Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Visiting the Snow

A couple of days ago we slid up the street in the morning dark and caught a bus to the outskirts of town where some friends were gathering to drive out to the mountains. 

A heavy frost had grown during the night and all the roofs and branches and fields that we passed were a rich, glistening white. A few snowflakes were falling as we neared our destination, but if you wanted enough snow to lose a leg in, it was necessary to climb up into the mountains.  

And so we climbed.

It was a calm day, and we listened to grouse sounds and the little streams and burns that rushed by through the snow. 

Some of the burns had frozen enough that we could walk over them, at least mostly. Others could only be crossed by balancing on slippery rocks, or, for the very brave, taking off shoes and socks and walking through.

I took my chances with the slippery rocks, as my throat was already burning with the beginnings of a nasty cold.

Wandering up in the mountains, the light slides around in the strangest ways. 

Off in the distance, landscapes appear through a pocket of clouds, all coloured in the bright aqua blue of ice and glaciers, while just beyond that, the light appears inexplicably brownish or reddish. Though, these mysterious pockets of colour don't always come through in photos.

The exposure in the above photograph brings the moody atmosphere of mountain light to a whole new level, but it is rather lovely, I think.

We followed a stream down toward the little loch that you can just glimpse in these photos.

As it descended, the stream became a waterfall. On a little rocky shelf beside the falls we stopped and opened our packs to have some hot tea, and a surprise of homemade gingerbread.

Only a few minutes after our sunny tea break, the sky began to blush faintly pink. The light changes so quickly on these short winter days.

By the time we had reached the ground, the blue of evening was setting in. 

And the day burnt itself out across the sky. The walk finished in cold, blue darkness, the snow on the mountains glowing as it hung in the dark between the sky and the depths of the valley.

I love the little pause that comes at the end of the year, once the vigour of Christmas has passed. I hope you are enjoying the warmth of the holiday season and also some peace and stillness on the these long nights. Wishing you a happy 2015!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Forest for the Trees

Not long ago, I was invited by the Claremont Gallery to join their Christmas Exhibition. The only stipulation was that, whatever I made, it had to be on A5 sized paper. Since I happened to have an idea I'd been looking for an excuse to work on, I set to it.

The only difficulty was that I was very short on time, which meant that I had to transform some sleeping hours into painting hours. So, in the end, I was painting icons by day (something which I will post about in the future) and painting this on a little dressing table in a noisy hotel room by night.

This little procession is made of of four panels:

They were painted in egg tempera on hot-pressed cotton rag paper. Painting in egg tempera away from home means I walk around with brushes, pill boxes filled with earth pigments, and an old spice jar for pink peppercorns filled with an egg yolk, water and vodka solution shoved in my purse and pockets.

The four panels were painted on separate bits of paper. I intended them to be seen as a whole, but presented with spaces between them, either in separate frames or in separate windows of the same frame.

With this sort of presentation it is necessary that the pictures have a unity, but absolute precision in matching the panels up was not important.

I love working in this long, horizontal format. Looking at Japanese and Chinese scroll paintings—whether they be of wide landscapes, processional scenes, or stages of a narrative—always makes me want to run home and start working on something new, as do medieval European paintings in similar dimensions. Though I've come up with many ideas in this format, such as folding books, long paintings, and prints, somehow this is the only one that has come into being so far. Hopefully it will not be the last.

The themes in this work have much in common with other pieces that I am currently working on: the juxtaposition of an overwhelming vs abbreviated natural world; the individual portrayed as a group; and the human will shaping/being shaped by the environment, to name just a few of the shared themes.

If you happen to be in the Aberdeen area in the next little while do stop past the Claremont Gallery to see the Christmas Exhibition. Tomorrow evening is the opening reception from 6–8:30 pm, and then the show will run until the 31st of January, 2015.

I should mention that I also have three prints on display as part of the Society of Scottish Artists' Annual Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, on The Mound in Edinburgh until the 20th of December. Hope you can make it!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Colour Remedy for a Dreich Day

Some photos from a plane trip that felt like it passed through Candy Land. I was so overwhelmed by the clouds and light that I forgot to take any photos until the most fantastic sights had already subsided, but I think these give a taste of it anyway. It's good to warm the eyes on colours like these, especially on days like these, where at lunchtime it is still too dark to read a book without switching on a lamp.

So here I am, days and weeks and months since my last post. I had thought that I could somehow anchor time here as a I passed through an over-busy period in my daily life, but of course, that's never how things work out in the end.

In these past few months I have flown across the sea and back, visiting the desert for the first time. I've started and also stopped working at a Russian nursery in addition to my regular job; though I loved seeing the effects that even just days had on the rapidly-growing minds of the children there, I simply couldn't find the time for it. I've seen skeletons parading in the streets, golden leaves, and snowy mountain-tops. I've been painting and working on prints too, so I have lots to share, now that things have slowed down a little.

It's incredible how a couple of months can feel at once like an eternity and also like the blink of an eye. I hope this little stretch of time has brought you rich memories and much joy. I am looking forward, once again, to catching up with everyone.