Friday, 30 December 2011

Festive painting, running and swimming.

I've been keeping busy during the holidays with a mixture of festive running, swimming in the sea and in the pool and sketching and painting, indoors and outdoors.
On Christmas eve, Tom and Phillipa Harley organised a festive run at Pencaitland. About twenty people including a couple of Santa's and lots of tinsel took part in a relay with a Christmas cracker as a baton. It was all followed up with some of Phillipa's delicious baking.
On Boxing day, I went along to North Berwick and joined up with Saartje for a swim in the sea next to the harbour. Luckily the air temperature was unseasonably mild. The swim was great, even though we were both in cossy's. The secret is to keep your head warm... no diving under the water. I took Harvey along with me and Saartje had a brown lab called  Haggis. We left the dogs playing on the beach, only to find that they came in after us. Harvey had some sense and turned back after a short while but Haggis swam around the buoys with us. We were in for about 10 minutes. When we got out, we ran up the beach... a great way of warming up. Later on I posted the work I have been doing on a portrait of Lia. I had taken a few photos of the painting process and posted them too, this is something I hadn't done before and I found it really useful, it's something I will do more of.
The next day, Harvey and I met up with Richard and his dog Sevy, a Rhodesian ridge back and went for a run from Yellowcraigs to North Berwick and back. Sevy, being a big dog lopes along with Richard and exudes a calm feeling of being in the present moment. Harvey, ran as he usually does, criss crossing the beach and occasionally disappearing over the dunes... every dog on the route is given a quick sniff around it's private areas.
On 28 December, I went along to the Loch Centre and worked on my swimming technique. I took the attitude to quantity rather than quality and did a series of sets which I was surprised to add up to 2300 metres. Since then I have come across an on line coaching set-up called Endurance Nation US. They give some great advice on their swimming clinic. I have downloaded their ebook, so New Year's resolution number 1 is to use it to improve my snaky technique and become a streamlined swim swimmer.
Yesterday, I went back to Hedderwick Hill Stables to do a sketch of a conically shaped building that I spotted on the Dunbar running club's festive run. It's  a great place for dogs and a great place to do some sketching. Someone told me that this building was used to with horses walking around in circles to grind flour.... not true. I knocked on the door of a local cottage to ask about it. It's a fridge, which used to store cattle carcasses, the inside is made of slates which  keeps it  cold in the summer. My plan is to turn this sketch into a largish water colour painting, if I can  work out how to make the reddish sandstone colour which the building is made of.

When I finished, I went along to Innerwick and had a run through the fields and along to Oldhamstocks... Stuart Hay country, got back just before dark.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Painting Lia's Portrait

This painting is based on a photo of Lia taken at a wedding about four years ago. It shows the smiley character of my granddaughter who looks beautiful in her party dress. I just love the sense of fun that exudes from her happy smiling face.
I planned to paint this picture over a year ago, so I have had plenty of time to think about it.
I decided to use water colour paints but opted to use smooth paper rather than water colour paper. I drew the outline of picture and used masking fluid on the high visibility white areas in the eyes, lips  and teeth.
Next, I worked  on the background. I used Prussian blue on the bottom left and allowed yellow ochre to mix with the top section in a wet on wet pattern. I used cadmium orange on the top right and a green made of Prussian blue and yellow ochre on the bottom left. I added a couple of background details from the photo and added a pale pink wash to Lia's face neck and arms.

Then I worked on the tone of the skin with additional brush stokes in the darker areas. I used a small round brush and a rigger brush for the hair. The eyes were coloured with Prussian blue and the centre with indigo blue.
I felt that the portrait could be improved by catching more of Lia's essential joy. I decided to paint the portrait again, but this time I used water colour paper and more masking fluid, to depict Lia's fine hair. I decided to make the background more dramatic and leave out the details from the photo. I allowed more wet in wet mixture  of the background colours and used salt on the left side to produce the starburst effect.
One of the  wonderful characteristics of water colour is that each time you paint the same subject you get a different picture. You have to learn to live with the fact that you are not completely in control of the pigments. This is the final picture, incorporating the changes I made.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Darren Woodhead's exhibition at Waterston House

Yesterday I took some time off Christmas shopping to visit Waterston House, the headquarters of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club. This very attractive building is perched on the edge of Aberlady Bay, in  a perfect position to see the water birds that live there and in particular, the comings and goings of the geese.
What drew me there is an exhibition of Darren Woodhead's watercolour paintings which are on display until 25 January. Darren paints all his pieces outdoors, even in the worst of Scotlands weather. He has a keen eye for wildlife and his exhibition of East Lothian's  wild birds in their natural habitat is first class. Darren wanders all over East Lothian accompanied by his dog  paints wonderful landscapes with the bird life a natural part of them. The paintings are often large with intimate depictions of the birds. They feel close by and fully alive. Two books of paintings and descriptions of the places they were painted called 'Up  river - song of the Esk' and 'From Dawn to Dusk'  are available to look at or buy.

This is an excellent exhibition of Scottish wildlife, water colour painting shown is a pleasing setting... get along and see it if you can.

One of the many paintings at the exhibition

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In the deep mid-winter

Star date 21 December 2011 and the shortest day of the year. From now on the days will slowly, oh so slowly become lighter!! In the mean time I will keep on with my routine which has been evolving over the last few weeks. The main point is that the best light of the day is often around midday till about 2.45 after which it starts to fade. So the things I like to do outside have to be organised to make best use of this time. Top of my list of things to do are painting, running and taking Harvey for a walk.  A bonus at this time of year is that very few people go out into the cold to visit the beautiful beaches and hills around East Lothian. Sunday morning was an exception... Harvey and I went for a run on Tyninghame beach and bumped into two people I know who were also running but not with each other. Still I did get a nice photo of the sun rise on the way there.

I have to say that my routine isn't strict. I quite like torch light runs. Monday night was still and cold and perfect for runnig. I ran along by the River Tyne and up past Seggarsdean farm... not a person in sight for that one

. I will also be running around Haddington tonight in the Festive 5 km handicap race. It all has to be done and dusted by 7.45 so that we can go along to the Tyneside for a Christmas meal and a bit of yo ho ho.

Monday, 19 December 2011

New Laptop

The motherboard of my previous lap top took early retirement. There wasn't any way to fix her, so here I am with a shiny new lap top. The design has moved on and I have to admit that in comparison to the old square screen, I prefer this new rectangular screen. The in-built camera is a good development... I don't have to go searching for the old web cam when I want to use Skype. However, a new piece of equipment can be tricky, for instance I'm have a few problems with the link to my wi fi printer and scanner. I find that when I try to sort these things out, instead of taking the anticipated five minutes, I end up in a maze of downloads and related complications which gobble up the time. This stops me doing the things  I really want to do... running, swimming, painting etc

Just to make life a bit more complicated, I have invested in Web Plus x4, with the intention of creating one or more web sites. I'm hoping this will give me a platform  to share information about Shiatsu treatments and eventually to bring together my artwork.  In the mean time, I am trying to get my head around the Web Plus x4 User Guide.

Not so long ago, I went along to the National Gallery for an easel drawing session mentioned in a previous blog on:;postID=9157481213261766527
Before I used the easel, I did a couple of quick sketches of the Japanese model, sitting on the floor and  using a board.

I'm intending to go back to the easel drawing sessions in January, It's a great opportunity to do some sketching in no less a place than the National Gallery!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Walking the dog

On my recent walks with Harvey, I have been taking the camera along.

Big Moon over Haddington

And Bass Rock

Came across this amazing building on the Dunbar festive run last Sunday. Apparently it used to have horses walking around in it to turn the grinding wheel. Horses were used because the wind to turn windmills in Scotland is inconsistent... sounds familiar!
 This will make a great water colour painting.

Harvey taking in the view

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

An Inspirational Book about Van Gogh

Van Gogh was a creative genius and a complex human being. 'The Life and Works of VAN GOGH' by Michael Howard is a wonderful book which describes his life and art by putting his paintings into the context of his life. We find out where he was living and how he was creating his art through reference to the large number of letters he wrote to his brother Theo. There are 280 pictures of his paintings included. They show the  influences of the artists who inspired him, including Rembrandt, Gauguin and Millet. Van Gogh's development as an artist from his early tonal pieces in Holland, through the influence of Impressionism and Pointillism and culminating in his rich  and vivid expressive paintings at the end of his life are described along side his development as a human being. In his early life he followed his father's footsteps into religion. He became a successful art seller and had disastrous relationships with women. He exposed himself to many artistic influences in Britain, France and Holland and gradually became subject to mental health problems which led to him being hospitalised and eventually committing suicide. This book gives a really good feel of Van Gogh, the man and artist.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Another masterpiece!

The 'Klivera Shelter,' shown in the last blog isn't the only unusal building created by Venerable Thitadhammo. If anything the building he is working on currnently is even more fascinating. Situated at the end of the long log store is a deceptive gate which looks like a part of the log pile.

 It takes you through to the wee garden and a false front door.

The building rests solidly on log stilts. There are leaded windows and an interesting turret with a green pointed steeple which has stairs to lead you to a balcony. The chimmney is hidden inside another turret. The whole structure is clothed in a mystery of trees and shrubs.

This is my quick attempt at a sketch of the front of the building.

Although the outside of the building is amazing, it does not prepare you for the interior. Every wooden fitment is wonderfully crafted and unique. Each moving part makes a whoosh noise, they are so precisely made. There are more beautiful stained glass windows with an beautiful desk set in front of a clear window. Once again it is like being transported into the world of Tolkein... you expect Gandalf and a hobbit to walk in through the door.
It doesn't cost much to creat a masterpiec. All the materials have been collected or bargained for. To date the building has cost 10p.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Now that's a shelter!

On my last day at Chithurst monastery I had some time to explore the grounds. Not very far from the main building, tucked away in a corner and camoflaged with bushes is a shelter with a difference. First impressions would suggest a run down or derilict building... as below.

That is not the case at all. When you take a peek behind the bushes you find a building that looks a bit down at heel but it has an interesting rune on the door.  Just enough to make you want to take a peek inside.

This is the 'Kilvera Shelter, is a most supberly worked little building. The place is a minor masterpiece with wonderfully worked wood fittings and stained glass windows. 

There is a seat that converts into a bed and a wood burning stove in the corner to keep you cosy.

In the corner above the stove are a couple of poetry books and a novel. This amazing little shelter was made by Venerable Thitadhammo who lives above a workshop, nearby.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

St. Mary's in West Sussex and East Lothian

Chichester gave me my first impression of West Sussex. The town centre is old and attractive, comprising of a lot of traditional market town architecture. I thought that this was a nice feature.

There is an inspiring Cathedral dating back many centuries. This photo is taken from the nearby gardens.

Chithurst monastery is two bus rides and about 20 miles away via Midhurst, It is a lovely rural area with heathland, forests and single track roads. The area has an abundance of ancient cottages and churches. St. Mary's is down the road from Chithurst monastery and is a fine example of a Norman Church built around 1080.

I was inspired to do a sketch painting of this church but it was a bit awkward because I had to do it crouching on my haunches.

Afterwards I remembered that this is the second time I have painted a church called St. Mary. The other one is in Haddington, East Lothian and brought me first prize in the East Linton exhibition 2010. Here is the link

Friday, 2 December 2011

Living and working in the Forest

Spending two weeks in the open air surrounded by trees gets you thinking. What must it have been like to live there all the time like a lot of our predecesors did, not so many generations ago. Life must have been a lot simpler and more in harmony with nature. There are still forests that we can visit, but living, working and sleeping in the forest is something else. For one thing, there is a lot of food growing and living there. The  number and variety of mushrooms growing is amazing and there are a whole lot of nuts and root veggies to eat. When the crash comes, the forest is the place to head for. The air is very good, I would recommend anyone suffering from asthma to go and sample it for a few days. People knew about the things that live and grow in the forest and being clever types developed skills to harvest the good things without destroying them. Coppicing Birch and Hazel are a couple of ways this was done.
I did a sketch of a neat little way of using woodcraft to store the sweet chestnut logs which I think is a good example of 'bodging' - working with the raw materials in the forest.

Another thing I recommend is running along woodland tracks... wonderful.