Themes – Sea

Above: Pisces Moon, Isle of Iona. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018.

As I’m currently painting a private commission which must remain secret until October 2021, I thought I’d post themed blogs in the meantime. Today’s theme is Sea.

In the next few weeks I’ll also share my paintings on the themes of trees, mountains, portraits, winter, abstraction, imagination and collaborations

Our emotional and physiological response to the ocean means that it’s one of the most painted themes in fine art. Capturing a visceral sense of its translucence, movement, moods and light is challenging and there are limitless approaches. To enhance your viewing pleasure, here are a couple of music pieces that conjure moods of the sea! A beautiful song by Ishbel MacAskill:  An Ataireachd Ard  and a timeless sound from the Hebrides: Lewisian Psalm Singing

I’ve headed each set below with these terms: Movement, turbulence.   Light, sun.   Night, dark moods.   Colour, translucence.

Movement, turbulence

Painting movement is best achieved by making a mess I find! I try to keep the paint loose – as soon as I lose that freeness of brushstrokes it disappears. I’ve noticed that if anyone’s watching this process it looks stressful – just as it seems I’ve carefully captured a moving wave it’s time to mess that up and recreate it in looser strokes. This is one of the advantages of working in oils or acrylics, with watercolour you have to strategise more carefully. In the process of messing it up several times though, texture and interest is created.

One of the best compliments I ever recieved as an artist was when the curator of French fine art from Scotland’s National Gallery bought two of my paintings and compared them to Courbet, Encouraging praise indeed – Courbet was an Impressionist known for his wild waves. An example of Courbet’s waves on this link; Courbet

 

Light, sun

Every landscape artist is obsessed with the way light creates landscape. Capturing the essentials of light on sea is a constant challenge. Some artists simply make a precise copy from a photo, but that usually just creates a flatness and lack of energy and there seems not much point in recreating a photo, except for practice. The artists I most admire are those who can say everything about light with very little – something I still struggle with. One of my favourites in that regard is Alex Katz. His paintings appear simple until you realise how much he expresses with minimal marks. Alex Katz painting here – Katz

 

Night, dark moods

Probably the least commercial works are those that explore a more sombre mood. That doesn’t change my fascination with the subject though – it’s poetic and inspiring. We see landscape by light, so when there’s minimal light it has an emotional effect – we seek the light in the painting with a heightened focus. When painting in the introspective winter months, it’s instinctive to paint in a darker or more monochrome pallete. (subtleties of colour can be really difficult in the dark light of a Scottish winter). Tacita Dean, a hugely talented artist, captures an ominous mood in her chalk on blackboard works, yet there’s a romance to them that speaks of our long history of sea tales. Tacita Dean

 

Colour, translucence

Nothing expresses the unique quality of a particular sea more than colour and transclucency. The sea on Iona on Scotland’s west coast is transparent, impossibly turquoise and clear, whereas on the east coast it’s more opaque and grey-toned, even in bright sunlight. This is down to light (sun rise and sunset in east or west) pollution and geology – the sand on Iona is pinkish white, in North Berwick it’s warm brownish yellow. Go farther south to Cornwall and the sea is still magically green or turquoise but with less gem-like clarity because of a warmer-toned sun. Capturing clarity in paint is a case of clean contrasts and layers of colour. Also I find that a well-placed blob of seaweed in the shallows with just a hint of sunlit white froth on top can work well! Basically though it’s a challenge, and again I wish I could say more with less.  Hockney’s paintings come to mind, view more here Hockney

Joan Eardley’s paintings of the sea have beautiful subtlety of colour and texture, to my mind, unmatched. One of her paintings on this link Eardley

Lastly, the Scottish Colourists are the yardstick by which artists are measured in terms of understanding sea and colour! Colourists

In a few days I’ll share images and links to artworks on the theme of trees.

 

Another Winter’s Tale …

'Bridge in Winter, Canonhill Park, Birmingham'. Acrylic and ink on 7x5" card. Rose Strang 2013

‘Bridge in Winter, Canonhill Park, Birmingham’. Acrylic and ink on 7×5″ card. Rose Strang 2013

What a strange Christmas we’ll all be having this year. Whatever your circumstances, it’ll be different. I’m thinking of people who’ll feel isolated, or people who’d normally look forward to this time with relief after a hard year’s work, but instead it might feel like more of the same – difficult to find motivation without work or the usual social groups.

I feel lucky that I’ve been able to continue working, since painting is a solitary profession, also lucky that the lockdown led to me moving in with my partner, so it’s been a happy time in many ways, though worrying in others. I was looking through my winter photos and paintings as I thought I’d post something seasonal here, and I came across winter photos from 2010.

I’d been working as an arts manager at a hospital in Birmingham in 2010 and it wasn’t going well. I’d begun to realise that the corporate world of hospital development wasn’t for me. This was a new hospital build funded by private finance, and though I loved working with hospital staff when I got the rare chance – nurses, doctors and consultants working directly with patients – I often struggled with the corporate and business people I had to work with in the hospital. My creative suggestions about the ways art could benefit patients weren’t valued. The bosses wanted statement art to suit the new hospital, I wanted local arts groups to work with long term patients on projects to help them cope with illness.

Two years into my three year contract, I was becoming morose and dissatisfied, I felt un-valued and unwanted – all my dreams of doing something positive for patients hadn’t come to much. I was depressed and demotivated. On top of all that it was freezing – the coldest, snowiest winter in the UK for years, so getting out of bed into the dark mornings was a struggle.

Once I was up and out the house though, there was a high point to my day. Birmingham has several large parks, some stretching for miles, with huge, beautiful ancient trees (the woods here inspired Tolkien in fact, as Tolkien fans will know!) and luckily my walk to work took me through some of these parks. I’d watched the birth of ducklings and goslings in spring, sunbathed after work in summer, taken hundreds of photos of the incredible autumn colours, but outside of mountain walks I’d never seen such a winter in the city.

 

At 7am in winter the light was just beginning to make everything visible – it was a silent, monochrome world – the snowfall had been so heavy that all trees were covered in a thick blanket of white.

I was reluctant to go to work, I just wanted to stay in this magical Narnia-like landscape. We’d all been moved the day before into a huge office, no one was allowed to display personal items. I remember one woman’s picture of her baby wasn’t even allowed, another rebelled with a wall display of her favourite shoes, which was taken down on the same day she displayed it! It was drafty and noisy – I had to wear a hat indoors because of the chill wind on my head from faulty air conditioning! One day that winter, my boss took me aside to tell me he’d had complaints that I’d not been doing my job properly.

This was true. I’d been appointed the task of itemising anything that could be described as art in the old hospital (abandoned for the new build). What this entailed was walking through an unihabited hospital; each ward sealed off with plastic sheet doors and heavy padlocks, beds left abandoned half made, syringes and medical equipment strewn on the floor – the strange, disturbing scent of old sweat and illness drenched with sanitiser. My job was to tag ‘art’ with a numbered post-it note, ‘art’ being anything from a framed photo of staff to a faded Monet poster in a broken frame. There were thousands of such peices of ‘art’ in the old hospital.

It felt like being in my own dystopian sci-fi drama, though not as entertaining being in one as watching one. I knew I was guilty of shirking my duties, but it seemed to me that this task had been invented to break me; it was meaningless – none of these things had any value, except potentially as firewood. I was being asked to catalogue endless amounts of junk. It had gone on for a month, meanwhile my other proposals – art and writing workshops for long term patients for example – were ignored. I was beyond feeling sorry for myself, I’d selfishly drifted into a dream world and I’d started taking photos of the abandoned wards.

One day, I encountered the hospital’s Christian Minister (this was a huge hospital, with religious leaders from all faiths on hand for patients and staff) in the corridors. When he said ‘hello Rose!’ I nearly jumped a foot in the air with surprise – I hadn’t encountered anyone in the abandoned corridors for days. He looked at me with some concern in his eyes. In fact he’d been proposing that I join up my arts project proposals with the ‘Dignity in Care’ organisation, a great idea in fact since Dignity in Care was a hierarchy-free semi-formal organisation of hospital staff who believed that more could be done for patient comfort and well-being, art being something that patients found helpful in many ways.

By this time though, I was off in my dream world – a method of survival I’d retained from childhood when anything upset me. I was more interested in capturing my impressions of the world around me.

I left work early that day, after the unpleasant meeting with my boss. I trudged my way home back through the park, but even with a mood as bad as mine that day I couldn’t help but feel wonder at the beauty of the snow-covered trees and frozen ponds. As I approached the bench where I usually stopped for a moment before home, a squirrel jumped out in front of me.

My first thought was that there was some sort of squirrel fight – he darted back into the bushes, then darted back out in front of me, so I though he must be confused or scared. I slowed down, but again he jumped in front of me, paused, looking straight into my eyes, then went back under the bush. He repeated this one more time, but this time he stopped near the bush, still looking at me.

I knew for certain he wanted something, I looked around, wondering if anyone was watching. ‘Get a grip Rose’, I told myself; ‘this isn’t Narnia’! I walked towards the squirrel and he stood his ground as I approached. As I bent down to go into the bushes, he took a couple of steps forward and looked back at me.

Under the bush it was squirrel pandemonium! A flock of pigeons was pecking up nuts from the ground, squirrels were running around in panic, trying to remove their winter nut stores before the pigeons made off with the lot. I loudly clapped my hands and stamped my feet as I moved towards the chaos of pigeons and squirrels, shouting ‘GET OUT!’ until every single pigeon had flown off. The squirrels carried on re-burying their nuts, or perhaps they buried them elsewhere. I walked out from under the bush and stood for a while, making sure the pigeons didn’t come back. A squirrel (the squirrel?!) ran out, darting around, so I took a photo – the one at the bottom of this post.

I can’t describe how good it made me feel to help the squirrels – I felt warm and connected, where earlier I’d felt useless and pushed out into the cold. It’s not that I didn’t have some good friends in Birmingham (it’s the friendliest place in the UK in my experience and I have good friends from Birmingham to this day) it’s simply that everyone wants to feel useful and connected. That winter I handed in my notice and returned to Edinburgh to become a full-time artist. I’ve never looked back except with relief – why didn’t I do it sooner?! I was much poorer, but happier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my winter’s tale, and my photos from the time. It meant a lot to me, and I feel it’s a reminder that we all have our part to play, we’re all valuable, even the smallest thing might make the world of difference to another person, or creature. Yesterday I enjoyed throwing peanuts out my kitchen window to a squirrel in the garden!

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2021

Canonhill Park, Rose Strang 2010

Squirrel. Canonhill Park. Rose Strang 2010

 

 

Still Lives

'Antique Perfume Bottle, Red'. Oil on 13x13" wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Antique Perfume Bottle, Red’. Oil on 13×13″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

'Antique Perfume Bottle, Clear'. Oil on 13x13" wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Antique Perfume Bottle, Clear’. Oil on 13×13″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

Today’s paintings – two antique perfume bottles.

These were quite therapeutic to paint – a distraction from the commission I’m working on, which can’t be revealed until October 2021! They’re a simple study of light on glass. I can tell you my favourite part was painting that nice swathe of deep crimson with a broad flat brush in the middle of the red bottle. With the clear one I took a few shortcuts with blobs of ochr, black blue and white with scratches through to the white gessoed board beneath, I was excited to see it worked – it looks like thick-cut crystal – very satisfying. Though I’ve been painting most of my life, this trick of painting the way light falls on objects always surprises me! I’m happy too with the subtle red reflection under the red bottle on to the oak table.

The red bottle belongs to my mum, I think it’s one of the most beautiful objects. These Victorian glass perfume bottles are now worth £200 or so, I discovered online.

They’ll be on exhibition at The Limetree Gallery Bristol from tomorrow as part of their Christmas Show, so if you like the look of these you can contact the gallery on their website – Limetree Gallery

I felt they had a Christmas feel with their winter light and sparkling colours – they were such a pleasure to paint!

Imogen Russon Taylor, owner of Kingdom Scotland

The scent of Scotland

Above, Imogen Russon Taylor, owner and founder of Kingdom Scotland, Scotland’s first fragrance house.

Neidpath Castle, Scotland. Photo Rose Strang

Neidpath Castle, Scotland. Photo Rose Strang

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on an arts project that must remain secret until next year. Also that I’ll post interviews or articles here in the meantime that will be of interest I hope!

One of my most loved interests, after art, is perfume (I write perfume reviews for L.L.M.) Recently I decided to interview Imogen Russon Taylor, owner and founder of Scotland’s very first luxury perfume house, Kingdom Scotland, in person (outside due to lockdown), since we both live in Edinburgh.

In the past few weeks I’ve worn and become familiar with the scents of Kingdom Scotland, which take inspiration from the magic of Scottish landscape, and I think they’re beautiful. I also share Imogen’s love of landscape as an artist and I think you’ll enjoy this interview with her (link below) from last month …

It’s hosted by Neil Chapman, author and owner of the excellent Black Narcissus perfume blog …

Interview

And these links are where you can buy Kingdom Scotland perfumes:

Kingdom Scotland at Les Senteurs

https://www.kingdomscotland.com/

'Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan'. Acrylic and oil on 33x23" wood panel. Rose Strang 2020

Glenfinnan

Today’s paintings – above; Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan. Acrylic and oil on 33×23″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2020 . Below, a forest stream in Glenfinnan …

'Glenfinnan, Forest and Stream'. Oil on 33 x 23" wood panel. Rose Strang 2020

‘Glenfinnan, Forest and Stream’. Oil on 33 x 23″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2020

 

These are for the Limetree Gallery, Bristol, for their upcoming Christmas show which launches December 3rd and ends December 31st. (If you have any queries, please contact them on their website).

I think that allthough these two paintings show a different style, they do reflect the fact that the mountains look quite ominous from a distance. Up closer, on the lower slopes at least, the flora, trees and wildlife bring you closer and it can feel less intimidating. Farther up is a different matter! Beinn Odhar means a dun-coloured hill and Bheag means smaller (as opposed to Mhor which means big).

New Project

Between now and April next year I’m working on a new and very exciting project for a new client, unfortunately I can’t reveal what it is until October next year! So I won’t be uploading any of those particular paintings until October 2021. I’ll still post occassionally and might feature a few interviews here, with artists, or anyone creatively engaged with landscape. After April I’ll no doubt begin a new series and will post that here.

Below, a clickable image of Beinn Odhar Beag, Glenfinnan (the one above doesn’t enlarge) ..

'Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan'. Acrylic and oil on 33x23" wood panel. Rose Strang 2020

‘Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan’. Acrylic and oil on 33×23″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2020

The Road to the Isles …

Back in the mists of time in my twenties, one of my favourite parts of the journey to the west coast – ‘the road to the isles’ – was the stop at Glenfinnan House. After the splendour of Glen Coe (my photos and sketches, from the moving car, below) you arrive at the top of Loch Shiel …

If you were to take a boat along the loch you’d arrive at Castle Tioram in the far west of Scotland. A little road on the left takes you through the trees to Glenfinnan House Hotel. At first it looks a bit imposing, but on entering you’re met with a roaring log fire in the entrance room and offered a cup or glass of whatever you like.  I remember the first time I visited -sitting in a comfy chair that looked out over Loch Shiel and the awe-inspiring mountains beyond – feeling the silence after the noise of city and roads.

It’s well-known now as the spot where the Hogwarts express drives over the viaduct, but Harry Potter hadn’t yet been invented when I used to stop here for a drink. (To locals it’s always been known as the spot where Charles Edward Stewart gathered the Highland clans for the last ill-fated Jacobite rebellion.) I’ve always wanted to stay overnight at Glenfinnan and last weekend that little dream came true (an early birthday present from my partner Adam since lockdown would have made it impossible later this year!)

I loved it – the warmth and hospitality, the scent of woodsmoke in the air, wild venison and mash for dinner, a huge glass of red wine to take up to our room with its medieval-looking furniture and ancient paintings of Highland scenery, and in the morning the view from our room of mountains over the tree-tops.

Most of all the October colours – misty russets and lilacs, flooded lochs and streams entranced me. I was reminded of George MacDonald’s descriptions of mountain colours and rain floods in The Princess and the Goblin.

 

When I mentioned our trip there to my mum I detected a hint of envy; ‘aaah, in October, with its melancoholy beauty…’ she sighed! My mum used to visit Glenfinnan House some years ago. She’d travel up there with friends and enjoy a drink (or five!) since she was lucky enough to have friends who knew the locals well! She agrees with me that it feels like the heart of the Highlands.

My next series (which I’ll begin next week) will be inspired by the rich colours of October seen through mist and rain, not disimilar to ‘Through Kintail’ in my last series but in a lighter, more delicate palette.

I’ll be starting the Glefinnan series next week. A heartfelt thank you to Adam for the magical experience and inspiration – who knows how many months until we travel again? Our time at Glenfinnan will be cherished in memory and in paint!

'Through Kintail'. Oil on 14x11" wood. Rose Strang 2020

A Subtle Touch

'Ardban. Shimmering Sea'. Oil on 14x11" wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Ardban. Shimmering Sea’. Oil on 14×11″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

My latest paintings series of Ardban and Kintail are now on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol. The exhibition launches from the 31st of October but you can reserve paintings now or make enquiries at the gallery on the link below which shows the full catalogue of works by myself, Anna King and Mhairi McGregor…

A Subtle Touch – Exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol

The series follows a journey through the Highland Glen of Kintail, then the peace and tranquility of Ardban in Applecross. All the works are oil on wood and sizes vary from 14 by 11 inches to 33 by 23 inches. The link above has all details of prices, sizes and contacts at the gallery.

I’m honoured to be showing alongside two artists whose work I admire, and as always it’s an absolute pleasure to show at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol. My only regret is that I can’t travel down to the launch, with Covid restrictions making that a bit unpredictable. I can’t complain though, it’s been a pleasure to paint and I’m lucky to be able to keep working on creative projects!

Wishing everyone the very best of health and happiness!

Kintail to Ardban

Below – the complete series Kintail to Ardban created for a three-artist exhibition opening at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol on the 31st of October.

Applecross day 9

'Ardban. Forest Rain'. Oil on 19 x 19" wood. Rse Strang 2020

‘Ardban. Forest Rain’. Oil on 19 x 19″ wood. Rse Strang 2020

Today’s painting for the new series which will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery Bristol from 31st October.

This is today’s attempt to capture the magical, mossy forests that grow down to the sea along the west coast of Scotland. These remains of ancient oak and birch wood covered all the atlantic coastlines in the past. At Ardban and in other coastal areas such as Ardnamurchan, Moidart and Applecross these beautiful mossy forests of indiginous oak, birch and rowan still flourish. You can easily imagine them to be inhabited with dryads, sprites and the like!

I finish the series tomorrow if all goes to plan, not that there’s much of a plan but it would be great to finish these by Sunday then I can extract all the oil paint from my finger nails, clothes and floor!

More paintings tomorrow …

Applecross series day 8

'Ardban Morning Sunlight'. Oil on 19 x 19" wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Ardban Morning Sunlight’. Oil on 19 x 19″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

Today’s paintings for the new series for the Limetree Gallery Bristol.

There’s a definite feel to the series noiw – driving through the rainy dramatic mountains of Kintail then reaching the west coast light of the Applecross peninsula. I’m very happy with the Kintail series, though I know some people might find those a little dark, I just find that drenched sort of autumnal mountainscape relaxing.

I have three paintings to complete, then the series wil be finished. More tomorrow …

Below – all paintings so far …