Painting ‘the’ landscape
Depicting the incredible landscape of the Northwest Highlands can be daunting, with its vast scale and sudden changes of weather. People often ask me if I ever get tired of painting the same old views. The answer is no, because a lifetime is too short to discover every hidden corner, every angle of every loch and mountain, and of course weather-wise, no two days are the same. I’m constantly intrigued by the amazing shapes of these ancient mountains as they stand proud against the sky, and the changing seasons each bring their own palette and atmosphere. From the soft blues and greens of Spring, an icing-sugar dusting of snow on the highest peaks, accentuating the cracks and fissures in the rocks, to the brighter greens of Summer: tufty white cotton grass speckling the marshy land; later, the heather, as the grasses turn from ochre to red to orange and the scent of the bog myrtle mixes with the dank peaty odour on the hillsides after rain. Winter brings its own drama with the deep indigo blue of the lochans contrasting with streaks of pure gold with near-black shadows as the sun sits low on the horizon.
Words can only hint at the magic of this region; paintings can do a little more, but it is a lifelong battle to do justice to somewhere so unique, so magnificent, and to moments so fleeting that often there is no time even to take out a camera. I use sketches and digital photos along with my intimate knowledge of the area, to work up finished pieces in the studio, Some watercolours are produced on the spot, and often feel very fresh as a result.
I use several types of medium, each one quite distinct:
Coloured pencils Probably my favourite, although also the most time-consuming. I use Caran d’Ache pencils and use many layers to build up a detailed, sharp and yet delicate image.
Pastels I use soft (chalk) pastels on special ‘pastel card’ which is like a very fine sandpaper. I prefer very soft pastels, with Sennelier being my current favourite. I find pastels ideal for the colours and textures of the area, and especially for the big, dramatic skies which have become my trademark. My pastels are bold and tend to work best on a larger scale. For smaller paintings I often use pastel pencils, with the result falling somewhere between my soft pastels and my coloured pencil drawings. Occasionally I also use oil pastels on rough paper.
Scraperboard A black board which reveals white underneath when scraped with a special sharp tool, the end result can resemble a woodcut, although the scraperboards I produce are originals and not prints. These pictures are usually quite small, even miniature and are very collectible!
Inks My ink paintings are executed in a completely different style to my other work being looser, freer and with more emphasis on emotion than representation. These are often painted quickly on location, sometimes worked up later with the addition of other media. Whenever possible I use handmade paper as I find the irregular texture can add interest to a fairly simple image. This method also works well with flowers.
Watercolour More recently I have begun working in watercolour. I love the versatility of this medium as well as the challenge as it ‘does its own thing’. I tend to use it in a similar way to my inks: very wet, letting the colours run together and create their own beauty on the paper. Increasingly – though not always – I’ll then tighten things up with a pen or a drier brush. With watercolours I work quickly, mostly on the spot and find they are perfect for expressing misty mountain light. I have begun taking them with me on kayaking expeditions, with mixed results!
If you feel inspired to try your hand at painting with any of the above media, I run occasional painting workshops and regular outdoor sketching days during the Scottish summer. Please contact me to find out what I currently have organised. I am usually available for one-to-one teaching sessions, also. All abilities welcome!
Week-long trips in the north of Scotland are included in the Vistas Sketching Holidays collection: www.sketchingholidays.co.uk