On my last trip to the Scottish north-west I deliberately left my big sketch books at home, and undertook the self-imposed assignment of trying to portray the immense vistas of mountain and loch on paper no bigger than 15 x 20cm (6 x 9in). I soon discovered the advantage of completing work quickly, before the ever-changing light conditions altered the scene too dramatically. Stable weather is one thing notoriously (but happily) absent in the Highlands. The small book was also less unwieldy, and I was able to simply sit on any convenient rock for a few minutes whenever a suitable subject presented itself. Below is a selection of some of the drawings.
On a more personal note, sadly my wife and I made this trip alone, as our dog Chasca, our faithful travelling companion for more than thirteen years, died shortly before we left. This photo was one of the last, taken on a trip earlier this year, camping on Rannoch Moor, gazing towards the distant mountains of Glen Coe.
Chasca and me
Making the first Rory McGlory and Captain Whoosh book was such good fun there just had to be another. And already I feel a third coming on…
Below are a couple of images from a book I am working on, Rory McGlory and Captain Whoosh, a humorous story for young readers. The text is finished, all that’s left to do is put it together in Createspace.
The Lord Mayor
On a recent tour of the west coast of Scotland my wife and I followed for a time the Rock Route, learning something along the way of the geological past. Tectonic plates colliding, mountain ranges thrown up, mighty glaciers – it sounded a spectacular show to anyone who happened to be there at the time. But of course, I realised, these events happen so slowly they would be imperceptible, even over a thousand generations. In fact they haven’t stopped. The world is still as active a place as it has ever been, the land is even now in constant motion, and I’ve tried to incorporate that idea into this landscape.
Recently I came across a sketchbook of mine from about 25 years ago, when I had some limited access to the vast steel making complex on Teesside while preparing for my solo exhibition, entitled ‘Iron and Steel’. The work seems rather topical now, with the steel making industry in the news under threat of imminent closure. The sketchbook is A3, and as each of the images is a double spread, the size is approximately 60cm by 40cm (24in by 16in).
Once again this year my wife and I have been drawn to the West Coast of Scotland, touring the highways and byways from Oban to Scourie. The scenery is almost overwhelming; here is my most resent acrylic painting, ‘Shadow of the Mountain’, 30cm x 90cm:
…is the provisional title for this piece; black ink drawing on paper, approx 50cm x 40cm.
I’m expecting that the first reaction will be some confusion at what initially seems a random series of lines and dots, as there is no hint of shading or colour to help with the definition. Hopefully this will invite closer inspection, when it should resolve itself. The town depicted doesn’t actually exist, but is a product of my imagination, and the industrial works that intertwine about it – the ‘process’ of the title – serve to tie the image together. Working with black ink on white paper has an advantage over working with paint, in that I can carry on even when reasonable daylight isn’t available, a common situation at this time of year.
Below are a few close-up details to give a better idea.
The Close, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
This painting is an interpretation in acrylics of a watercolour that was unfortunately damaged.
I thought the composition was too good not to be used again.
‘Strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit.’
So said Wally Byam, founder of Airstream travel trailers in 1929. For me a few days with my wife and our dog in our campervan goes some way to stirring the adventuresome spirit, and last summer we made several excursions to the area around Loch Lomond and Oban in the west of Scotland. We couldn’t help but be enchanted by the place; the serene calm of early morning mist on the mountains, the slow rise and fall of the tide in a still sea loch. I was inspired to record a few of my impressions in sketch books, and now I’ve had time to review them I can see the potential for a series of paintings.
Our campervan in a secluded spot.
I’ve set myself the goal of trying to recreate the ethereal, other-worldly sense of calm I felt in the mountains, where the physical details of the landscape are less important than the captivating atmosphere.
Cuil Bay, acrylic, 30 x 25cm (about 12 x 10in):
My Ideas Book is where almost everything starts, usually with a hazy outline that progressively becomes more concrete. Most compositions evolve through several incarnations before they become either finished pieces, or pieces put on the back burner, or things discarded altogether. I have been fascinated by pipes for a while– and I haven’t altogether finished with them yet – and the following sketches show some stages in the progression of an idea for two industrial buildings linked by pipes, as in some outrageous works.
Below is the initial idea:
The next image is of a further development:
I liked the way the pipes in this next drawing seemed to be reaching out to the second building, as if embracing it:
Belowis the latest version where the pipes have taken on a more unnerving aspect, as if they are grasping at the second building like a drowning person would reach at a lifebelt. I may take this idea further yet – time will tell.