Wednesday, 30 April 2008


Up at Wester Crosshill (see: wester-crosshill.html) there are some barns and outhouses associated with the farm which have nice characteristics and settings. They both sit up on a plateau and, like the house itself, are protected by a steep bank and big chunky trees. In both drawings I have distilled the scene, eliminating other buildings adjoining to make for a simpler statement.

Pastels on Ingres paper, 22x15cm: "Stone Barn"; The stonework has been repointed and cleaned up but the stains of many decades are still there like ghosts from the past.

Pastels on Ingres paper, 22x15cm:"Blue Barn"; Speaking of ghostliness this double roofed blue barn stands silent and ominous at the top of the slope and rather than paint the trees naturalistic I have painted them with complimentary mauves and purples just because!

This small painting can be purchased in my shop at Etsy:

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Loudon Hillside

OK, I said I wasn't going to talk about it, but just to show that I have moved on from that frightful day I am posting about the devilish mount that nearly done me in - Loudon Hill! Below is the beast in person, a big lump of rock standing out from the surrounding landscape like some great ominous carbuncle. Now I can't claim to have mastered this hill (yet) because there is no easy way up to the top (tho' I have seen a distant figure there once). The last time I tried it defeated me largely because I am nothing but a big feartie! It gets steeper and steeper towards the top and I knew for a wee guy of my advancing years it was too much. I could just imagine having to call out the Royal Navy helicopter to rescue me having climbed my way to the top but scared stiff about climbing back down again!

Loudon Hill: When I look at the photo again it doesn't scare me one bit but what you don't see is the steep hill down from where I stand, down, down, to the burn which I've got to leap across, then up, up, over the dyke, past the sheep, and up further to the tree line, legs screaming out in pain, and gasping for breath (I must be very unfit!) It's definitely not easy but I climb to a spot within the trees on the extreme right and set up my easel and start to draw while hanging on to an oak tree for stability and to stop myself from falling back down the slope! At this point I know you are thinking: "He's mad!" So what - I'd rather be mad and alive than sane and letting my life slip by without experiences like this. It would have been better if my drawings had been worth the effort, but then you can't have everything in this life! Here is my chosen view:

Hillside Trees: Looks a bit un-prepossessing in this photo but believe me if it wasn't for the screen of trees you would think you were falling off the edge of the world!

Now, I am still not going to show the drawings I did from this precarious position, for they are a complete embarassment, but I am happy to report that their bare bones led me to this pastel painting:
Neocolours on paper, 43x30cm: "Loudon Hillside"; I have made many attempts at this painting using watercolours and dry pastels but every time I have failed. It occurred to me today that the reason was in trying to paint it naturalistically when my heart was crying out for something else, something with MORE life in it. Art is surely about being selective and expressing something from the heart rather than dully re-stating what's already there. For me, a camera can do that. I want to go further, into the realms of the imagination expressing how I FEEL about the view. I try but don't know what I achieve. All I can say is this image satisfies me more, and that is enough.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Song of Spring

After a completely disastrous day yesterday (and I don't even want to talk about the 30 miles I drove, the mountain I climbed, the dreadful drawings I did, the rain that dripped on me, and the cold backside I got) today was a new day and sunny with it. Rather than drive to some far off location looking for inspiration I looked no further than my own back yard (and there I go with my Americanisms again - must be all that exposure to my Friends Across The Pond through this internet thingy!). Back to my back yard, or as we more reserved and refined British call it - the garden. How many times have I painted this patch of Rhubarb? As many times as there are stalks in a pie! I just can't get away from them. While everything else in the garden is struggling to show itself against that cold, cold North wind, these stalks are gathering pace. And so are the flower heads which I know should be cut off, but this year I've decided to let them grow just to see what they look like. Hopefully they will be as good visually and as inspiring as the red stalks. I've never ever seen Rhubarb flowers so I look forward to the show. In the meantime I'll record them as they form and grow. First up is an initial simple colour study:

Pastels on ingres paper, 22x15cm: "Red Rhubarb"; This small sketch was done just to get the juices flowing. The shadows have been painted blue rather than the natural dark brown to pump up the volume and make these stalks sing out - "Eat me!"

This small painting above can be purchased in my shop at Etsy:

Pastels on Ingres paper, 41x30cm: "Red Rhubarb Stalks"; In this larger piece I am playing around with the ground colour again, this time using analogous purples to the reds and complementary to the green. You can just hear them talking to one another - "Why that's a nice shade of green on your leaves, it really suits you" and the reply:"Well thanks for the compliment, I really like your purple and lilac dirt colours, they're". As my auld faither-in-law used to say - it's nice to be nice, it doesn't cost you anything!

All the time I'm sitting there on my little fold-away canvas chair, painting, up above me is this male Blackbird singing his heart out: "Look at me, up in a tree, swinging on a branch, singing sweet love songs, don't the ladies just love me!" I look up and am dazzled by the clear and deep blue Spring sky with pink blossom bursting from the network of Prunus Kanzan branches. You've got to take the inspiration from whatever direction it come from:

Pastels on coloured paper, 30x22cm: "Song of Spring"; I'm just grateful he didn't pass any rude comments on the quality of my pastel paintings!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Travelling Studio Laid Bare

A right dreich day in the West of Scotland until quite late in the afternoon when the sun struggled out. So confined to baracks today it gave me some time to organise my output for 2008 up to date, creating a database and logging in paintings, giving them titles and noting their dimensions etc. Threfore not much creativity going on (unless you count that letter to the Inland revenue) - probably a bit wabbit from yesterday's exploits - it was, after all a four mile walk round Chatelheraut Country Park. I thought rather than not post anything, and still on the theme of working "en plein air" I would reveal the contents of my travelling kit to show how little I actually carry with me, especially when painting with pastels: Travelling Kit Laid Bare: On the left is my new super-duper, turbo-charged lightweight sketching easel all neatly encased in it's natty waterproof carry bag (light as a feather!); the green mat is a sheet of waterproof foam-back for sitting on so the bugs don't get too intimate when I'm sitting down which I do from time-to-time especially when I take a sandwich break (sandwiches not shown since they were all consumed yesterday); on top of that sheet are from top left: small cardboard viewfinder; A4 Ingres paper pad on which is my box of pastels; pencil case with variety of drawing implements; small compass in case I get lost which is not often but as an erstwhile Boy Scout you need to "Be Prepared"; a small film case to keep an eraser clean; below that, a whistle to attract attention when I fall down some gully and need help!; a pen-knife for skinning rabbits for food if I get lost for a long time, or fighting off snakes; a lighter to start a fire to ward off wild beasts (Scotland can be a dangerous place, as can Italy, but that's another story!); a corkscrew because you never know when you will be invited to share a bottle with a passing traveller and he/she doesn't have one and you would both go thirsty; a small tripod so I can take great shots of myself with my camera; some business cards in a little plastic case ready for passing out to various dog-walkers and nosey-parkers who want to see what I'm doing unaware there is a cost involved. ie; commisioning that portrait of their dog/missus when they hadn't even thought of it yet; a length of string long enough to tie up my trousers if my belt ever fails; a leg of a pair of stretchy tights for all other emergencies; and a part roll of draughting tape for taping a sheet of paper to the drawing panel. On the right is my waterproof portfolio/carry case to hold that thin plywood drawing panel, sheets of Ingres paper; and cartridge paper. The small notebook is for those rare moments I am transported in a poetic sense and need to jot down my musings. At the back is my Wild Rover rucksac wich carries all the stuff on the green mat AND my sandwiches. The cat is just being a pest as usual and isn't normally included in the kit even though he is a kitty! I could make this even lighter if I tried but would'nt go out without each of these items. The only addition I normally take not shown here is a small bottle of water which I dispensed with yesterday only to regret it half-way into my trek around the park. This pastel that follows was carried out last week at another of my favourite Country Parks - the Calderglen just on the edge of my hometown, East Kilbride:
Pastels on paper, 15x20cm: "Pinewoods": Tall, dark, pines creating a screen to the colourful fields and river beyond.

Lastly, the one thing I forgot to mention on yesterday's blog was the passing thought as I stood there deep in those woodlands fully engaged in painting with birds calling and a river beside me was: "This is why I gave up full-time working and this is what I want to do with my life!"
I came home a very happy man.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


What a fantastic day! Spring has definitely sprung at long last with warm and sunny day weather. Inspired by the exploits of marilyn king with her first adventure into the Great Outdoors I set off this morning all packed up with my own Outside Studio shown here on location at Chatelherault Country Park near Hamilton.
This is my new super-duper turbo-charged Royal Langnickel Sketching Easel in action (below). Well, perhaps I overstate it's super qualities but it is the lightest sketching easel I have found yet. And it is very fast to put up. It is made of lightweight aluminium and has snap-on clips like a camera tripod so it is dead easy to set up in jig-time. It also has this nifty little triangle thing that clips in between the legs (the tripod legs that is, not mine!) which gives it super rigidity, AND it is a great place for me to lay my rucksac off the ground and within easy reach whenever I want one of my sandwiches...oops...I mean my pastels. As you can see I am able to set the bar on a slight angle for my drawing panel (3mm plywood). It's like standing at a drawing board in the studio (which is how I like to draw) except I'm outside with little birdies chirruping just over my left shoulder. Leaning against the right tripod leg is my zipper portfolio bag which I use to carry the drawing board, sheets of cartridge paper, an Ingres pastel pad, and some sheets of newspaper inside which I place pastel drawings to protect them in transit. With it's shoulder-strap I really look quite the artist and get lots of admiring glances! The easel collapses into a very small carry-bag making the total ensemble what all serious Plein Airtists aspire to.

Outside Studio set up on a sunny hillside approaching Chatelherault House - a hunting lodge and summer house built some 250 years ago by the Duke of Hamilton. Designed by the renowned Scottish architect, William Adam, it overlooks the clyde valley and Hamilton town.

Pastels on Ingres paper, 22x15cm: "The House on the Hill": A quick sketch in a small sketchpad just to get me going.

Pastel on Ingres paper, 22x15cm: "Woodland Walk".

Pastels on Ingres paper, 29x22cm: "The River Avon".

Pastels on Ingres paper, 40x30cm: River Rocks.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Good Things Come in Threes

Still running amuck with these new pastels, drawing everything in sight; like these three tulips from Amsterjam, and the birch trees in my garden:

Pastels on Ingres paper, 15x20cm: "The Three Vriendin": Pretty fancy these three pals with their natty red stripes on bright yellow petals. You would need to be a blooming blind bee to miss these while out shopping for honey!

Pastels on Ingre paper, 15x20cm: "My Bold Birches": If you don't have exactly the right colour in your hand then use one you do!

I should have added that I made my very first sale on the internet yesterday through Etsy. So that's the first; now I just need another two to make up a trio of Good Things!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

New Pastels

Just trying out my new pastels which I bought on Thursday. Intentionally kept the range of colour to mainly blues, a couple of greens, two yellows, a pink and white. They don't mean anything although the third could be a seascape and the last one is definitely some sort of face!

Pastels on Ingres paper, 15x20cm.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Wester Crosshill

It's great to get out of the studio again after being stuck in almost all winter. Today was just the kind of day I like: sunny but with lots of cloud formations to make it interesting. Still very cold though. After visiting a friend in hospital, and amazed at his fortitude and forward positive thinking, I had to get out sketching always wanting to make the most of every day. Took a walk over to Wester Crosshill not far from where I live. This old farm house was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland by the previous owner - an old lady (now) who lived in the house all her married life and left it just a few years ago exactly as it always was since the 1920's with all the original furniture. The National Trust continue to run it as part of a wider project with the Museum of Farming Life _ a new building housing artifacts and farming machinery from a bygone age. Fascinating stuff, and the museum has a good (if a little expensive) cafe/restaurant.
Wester Crosshouse stands at the top of a wooded hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. This is the drawing I made:

Pastels on paper, 40x30cm: "Wester Crosshill": This is the view seen on approach up the hill from the South. It is almost castle-like and perhaps a bit grim! The other elevations are much friendlier, with a sense of the classical even and an entrance conservatory. But I have often liked this view best with the mature tree forms standing there in front protecting it.

Monday, 14 April 2008

A Pastel Journey Round My Garden

Another beautiful day and even quite warm up at the back of the garden with a strengthening sun. So after a frustrating morning getting pulled this way and that, I finally managed to get myself out into the garden to do a bit of pastel painting direct from life. First up was this spray of Forsythia flowers:
Pastel on Ingres paper, 38x29cm: "Forsythia". Set against a dark background of Viburnum leaves and the branches of a leafless Rowan I sat on my little fold-away chair for ages wondering how the heck I was going to do this! Decided the best place to start was the principal subject itself - the Forsythia flower groupings on their narrow branches, then working round the flower shapes with dark undergrowth on one side and brighter on the other. It turned out better than I expected. Encouraged, I moved along to these emerging Rhubarb stalks and leaves:

Pastel on Ingres paper, 38x29cm: "Rhubarb". I have been watching these leaves develop over the last few days and it seems like you can actually see them grow by the minute! I wanted to treat this as fairly abstract, which I hope I have achieved. Note the two little bulbous growths centre left which I believe are flower buds. These little chappies will sadly have to get cut off before too long otherwise I will not get enough stalks for my favourite annual crumble! Moving right along I come to this clump of Daffodils which are now going over:
Pastel on Ingres Paper, 38x29cm: "Last of the Daffodils". Yet another subject I had no idea how to approach, so just sat for a while drawing them in my head before plunging in. I wanted to get the sense of all the stalks falling down, like cascading water, after standing to attention for the past 5 or 6 weeks and some of the flower heads begining to look tatty. Who knows if I captured that, but still content with the finished image. Wolf Khan I'm not, but then he is not me either!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

On the Beach

A very unusual day for early April in Scotland; the sun was shining (it was even quite warm) and we spent the afternoon on the beach at Croy Bay, near Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast, sitting on our little fold-away chairs drinking coffee from a flask and eating chocolate biscuits. Heaven! And I was doing some pastel sketching. Inspired by the work of Casey Klahn (who reminded me of that other American pastel hero, Wolf Khan) I took some of my own pastels with me and spent a very pleasant afternoon watching the sun slowly track across a high azzure sky, sparkling off the sea, and listening to gentle waves break on the long beach. With kids and their grandparents splashing at the seas' edge, dog-walkers exercising their four-legged friends, and courting lovers embracing in long kisses without a care who was watching.

Pastel on paper, 15x10cm: Ailsa Craig on the dark-blue horizon with a placid blue sea and wide stretches of damp sand. Pastel on paper, 15x10cm: Kids playing on the sand.

pastel on paper, 15x10cm: Looking over to Culzean Castle and the headland at Turnbury.

Pastel on paper, 15x10: Walkin' the dawg! Dark figures contre-jour on the wet sands as the tide turns and starts to charge back in. This is perhaps the best image of all, although the others do look better in actual fact - I need to find a better way of recapturing pastels for viewing on the internet.
Maw and Paw Broon!: Me with my bunnet and the missus (Jacqueline) with a cup of hot coffee and a chockie biscuit! Grumpy lookin' auld bugger with wet patches on my knees where I was kneeling on the sand to set up the self-timer on my camera. At least I got our heads in, which is more than J can do holding the camera in her hands!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Working from sketches because this cat does not stay still even when apparently out for the count! There is no way on this earth I could ever set up my painting equipment and paint direct from life, even life that is catnapping. He would just know I was there and, as soon as I was about to put brush to canvas, he would immediately turn around, show me his teeth, and settle down in another position. Then when I am about to start again he will do the same again. And so on. You get the picture. But I don't! The solution to this problem is to sit for ages with pencil in hand and do a bundle of sketches, some of which might actually be completed far enough to make something more. Like these two:

Oils on primed cardboard, 20x15cm: "With His Head Tucked Underneath His Tail" I like the fact that you know it's a cat but where on earth is his head!!!!

Oils on canvas, 40x3ocm: "In Slumberland": This cat is the bane of my life but I love him like nothing else. He is wild yet buttermice wouldn't melt in his mouth. Every morning when he comes in after a night terrorising the local mouse community the first thing he looks for, after a small snack, is a cuddle on my knee. Don't know what I'd do without him. This was painted to a much larger scale than the other paintings I've been working on simply because I thought it required it.