The nights have been cold, the days bright blue and sunny. More frosts in April this year than ever before on record – thats weather for you!
An orienteers planning meeting gave us ligitimacy to travel to the centre of Scotland, yes really… Its marked by a huge rock on a site just south of Newtonmore, about half a mile from where we parked the van. The river Spey ran slowly, lazilly enough to hide its direction of flow: through the valley below – and snow is still visible on the mountain tops.
The slight nippet breeze confused the rivers flow – making it appear right to left, but debris in the trees disguarded by the winter floods assured of occasional fast flow of left to right.
I lay on the grass beside the river. Warmed by the sun and cooled by the sharp breeze. Then listening, watching and painting. Weighing up the irrational and rational internal discussion. The water, dark and deeply enticing, the awareness of chill, snowmelt. Never disappointing, but still needing an inner conviction. Checking resolve. Entry and exit.
I lay listening – birds unaware of being heard, the river, the motorbikes, no planes. I sat drawing. Washing being placed on the line. A task familier to so many, made less drudgery by its setting, in the valley below the mountains.
Overcoming the anziety of driving big vehicles while pulling machinery behind, is helped by the desire to assist daughter and partner in at least some of the many tasks they have taken on. Living a life of journeying, with no possibility of reaching an end. It takes a different mind set to cope with a never ending, cyclical trail of jobs. In a small way, it is illustrated by owning a dog or other animal. Or cooking daily meals. Through a satisfaction of planning the menu, preparing and cooking and eating. A series of small journeys enjoyed and completed.
I felt intimate with the landscape, observing the surface, its undulations, the plants. Where the grasses grew taller or spacer, where brambles encroach and where reeds reveal underlying dampness.
I now yearn to paint. Having such time of close observation, while hampered in the cab of a land-rover – even though it felt in some ways as meditative as taking paint brush to paper.
The river looks like milky coffee, full of snow melt and earth run off. It swishes, swirls, swoops fast past the bottom of the garden. The same southerly wind that has transformed the snow back into water, has breathed the air and earth with gentle warmth. The iron hard ground softening enough to allow the first floral delights to emerge.
Such a transformation – barely 4 days from white to colour at home. And with the snows receeding I feel my spirit lighten. It was a magical time, but Narnias snow only suited the wicked queen, its charm short lived, how quickly we yearn for some warmer sun and springtime growth.
If we hadn’t stopped to help a car driver, bottomed out on a snowdrift. If we had walked past or walked faster.
We chose the more sheltered woodland paths, because the wind that had caused so much snow to pile up in drifts, was cutting cold and fierce. Over half way round our meandering loop we met a family group with dogs. They were brisk and tence and had been using a dog whistle. And we could hear they continued to do so as we progressed on our walk.
Nearer home than away, we saw a young alsation trying to get over a sheep fence – two rows of barbed wire at its hight. I guessed it could be this dog that was being summonsed by the whistle, it was distressed and agitated. And then I saw a deer on the snow…
It was apparent that the alsation had only just killed the deer and was now fretting to get back to its owner, who at that moment appeared from the woods. Together, we helped the dog over the wire and I asked if she wanted to do anything with the deer. No way…
So we dragged it home and did the job of gralloching, skinning and butchering. It took three hours, but felt right on a couple of levels. Not to leave the dead deer to rot and waste and to challenge ourselves to the task of dealing with the carcass.
It’s not art what we did, but the walk reminded me of an art piece. Shed Boat Shed, by Simon Starling. To walk and be willing to engage with things that you come across, unquestioningly. To see a car stuck and to help dig and push, that slowed our progress – so all things become part of the journey, planned and unplanned. Like painting, when I start with an intention, but allow diversions and changes on route in order to effect a solution.
It is winter. And as the saying goes – ‘As the days get longer, the cold gets stronger’
A series of freezing nights, temperatures as low as – 8 have frozen over the ponds nearby, making a rare playground for skaters, ice hockey and all those who cannot resist the thrill and call of this new territory.
I have started a small dedicated sketch book to fill with images from the extraordinary spectacle. At the weekend there was a festival feel, families coming to experience walking on ice, watching skaters and chatting over the madness or sanity of it all.
This too will pass…
I wonder if I will see the like again, and get more images in my wee book.
Not sure ‘risk’ is the right word, but it was extremely cold and icy underfoot when I set oot sketching with my stoic buddy, Sarah. Apart from our sketching kit, she also had fine provisions, hot homemade soup and warming elderberry liqueur. I took hearty sour dough rolls which were much improved by dipping in both.
We found a place to sit in the winter sun, it would have been impossible to keep warm enough in the shade. I started safe with three tone sketch – and very glad of the wee lightweight foam seat that Sarah provided… I have ordered some for myself.
We wondered through the pathways towards the river Don and so to the lairds domain. The subject for sketches was prescribed by finding a sheltered spot in the sun again. It may be a watery winters sun and weak in strengh, but it was essential.
In our strolls we met other walkers, the relaxed chats we had were encouraged by the windless beauty of the day. Every time we progressed, we had the opportunity to talk and catch up with friends and acquaintances alike.
I have sketched at the dam for many years. It is a most favored spot. And not a surprise to me that many others were enjoying the space that day. We found a place to sit in the last of the sunshine and ate our picnic.
Puddle with a bit of colour, I was warmed by the whole day and a hot bath when I got home.
The studio is a mess, without the focus of weekly classes, it piles up untidied. Lock down time has no perimeters, no deadlines or dates to brace and girdle. Weekdays, weekends, all days merging.
It seems that last year managed to pass like a rudderless boat. A year which had no direction was becalmed by uncertainty.
Now – with the new year 2021, I am putting structure into my days that assumes that uncertainty, closures and cancellations will continue. Instead of bobbing aimlessly on this ocean of time, I will use the space it gives me more positively.
I am making sketch books from my stash of card, paper and scraps. Painting the view from my studio window, and progressing ‘Locked In Friendship’. (series of monoprints depicting friends, family and colleagues.)
It’s a start. And a continuation…
Each day, with different light, the trees demand different composition. Once started the conundrum takes over, it is an ever changing puzzle of colours, tones and shapes.
Since ‘Nothing’ comes from nothing. Something may come from something.
There is – what I refer to as the glory hole, it is the place where I stash stuff. (You know what I mean, those things, might be useful,.. Someday.) It is a big space, the size of a horses stable and stuff has been stashed there for many years. Enough years for it to be a few years since I realised it was so crammed, that I couldn’t get into it to retrieve anything useful.
So on a sunny day in November, the beggining of another lock down, booted and gloved and masked (it being very dusty, bird pooed and home to spiders). I set too. With courage and the intention to burn anything flammable or tip anything dumpable and thereby to make the space accessible.
In the course of the day I looked over drawings and paintings – some to save but many to destroy. Equipment that could still be useful, a wooden rug weaving gismo, a trestle table, picture frames and many rolls of paper. Boxes full of bubble wrap – (How I dislike that ‘stuff’.)
I found a small screen printing bed which Fiona Chance (fine printmaker and all round talented creative), gave me at least 15 years ago. It has been sad and unused all that time. I toyed with putting it on the fire pile, but instead, without any real conviction I put it in the studio to clean.
Forward two weeks – I had a call from friends in London. Excitedly talking of an idea they had to give a print as a present to key members of their workforce. This Team that has been challenged beyond imagining to adapt, re-invent, create working solutions to keep their business ‘Wallaespace’ afloat. The theme of the commission to be ‘Python’. (The uk government have ‘Cobra’)
Pythons are not a subject that I have ever even pondered. I am not drawn to or interested in reptiles and I have certain never considered that I would accept a commission relating to a snake. But I stirred by Roy and Renata’s enthusiasm and found myself considering the brief. Firstly in a pragmatic way. How could I create 15 or so images, using the same technigues, so that each one was original, of the same quality, but not nessesarilly totally unique. It had to be a production line of sorts to fulfil the brief in a relatively tight time frame. (Christmas oh blighted Christmas)
I sent these suggestion off on Saturday, three days after the initial discussion. Sort of at my wits end. Thinking I had tried all the technigues that I could confidently repeat. But really I wasn’t happy with any of them and nor were the commissioners. I don’t know why I even sent the images, except maybe I needed to be told I was on the wrong track.
My mind continued filtering ideas as I went to bed, like index cards popping up – what about this, reject, what about that. I woke in the night with the wooden screen printing bed in my thaughts and a new drawing, stencils, two colours. In the morning first ting, I cleaned the dust and cobwebs off the screen.
And – They liked it. It was a leap of faith and I was excited by the image potential now.
Controlled chaos and happy accident came to play. Not surprisingly as I am completely inexperienced with the art and craft of printmaking – I cut the stencil using a robust thick cartridge paper – it was too thick. So I had to use a load of ink to squegie through its depth. Then with such a thickness of ink I was concerned about how long it would take to dry, so I placed another piece of paper (Tonking) exactly over the first and got a reversed image (monoprint). The process effectively halved the ink load and also squished the ink, softening the rather sharp stencil formed edges. Delightful.
Counter change is a key ingredient in my work and it was an important feature in resolving each piece. Reversal of tones, light against dark and dark against light. Positive and negative. It didn’t matter to me by then if it was a python or a woodland full of trees.
It was a trail of painting pleasure and creative solution in the depth of covid gloom. This the stuff of life.
Egg tempera – the words are heard and evoke past times for painters. In the BP portrait show this year there are at least two works with media – Tempera.
Over the years I have given my classes very few occasions to try this media. But this week, responding to a couple of people visiting the BP portrait show in Aberdeen art gallery and seeing the term Tempera as media for the paintings, we responded by making and working with our own egg tempera.
We drew roses.
We drew roses and then mixed the pigments, (lemon yellow, crimson, scarlet, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue) with distilled water and egg yoke. Using super fresh eggs laid by my chicken the previous day.
The tempera media is like painting with velvet. It is an effort to make, but is so forgiving to work with. Whether thinned with water or full intensity you can create smooth areas of paint. It covers rough or hot pressed surfaces and it is colour fast. It paints a matt, opaque colour, covers the surface well and can be layered – light over dark or dark over light. It is delightfully versatile… But mix it and then use it.. The downside of the medium is that it does not keep. So concequently it has gone out of favour and we have sold our souls to convenience. Paint makers have created more convenient paints. Acrylic paint was produced to solve all the problems of oil, and tempera paints. All that troublesome mixing and use of solvents, turpentine, cleaners and long time drying (oil paint), short shelf life with tempera.
Now most people paint with plastic c..p. For convenience. Quick drying, mixes with water and is oh so easy. And in my opinion, totally unsatisfactory. ACRYLIC. Of course some people make fine works with it…
Look up Lorna Crawford art on Instagram. She has posted a lovely piece of tempera painting.