Dunnottar Castle is quite possibly THE perfect landscape painter’s subject. Sitting atop a magestic outcrop of rusty red sandstone, surrounded by constantly changing seas and skies, it’s sheer immensity and magnificence are breathtaking – the scene simply demands to be painted!
My favourite place to paint!
The above painting is the view from the little bridge that spans the deep gully and leads to the cliffs on the western side of the castle. Those cliffs have also been a favourite haunt of mine over the past few months and are a great spot to paint en plein air (below).
After spending several months working on this particular painting – and trying do the scene the justice it deserves – it will be great to see it hanging at the Aberdeen Art Fair (AAF) from this Friday.
Muckle Flugga (Old Norse Mikla Flugey, meaning “large steep-sided island”) is the northernmost point of the British Isles and, in my own humble opinion, has to be one of the most dramatic lighthouse locations on Earth.
I hope to have captured something of the rugged nature of the rock itself, but also of the precariousness of that lonely lighthouse perched upon it. The perpetual crashing of great ocean waves has done little to change this scene since the lighthouse was built in 1854. But nothing lasts for ever – apart from oil paintings hopefully!
This newly finished painting is off to Frames Gallery in Perth soon for their winter show, which opens on 16th Nov.
Dubh Artach Lighthouse sits on an isolated basalt rock which protrudes just 35 meters above sea level at the head of a deep, 80 mile long submarine valley. The strong Atlantic currents rush in along the valley towards the Rhinns of Mull a few miles east before rising up and around the rock, causing a maelstrom of turbulence.
The lighthouse was begun in 1867 following the previous winter’s storms, which sunk 27 vessels in the area. It was built by David and Thomas Stevenson (Robert Louis’ father) to warn ships approaching Oban through the Firth of Lorne and stands 107 feet high above the rock base and is 37 feet in diameter. An incredible feet of engineering considering its extremely remote location 16 miles from land and the rock’s tiny size! It could only be worked on at low tide in calm weather over the 5 years it took to build. Many of the workers lived on the rock in a small hut built on stilts during that time. It was automated in 1971, but it must have been a dreaded posting for many Scottish lighthouse keepers during its 101 years of being occupied.
So here it is, flashing its first beam of the night on a relatively calm summer evening.
Last week I spent a fantastic 4 days travelling down to The Mull of Galloway via every lighthouse I could find en route. The sun was blazing and the sunsets were magnificent all the way! I also visited the towns of Girvan, Turnberry and lovely Portpatrick, and had a wander round Culzean Castle too.
In a snug wee Portpatrick pub last Friday evening, I had the very good fortune to find myself sitting next to a chap called Rab and his wife Kate. Rab just so happens to be the son of a lighthouse keeper, so we spent the whole evening getting acquainted over beer and whiskey and chatting about the various lighthouses he’d grown up in, including Corsewall Head which I’d spent that very afternoon visiting; as well as Tod Head and Kinnaird Head which I’d been at only the week before. His father also spent 5 years 12 miles out in the North Sea off Arbroath on one of the most famous and notorious reefs on the planet (and my own home lighthouse) The Bell Rock. It turned out to be one of those very serendipitous evenings. Rab now runs an engineering company that is contracted by the Northern Lighthouse Board to maintain some of Scotland’s more remote lighthouses, and he kindly offered me the chance some day to go along with him for the ride on one of his jobs. I will have to earn my keep though, maybe even getting a chance to fling some paint at a ‘real’ lighthouse instead of just at a painting of one!
So here are a few of the best photos from the many hundreds I took. It’s not all about lighthouses though. I got some shots of boats, harbours and birds too.
I will be attempting to translate some of these and the many others I’ve been taking into artworks for an exhibition at the end of this year. But, unfortunately, I won’t be doing any of that this week since I sprained my painting hand whilst attempting to show my daughter how not to use her new skateboard!
So today I’ll be heading north again to get my campervan’s gearbox fixed in Stonehaven. I might even have time to visit Scurdie Ness lighthouse near Ferryden, which just so happens to be up for sale (if you happen to have a spare £360K in your back pocket and always dreamed of owning your own lighthouse!).