New Year / Old Superstitions

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 …

Happy New Year from me! (1st Jan 2021 with Whitewisp hill in the Ochils behind.)

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.

Castle Campbell (or ‘Castle Gloom’ looking positively radiant!) near Dollar

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).
  • Take a decent photo or 2 (as above).
  • Read a good book – Sky Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching (it’s a thing of beauty!).
  • Feed the birds – always!
  • 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.

As good inside as it is on the cover!

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!

My lucky lucre!

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!

    The Beggar’s Mantle Fringed With Gold

    A recently finished commission: East Neuk (Waxing Moon and Stars)

    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.

    East Neuk (Starry Night)

    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. 

    East Neuk (Crescent Moon)

    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.

    And so One thing leads to another

    Jim has since gifted me a cd of his work, much of which has been covered by internationally renowned folk singer June Tabor. It’s a wonderful, highly evocative album and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves great music and the romance of the sea – and the East Neuk of Fife in particular. It’s called Diamonds In The Night by Andy Shanks and Jim Russell and is available to download at Amazon or from Greentrax Records. Dances With Angels isn’t on this album, but here’s a link to a Youtube video of Andy and Jim performing it live in Orkney back in 2000.

    I think it’s great when work made in one art form inspires and informs that made in another. And to have had a wee part in that myself is a lovely thing! 

    I’ll be listening to Diamonds in The Night a lot this winter while I work, and I’m sure it will in turn inspire many more pictures that are still to be conjured up and painted into existence.

    Dances With Angels, words by Jim Russell

    The whole town is tumbling down to the sea,

    Footsteps we left in the sand

    Are gone when the moon pulls up the tide

    Changing the paths we had planned.

    Where is my comfort? There’s no angels here,

    Unless they’re all hiding their wings,

    Or dancing in small towns with strangers like me,

    Hoping tomorrow brings.

    Dances with angels

    Dances with angels

    They say angels dance by the steeple clock moon

    With lighthouses flashing like stars,

    Casting shadows and shapes and turning in time

    To the staggering songs from the bars.

    Now we travel with care and the tracks of our lives

    Are a cage, but if you break free,

    Go tumbling and turning then soaring like gulls,

    Crow stepping down to the sea!

    But where is my comfort? There’s no angels here,

    Unless their all hiding their wings,

    Or dancing in small towns with strangers like me,

    Hoping tomorrow brings.

    Dances with Angels

    Dances with Angels

    The streets are all dancing

    The children are dancing

    The songs from the bars spin around with the stars.

    The ghosts are all dancing

    The ministers dancing

    The waves are all dancing

    Tonight the whole town is dancing.

      arTay 2020 is online now … and you can see and buy 2 of my paintings there!

      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.

      And here’s a link to what’s available and more details.

      Dubh Artach Lighthouse (Nocturne), acrylic on wood panel 67x68cm in frame
      St Monans, acrylic on wood panel 108x70cm in frame

      If you fancy a laugh, I also made a video to accompany my work while self isolating in a field behind my house. Happy viewing!

        Pictures available from Marchmont Gallery & #ArtistSupportPledge

        The Old Town (Crescent Moon)

        There’s no lockdown on art!

        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.

        Marchmont Gallery contact details:

        Some work From Edinburgh to The Moon

        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!

          Life During Lockdown

          Could this be why I haven’t done much art lately?

          Like a lot of folk, my life during the coronavirus lockdown has involved a lot of spring cleaning. I’ve also been redecorating and making lists of things to do that I’ve been putting off for years. I’ve tidied the shed and just finished making a pond in the garden. But I haven’t painted a picture for a while (see above), though I have painted just about everything else within reach!

          I know I’m not alone in thinking this form of house arrest is an opportunity to see life differently. To consider what actually matters as we go forward, but also the stuff that really doesn’t matter.

          Lockdown Spring Clean

          So in the spirit of making positive changes (and not having much else to do) I decided it was time to tackle my plan chest. It’s where I keep all my etchings, prints and paper-based work. There was so much in it I could barely open the drawers! Here’s a small pile of the pictures that were clogging up just 1 of them. I’ve been carting this stuff around like a heavy load for years without really knowing why. It’s mostly duff prints and paintings that went wrong. This lot ended up in the bin where it should have gone years ago … and it feels like a weight off my shoulders.

          Best to bin it? Indeed it is!

          I used to think it was important to keep everything. Every proof, half-finished picture, sketch etc etc. It might come in useful or spark a new idea, and wasn’t it Picasso who said “Keep Everything!” Well, he had plenty space for it and I don’t.

          Holding onto that stuff holds me back and keeps me tethered to the past, when I need to keep moving forward in life without looking back too much. To proceed with the clarity of mind that comes from having more time and space in which to think, work and live.

          I’ve spent too much of my physical and mental energy over the years searching through piles of stuff (metaphorical and literal, and not just art related!) or trying to fix things that aren’t worth fixing. Staying indoors for 2 weeks during the coronavirus outbreak and giving up non-essential travel and activities has shone a light on just how much non-essential stuff has filled my life up to now. It’s all so distracting!

          Everything in its place and a place for everything – not before time!

          My Chaos Theory

          But trying to make my life neat and tidy is all very new to me. I’ve always lived a fairly chaotic existence on the whole and generally tried my best (albeit subconsciously) to avoid having any real plan or structure. And while on the surface it might look to those who know me that it’s a pretty happy-go-lucky way to be, the reality is that feelings of intense frustration and depression have often far outweighed any perceived benefits. Here’s a silly but illustrative example from my typically chaotic life …

          I often go on ‘sketching’ trips in my campervan and I’ll spend ages packing everything I think I might need … just in case. Watercolours, oil paints, pastels, pens, inks, different papers, canvas boards etc etc. Practically an entire studio! But what if I want to go fishing? Best take sea and fly rods and all the necessary fishing paraphernalia I might need too. And what about the hills? So in go the the boots, jackets, rucksacks full of spare clothing, poles etc etc. Of course, I’ll inevitably arrive at my randomly chosen destination having forgotten something (usually real essentials like food, the cooking stove and even bedding one time!).

          But apart from my trusty camera (begging the question: which one should I take?) almost all of it tends to remain unused and taking up precious space in my already cramped van.

          There’s barely enough room for me in there as it is!

          And why …?

          Well I’ve never even been a sketcher for starters. I’m impatient and impulsive and find it very hard to sit still, so the thought of squatting for an entire hour trying to capture the perfect scene is a vision of pure hell for me! Photography, on the other hand, is instant and I prefer to work directly from photos or memory later on.

          So I must take all that stuff simply because I’ve spent years accumulating it and probably need to justify keeping hold of it to myself. But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s mainly because I can’t (or won’t) make a plan. I tend to lack the focus and powers of concentration that good forward planning generally requires. But it’s who I am … at least it was until recently …

          ADHD & Me

          So where am I going with all this? Well a few months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD. And it has been totally life changing! Both because of the medication I’m taking for it (a form of slow release Ritalin) and also just knowing what ADHD is and how it affects people. (I’ve added an excellent Youtube link below if you’re interested to find out more about ADHD.)

          Now I’m beginning to do things that I assume most people usually take for granted, like concentrating on one task at a time and being able to listen without having to ask for repeats. Just thinking calmly and with 20:20 focus on whatever I happen to be doing is something I’ve always struggled with. This ADHD diagnosis has been nothing short of a revelation and a real ‘light bulb’ moment in my life.

          The effect of the medication has been to literally slow me down to the extent that even the hours of each day seem to last longer – in a good way! (This seems to amuse and confound most people, considering Ritalin is a stimulant.) I just seem to be getting so much more done now. And, while all this means that it feels like I have more time, my energy and concentration levels have also improved way beyond what I thought possible (or ‘normal’, you might say). The upshot is I’ve never felt so happy, confident or, dare I say it, chilled out about the future.

          And the Future is Bright!

          It’s early days and pretty ironic I know, but this lockdown combined with the ADHD diagnosis and treatment have helped me beyond expectations. Together they’ve allowed me to stop, think and plan ahead with a focus and clarity that has eluded me for the past 50 years. They’ve also given me the time and the ‘positive’ energy I need to get things done well and efficiently in the here and now, day by day. (I’ve never been short on energy, but it wasn’t always the positive kind.)

          So I’m really looking forward to getting back to the easel and on with new work. But before I’m ready for that I need to hyperfocus productively on the jobs currently in hand. Next up is to tidy that studio. After all, a tidy house/studio/shed really is a tidy mind!

          ………………………………………………………

          I hope you and you folks are keeping well during the corona lockdown, and that we will all emerge from it having gained something that’ll make the world a happier and healthier place to live. Hope to see you on the other side!

          PS. You might be interested to hear that Picasso, Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci are thought to have had ADHD. Here’s another link to a very interesting article from The Charmed Studio about that and some other stuff I’ve mentioned above.

          PPS. If you think you or someone you know might have ADHD and you fancy having a laugh while trying to find out then click here. It’s a hillariously ‘unscientific’ but enlightening self-diagnosis quiz, by comedian and fellow ADHDer Rick Green.

            Marchmont Gallery Solo Show Preview is a Blast!

            The preview gets under way

            After a busy few months of painting, I had the opening of my solo show at Marchmont Gallery last Sunday. It was a fantastic afternoon and stayed busy throughout, with a number of people taking away paintings and prints. It was great to have so many people come along and I’d like to say a big “Thank You!” to all those who made it and to all at Marchmont Gallery for being great hosts!

            Some of my paintings at Marchmont Gallery

            I’ll be topping up the show over the coming weeks, but had to take a week off to recover from the inevitable post-show cold that kept me in bed for days afterwards. I have been thinking about what’s to come though and can’t wait to get back to the easel on Monday.

            A wall of work

            On the painting front, I’ve been really enjoying using acrylics on larger-scale plywood panels and have prepared 2 new ones to get started on. As is the case with these, I often like to use the golden ratio to determine picture dimensions and sometimes compositional elements too; here’s a recent example below, but there are others in the Marchmont show.

            St Monans, Acrylic on panel 98 x 60.5cm

            I am hoping to get away soon in my campervan to explore some new areas I haven’t painted before. Possibly a trip to Orkney or even further afield. The Faroe Islands are top of my list for etching inspiration and I can see a lot of printmaking happening over the summer months if I make it there.

            At the framers before the show

            If you get along to the show, do get in touch and let me know your thoughts. It’s always great to get any kind of feedback!

              From Edinburgh (and Perth!) to The Moon

              It’s been a very productive start to 2020 and I have two new shows coming up this month. There’s my solo show From Edinburgh To The Moon at Marchmont Gallery, which previews on Sunday 16th Feb. And I’ll also be taking part in a printmaking show at Frames Gallery, opening this Friday. All details below …

              The Old Town (Crescent Moon) will be on Show at Marchmont Gallery

              From Edinburgh to The Moon

              I’m currently putting the finishing touches to the last few paintings that will be included in my solo show at Marchmont Gallery and titled From Edinburgh To The Moon. It’ll be a selection of recent mixed-media paintings (including these below) of Edinburgh and Scottish coastal scenes, as well as some hand-made etchings and prints. I will have at least 25 original pieces large and small hanging and can’t wait to see how they look as a collection. You are most welcome to come along to the opening on the 16th (1-4pm) where I’ll be happy to chat about my work and answer any questions. There will also be drinks and nibbles!

              Solo Exhibition – Marchmont Gallery, Edinburgh (Preview 16 Feb 1-4pm, all welcome!)
              Runs until 22 March.

              Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop at Frames Gallery

              This Friday 7th marks the opening of the Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop exhibition at the lovely Frames Gallery in Perth. The preview is from 6-8pm and there will be around 80 works including a great variety of printmaking techniques and a huge array of subject matter produced by my talented colleagues at the workshop in Dunfermline. I have the following 4 pieces in the show and, altogether, it looks like a fantastic exhibition of work. So go along if you’re in the Perth area and we’ll maybe see you on Friday.

              Frames Gallery, Perth (Preview 6-8pm, all welcome!)
              Runs until 29 February.

                My Shop Is Now Open!

                Towards Arthurs Seat

                Only a couple of weeks left until Christmas! But that’s time enough to buy one of my very limited edition prints and etchings for someone special (including yourself!).

                The Old Town, Edinburgh

                There’s 12 pictures to chose from including these 4, some moon etchings and a few others. All details can be found here at Big Cartel.

                Dean Village Sunset

                Buy something unique and help support my work at the same time! If you order straight away there should be plenty time to get it before Christmas. But sooner is always better!

                Ramsay Gardens from The Castle

                Happy Christmas!

                  Gallery Heinzel Winter Show

                  I have these two large pictures for sale at Gallery Heinzel’s upcoming Winter Show. Opens on the 9th Nov and runs until March 2020.

                  Three Views of The Bass Rock

                  Three Views of The Bass Rock
                  Oil and gold leaf on gesso-primed hand-made paper
                  (126x52cm framed)

                  The above painting has been over a year in the making. It glows and looks great in this frame with non-reflect art glass. The tiniest touch of gold leaf adds a very subtle beam and sparkle to each of the lighthouses. I’d liked to have kept this one for myself, but needs must!

                  Non-reflective glass allows more light and colour to bounce back from the picture rather than off the glass. This also means there’s no annoying reflections that prevent you seeing the picture properly. It’s very expensive but well worth the money and I’ll be using it more from now on.

                  Harvest Moon

                  Harvest Moon
                  Etching & Aquatint
                  (65x55cm image size)

                  This Harvest Moon etching is the 3rd variation I’ve made from a single copper plate. This edition is the result of a seemingly never-ending series of painful and time consuming trials with various ink colours (each pigment having its own peculiarities which can make or break a picture). I’m finally happy with this combination. Fellow printmakers have asked how I got the blackest ink and palest orange together without a gap or mixing the two. The simple answer is with great difficulty, as both colours are wiped onto (and off) the plate together for a single pressing. For every successful print two others went in the bin. This is by far the most difficult print I’ve ever made!

                  This is number 9/20 and is framed and available at the gallery, but there are more unframed copies available. I also have some Super Moons and only a very few Blue Moons left for sale. Contact Gallery Heinzel or myself directly if interested.

                  The show opens with a preview between 11-2pm at Gallery Heinzel this coming Saturday.

                    St Columbas Art Friends Charity Exhibition

                    Blue Moon
Etching and Aquitint
                    Blue Moon

                    I have these 2 pictures on show and for sale at the annual St Columbas Hospice charity exhibition in Edinburgh this weekend, which officially opens tomorrow with a drinks reception between 6-8pm. It’s a great cause, with at least 50% of all sales revenue going to help with the wonderful palliative care work they do there.

                    Dean Village iv

                    It’s on all weekend and there’s always lots of good art to see and buy. Maybe see you there.