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.

RSA Summer Exhibition 2018 News

Dean Village, Edinburgh (Dusk) – 80x63cm framed – Mixed media over etching

I’m very pleased to have another Dean Village hand-painted etching accepted for the RSA Summer Show this year. Last year the colours were dominated by pinks and inspired by the setting sun. This time the sun has dipped below the horizon, so it’s blues and greens that predominate. It was especially good to get it in as it had to be reframed to meet the 80cm max size rule. The image itself is 65x50cm.

This painting has also been selected for inclusion in what promises to be a lovely and exciting new art book showcasing Edinburgh art and artists; it’s due to be published next year, but I won’t say too much about that for now. More details to follow …

I made the copper etched plate for this scene about 2 years ago and have now done 6 different versions. I really enjoy painting these and like to think I’m following in a tradition set up by the likes of Cezanne and Van Gogh, who would often return to paint familiar motifs and much loved scenes. Cezanne painted the view of Mont Sainte Victoria in Provence, France more than 10 times and Van Gogh did several versions of his sunflowers, blossoming trees and various other motifs over the course of his life. While it might look like repetition on the surface, it’s actually a great way to experiment with colour and technique and that helps any artist to keep improving.

I have to admit though that I do love painting this particular scene, so will probably continue to create more paintings from it at least until I’ve used up all the ideas I have to make each an individual artwork in it’s own right. I’m thinking of doing a couple based on snowy weather next.

Working up my etchings into stand alone paintings is something I initially did in order not to waste what might have been an early proof copy, or perhaps one of the prints that didn’t make it into a final edition. Now I enjoy making line etchings specifically for hand colouring in a variety of media, as it allows me to experiment so much. Sometimes I’ll then go on to produce larger paintings in oils or acrylics that are based on work I consider to have been successful in this hybrid etching/painting format.

The RSA Summer Exhibition is open to the public from 3 June 2018 – 25 July 2018 and should be a highlight of any trip to Edinburgh during this summer!

Here’s last year’s entry for a comparison of the two versions …

Dean Village, Edinburgh (Sunset)

 

Pictures From My Solo Show

I wanted to share some photos from my recent solo show in Edinburgh for those who weren’t able to see it in person. There were 45 pieces hanging in total and it was the biggest collection on my work to be shown in one place to date. 

Three Studies of The Bass Rock

A wall of East Neuk paintings

It was hugely beneficial for me in a creative sense to hang the show myself (well, with a lot of help from my friend Celie) as it gave me the opportunity to put the pieces together into groups that worked as mini collections on each wall.  Every picture being part of a wider context. It took 2 solid days to hang the exhibition and I was glad to see that my combined output over the past 2 years or so also worked as a whole. This is something I have often wondered about (and I’m sure that’s the case for many other artists who work across a variety of media in relative isolation as I do). But the visitor feedback was also very positive in this sense, which helped to make the whole experience an absolute pleasure for me.

Three versions of the full Moon

Of course, selling several pieces and meeting lots of lovely people and hearing their thoughts was also wonderful. As a result, I’m really looking forward to putting together my next solo show in the coming year.

A wall of landscape oil paintings

In the meantime, I have lots more work out there in 6 different galleries this Christmas. A full list and links to those current exhibitions can be found here

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Exhibition at Dancing Light Gallery

The Old Town (mixed media over etching) 65x50cm

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, but it’s not because I haven’t been busy painting and printmaking. In fact, it’s probably because I have been so busy doing that that time has flown by. But as I’ll be taking part in a mixed show at Dancing Light Gallery in Whitmuir over the next few weeks, I thought I’d better get my act together on the marketing front!

The gallery will be having a preview over this coming weekend and I have 10 pieces in the exhibition, including those above and below. If you’re in the area (it’s halfway between Edinburgh and Peebles) then the gallery is well worth a visit. As is the lovely restaurant and organic farm shop which are all together under the one roof. Here’s a link to the gallery for details of the exhibition and how to find it.

I’m also putting together the finishing touches to various pictures for a solo exhibition which is taking place in Edinburgh in 3 weeks time. I’ll post the details for that over the weekend, so watch this space …

Tobermory (Mixed media over etching) 65x26cm