Monday, 30 January 2012

Painting the 'Stone Fridge'

Over the last  month I have been working on a water colour painting of a building I came across on the Dunbar festive 10km run. The building is located at Hedderwick Hill farm stables near the John Muir Country Park.
On a cold day in early January, Harvey and I took a walk through the countryside with the purpose of taking some photos of the building. We came back with quite a collection from all angles around 'the fridge.' This is what it looks like.
There are a few things that attract me about this building. I like the fact that it is old and is made of red sandstone. I also like its very unusual shape and the fact that it has moss growing on the roof and creepers covering one side of it.
The other buildings around it and the woods across the track give it a truly rustic feel.

On the way back from my first trip, I stopped off  in a cafe and a fellow customer assured me it had been used for keeping horses to grind flour. My second visit to 'the fridge' with Harvey was also pretty cold, but on that occasion, I not only made a sketch of the building, but also knocked on the neighbouring cottage door. I was told that in the past the building was in used a fridge, at a time when the farm had cattle. The inside is lined with slates and keeps cool in the summer. This is the sketch.
Before I got started on the  painting, I did a small, quick painting to work out some of the challenges I would have on the larger painting.
So when I started I had a bit of material to work with as you can see above.
The painting is 19 x 15.5" or 48 x 39.5 cms.
The first task was to draw the outline on of 'the fridge' and surrounding buildings and countryside. At this point I painted in masking fluid onto the building stonework and chimney.
I painted in a graduated sky and then the roof of 'the fridge' and surrounding buildings. I used Paynes grey for the roof with some hooker green for the moss. The sky is cobalt blue and cadmium yellow.

I experimented with mixture of alizarin  crimson and cadmium orange for the red Dunbar stonework. The creepers were painted in a mixture of paynes grey and burnt umber. The windows were mostly in paynes grey with the left hand window also having some cercilean blue at the bottom.
 The far door has a bit of one of my favourite colours, yellow orchre.
Next I painted in the background trees, followed by the nearer trees on the right. I filled in the track and worked on the grass verges and the abundant drop of leaves. I considered putting in some people walking in the distance, but decided to leave them out.
The next stage is to make a mount and a frame for this painting. I may also get in printed.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Butterfly handle bars

Last year I took my bike with me to New Zealand and Australia. I also found out about butterfly handlebars. I intended to take my ex-triathlon bike with me and had new gears fitted into the bargain. When it came to dismantle the bike in readiness for the flight, all went well until  it came to the drop handle bars. They wouldn't shift. I tried everything I knew to get them off but they didn't budge a centimetre. My good neighbour Harry came to help me but we did not get any further. I was a bit desperate because the flight was a couple of days away and I had to prepare. Next stop was the bike shop... I was convinced that the professionals would be able to shift it, but no, all that happened was that they broke a rubber hammer on the stem and left it looking in a sorry state. At this point I decided I wouldn't be able to take my planned bike and opted instead for my cobbled together mountain bike, with a lot of unexpected consequences. I wrote about them between March and July last year if you want to find out the ups and downs.
Now I have to admit that the ex-triathlon bike is getting on a bit. I reckon I bought in 1994 or 95 when I first started doing tri's. But it is still pretty sturdy and I have used it over the last few years for some long cycles including the trip around Shetland. But time had taken it's toll. The aluminium handle-bar pole had corroded with the steel bike body to become one.
When I was in Chithurst monastery last November I met a guy, who, like me is retired and likes cycling. I think he is writing a book called 'Zen Cycling.' We got talking about long distance cycling and he explained to me the delights of the butterfly handle-bars. No more sore necks and backs because you can sit up, but you can also hunker down in the wind or when you are putting in a fast pace.  Fast forward a month to the Lennoxlove book festival and I am sitting in the marquee listening to Mark Beaumont describe his trip down the American continent on his bike and yes... you have guessed it - he had butterfly handlebars.
But how would I get the drop handle bars out... Mike in the Haddington bike shop was the answer. He has a reputation of getting out any seat post or handle bar, no matter stuck they are. He did admit to me that he had a challenge with this one. It required heating up the stem and the use of a five foot bar by two people to get it off.  So now I have what feels like a wonderful new bike. It will take a bit of getting used to and I am looking forward to that.

Oh yes... I am thinking of a long distance cycle along the North Sea Cycle trail, starting sometime in May. It looks like a fantastic cycle and is supported by Scotland, England, Belgium, Holland, The Netherlands, Sweden and  Norway. In fact all of the countries it passes through.

You can find out more about it on:

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Life drawing at Poldrate Mill

Last Saturday was typical of the sort of weather we have been enjoying in East Lothian, bright winter sun and very chilly. Just the sort of weather to get your kit off. Not me, but the model in the Life Drawing class, held in the high roofed and chilly Poldrate Mill. The temperature wasn't a problem due to the strategically placed heaters, one of which appears in the drawings. The drawings were done in charcoal and a bit of chalk. Unlike other Life Drawing sessions I have been to, this one didn't have a tutor. We just got on with it ourselves. This free approach is a good way of doing a session, but I do like to have a critical eye cast over my work and I have learned a lot from various tutors at the Pitclay gallery, Footscray Community Arts in Merlbourne and at the National Gallery. Everyone has their own approach and I would say that there is no 'right' way of drawing, but there are 'good' and 'not so good' drawings. I think it comes down to looking really deeply at the model. Getting proportions right in relation to each other and going for it. These drawings were done quickly for practice and are not the finished article. Like everything in art, practice is the route to improvement.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

All Clear

Over the last few months, my friend, Christine has been going down to the Western General Hospital to  get a three weekly dose of chemo therapy. Last week she got the results back from the scan and blood test and brilliant news, she is in remission. During the time she spent getting treatment, she continued to swim and run, showing great courage and spirit in the face of adversity. Recently, she had been giving me some tips on swimming stroke improvement, to help me realise my New Year's resolution of swimming less like a snake and more like a swan, and its working. Not my opinion, a long time friend who works at the Loch Centre pointed out my snaky technique to me before Christmas. Yesterday, he said he couldn't believe how much my technique has improved. So, what I have to do now is keep on until the body memory of the good technique is laid down and I don't slip back into my bad old ways. 
I wanted to mark Christine's good news in some way and she had mentioned (on the blog) that she liked one of my paintings, so I put it in a mount and gave it to her... with unanticipated results. And I mean results... yesterday, I got a real spike in the hits on my blog. Usually, the stats are between 20 and 40 hits a day. Yesterday they hit 62 and the majority of them were on the blog which included the painting that Christine liked. You've guessed what happened -  Christine wrote her blog about her recent good news and mentioned  the painting with a hyper-link to it. So lots of people who were reading her log popped over to take a look... sweet or what!
On the painting front, I'm in the middle of a project. I have been bowled over by the conical shaped building I came across at Hedderwick Hill Stables. So I have been back there and sketched it. I did a preliminary painting of it and now I'm doing a bigger one - 20 x 16" As usual I'm learning as I go, so watch this space.

The Fridge.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

What a 'weak' end!

Interesting week end. Went to the vet with Harvey on Saturday to get a new splint and bandage cum handle bar tape put on it, then spent the rest of the week end explaining to complete strangers that the whole thing looks a lot worse than it is. He has broken a small bone in his front toe ... not a total crush fracture of the whole leg... pass it on. The bandage lasted one and half days. He broke the splint on the East beach at North Berwick this evening, playing with friends, which includes every dog he ever meets... so another trip to the vet tomorrow looks in order . Saturday afternoon saw me joining  a Life Drawing class (not as the model!) There followed by a session of drills at the triathlon swimming club. Most of them were about swimming on your side, which maybe lead to the very runny nose and all the signs of a cold this morning. This should have given me a good excuse to lay in bed till lunch time, but instead I was harried into a run with Frank along the half marathon route. I bailed out at 'Joiners Brae' making excuses about my cold. I reckon I did 8 of the 13 miles plus a mile home and unbelievably felt a lot better at the end than I did at the beginning.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Running at North Berwick and a surf drawing

Yesterday saw me running a nice varied route starting at North Berwick sports centre. From there I ran to the North Berwick Law car park and anti clockwise around the Law. There is a narrow path which winds its way around the Law and has a tendency to fall away to the right. This is quite tricky when you have road shoes on, particularly when it is damp underfoot... there tends to be some slipping and sliding. The path levels out and runs along the top of a field away from the Law. From then on its free running down the hill through the Glen and onto the beach. The next half hour was resistance training into the strong wind. I put my head down and worked my way along the East beach and then the West beach until I reached 45 minutes, somewhere near Yellowcraig. Heading back to North Berwick was blissful, the wind pushing me along. I cut up onto the High Street and towards the Train Station. There is a steep uphill section of a path to the road where the sports centre is, so I put in an effort up it and on to the end. An enjoyable run of 1hour 12 mins.
Today turned out to be a rest day with an over indulgence of pizza...  better put in some training again tomorrow!

I spotted a nice card of a surfer in a big sea in Sally and Craig's place (naturally.) Here is my take on it:

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Water colour class

First day back to Sheena Phillips water colour class today. Sheena must be doing something right because it was a full house of about 20 people. Most of the class from last term were there, but one of the men  was missing, which means there are only two of us now. One advantage of there being so many women present, is that they come laden with cakes and biscuits. The Christmas cake was particularly good. The subject today was light,colour, tone.  and  The painting plan was to use a  limited palette of Naples yellow and neutral tint (a grey colour.) I didn't have either of these colours, so I used paynes grey and yellow ochre. This is the result:

On the way back from Musselburgh, I called into the Loch Centre at Tranent for a swim with Christine. We have been doing some drills that involve swimming for six kicks on one side and then six kicks on the other side. There are some variations of this drill, all with the intention of improving the roll of the front crawl. I'm hoping that this drill and others will help me achieve my New Year's ambition of improving my swimming form.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

When the sun shines...

Maybe I shouldn't say it too loudly, but I am ENJOYING THIS WINTER!  We have had loads of blue skies and sun and the cold air is revitalising. Today I took full advantage of the weather. Frank and I got our running gear on and headed west down the railway track. We got to Cottyburn and joined the road up the big hill near Bangley quarry and along to the junction of Aberlady road, instead of going down the hill to Haddington, we carried on along a track to the Dirlton road. From there it is a quick uphill to the track across to Barney Mains. Once we reached the farm we went downhill and across the A199 along the road to the river path and back into Haddy. We were running for 1hr 31 mins and I guess it was 11 miles long. I felt pretty good throughout the run with my usual injury suspects being kept at bay. The last time I remember doing this route was a couple of years ago. It is a good one for a day like today because there are plenty of different types of terrain and get some splendid views.

Later I took Harvey along to North Berwick. He has been prescribed lots of  rest to recover from his broken toe and I thought the beach would be ideal for a short walk, being soft underfoot. Now if you or I had a plaster on our leg, we could be fairly certain that strangers in the street would not want to tell us what a shame it was and ask how it happened. You've guessed... Harvey got a huge dose of sympathy and people who did not stop to talk to him looked at him with big doe eyes and then turned to look at  me questioningly. Call me paranoid, but I felt like saying 'it wasn't my fault honest.'
The other reason for going to the beach was to have a second go at rowing. Last weeks session had left me with sore knees from knocking the oars into them and an achy back, not to mention ham strings... don't mention them. I thought that the problem was a lack of adequate space for my long legs. This week  I got a seat in the bow and put the foot rest, that you push against, to the furthest point it would go. Conditions were ideal... a calm sea and  little wind. The four of us rowing and the cox, worked together well and we flew across the water to Craigleith Island. When we got there, a seal popped his head out of the water and gave us a long inquisitive inspection. On the way back I had a chat with  one of the crew about the Earthwatch programme which this week followed Barnacle geese through Europe and up the east coast of  Scotland, including some great arial views of Tantallon Castle and Bass Rock. If you haven't watched it, have a look on iplayer... well worth it. I was in the last boat out, which meant we came back to a magnificent sunset. My opinion of rowing so far is very favourable.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Poor Harvey!

It can't be denied that the weather yesterday was magnificent. Clear blue skies, sunshine and cold, crisp air. The perfect day for a hike up Trapprain Law, so that is exactly what Harvey, a friend and I did. I have been up the Law a few times lately, so I know that the sheep who live there spend a lot of their time on the west side of the Law. I go up towards the east side and down on the west, which means Harvey can off be the lead on the way up, but when we get to the top, the lead goes on, in case we come across the sheep. Wonderful, as Harvey is ., his ability to resist chasing sheep is non-existent.
All was going well yesterday and as we descended from the top, after taking in the splendid views, Harvey spotted a flock of sheep and immediately tugged at the lead, which unfortunately was pulled out of my friends hand. So he was off across the rocks and back up the hill after the flock. It was obvious that he would not get anywhere near the sheep, because he had a rather long lead trailing behind him slowing him down. I ran after him shouting for him to stop, but to no avail. After about fifteen minutes of searching the top and making it over towards the east side of the Law, Harvey appeared, lead trailing behind him. It was soon obvious that he had hurt himself. He was holding his front left paw awkwardly and limping. However, as we headed for the car, he seemed to improve.
This morning the foot and limp were worse, so we headed for the vet. Sure enough, the diagnosis is a broken bone at the end of the pinkie toe of the left paw. The good news is that the bone will heal quite quickly, but in the mean time Harvey has a splint, with the splendid blue plaster wrapped around his leg. It has to remain in place for a week, after which time it will be changed and another bandage put on for another week. After that he will be healed and able to get back to normal life. Until then it is sedate walks on a lead for Harvey... quite a difference from his usual high energy performances.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Telford College, Foundation Course in Art and Design

You may have noticed that I use my blog to discuss the things that I am interested in. Fair enough...
Running gets mentioned quite often, cycling has also featured on the higher ranks of my labels and Harvey is up there near the top, but consider this
Art has been labelled 69 times,
Drawing 13 times
Water colour 5 times
Nudes 5 times
Painting 5 times
Sketches 2
Get the picture! ha ha... I like art. I like to paint, draw and look at art. On a weekly basis, I  attend the North Berwick art group and I go along to Sheena Phillips water colour classes. I am trying to make some time between other things to do some painting at home.
So what! you might ask... Well, erm, the question of what to do now that I have retired has cropped up in my mind. Let's face it I'm not going to break the three hour barrier in a marathon, so I don't have to go pounding the streets and the countryside in every God forsaken weather that this beautiful country can throw at us. I could build up my Shiatsu practice again, and I have considered that quite seriously.
The thing that really appeals to me right now is developing my skills in painting, drawing and lots of other aspects of art. Now I could sit in my house and  create stuff, which would be great, but I know that there is lots that I don't know. With that in mind, I have been trawling through the courses available to some one as long in the tooth as me. The result... a nice surprise. The art teaching world out there say that they want to encourage 'mature students.'
Today, I took a trip up to Telford College. It's quite a place... opened in 2006, in the Waterside development area of Edinburgh. A helpful guy from the reception took me up to Floor 3, where Art and design is located and showed me around and one of the staff answered my questions and gave me the gen on the place. Result... I have applied for the course that starts in August. The next stage is to put together a portfolio, which in my present state of knowledge might as well be 'put together a Mars voyager.' There will be interviews in February.
It's all very exciting and a bit scary.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The SAA Society for all Artists

I've been a member of the SAA (Society for all artists) for a couple of years. My reasons for joining were to get copies of their excellent magazine 'PAINT'  and to make use of the cut price art  materials for sale in the catalogue. I hadn't bothered to look at their web site until yesterday, which is a pity because I found it to be a treasure trove of useful stuff for budding artists. A couple of things that caught my eye are the 'How too do art' articles. A quick scan through these revealed some great tips and tricks of the trade that can be brought into use when painting water colour. I also spotted the competition section and it aroused my interest. There are several different competitions, including the 'Artist of the Year.' You can submit the art online, which is a good step forward from sending stuff by email or even 'real mail.' The  three pieces I put forward are 'Cala Lillies, a life drawing (both in charcoal) and Tantallon Castle (Water colour). They are now on the SAA web site at:

Last night I went to the running club's first session of the year. It was wet and windy, but when you got going, surprisingly mild. No one was up for using head torches, so we ran around the Haddington route. This is supposed to be 11km, although there is always some debate about the length of our courses. There were six runners which isn't a bad turn out for the time of year and the conditions. Everyone running was faster than me, but that didn't stop them all getting a tow up the first hill! After that they disappeared into the night. It was one of those runs where you get stuck in as the wind pushes you back. The last two or three kms, the wind was behind and I was flying. Enjoyed the whole thing in spite of, or maybe because of the conditions.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Loony Dook at North Berwick on Ne'er Day

If you look carefully, you can see my head sticking out of the water, to the left of the Life Boat.

Courtesy of Robbie Wightman who thought I was a grey seal

Monday, 2 January 2012

Out with the old...

In between jumping into the sea for the loony dook at North Berwick yesterday and running along the railway walk track between Haddington and Longniddry today, I decided to declutter my kitchen. This involved removing the medals that have  hung from a shelf after being brought back from various  races over the last few years. Their fate is to be put in a box to be hidden away somewhere. I know I'm a sad old git and should  put them in the bin but in my defence, I come from the marathon boom era of the 1980's when getting a medal still meant something. In those days, working class lads like myself did not run in marathons, we left it to the super hero's on the telly. The first London marathon in 1981 was a revelation... mere mortals like me were running in the same race as the racing elite. I remember how excited I got sitting in front of the telly and watching an American and a Scandinavian cross the finishing line together. Afterwards, I went out and ran about eight miles which was the longest distance I had run at the time. The following year I ran the mighty race in 3.22 and became a hopeless running addict. I still have  the London marathon medal, along with a lot of others in a box somewhere.

The current medals have clustered around certain events. The Dunbar races feature prominently and there are a couple of  North Berwick Law race medals. Loch Leven, Haddington and Jedburgh half marathon medals are in there. There's also one  from the Cape Wrath marathon (relay.) To keep a bit of balance there are a few triathlon medals and one for a cycle run. There's plenty of room on the shelf for a some new medals...  so watch this space.