Tag Archives: Scotland

Northern Soul at Christmas

christmas rose copy
Christmas Rose

I’m pleased to say I’ve got my drawing hand back in since I’ve been up here. So many interesting lines to navigate, from determined hawthorns and oaks bracing against the wind, to wild mushrooms, curious livestock and dramatic rocky outcrops.

fir cones
Fir Cones

So when I was commissioned for a few more designs for Christmas cards earlier in the winter, my usual humbug mentality about the season was dispelled. This client is an avid gardener and likes unique botanical compositions. I seek out an appropriate specimen, and then set it on a board, rearranging it until some pleasing rhythm is revealed.

Then I can employ one of my favourite mediums, the classic dip pen and black ink, usually on a heavy watercolour paper. This detailed work is an almost meditative experience, and I love the excitement of feeling the right course of the line first time. Obviously it isn’t always plain sailing and sometimes your attention will drift, or the intensity of the practice has you chewing your left hand off. Still, the discipline is something I still relish, and I’m glad that the output is well received.

By now I expected to be trudging through snow, charcoal and ink in hand with armfuls of chilly scenes to share. And yet, there is the small matter of climate change that now makes such expectations unreasonable. Thank you for following my Northern Progress these past months; I will have some more wintry offerings in the New Year. In the meantime I do hope that you too are fortunate enough to enjoy a Merry Christmas..


In Search of My Northern Soul.. 5

Inspired by my trip to the Netherlands with a wealth of visual information in my head, I was determined to get back out into the open air.

I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to winter plein air painting. Notorious amongst my friends for the numerous layers I need to take camping in the summer, I prepared as best I could: two pairs of glove liners, latex outers, wrist warmers, fingerless additions to the top of the three underlayers. For the feet, Two pairs of winter socks and one thin pair of silver socks recommended by the Raynaulds Society. My circulation is terrible!

I struck out for a sheltered spot in a copse of beech and fir. Starting fully 2015-11-20 10.40.26gloved I realised I had forgotten my palette knife (clearly I need to brush up on packing my school bag properly), which most definitely hampered my operating speed. I had to take off my gloves to work with a smaller brush, and within 10 minutes they were red raw. It may have been a bright day, but it was 4 degrees out there and the wind had a cunning instinct for seeking out its prey.

Beaten, I wove my way through the red-flagged shooting parties and resolved to try as do some other plein air painters like Tom Coates, finish the work in the studio, or in my case, the barn. I don’t usually adopt this practice because the change of pace alters the character of the work: you are not directly responding to the natural lighting conditions so you lose some dynamism. What is positively different is the dialogue with the material has the upper hand; this certainly shouldn’t be avoided – the balance and counterbalance of subject and process is the essential rhythm of a painters workflow.

So, another hour under cover and this was the result. Perhaps this approach has potential…

waterloo monument wm
The winning side, Ancrum