounters’. Passing through these narrow Closes can be a little intimidating on a dark dreich day, but they are far from dead ends and it’s worth looking up.

It’s a great help to check that there’s a good balance of tones by taking a black and white photos as you go along.

Finally, it’s always good to take a step back and the bench outside the back door is a great place for an overview. More about the Closes next time. As always, thanks for reading.

Ronnie 🙂

drawing out the best in our streets