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!
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!
Doors might be closed but the windows of The Scrib Tree are free for all to look into when going for a stroll through Douglas. Level 4 lockdown here in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, sees many doors closed but people are finding ways to continue working safely within the restrictions.
‘Around the Corner‘, an exhibition of 16 unexpected views of the historic village of Douglas, is now on view to the town and I’m really pleased to have it on display in this wonderful place.
I know I could put the work to one side and wait till we have the all clear for a proper on-the-wall exhibition but this work sums up the spirit of place that we are in right now – the feeling that better things are ‘imminent’, ‘on the brink’, ‘on the horizon’…. which are all names of paintings in this exhibition.
Just to side track a moment – look at this wee Scrib Tree charmer! He was no help whatsoever in putting up my work! If you read to the end, I promise you a melty moment pup pic….
I think this is my favourite photograph of the window exhibition. Big light cloudscapes behind dark skylines. It shows a little of the drama of this intense historic village.
Here’s a detail below from ‘In the Air’.
From ‘In the Air’ we move down to earth – but not for long….
…Where are these stairs leading us?
‘On the Brink’.
I’m curious to find out where these stairs lead – are they simply going around the corner with another flight out of sight or is there another level that has since disappeared?
Here we have tall chimneys against a dark sky. This is a dramatic building that lies empty – ‘Ready and Waiting’.
All the original artworks featured can be seen on my website.
The hotel above lies empty, ready and waiting – but not this little chap.
Sometimes, ideas fall into place so fast that it’s hard to keep up with them. I had 18 Douglas compositions sketched out (16 which I used), the name/theme of the exhibition was clear and I’d settled on painting in monochromatic colours and in a square format.
Every painting is made up of choices. I’d like to go through some of these with you here. I’ve talked about simplification in the previous post – about paring the subject down to what I want the painting to be about. Here, it’s about what’s around the corner, when the times we are living in seem dark and quite threatening, but I see something hopeful in this title.
These paintings have been growing against a backdrop of Covid/Brexit and the US presidential elections, not to mention the climate crisis.
Learning about Spectral Black caught me by surprise. Imagine a black made up of all three primary colours, in this case Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and a shot of Lemon Yellow. This became my foundation palette for this exhibition – a darkness made up of colour!
There have been many examples of colour in the dark throughout the last year that choosing to work with shades of spectral black has felt a way to acknowledge the kindness and courage that show up clearly in times of crisis.
Let’s look at how this all took shape. I started with a thumbnail sketch using a soft pencil to clarify the composition, shapes and focal points. Using the pencil sketches for reference, rather than the photographs, I then drew the shapes onto acid-free 300gsm smooth paper.
To get some perspective on my own work , I found that putting my thumbnail sketches high up allowed me to get a distant view.
Stepping back reminds me to simplify, so the essence of what the exhibition is about is clearer. For me, a lot of this has involved breaking a few habits. You know how I love detail – how I include it as an archive – an acknowledgement of the skill of the person that created it – whether a drain pipe or a roof tile. I found it an ongoing exercise to keep simplifying and not reverting to type!
This time, I held back on the architectural details and included only details of flowers in bloom – expressing life that goes on, but acknowledging the losses with fallen petals.
Most of the paintings have several corners, some up close and others distant.
Painting in monochrome changes the whole atmosphere – it feels like the village is being observed at night and seems timeless. The empty streets reflect lockdown.
This is my small contribution towards expressing ‘these times’ and it has encompassed Douglas, a beautiful South Lanarkshire village that I hope one day you might visit.
I will share more about of this body of work in my next post but in the meantime, if you would like to see the first 12 paintings, these are now up on my website .
A new exhibition went up in the Tolbooth Lanark last weekend, titled ‘Coasts and Rivers’. This is Lanark’s invitation for local artists to participate in Scotland’s 2020 celebration of:
‘Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, a year that will spotlight, celebrate and promote opportunities to experience and enjoy Scotland’s unrivalled coasts and waters encouraging responsible engagement and participation from the people of Scotland and our visitors’.
It’s a step away from my usual buildings but for the past couple of years I’ve been exploring ways to express the beautiful landscape up here through attending a variety of art classes.
I’d been attending a year long drawing/mixed media course held at Paintbox School of Art in Cockenzie until lockdown threw that curve ball. Some of the classes went online so I signed up for their artist’s retreat and one of the morning meditation classes had the theme of oceans.
It involved filling a dozen or so sheets of A4 paper with a whole variety of fluid marks, the movement of ink on wet paper flowing to the sounds of the sea shore. I used three inks – Paynes grey and two blues, plenty of water for misting, sticks and feathers and the bottle dropper to make marks.
I set aside the papers to use as collage for the entry to the Oceans exhibition, thinking about the image of the Hebridean sea that I photographed on our way to St Kilda a few years ago. I wrote about it here.
Some weeks later, I prepared a surface with broad sweeping brush marks in similar colours but using acrylic paint to form a foundation layer, adding in some textured medium. I then tore a few sheets of the collage paper into narrow curved strips and layered them on to the base layer.
I then used inktense sticks to add highlights and deeper shadows.
Finally, to add the metallic sheen to the highlights, I added silver gouache using a cocktail stick held on its side to create irregular fillets of light.
Here’s the finished artwork. I did a double check on the tonal values by seeing how it looked in black and white and was happy with the result.
‘Hebridean Waters’ framed and ready for the exhibition! There’s a wide and interesting variety of work up in the Tolbooth, I think the subject has been appealing and just what we need to get us back in the flow!
Thanks for reading and if you live near Lanark, hope you can come along. The subject has generated some really beautiful and soothing art.
It’s almost two years since I began the whisky label marathon where I drew over 400 individual sketches of places in Scotland for Sansibar-Whisky’s bottling of a really tasty 1976 Speyside malt. Every sketch was of a place that I had been to and from photos that I had taken.
A year later and the bottles were on display in Finest Whisky, Berlin.
Having drawn labels from Dumfries to Sutherland I can’t tell you how proud I was when I saw that one of the Lanark images was chosen to be on display – Lanark being my new home town!
Quite a few sketches were made of places close to home here in the Clyde Valley. Recently, I supplied the Post Office in Crossford with a small selection of greetings cards of some of the places on labels within walking distance of home.
I thought I would share some of the sketches of the places nearby starting with Hazelbank, named after all the Hazel trees that once grew along the banks of the River Clyde. Most of the hazels have been cleared over the years but a few healthy hazel saplings are growing in our orchard and hopefully they will thrive.
To read a little bit more about how these labels began – I wrote about it here.
The following images are all places that have become familiar to me, especially Broomhouse the one below, which is really ‘Bill’s House’ which I see every morning from our place a bit further up the hill.
Hope you enjoy this small taste of the Clyde Valley and know that every label that went on those 1976 Speysiders was drawn with the same level of dedication that went into making the whisky!
New Lanark is a World Heritage Site set in native Scottish woodland next to the River Clyde, here in South Lanarkshire. This Cotton mill village was founded in the 18th century and and has been thoroughly documented with a digitised survey of all the buildings – you can read more about it here. It doesn’t need ‘Drawing the Street’ to record it! However, the interiors are irresistible to draw!
They are full of objects that remind me of my earliest childhood … some from our ‘old house’ and others from our neighbours in York which held hand-me-downs from generations before. Take for example the table above. This could have been Mum’s kitchen table in the mid-sixties. However, I’m not that old….the sketch below is of the Millworker’s House of the 1820’s.
We often go up to New Lanark to walk in the wildlife reserve or to see the Falls of Clyde, once visited and painted by Turner. However, it was when my American family came to visit last year that we did the tour inside and around the mill including the workers’ accommodation and Robert Owen’s House .
I managed to take a few photos knowing that I wanted to sketch some of them later. I only get to notice things when I sketch such as this mouse and the clay pipes tucked behind the packs of tobacco. All reconstructed but still appealing.
Hope you enjoy this inside view of just a few of the sights within these magnificent buildings. It’s a fascinating destination in a beautiful location – well worth a visit.
I heard of St Kilda when we first went to Harris and Lewis 27 years ago. I’ve wanted to visit it ever since so you can imagine how excited I was when we received a gift of a pair of tickets for a day trip with Kilda Cruises (thank you Marie!).
In brief, St Kilda is the remains of what was once a volcano active 60 million years ago. There are four main islands (Hirta, Soay, Boreray and Dun) and a number of spectacular sea stacs. Hirta has the highest sea cliffs in the British isles and and Stac an Armin is the highest sea stac. Boreray is home to the world’s largest colony of gannets.
For thousands of years, a small community had lived on these islands but in 1930 the last few islanders left which brought their unique way of life to an end. The remains of this deserted village extends in a ribbon around the bay.
We knew it would be hit and miss with the weather and decided to make the 1100+ mile round trip to Leverburgh on Harris taking our chances on the last available dates of the year. Trips are only confirmed the evening before as poor weather conditions restrict landings on the island.
This is a trip that I know many of my friends and family would love to make but may never manage so I would like to share some photos and a few sketches. St Kilda has a street which I would love to draw one day.
Leaving our home in Staffordshire at 5am last Tuesday, we set off for Ullapool.
We reached Tarbert on Harris by 9.30pm where we had booked in for two nights in the Back Packers Stop, where we shared an 8-bed dorm with cyclists, walkers and bikers! Our trip to St Kilda had been cancelled for the following day so we spent a day on the south side of Harris.
We stopped for a coffee at the Temple Cafe where we overheard a chap say that he had just heard that St Kilda was on for tomorrow! Woohoo!
We have been so very lucky to have visited these remote islands. The crew of Kilda Cruises were first class – my thanks to them and to you for reading and hope that this has given you a flavour of the extraordinary place that is St Kilda.
In between drawing streets and icon diploma course work, I love to sketch whenever I get a spare moment. It means that waiting for the dentist, or whatever, is now a great way of really looking at life going on around me. So waiting for our turn on a seaplane trip was one well worth recording. The flight was actually a present for Iain’s birthday back in February, but funnily enough, we ended up flying on my birthday!
We have just had a week on holiday up on Speyside in Morayshire, Scotland. It was wonderful but the best way of telling you about it is to share a few sketches.