I'm delighted to be this month's featured artist in the beautiful publication Herbology News. Have a look here for a thoughtful and inspiring read with a deep connection to nature.
Thanks to Editor Kyra for inviting me and to the design team for showing my work so beautifully alongside the articles. On the cover is 'Cascade' from my new 'Rivers of oak' series of charcoals.
100 days of chiaroscuro
I've decided to give the #100dayproject a go this year. Normally I think I would shy away from committing to doing anything for 100 days straight, but these are not normal times and I'm curious to see if I can stick at it.
My #100daysofchiaroscuro started on 31st January and runs till 10th May.
Chiaroscuro, an Italian word translating literally as light dark, is a feature of much of the art I admire from the 16th and 17th centuries and in contemporary art I like too. It's always something I've employed in my own work but I've never really studied it in any structured way. The use of light and shade in artwork to convey emotion, drama, form and emphasis seemed to be a topic I wouldn't bore myself with and could really help me develop new work, so after about 30 minutes of thought this is the project I've settled on!
I set myself this brief:
Aims: To commit to a daily creative habit, to research and understand its use in art, to improve and develop my work through its study
Limits: work for about 15 mins, any format but take a square photo, make studies not ‘pictures’, can be any 2d medium I like
Share: Instagram carousel and Facebook album on a Sunday, 1 tweet per week, 1 blog a month (I might do this more often)
Knowing that the best way to establish a habit is to make it really easy and small, I collected all the materials I might need to get started in a box and taped a recording sheet on top so I can tick off the days. This now lives on my desk, so it's always in view to remind me to do it. That's the intention at least, we'll see how long that lasts...
Day 1 from Rembrandt's 'Bearded old man', charcoal pencil on paper
Day 2 from a photograph of a Paleolithic figure of a woman, graphite on paper
Day 3 from my own photograph of an ancient beech, oil on card
Day 4 from a photograph of Henry Moore's 'Moon Head', peirre noire pencil on paper
Day 5 from my own photograph of an ancient beech, oil on card
Day 6 from my own photograph of an ancient beech, oil on card
Day 7 from Michelangelo's Nude figure, Sistine Chapel. Venetian red pencil and white pastel on paper
So far I'm really enjoying the project - the constraints are actually the thing that brings the joy, knowing the only decision I have to make is which of the 100s of images in my studio I'm going to draw is quite liberating!
If this has inspired you to consider your own project, here is more information on the now huge and international 100dayproject and if you want to follow my progress, I'd love you to join me for the journey over on Instagram
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Originally planned as an extensive joint exhibition at Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, 'Out of the Wood' will now be shown online through Edinburgh Palette's online exhibition facility.
Margaret and I, and National Trust Scotland curator Vikki were so disappointed that we couldn't mount the exhibition as hoped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. None of us could ever have imagined the scale of the crisis that was to unfold just as we began to make preparations for hanging. Thankfully we've remained safe and well and I'm delighted that my former studio complex have given us the opportunity to show the work online.
The exhibition will be live to view here from 7th to the 21st August. After the 21st it will remain on the website in their past exhibitions section.Tags:
This year I will be exhibiting at the magnificent Drum Castle, a National Trust for Scotland property just west of Aberdeen. I will be sharing the impressive exhibition space (formerly Jacobean era bedrooms) with printmaker Margaret Pitt, who makes woodcuts.
The estate includes the Old Wood of Drum, an ancient woodland containing many old and interesting oaks. I had the opportuntiy to explore the woodlands on two visits last year and will be going back for a drawing trip next week.
The exhibition opens with a private view on Saturday 4th April and runs all through the Castle's open season until 31st October.
I will also be doing some workshops and an artist's talk - more details to come.Tags:
Calder twisted limb beech, Charcoal on paper
My most recent charcoal works form the beginnings of what I think may be a much larger series. 'Veterans' encompasses trees which may not necessarily be very old for their species but have some of the characteristics of ancient trees, perhaps due to damage, past management or a challenging environment. Rot holes, water filled hollows, fungal growth, broken branches or damaged limbs all give these trees an aesthetic appeal I can't resist drawing, as well as creating a rich range of habitats which sustain multiple other lives.
Calder bundled beech, Charcoal on paper
For me, it's these veteran qualities which make these particular trees stand out: their visual richness demands attention. I've returned to these six trees numerous times over the last 3 years since my first visit to the wood. The tree drawn below had one large surviving limb when I first encountered it, which had broken by last autumn, seemingly under its own weight. It must have happened shortly before my visit as the leaves were still fairly fresh, and I couldn't help feeling like I was witnessing a death. It now stands like a slowly decaying monument to itself.
Calder collapsed beech, Charcoal on paper
Read more about how to recognise ancient and veteran trees at the Ancient Tree ForumTags:
Following on from Alan McGowan’s workshop and my first attempts at oil painting (see Part 1), I’ve begun to make some experiments with the technique of oil glazing. This has meant doing my favourite kind of shopping – buying more art materials, and moving stuff around in my studio to set up for painting rather than charcoal drawing.
I’ve decided to use Windsor & Newton’s Artisan oils which are water mixable but otherwise behave like any other oils, it makes cleaning up easier and less smelly. I’ve also collected various mediums to try out.
For the initial wipe out underpainting I prepared the canvas with a spare coating of one part PVA mixed with three parts water, having learned the hard way that more PVA does not equal a better surface. The canvas needs to have some resistance to the paint to enable you to wipe it off, but too much or uneven PVA application results in the paint not adhering to the surface at all.
I used an image I’d already created in charcoal, so I could concentrate on what the materials were doing without worrying about the composition. I mixed Prussian Blue with a little Burnt Umber to give a nice neutral tone, thinned with turps. Making the image by removing the paint came naturally as it’s a very similar process to my charcoal drawing, though the paint does behave differently, giving more options for interesting mark making.
After allowing a day or two for the underpainting to dry, I’ve started to add glazes. This is a slow process as each has to dry before the next can be added, so there are a few paintings at various stages. There is no real plan here – I’m just trying out the colours I have in a variety of combinations and trying to find out what works and doesn’t work. The many mistakes are very valuable and the happy accidents are wonderful, but it’s too early to tell yet whether glazing is an approach which will earn a more permanent place in my studio.
This is an informative book which has kept me company on my painting journey, with a substantial section on glazes. This blog has detailed information about the principles and recipes and here is a demo of the method.
When does a drawing become a painting? I think of these as drawings made in oil paint and oil pastel.
Above are Dalkeith oaks, below a beech tree near the Cromarty Firth. All are done in the studio from photographs and sketches.
The painting experiment continues...
Reflections on 'European Wood Pasture', a UKEconet international conference at Sheffield Hallam University, 4th - 7th September 2018...
Fellow artist Anne Gilchrist and I attended the three day event in Sheffield and presented some of the work we have made in response to Dalkeith Oaks, including drawings, paintings and our book ‘Dead Wood and New Leaves’. We both enjoyed the connections and conversations sparked by our stand, provoking new ideas to feed our creative processes.
As always at UKEconet events, the speakers were varied and informative, giving a wide range of perspectives on the subject. Details of the conference and presenters can be found here.
From Nicklas Jansson’s presentation on a unique and threatened oakwood landscape in Turkey
As an artist I am of course interested in images of trees and woodlands, but I really value the opportunity to learn about the science, history and ecology of these landscapes too – I have a need to understand the cultural and ecological significance of the trees which are aesthestically interesting to me. What is striking is that the researchers I hear and speak to also connect with trees and woods aesthetically and emotionally as I do.
From the presentation by Jeremy Dagley, Head of Conservation at Epping Forest, picturing the late Oliver Rackham with an Epping pollard.
Since it was Anne’s first time in Sheffield we spent one evening exploring Padley Gorge in the Peak District, where gnarly oaks grow through gritstone boulders in a steep valley. It’s not a wood pasture but is a fantastic ancient woodland site with some stunning trees.
Fellow artist Anne Gilchrist and I worked together for the first time during the Grown Together exhibition at St Margaret’s House, though we have long shared a fascination with Dalkeith Old Oaks and have both made work there for many years.
The site sits within Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian and is bounded by the North and South Esk rivers. The oakwood is grazed by cattle and managed as park woodland by Buccleuch Estates.
During the spring of 2018 we walked, talked and drew our way around the oaks, discovering shared favourites and introducing each other to their unique perspectives. At that time, the contrast between the copious dead and decaying wood and the vibrant green of the emerging new leaves was striking - two points on the complex cycle of woodland life.
We decided to collaborate on a collection of ‘things’ to present at the European Wood Pastures: Past, Present & Future conference, 5-7 September 2018 Sheffield, run by UKEconet which I worked with on ‘Tree Stories’.
Along with original artworks we’ll be presenting this new book, which brings together a selection of our art, photographs and writing made in response to the oakwood. Though we produce quite different work, we share a great deal in the way our art has developed as a kind of conversation with the trees. In the process of making this book and on our walks through the woodland, Anne has taught me to look down as well as gaze up, to notice the small and fleeting wonders of the habitat as well as the monumental aged oaks.
The book is available to preview and order here »