Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Holly and the Ivy

Cut a couple of lengths of ivy and a small branch of holly and brought them into the kitchen where I could work from them in the heat of the house rather than go out to my cold studio. I've got good heating out there but chose not to have it on today. HOLLY: Working once again with this combination of felt pen and watercolour wash I started with this drawing of the holly filling the leaf shapes with strong washes of dark green/blue.
IVY: Next came this study of the two lengths ivy. The section on the left is from an older, harder, growth and the section on the right from newer, softer, growth with it's small bunches of flowers.
IVY AND HOLLY: Prior to starting this series of small watercolours I already had this idea of combining a figure with one of the plants. It wasn't too big a step from there to colouring the female figure green!
CHRISTMAS MORNING: Another combination this time with the holly and the ivy. I liked it simply as a drawing but still felt it needed some bigger idea to complete it. That's where the rising sun comes in! Last week on Thursday morning (21st December about 09:10) I was out early and waiting for a bus to take me into Glasgow as the blazing sun began to rise over the horizon. It was magnificent! Next day (Friday) was the winter solstice but in East Kilbride we had a dense fog so couldn't see that sunrise direct. I did, however, see it through the Heritage Ireland website which was showing live video of the dawn at Newbridge - a megalithic structure built over 5,000 years ago, where for a short period of about 17 minutes the rays of the sun shine through a roof-box directly down the length of it's internal corridor into a central chamber. It's an astonishing achievement for an ancient civilisation to be able to predict this happening every year. This little watercolour is my tribute to those early people whom I feel a human solidarity with.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Ice Maiden

Felt pen and watercolour on paper, A5: I always get great fun and pleasure from doing portraits like this and with these felt pens overlaid with watercolour washes I can make good strong images without too much of a palava! Straightforward and direct with no fuss. It's only a small sketch but perhaps it would also make a striking oil or acrylic painting at a much larger scale. What do you think? 60cm wide by 100cm high? Think I'll try it in the New Year.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Winter Sun

Acrylics on board, 61x46cm: This was painted from a sketch made on location at Crieff in Perthshire and shows this flaming red sun dropping behind Laggan Hill turning the sky on fire. It's amazing how you can put up with the freezing cold to do your drawing when faced with this fantastic sight! This morning was the winter solstice (06:08GMT) and today was the shortest day so it's downhill all the way to spring! Yippee!!!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Ice-bound River

Charcoal pencil on paper, 59x43cm: Another of my winter drawings of the River Calder this time choked up with ice-floes. Having stumbled upon the possibilities of this type of scene I would go looking for them which was actually more difficult than it seems. I was looking in particular for good river shapes behind clearly defined tree verticals to make something out of general tangle of undergrowth on either side of an at times unprepossessing small river. It's amazing what you can find if you try hard enough!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007


Felt pen and watercolour on paper, 15x15cm: Another small sketch using this felt-pen and watercolour combination of drawing and painting where the orange felt-tip is softer than a black ink line would be and I find a very strange thing happening - sometimes the watercolour merges with the ink and sometimes it repels, for example see how watercolour applied over the black ink strokes in the hair and dress flow together, yet the background blue which was painted close to the hair jumps back in fright! This all makes for a very lively and dangerous image (and I like a bit of danger!) as I often don't know how it will turn out. I'm pleased with this one though - I even signed it!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Icy Woodland River

charcoal pencil on paper, 59x43cm: Last winter I made a series of drawings like this of the River Calder as it passes through the Calderglen. By the time I got to this one I had distilled the scene to this minimalist view with just the dark river itself with ripples and runs behind a screen of verticals in these trees giving it a sparse feel of winter. I really should take the drawing out from behind the glass which holds it in place above my fireplace!
Pencil on paper, A5: This little drawing made on the spot continues this fascination with the river flowing on it's way behind vertical (and not so vertical) trees. I am storing these up in my head and one day will make paintings when I have decided how to go about it!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Dancing with the Devil

Pastel on paper, A5: I keep coming up with these ides for paintings and don't know when I'll get the time to do them. Like this one. Playing around with figures and how I can combine them to make something new. Dancing is always a favourite theme as it brings both male and female together, but how to make it more interesting? I am always looking for situations away from the traditional or 'normal' (whatever that is) to make a more dramatic image. Here I have placed what appears to be the female figure against the dominant male (?) who is naked and coloured a dangerous red for dramatic effect. This could be Salsa at the Copacabana. I can feel the rythm and my feet can't stop moving to the beat!

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Foggy Christmas Eve

Pencil and watercolour on paper, 2xA4: With Christmas fast approaching I thought I would post this drawing made a few years ago while on holiday at Crieff Hydro in the Scottish highlands. I made the sketch direct from the subject standing in the freezing cold while this fog swirled around me. It reminds me of the song 'Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer' when "Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say: Rodolf with your nose so bright won't you pull my sled tonight!" So I put a little spot of orangy-red light in the window to show the way!

Friday, 14 December 2007

The Yellow Pot

Pencil and watercolour on paper, A5: This little study was done to explore colour combinations and cropping of objects to produce a more absrtact view of this intimate world of two pots and a Rhododendron flower head. I learned a lot from this exercise and developed a greater freedom in my use of watercolours than previously.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Chicken-headed Man Goes Swimming

Ball Pentel pen and watercolour on paper, A4: This strange persona came from a doodle in my sketchbook which was calling out to be worked up into an illustration. Who knows what it signifies although often when I go swimming with fishes on holiday I'm really a bit "chicken", rarely go out of my depth, and am always looking behind me expecting a Great White or something to be silently stalking me. See what 'Jaws' has done to us? Made us feart to go in the water!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Blue Eyeshadow

Felt pen and watercolour on paper, 15x15cm. Small drawing made in a sketchbook exploring further the combination of felt-pen markers and watercolour washes. I really love doing this sort of thing but I've got to be in that drawing "mood" for it to work properly otherwise I can't do a thing. This is fun because it is so small it doesn't take long and I will know very quickly if it's going to work or not. Therefore not a lot of effort expended if it fails!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Sheeps Skull

ink and watercolour on paper, A4. Presently working through old sketchbooks and trying to make something more prepossessing than the original pencil sketches. This sheeeps skull, with tufts of hair still attached looks a lot better drawn in ink with some slight washes of colour to enliven (if that is the right term!) it.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Figure Composition

charcoal on paper, A4. Composition and value sketch. A simple construct with two female figures to the fore and a third, male, figure in background with it's looming presence.
watercolour on paper, A4. Colour study with a range of harmonic blues set off by the complementary yellow. The figures are intentionally not drawn or painted too clearly because it is the more abstract shapes I want to express, and how these interlock. I would like to find this semi-abstract means of expression whereby the figures are there to be seen but they are treated abstractly much in the manner of Keith Vaughan whose work has long attracted me.
In the early 1970's I bought this book of his shown below and, although his type of artwork has I think gone out of fashion, I am still intrigued by it (like most things from the 1950's and 60's). I want to be the one who takes the baton from KV and runs with it adding my own interests and vision. It's a long road and I haven't yet found the means but I will keep trying!
Keith Vaughan's Journal & Drawings, 1939 - 1965, published by Alan Ross of London in 1966. It was originally priced at 63shillings (about £3.15) and I got it for half-price paying £1.40. A bargain, and a constant source of inspiration!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Dream Maker

collage on paper, A4. Bringing together abstract shapes and complementary colours to make a new and hopefully attractive image.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Life Drawings Revisited

All drawn in charcoal on A4 paper.
It's very strange how after an intense period of painting such as 'Winter Solstice' and 'Miss Lovely Legs' has left me a bit drained and short of ideas for the present. It's at times like these (because it has happened before, and I'm sure it will happen again) that my only recourse is to turn to my sketchbooks and see if I can find inspiration there. Although I may have no ideas in my head as to what I want to do next it is in those pages that I invariably find something to stimulate my imagination and get me going again. It may not happen immediately but the seeds are sown and ideas run around until the 'Big Idea' makes it'self known to me and off I go again. In the meantime I play around with what I've got like these life drawings trying to give them a new edge that will set me off on a new direction. I can tell you the mists are gathering at present and I know good things are about to happen, but I am taking it easy at the moment and letting the pot come to the boil first. Soon it will boil over and I'll be trying something new for every thing I do is an exploration and experimentation!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Hail Caledonia!

Thistles of Scotland: pencil, felt pens and watercolour on paper, A4.

I was very keen to post something on flickr to celebrate Scotlands national day, St Andrews Day, and all week was applying some creative thought to what it would be - without much success I might add. I couldn't come up with anything that wasn't too over-sentimantal or maudlin' (which is the same thing, I think?). All week I tried and yesterday finally got into the studio - it was make or break! Well as it happens it was "break"! Came up with a design (top) but somehow couldn't translate it into a satisfactory painting. I think I had put myself under too much pressure trying to complete it in one afternoons work when I probably wasn't totally convinced myself about it. Made three attempts at painting - in oils, acrylics, and watercolours, but abandoned each in turn as unsatisfactory. That was when I turned to my sketchbooks and came across a watercolour sketch made direct from life of a group of thistles. Both the composition and the drawing weren't that strong so I re-drew them, adding a couple more to strengthen the composition, and painted it with bold washes finishing with some felt pen markers to pick out finer lines like the spikes. A hover-fly alighting on a toorie completed the sketch which was duly posted to some acclaim from some of my regular corresspondents. So a successful end to an unsuccessful day. We went out to celebrate this our National Day as you would expect - Chinese meal of Noodle soup followed by Sweet and sour chicken and fried rice, then on to The Village Theatre to see an extremely funny gay man (Craig Hill) in a kilt cracking laugh out loud jokes, often at his own expense, but also at others, singing and dancing. The boy comes from East Kilbride and was extremely well recieved although when asked no-one in the audience admitted to being gay! All in all an interesting and varied day. What more can we ask?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Miss Lovely Legs

Oils on canvas, 40x50cm. I once knew a girl who won a "Miss Lovely Legs" competition because she had in deed lovely legs. Not really like this girl on the right but when I see young women in a skirt and she has these two sticks hanging down like straps of liquorish I smile and think of her!
This is my favourite way of picture-making - old canvas with a "failed" painting with it's ready-made textures and fragmented colour, which I couldn't make up if I tried, which I then overlay with fresh impasto colour. The new layer hits and misses in a kind of 'happy accident' kind of way wich I love. Here the two female figures are painted relatively abstractly and expressively with good strong colour. They are, however, being watched by another figure from just outside the picture plane with a rather dubious face which comes from I do not know, it just is. And it lends it a kind of unsettling air which I like. This is no pretty-pretty representation of females but a darker expression of perhaps models on a catwalk being observed as they strut their stuff!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Winter Solstice

oils on canvas 3at40x50cm, and 2at 75x50cm. Since my trip to Arran I have been wondering about the standing stones drawings and how I could turn them into paintings. From initial study sketches the idea that somehow they should incorporate figures became strong. But anyway I could think of doing this was always too intrusive - should the figure/figures be somewhere in the background, or the foreground, embedded in the stone or skulking around the stones themselves. Then the idea struck that they could most definitely be separate paintings, but made to form a series. Having made some simple b&w charcoal sketches to explore this idea I was convinced. I could see this set as a running mural by selecting canvases all of the same height and linking them with common features, for example the dark skyline and landform contours across the centre of each. And, of course, colour common to all. They were painted in the following sequence: Painting 1 (male figure), Painting 5 (female figure), Painting 4 (standing stones), Painting 3 (male figure), and Painting 2 (standing stones). Paintings 1 and 5 were painted over previous oil paintings of light blue tone and both considered as "failures". The others were painted on fresh canvases with no underlying texture but stained light blue. As the paintings developed one after the other the concept crysalised that they should represent the Winter Solstice, primarily because the subject of standing stones and ancient peoples seem to go well together, and, of course, the shortest day is fast approaching.

Sunday, 18 November 2007


collage on board, 30x45cm. Another attempt at cutting and pasting this time using disparate facial elements to create a new "face" in a more abstract way.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Collages 1 and 2

I've been working this week with collage. I am fascinated by this artform and often try my hand at it hopefully coming up with some decent images. I work fairly intuitively but would like to develop a more robust design intention. At the moment my intentions are in working more abstractly than representationally and usually including figures in some shape or form. The figures however don't necessarily need to be recognisable, just the use of their forms. With a bit more effort I hope to refine this into stronger, more organic, images. I'll keep trying!

Sunday, 11 November 2007


watercolours on paper, 25x34cm. For those who died to protect my freedom.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Burning Man

Don't know how both these pics were uploaded twice, and I don't know how to delete just these two, so you will just have to enjoy them all over again. Two for the price of one!
Charcoal on paper, 43x59cm. Original sketch exploring the idea of a 'Guy' sitting atop a bonfire being consumed by flames!
Acrylics on paper, 43x59cm. A few days late but this was painted on the eve of Guy Fawkes Night to express something of the moment I enjoyed when a youngster. Today, however, and a youngster no longer, the whole event I fear has gotten out of hand. No more just 'Catherine Wheels' or sparklers, but sub-atomic 'bombs' which shake the very foundations of your house! I prefer my memory of the event which was full of wonder at the fireworks exploding high in the air without bursting your eardrums at the same time! Back then even I didn't realise the effect on animals. Now we have a cat I see first-hand just how distressed this little animal gets with the whiz-bangs. he dives under the sofa and trembles there for hours until it is over. Thankfully now legislation in Scotland requires that the setting off of fireworks must end by 11 o'clock at night. Not always adhered to but generally it quietens down and the cat can come out of his bolt-hole and go out chasing meeces!

Friday, 2 November 2007

Fair is Foul

Acrylics on canvas, 60x60cm.
Another 'Halloween' painting this time taking my text from Shakespears Macbeth (Act 4, Scene,1) in which the three 'midnight hags' are brewing up a "hell-broth" to cast a charm on the murdering Thane of Cawdor.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Weel done, Cutty-sark!

How crazy is this - for two days, gripped by Halloween fever, I'm painting The Devil playing his pipes for the risen dead to dance madly around like banshees while dead bodies, still in their coffins standing open like "open presses", holding candles to illuminate the proceedings! This comes from the fantastic poem of Robert Burns - 'Tam O'Shanter'. What better poem to illustrate than this tale of a souzled farmer returning home on a dark, dark, night and coming upon these scenes in a derelict churchyard. So mesmerised was he that he forgot himself and cheered out loud "Weel done, Cutty-sark" to applaud the dancing. "In an instant all was dark" and the the hellish legion set off after him and his horse, Maggie, only to be saved by the skin of their teeth on crossing the Auld Brig at Ayr. Maggie, however, lost her tail to the bony grasp of 'Nannie', a deathly carlin. "And left poor Maggie scarce a stump"!

Saturday, 27 October 2007


Acrylics on canvas, 60x60cm.
On my recent visit to Arran for my working holiday I took with me four canvases each 60cm square. I am intrigued by this sqare format and think that I can do wonderful things with them - they are a good shape for placing two decent sized figures side-by-side, or a single subject filling the whole surface. The intention was to take these canvases with me out on field trips and paint direct from life, but I took cold feet, not wanting to stand about in public painting at an easle. I have done it before but maybe I'm getting too old for it, certainly more reticent about exposing myself in public to the looks and comments of passers-by. I hate being a side-show for the tourists especially when I am struggling to make a decent painting worthy of viewing.
So these four boards were kept firmly indoors at the cottage where I was staying where i had set myself up in a makeshift studio in the kitchen/dining room. This painting came from one session where I allowed myself to open up and freely express some of the thoughts in my head. Or in this case these two heads - one full of energy and life, and the other, darker, a shadow of it's friend. The concept I was exploring (again) is one of personal duality. In fact that's what I'll call it 'Duality'.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Coire Fhionn Lochann

COIRE FHIONN LOCHAN: pencil on paper, A5 sketchbook. This small lochan, cupped in a bowl below craggy mountain-tops, was the reward for an arduous climb. A dark shadow from one of the peaks cuts right across the surrounding hillside, and the water lies still in parts with a slight ripple in others, reflecting the blue sky between towering cloud formations.
This was probably one of the hardest climbs I have ever made. Rarely venturing above the tree-line I started on this climb thinking it was only a couple of miles like the sign-post said. What it didn't say was that it was also about a mile vertical! Here I am at just about the top looking back over the Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre, and you can just faintly see, over my right shoulder, the Papps of Jura!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Dougarie Point

DOUGARIE POINT, MACHRIE BAY: I like to visit this corner of Arran every time I visit. It is quite wild and has a small beach that I like to sit at, eat my lunch perhaps, and do a little daydreaming. I can watch Grey Seals in the water and Peregrine Falcons zipping around the cliff-faces. This little sketch was done in an A5 sketchpad with Neocolours and I can vouch for the intensity of the water because it was a beautiful sunny afternoon with a cloudless sky.
This sketch was also done in an A5 sketchbook and was an attempt to express in colour the waves crashing into a small gully instead of merely rendering the scene realistically.

Saturday, 20 October 2007


THE DOON FROM THE EAST: pencil on paper, A5 sketchbook. This rock stands proud on a promontary on the west coast of Arran near Blackwaterfoot. The approach passes one of the best golf courses I have ever played, certainly the most entertaining - Shiskine - a 12 hole gem with all sorts of flags and indicators to show when a green is clear to play to because most of them are blind! The scenery and views around this course are magnificent, especially on a nice day (of course!). On the other side of the Doon is rolling farmland with buzzards hovering above. You follow the fence-line towards the lower end and then climb a not-so-gentle slope to the top where the panoramic views back over Blackwaterfoot, south down the Kilbrannan Sound towards Ireland, west across to the Mull of Kintyre, and north up the Sound, are absolutely stunning. This was one of the first sketches I made on my first day in order to get myself going and make some marks in my sketchbook. I then climbed the hill to have a look at it's standing stone and visible remains of a small settlement. The day was so nice that I spent a while just sitting, contemplating, while looking out over the water (searching for whales or dolphins, without any luck!) THE DOON FROM THE WEST: pencil on paper, A5 sketchbook. This western side of the Doon is very dramatic with it's vertical cliff-face, home to a large group of crows and jackdaws which rise up in a wild bunch calling out their raucous presence for me to hear.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Standing Stones

Auchengallon Stone Circle. All over the Island of Arran there are the remains of human activity from thousands of years ago. They can mostly be found to the west around Drumadoon and Machrie Moor, but also in the very south of the island at Torrylin (see below). I find these sites fascinating and like to run my hand over the stones that ancient peoples put so much effort into raising from the beaches to, usually, high vantage points. Many of these circles are burial chambers, like Torrylin, but also they mark the sites of habitation.
Torrylin Chambered Cairn, Kilmory. This is to the south of the island and stands high on a promentory overlooking the Firth of Clyde as it stretches south towards Ailsa Craig and the the Irish Sea

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Amazing Sunsets over Kintyre

Sunset 1: Neocolour on paper, A5 sketchbook. These two colour studies were an attempt to describe the way I felt about the sunsets rather than exact representations of what was happening before my eyes. I wanted to capture an expression of the high intensity and blinding colour as the sun sank gloriously below the hills across Kilbrannan Sound.
Sunset 2: The suns glaring intensity prohibits actually looking directly at it and in looking away with semi-closed eyes the blinding yellow light takes on it's complementary cerulean blue.