These three paintings went off to the wonderful Ballater Gallery this weekend. Between them I think they give a fair representation of the kind of work I’ve been doing lately.
Bennachie is possibly Aberdeenshire’s most prominent and, among the locals, favourite hill. It’s a fairly easy walk through a seemingly enchanted woodland, before steepening significantly towards the top. With it’s very distinctive torr (known as Mither Tap) it’s a hill that can be easily spotted from just about every other hilltop in the Grampians.
I’ve never seen such an abundance and variety of mushrooms and toadstools as I found under its lower slopes last autumn, and I can’t wait to get back up there on a hot summer’s day. It’s a magical place and I hope to have captured a little of that in this newly finished oil painting of the view as seen from across fields ripe and ready for harvest near Inverurie.
The Bell Rock lighthouse is one of my favourite subjects for so many reasons. I grew up in Arbroath, from where Robert Stevenson and his team planned then carved the dovetailed stones to build this 36m high wonder of the industrial world. They then shipped them 11 miles across often very dangerous seas to the reef and, when complete, it became the very first rock-based lighthouse in the world. It took the full 3 years between 1807-10 to build and that was no mean feat, considering the base is fully submerged every high tide and also for much of the remainder of each day.
While this very spot has set the stage for many a tragedy (including scores of shipwrecks and even a helicopter crash in 1955; the rotars hit the anaeometer on top of the tower) I have tried to capture it at a more serene, benevolent moment. The brilliant beam flashes out across 18 nautical miles every 5 seconds to warn passing ships of the very real dangers that lie just a few inches beneath those calm, dark waters.
Dean Village in Edinburgh is another favourite place of mine, as I’m sure it must be for many. It’s a view that will be very familiar to anyone walking or driving across the Dean Bridge as they enter the city centre from the north. Looking over the bridge at the myriad jumble of buildings your eyes are met with seemingly countless windows. I like to imagine the lives of all those others who might be gazing dreamily back out from each and every one of them.
I’ve painted this scene several times, each version capturing the same place, but at a different time of day and giving the same composition a completely different feel or atmosphere.
I currently have several of my etchings in a fantastic new printmaking show at Frames Gallery in Perth.
I was very happy to see some red dots below some of my pieces at the private view, including the ones below, and also to be showing alongside some of my favourite Scottish printmakers.
It really is an excellent and varied exhibition, showcasing some of the best in contemporary printmaking techinques and styles and I’m delighted to be taking part. Click here to see the works on show and do drop by if you are in Perth.
As these are editioned prints there are several of each still available, so get in touch with Frames Gallery if you are interested in anything you see here (or there!).
Here are a few more of the framed etchings I have on show at the gallery, and click here if you’d like to see the whole show online.
Just a quick update to say I am very excited to be working with Heriot Gallery in Dundas Street, Edinburgh. They recently got in touch to say they admired my work and requested some for their current Winter Show.
So I delivered these paintings yesterday and very much looking forward to continuing to work with owners Angela and Lorna. I haven’t shown any work in Edinburgh since moving to Aberdeen earlier this year, so it’s great to have some of my locally-inspired pieces available in the Capital once again.
The show runs until 29th Jan 2022, after which I’ll also be including new work in their follow-up exhibition Land & Sea in February 2022.
I’m currently working on some new Edinburgh-based oil paintings for that, so watch this space for further details … !
I thought I’d post a few pictures from my new studio here in Aberdeen. I’ve been working up here for a few months now and have really enjoyed getting back into painting with oils. Having my own studio again is wonderfully liberating, as I can work much more freely and splash the paint and thinners around without worrying about getting it all over my furniture at home! It’s also great to have all my work materials out of the house and to be able to find everything I need within arm’s reach.
I also became a member of the very highly regarded Peacock Print Studio earlier this year. Working there has been a real eye opener on many levels, and having the entire space to myself (thanks to Covid!) has felt like quite a privilege. But I’ll dedicate a post to all of that at a later date.
So, in the meantime, here are a few pictures of things I’ve been working on recently at my studio in Eagle House.
This first one (above) is an oil painting of Rattray Head Lighthouse, between Peterhead and Fraserburgh. Some of the pebbles in the foreground were carefully painted while others were literally lashed onto the canvas using a liner brush with a very runny mixture of oil paint and thinner.
This second Rattray Head picture is a larger version I decided to do after feeling quite happy with the first. Both need further fine tuning though. The lighthouse painting below it will be built up in painstakingly slow glazes to convey an altogether different mood using a different technique.
The following 5 pictures are the products of my end-of-the-day palate scrapings (as I like to call them). When I’m finished working on the main picture each day, I basically smear together all the colours left on my palate and add a little oil painting medium to produce what Whistler would call his ‘soup’. He would apply this liquid paint in streaks across his canvases to produce many of his nocturne paintings. This painterly ‘soup’ often produces the loveliest of greys which I then use as the ground for future paintings. These sky and beach pictures were done this past week from imagination and I’ve yet to decide how to finish them off.
The above picture is a quick sketch I did this week of beautiful Bennachie. I’ll work it up into a finished painting, but quite like the dreamy quality of it as it is. And below is another of Rattray Head from a different angle and then there’s Catterline, one of my favourite places to paint and to spend time.
So that’s what I’ve been doing this past week or two. Every week I intend to start a whole new batch of pictures and finish at least some from the previous weeks, and continue on in this vein for many years to come. So as long as I can keep my studio (and lungs and head!) free of turpentine fumes, I’ll also try to keep posting regular updates on what I’ve been working on and also where the work will be available to see and buy.
One of the greatest joys of being an artist, alongside getting to do what you love on a daily basis, is when you get a request to use one of your pieces for something other than to adorn a wall.
Over the years, my work has been used to promote whisky (Tobermory) as well as various exhibitions, including the RSA and SSA annual open shows. More recently I was contacted by The Fortnightly Review with a request to use my etching of The Old Pier, Aberdour to illustrate a memoir they were about to publish by author John Matthias. Of course I gave my consent and was delighted to be given an opportunity to have my work published in such an august and highly respected literary journal.
The memoir itself is the fascinating and highly evocative story of a family who have had a very close personal connection with Aberdour and the old iron pier over the past 100 years. I loved reading how that decrepit old pile of rusted iron had once played a significant role in the First World War, allowing naval sailors to land closer to home in Fife before their battleships went on to dock at Rosyth further round the coast. Never in a million years would I have guessed at anything of this history and, had I not made that etching and posted a picture of it on my website, the editor would never have contacted me and I’d still be unaware of the intriguing past life of what is a very familiar landmark! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, art often opens up conversations that can lead to the forming of new relationships, business ventures or even inspire all kinds of other things which might not otherwise happen or … or in this case, be discovered.
I was particularly surprised to read that the entire Grand Fleet of the British navy – comprising scores of battleships and support vessels – had dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth on 11th November 1918 (Armistice Day). And how there had been “excuberant rejoicing” with fireworks and dancing on board the ships that lay across the length and breadth of the firth like a pontoon bridge when the Germans finally surrendered.
I currently have 2 of these etchings available at half price in my Big Cartel shop. That’s just £100 each using discount code 5WXW5X. Click here to visit my shop or send me an email if you’d like more information and .
To find out more about the pier and to read this beautifully evocative memoir of life in and around Aberdour during wartime, and through the decades since, click here.
Here’s a link to some incredible footage showing the Grand Fleet at sea during WW1.
I’m delighted to be showing my very first linocut print as part of the fascinating INSECTARIUM: Fear and Fascination show at the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club in Aberlady. It’s already fantastic place to visit on a lovely sunny day, but this exhibition featuring a miriad of beautifully depicted creepy crawlies makes taking a trip to East Lothian all the more worthwhile.
More details below …
3 June – 25 July 2021 | Viewing Room Thursday – Sunday 10 – 5pm
Free entry and no booking is required Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY
Insectarium: Fascination and Fear
Insectarium: Fascination and Fear presents artworks created by SSA members in response to the conflicting feelings that insects inspire in us.
If most of the time we ignore them, insects loom large on the human psyche. We adorn them with contrasting qualities: jewel-like beetles or scary spiders, carriers of disease or inspirational designs, collectors’ items or targets for eradication. Beautiful or repulsive, dangerous or inspiring, insects are above all essential to life on earth, and certainly our own. They play such a big part in the natural world that studies highlighting their recent decline have prompted worry among conservationists and the general public.
The exhibition offers a collection of works in a wide range of media that reflects our complex feelings towards these small but crucial creatures.
Insectarium is a new collaboration with the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club and was co-curated by SSA Past President Sharon Quigley and council member Catherine Sargeant. The exhibition was originally due to take place last May but had to be rescheduled due to Covid-19.
The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) is a charity promoting the study and enjoyment of birds in Scotland. Waterston House, the Headquarters of the SOC in Aberlady, is a resource centre for birdwatching that is open to the public and offers a library, a shop and an art gallery dedicated to wildlife.
Elaine Allison | Paul Charlton | Tess Chodan | Finlay Coupar | Helle Crawford | Louisa Crispin | Robert Crozier | Helen Denerley | Rhona Fairgrieve | Jane Gardiner | Joyce Gunn Cairns | Zsofia Jakab | Tzipporah Johnston | Gavin Johnston | Olga Krasanova | Miriam Mallalieu | Kit Martin | Karen Maxted | Norman McBeath | Greta McMillan | Claire McVinnie | Janet Melrose | Noelle Odling | Clive Ramage | Douglas Reed | Catherine Sargeant | Chris Shields | Jenny Smith | Gill Walton | Eleanor Whitworth | Lynne Windsor | Natalie Wingate | Yingchun Zhu
I wrote most of the following on New Year’s day 2020, when life seemed a lot more easy and carefree. For some reason though I never got round to posting it on my website. So here’s what I wrote with minor amendments and an updated New Year’s to do list for 2021 …
Scales of Superstition
Over 30 years ago, when I was serving my time as a butcher’s apprentice and life was much simpler, we had a New Year tradition that I’ve since adopted and adapted for myself over the years.
In the last hour of the last working day each year, we’d scrub down our wooden blocks and every other surface in the place. Then we’d clean the mincer, the ham slicer, the dozens of emptied metal meat dishes, the fridges and the cabinets. Finally, our own very personal and prized knives would be cleaned, sharpened and shined until they and absolutely everything else in sight glistened and sparkled.
Everything, that is, except the scales we used to weigh and price the meat we boned, chopped, sliced and sold. Now butcher’s superstition says it’s bad luck to wipe away all traces of the passing year’s prosperity before proceeding into the next. So those scales would remain not only unwashed but positively reeking of last year’s trade. They’d be left bloody and rank throughout the holiday … and the ranker the better! And, if there wasn’t the required degree of meaty residue left after the last sale of the year, then a little mince or steak would be added to the scales for extra good luck. Just in case! It seemed to work and we did get busier each of my 3 years working there.
A Load of Old Claptrap?
But you and me both know that’s all superstitious claptrap and I personally like to think I’m not at all swayed by such nonsense. Sometimes I’ll even walk under a ladder just to prove the point to myself … and nothing bad’s ever happened as a result (well, not to my knowledge anyway!).
But every year I do have my very own New Year ritual (rather than resolution). It’s a tick list of ‘things to do’ before midnight on January 1st. Like last year’s meat left on the scales to usher in a prosperous new year, I tell myself these are the things I need to do to start the year as I mean to go on. I do it all with more than a little hope that whoever/whatever might be up there pulling the strings of good fortune may be paying attention; and that maybe I will be rewarded with success in each of my listed endeavours for 12 coming months as a result of observing this ritual.
So here’s my list for 2021 (and all ticked off before the 2nd, I’m happy to say!)
Wake up without a hangover.
Paint or draw something you’re happy with (I added a moon to a lighthouse picture).
Write something – I repurposed this, which definitely counts!
Walk up a hill (I had a bitterly cold but beautiful afternoon in the Ochils yesterday. See pics).
Say hello to a stranger – done several times on the way up that hill.
Be polite, patient and generous to EVERYONE. This is always included, but still requires further practice and tweeks!
So having acheived all of the above and a couple of other things, I went to bed feeling confident that I should remain busy and happy all year long.
A Treasured Find
As far as continued prosperity goes, I got off to a pretty good start in the early hours of 2020 as I walked home from the pub. I found a £20 note on the pavement. It was folded and clasped in a blue clothes peg. There was nobody around except me so I pocketed it, as I’m sure you would have too. I’ve no idea what the peg represented, but I thanked the fates for dropping it in my path and went on my way. And it’s been in my pocket ever since. And, yes, despite Covid I had a very good year in many ways!
This year I found 10p in the gutter on my way home after the bells. And, despite the comparative reduction in monetary value compared to last year’s treasured find, I’ll also be taking that as a sign that being slightly superstitious can sometimes be a good thing! 10p is better than nothing after all and I’ll be keeping it in my pocket all year long too. Call me superstitious but …
Anyway, if you got this far then I wish you the happiest New Year and a prosperous 2021. And if you didn’t then good luck to you all the same (not that you’ll know)! May all your dreams come true, may your lum aye reek and your scales aye be clarty!
Until recently, I’d never heard of “The Beggar’s Mantle Fringed With Gold”. It was King James VI of Scotland who coined that description of Fife’s coast; the ragged shoreline being the frayed cloak from which the begging hand of Fife is held out in hope that the sea will provide sustenance. The gold lining perfectly captures the beautiful fishing villages that fringe the East Neuk, especially when the phosphorescent orange street lamps are aglow and the houses are lit up and cosy on a cold winter’s night.
I came to hear of it one Saturday morning a few weeks ago when my phone pinged to inform me that another painting had sold from my Big Cartel shop. As always, I got in touch with the buyer right away and, after discussing postage and various other details, asked where he’d come across my work.
Back to the beginning
The reply was so very unexpected and it not only made my day but also gave me the biggest confidence boost an artist could wish for.
The answer had its roots way back when I first started exhibiting in 2008. In fact, it was at the first exhibition I ever entered (the annual open at Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery) that Jim had spotted my work. It was an oil painting of a row of typically-colourful cottages all huddled together along the shore, looking almost fearful of the next incoming tide. I’d given it the title Awaiting The Turn of The Tide with that thought in mind.
A few days after the opening I returned to see the whole show and was thrilled to find my first ever red dot. The painting really seemed to glow and stand out quite nicely in that large space. I walked out with my feet in the air and feeling this idea of being an artist I’d had for a while might just work!
But you never really think about all the other people who might stop and have a look at your efforts in a gallery. So it came as a big surprise to hear that it was way back then that my new buyer informed me he had first seen my work. He had gone in on a mission to find inspiration for a song he was trying to write for a performance he’d soon be giving at that year’s Stanza Poetry Festival in St Andrews. The song had to capture that ‘beggar’s mantle fringed with gold’ feeling. He told me that it was my painting of glowing cottages tumbling down into the sea that had helped him to visualise an idea of what he wanted to capture in words. He went off and wrote the lyrics below for Dances With Angels, performed it at Stanza and that, as they say, was that.
But now, 12 years later and living in Kent, he told me he’d always remembered that painting (someone else had bought it) and was now in a position to buy one of my East Neuk pictures for himself. In fact, he’d had a hard job choosing between the two I had for sale on my website and a couple of days later he ended up buying the other one as well. (The two paintings directly above.)
That he’d remembered my work all that time was incredibly uplifting for me. But that it had also helped him to write his lovely song was just wonderful to discover all these years later.
Here’s a quick note to tellk you about two paintings I have available to buy at arTay 2020. It’s an online only show, of course, but still runs for just 4 days (ending on Sunday 31st May). So you best get in quick if you want to buy one of these two or something else from one of the 80 artists also showing.
It’s been great to sell some of my work directly via the #artistsupportpledge on Instagram recently. And I’m very excited to unwrap my first pledge purchase today. I bought it having reached £1000 in sales through the scheme and, as promised, I’ll also be sending £100 to Dunfermline Food Bank this week. (See below for more details on how it all works.)
Despite the Covid19 lockdown, I do still have paintings and prints available to buy from Marchmont Gallery, Edinburgh. It’s currently closed to the public, but my pictures can still be viewed and purchased there online.
Click the link below to browse the brochure from my recent solo and contact the gallery if there’s something that takes your fancy.
And here’s a little more info on Artists Support Pledge
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many artists have found themselves without work, teaching, technical support and gallery work. Exhibitions and sales have disappeared. ARTIST SUPPORT PLEDGE is an attempt to help alleviate some of this.
The concept is a simple one. Artists post images of their work, on Instigram which they are willing to sell for no more than £200 each (not including shipping). Anyone can buy the work. Every time an artist reaches £1000 of sales, they pledge to spend £200 on another artist/s work.
Search for pictures using #artistsupportpledge; or use the same tag to sell your own work. Simple!