Complete Sutton Hoo Series

Above; Sutton Hoo Series. Trace. Oil on 27×27 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2021.

This series takes inspiration from the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. More about the inspiration and story behind the paintings can be explored below (after the paintings).

If you’re interested in these paintings, or would like to reserve or buy one, please contact the Limetree Gallery. The series will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Long Melfrod, Suffolk, from August 2021

The Sutton Hoo Series

In my last posts (1, 2, and 3,) I explored a bit more about Anglo Saxon cultures and beliefs – in particular their ritual burying of treasure in mounds. I was intrigued by the poem of Beowulf with its mention of dragons guarding wealth.

It seems that dragons, whatever else they might have been, were always associated in myth with wealth and greed. Dragons in literature appear to represent an aspect of our own capacity to hoard – to hold on to the material things of life for our own pleasure, rather than sharing wealth with others.

Tim Flight (a historian and literary critic specialising in Anglo-Saxon England) speculates that because Christian religious leaders of the 6th century refered often to the concept of the coming apocalypse, this may have been one reason why Anglo Saxons of the time equated the stone-built Roman ruins which littered the landscape of Britain, with a sense of approaching doom.

For Anglo Saxons these crumbling grandiose, monumental ruins suggested the inevitable fall following pride. They prefered to work with natural materials such as wood, on a smaller scale – structures that rotted back into the earth and left little trace.

Their philosophy also embraced the idea of ephemerality of life; we’re here for a short time so we must seek meaning and act wisely – hoarding wealth might lead to our downfall.

Stories of dragons guarding wealth abound in Anglo Saxon poetry. The dragon is roused to anger and vengeance when anyone dares to steal from its hoard. Maybe this is why Anglo Saxon riches were buried in the earth – to return to earth what was made or taken from it, just as our bodies return to earth. I’m speculating now of course, since we can’t know what these cultures thought – we just have clues from the poetry and stories they wrote and the few traces they left.

I wanted to reflect on some of the ideas I’ve explored during this series in my largest and final painting. I was most interested in the sacred places they worshiped – not in buildings but in the landscape; trees, rivers, sea and springs – spaces thought of as liminal. Places where it was believed there was a thin veil between heaven and earth where a person might connect with gods (or later, the Christian God once Christianity took hold).

What could symbolise ephemerality more than water? It reflects a reality that isn’t real. It’s ever changing and, at least to our naked eye, it leaves no trace of passage other than fading ripples or sediment in the wake of humans moving through it.

I called my final painting ‘Trace, River Deben’. for that reason. The ripple on the surface might be left by anything – boat, bird, fish or rain yet – leave not a rack behind to quote the Bard!

We know now through scientific explorations that varying different energy forms change the structure of water, and there is the concept of water holding memories.

If you’re interested in this series and would like to see the paintings in person, they’ll be on exhibition at Limetree Gallery, Long Melford, Suffolk, from August this year. Or if you’d like to reserve or buy one of the paintings, you can contact The Limetree Gallery on their webpage – Limetree Gallery.

Oil Paints – brush cleaning made easier

Do oil paint brush-cleaning solvents make you puke? Read on for my tips on cleaning brushes after a messy oil-painting session with big brushes!

(If preamble irritates you, please jump to pics below)

When I started using oil paints after many years of acrylics I was delighted with the depth of colour and coverage (oil paint pigments go further than acrylic). The down side was drying times as I like to layer and work quickly, but it led to a new style of painting. I can switch back to acrylics sometimes but I predominantly use oil now.

The big disadvantage is the mess and stench of solvents. I quickly realised turps were impossible for me – I’m a bit sensitive to fumes. So, like many artists I looked online for solutions and discovered ‘Zest It’ – a great solvent for diluting oil paint (though it still stinks in my opinion!).

Zest It recommend you use their products for cleaning brushes. That’s ok if you don’t mind the fumes and are happy to spend a fortune on their product.

But! I discovered that cheap vegetable oil cleans off the oil paint quite easily. The issue is the heavy oiliness though. I tried washing up liquid to remove the oil, but despite using tonnes of it, the brushes never quite cleaned up.

My main tip for today is washing powder! Not gel stuff or liquid sachets (I find those a bit toxic-smelling and why buy more plastic?). No, some good old-fashioned powder in a big cardboard box works best.

Happy cleaning!

SUTTON HOO 7TH JULY

Above – Sutton Hoo Series. River Bank, River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021 – one of today’s paintings of the Sutton Hoo Series inspired by the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

Below are paintings in progress in which I’m trying to capture something of the atmosphere of the mounds at Sutton Hoo. Although the Sutton Hoo side of the River Deben is actually fairly quiet and uninhabited, the other side is busy with boats, houses and cafes. I’ve chosen views with almost no signs of human habitation to hopefully suggest how the landscape might have felt to people living in East Anglia in the 6th century.

Interestingly, many historians and archaeologists suggest that the story of Beowulf could describe the cultural interests or beliefs of Anglo Saxons in the 6th century. The surviving manuscript of Beowulf was written some time between the 10th and 11th centuries. It’s an ancient tale of that time, referring to a legend set in the 6th century. There was no known title to the manuscrip,t but scholars called it Beowulf since the story revolves around his adventures.

Though the characters themselves are not English, it’s suggested that the manuscript may have been written in Rendlesham, Suffolk – near to Woodbridge which is directly opposite Sutton Hoo across the River Deben.

The story revolves around heroes, kings, queens and characters in or from Scandinavia, but although many of these characters are mentioned in Scandinavian ancient literature, Beowulf himself isn’t mentioned anywhere but in the actual story of Beowulf. Perhaps he was a maverick member of these great Scandinavian dynasties who broke away, or was exiled.

Names,a mong other references, suggest possible connections; there was a Scandinavian dynasty called the Ylfings, written as Wulfings in Beowulf, also an Anglo Saxon dynasty was based in East Anglia called the Wuffingas. All is speculation as so much has been lost to time and subsequent ruling dynasties.

Have a read of this partial summary (from Wikipedia) below the paintings, of the plot of Beowulf, in light of the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo and their contents …

Sutton Hoo Series, Hawthorn. River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021

The protagonist Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands, then kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword that he found in her lair.

Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a dragon, some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon to its lair at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf, whose name means “remnant of valour”, dares to join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour.

This suggests the origin of the Anglo Saxon practice of burial mounds full of treasure. It also introduces dragons – always a mysterious aspect of ancient stories and apparently central to the art and culture of the Anglo Saxons.

I might explore the theme of dragons further in the next few days. I now have just one painting to complete, which I’ll post here this Friday.

Sutton Hoo Series day 2

Above Sutton Hoo Series. Hawthorn, River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021

Today’s paintings of the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. This series will be available from Limetree Gallery, Long Melford from August.

The bush above was slightly reminiscent of a dragon in shape I thought – quite appropriate for this series!

Sutton Hoo Series. Deben Estuary. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021

Painting Suffolk has a lot to do with skies. Since the land is quite flat the sky seems bigger. I wanted to capture movement and rythm of hawthorn and clouds in the painting at the top of the post, so this was painted very loosely and quickly today. I took a couple of days over the painting directly above, attempting to capture the muddy estuary and softness of light.

In the last post I’d given a quick run-through of Anglo Saxon history regarding the Sutton Hoo area. I was most interested in what it was about this landscape that made it special, or sacred to the Anglo Saxons. As explained, for these people landscape itself was sacred. Trees, rivers, springs or hills might be experienced as magical.

We can only guess why a particular site might have been sacred. I’m only just beginning to explore what’s been written about Sutton Hoo and Anglo Saxon culture (I welcome any comments and insights in the comments section below for any experts out there!)

Yesterday’s research uncovered the somewhat darker subject matter of Sutton Hoo’s ‘sand people’. As explained in Current Archaeology’s website. Martin Carver (Emeritus Professor at the University of York) led investigations on the site between 1984 and 1993:

‘It was not further princely burials that this project uncovered, but evidence of judicial executions, carried out not as part of pagan ceremonies, but, more likely, by Christian kings’.

The remains of these executed people were discernable by the shapes left in sand and earth since bones were destroyed in the highly acidic soil. At first, the possibility that these were human sacrifices as part of Anglo Saxon ritual was considered, but the dating was wrong – i.e. later. Grim possibilities raise themselves; maybe this mass execution was a message to those who refused to adopt Christianity.

Yet King Raedvald’s burial mound (if the mound was in fact his burial mound) at Sutton Hoo contained both pagan and christian objects, suggesting a culture that accepted these varying beliefs, or perhaps accepted that worshiping the Christian god (monotheism) didn’t rule out worship of lesser gods related to the landscape.

It’s a subject that interests me a lot, given my recent project around historical pagan worship around Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat, also my Planets Series from 2018. As a lifelong appreciator of the works of C.S. Lewis I always enjoyed the pagan and Christian elements combined in the Narnia Chronicles and the Planets Trilogy. I’m now awaiting a new book; After Humanity, written by author Michael Ward, to accompany and, in part, interpret C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man which is a complicated philosophy on the nature of morality. Lewis decides to use a Chinese term ‘Tao’ to descibe what he understands as humanity’s inherent sense of ehtics, or right and wrong. He does this presumably to suggest that Christians don’t have the monopoly on morality – despite being a dedicated believer and Christian himself, and that this sense of a moral code is the same across all humanity.

Sounds like a book for our intolerant times! Though, reading about Sutton Hoo and its aftermath, our contemporary society’s issues with tolerance are far more subtle and insidious.

I’ll be posting more paintings next week, with more musings on Sutton Hoo.

Sutton Hoo Series

Above; Sutton Hoo Series. River Deben. Oil on 16.5 x 23.4 inches. Rose Strang 2021

This is the first of a series of paintings inspired by Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. The series will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Long Melford from August 2021.

I was inspired first of all by the film, The Dig which tells the story of the excavation of Saxon burial mounds in Suffolk called Sutton Hoo. Almost everyone I know has watched the film but for those who haven’t; the film follows the story of Edith Pretty, a widower and owner of land that includes Sutton Hoo – un-excavated burial mounds thought to be Viking. She pays local archaeologist Basil Brown to explore the mounds and very quickly he discovers that they are earlier and far rarer than Viking – in fact Anglo Saxon in origin.

I thought the film was a wonder of cinematography, capturing the dreamlike landscape of Suffolk in all its subtlety. It was also a poetic and moving meditation on what makes life meaningful.

Since I was visiting Suffolk to meet my partner’s family, we visited Sutton Hoo while there. I’d already decided to paint the landscape, and thanks to The Dig I had some foreknowledge of the history of the mounds. I knew too that seeing the place in person might be a disappointment. A talented camera-person captures landscape at its best, in the misty light of dawn for example or a glowing sunset. I knew I might have to bring considerable imagination to our exploration!

As it happened though, it was a perfect, warm sunny evening with almost no one around. We looked at the mounds – surrounded by hawthorn, pine trees and tufty grass, on which numerous rabbits were enjoying their dinner. The house that belongs to Edith Pretty is still there – Tranmer – sitting on top a hill overlooking the River Deben.

Tranmer House near Sutton Hoo. Photo Rose Strang 2021

To get down to the river we walked through some woods, past leafy ponds and over a grass bank. The River Deben winds all the way from a village called Debenham down to the coast of Suffolk like a silver snake, becoming wider as it reaches the sea. Where it broadens out there’s a small town called Woodbridge, known for its Tide Mill and tranquil views across the water.

Tidemill. Woodbridge. Photo Adam Brewster 2021

The west bank (Woodbridge side) of the river is busy with boats, houses and cafes, but the east bank, where you find Edith Pretty’s house and the Sutton Hoo mounds, is very quiet. We saw just a few people as we wandered along the riverside. It felt dreamlike, gentle – hidden or secret even. I began to see why people might choose this spot as a place to bury their dead.

River Deben on the east side. Rose Strang 2021

Sutton Hoo wasn’t a simple cemetary for everyday people though, the (unplundered) mounds contained jewels, helmets, swords, textiles and various objects that would have been extremely valuable. The theory is that Burial Mound 1 was the grave (or perhaps Cenotaph) of King Rædwald. He was descended from the Wuffinga dynasty and would have been a powerful leader. He ruled from about 599 to 624 but very little remains of Anglo Saxon belongings or history, thanks partly to later Viking raids.

The Saxons were also a sea-faring people though and Burial Mound 1 was found to contain an entire ship, in which the grave objects were contained. No obvious body was discovered, but there were chemical remains suggesting a body had been there.

What also interests me is that Rædwald lived in a time when people in Britain were encouraged to adopt Christianity and monotheism as their religion. Rædwald’s burial mound contained a bowl that was typically Christian in theme and design, but most of the objects were typical of an Anglo Saxon burial. In fact Bede tells us that Rædwald did adopt the Christian religion towards the later part of his reign, but it’s likely this was more a a political move than a spiritual change of heart.

I don’t say that in a cynical sense, but more because it benefitted leaders to adopt Christianity since Rome was so powerful. Rædwald’s wife (whose name was unknown) was described by Bede as Pagan. Rædwald must have felt conficted. There’s a story that describes how she rebuked him for his lack of morality in one particular situation – so-called Pagans had a code of ethics too of course!

The above is a very cursory run-through of history I’ve picked up from The Dig and reading through Wikipedia, but the question that intrigued me most was – why did they choose this particular landscape for these prestigious burial mounds? I came across a website by someone called Lindsay Jacob (http://underlyndenchurch.com/) who describes a little about Anglo Saxon beliefs. It reminded me a lot of the research I’d done during my Arthur’s Seat Sacred Wells painting series. Landscape itself was spiritual and sacred in ancient cultures. They believed that certain places were liminal – places seen as ‘in-between’ or as some people might describe it – where there’s ‘a thin veil between heaven and earth’. These places were usually hills, streams, rivers, certain trees and so on.

Sitting on the banks of the River Deben the water looked calm as a mill pond, reflecting a milky sky. It looked to me as though if I removed the land there’d be nothing to differentiate sky from water – a band of grassy land off the river bank looked like it was floating in space. I tried to capture that in my painting above.

I’ll write more about Sutton Hoo in the next blog post in a few days when I post the next painting.

Burial Mound 1 in the sunset. Rose Strang 2021
'Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull'. Oil on 20x20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021

Loch na Keal on the Isle of Mull

Above: The Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021. (please contact the Limetree Gallery if you’re interested in the painting above or have any questions about buying it, on this link Limetree Gallery)

In the past week or so I was busy on a private commission of paintings of Loch na Keal on the beautiful Isle of Mull. This was for someone who wanted two paintings showing the changing light and weather of Loch na Keal. He wanted particular views – of the dramatic cliffs of Griburn and Eorsa Island on the loch – views very familiar to his wife, for whose birthday the paintings were commissioned.

‘Changing Weather, Loch Na Keal’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021
‘Autumn Light Over Loch Na Keal’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021
‘Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull’. Oil on 20×20 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2021

I was very touched by his care in describing the features he wanted to include and the fact his wife particularly enjoyed the changing clouds and colours of the sky. I decided to paint three views so he would have a choice of two from those. He decided on Autumn Light Over Loch Na Keal and Changing Weather, Loch Na Keal which I do agree make a lovely pair of paintings, showing the colours of autumn and clouds forming and re-forming over the loch.

The remaining painting The Cliffs of Griburn, Loch na Keal. Mull is, I think, a more dramatic view. It gives a sense of approaching land from a boat, which I always find very compelling since it’s a view you’d never see other than from a boat. It’s now available from the Limetree Gallery. You can contact them on the link above if you’re interested in the painting or have any questions about it.

Thanks very much to John for this lovely commission. He tells me that his wife Sarah loves the paintings, which is music to my ears. What a beautiful place to live, and to paint!

You can view the Limetree Exhibition Brochure on this link ..

Cascade

I was thrilled to take part recently in a music video directed by singer/songwriter Alas de Liona last weekend. Alas dreamt of creating a music video for her song, Cascade, and luckily she was talent spotted by The Proclaimer’s manager Kenny MacDonald last summer while performing a gig and he decided to produce the video.

The song is emotionally moving, very poetic and I think the music video below echoes that beautifully. I played an artist, also creating the sketchbook featured in the video. The actor Malcolm Jamieson played the main role with much sensitivity.

It was a really enjoyable day, with my partner Adam there to take photos of the experience (see below vid). I hadn’t realised just how much I missed meeting new folks and creative collaborations, it was so uplifting and I enjoyed meeting all involved; lovely people. Thanks again to Kenny and Alas for inviting me to take part!

You can watch the video here, on You Tube. Feel free to share – I think Alas has a wonderful talent, not just as a singer with an expressive voice and beautiful tone, but also a poet and now director!

Themes – Sketches

Above, Iona in October winds. 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 Sketches

My last themes were Sea, Trees and Mountains In the next few weeks I’ll  share my paintings of winter, abstraction, imagination and collaborations.

People

I prefer to sketch people doing things they do – playing guitar (Donald) making animations (Adam) playing cello (Atzi). Theyse are all of men – not because I prefer painting men but because, aside from Richard Demarco, the people I hang out with the most are Adam (my partner), Donald and Atzi. The sketches of Richard Demarco were preparation for a portrait which you can read more about on this link Portrait of Richard Demarco.

Energy, Landscape

Although Constable and Joan Eardley are more than a century apart, both artists beautifully recorded the energy of landscape in their sketches. In the sketches below I’ve attempted to capture the energy of landscape, it’s such an important part of a painting. These sketches were made in Iona in October and express the wild energy of October winds.

Eigg

These sketches were made on the Isle of Eigg in 2014. I remember it was the year of the Scottish Independence Referendum. Aside from one family, every one of Eigg’s 99 or so inhabitants was supportive of Scottish Independence. This was no surprise as the islanders had effectively voted for their own independence with a community buyout in 1998. Once the community was in charge Eigg’s fate changed radically for the better with a 100% renewable energy system and improved tenenacy and ownership rights for the islanders. Maggie Fyffe, Iona Trust secretary described it to me in an interview as; ‘the difference between night and day’! Maggie owned the croft in which we stayed, with it’s little wood-burning stove, below. You can read more of that interview here: – Eigg Island

Winter

Winter’s monochrome tones lend themselves to sketches. These are of a bridge in Canonhill Park (pen and ink), Birmingham, and a preparatory sketch of Edinburgh( gesso on wood board)

Horses

Lastly, horses. They always look mythical to me!

As my secret commission is coming to an end next week (t will then go into process for tis launch in October 2021) I’ll be starting a new private commission – this time of the beautiful Isle of Mull. I look forward to posting about that soon!

Themes – Mountains

Above: A sketch from Rannoch Moor, going in to Glencoe. 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 Mountains (paintings below)

My last themes were Sea and Trees. In the next few weeks I’ll  share my paintings of portraits, winter, abstraction, imagination and collaborations

There’s going through mountains and there’s going up them – the former being infinitely more relaxing, though less rewarding! I’ve climbed quite a few in my time, the largest being Tom na Gruagaich, part of Beinn Alligin in Torridon, Scotland.

That was with my partner at the time, who’d learned to navigate with map and compass. To wander into mountains without that knowledge is a dance with death. To give an example, Scottish Mountain Rescue (SMR) reported 13 mountain deaths in 2013. Happily that number is falling thanks to the SMR. Those 13 people were probably wrapped up for the cold and had a map and compass, but simply made some fatal mistakes.

It was probably summer when I climbed Tom na Gruagaich. I remember the fear I felt as we approached the valley, it seemed too vast, not a place for humans to wander. The climb was so arduous (and I was very fit at the time) that I felt I’d disovered entirely new muscles – every part of my being was tired as we approached the top.

It was a plateau covered in mossy ground, soft and perfect for flopping down for a rest. I pulled myself to the edge of the yawning chasm  – a sort of scoured out bowl of cliffs about 3000 feet in height- and gradually realised that a tiny dot moving slowly on the opposite side was a person climbing the cliffs. The land stretched infinitely – the form of bulky, dark mountains huge with snowy tops in all directions.

I took photos but even a wide-angled lens didn’t capture the feeling of epic space. Though it was summer, it wasn’t a place you’d want to linger for too long. Walking back down was a return to gentleness – the sound of streams and birds, the lushness of trees, plants, warm air and safety.

Living in mountains such as these created the tough race of Scottish Highlanders, now scattered around the world – there are now more everywhere else than in Scotland! Even living in the lower Highland valleys requires an ability to survive in conditions most would find intolerable at times – soaked through and snowed in, difficult to get anywhere in winter, but the mountains are so beautiful they can feel like a romantic paradise in spring and summer.

To accompany the following paintings of mountains, here’s Rachel Walker singing Bràighe Loch Iall (Hills of Loch Eil) in Scottish Gaelic – a loch I know well as it’s on the road to Glenfinnan and the west coast. Her song captures the yearning for home that many of these songs do.

 

Mountain Roads

These sketches are easily made, as I sit in the passenger seat of a car! Good practice for sharpening the eye and seeing the essentials. These first ones are going through Glencoe. The paintings of Kintail and a road in the Isle of Harris, were made later in the studio. It’s endlessly entertaining driving through these dramatic mountains!

Rain and Storm

The two odd ones out in the collection below, are the Casares paintings. These are of the mountain village of Casares in the south of Spain. I took a trip into the mountains and was deluged by a sudden rain storm, which made me feel quite at home in terms of painting inspiration. The rest are of mountains in Scotland, with their earthy colours and gritty texture.

Strictly speaking the cliffs of Cleadale on the Isle of Eigg aren’t mountains, but they are suitably dramatic.

 

Winter

I’ve climbed two mountains in the snow. It’s not to be taken lightly. Climbing up Ben Vorlich, a snow blizzard blew up just before we were about to climb up to the plateau and summit, so we waited for it to blow out at the bottom of a cliff, I couldn’t see a thing beyond a foot. Another time, coming down snowy Schehallion in Perthshire, the sun was shining in a dazzling blue sky and I sledged down on my front on a piece of plastic!

Except for Beinn Odhar Bheag below, which I sketched while in Glenfinnan (then painted later in studio) the rest are snowy mountain-scapes of the imagination.

In a few days I’ll post some figurative paintings – portaits and animals.

 

 

Themes – Trees

Above: Spring Sycamore. Acrylic on 20×16″ canvas. Rose Strang 2013

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 Trees.

My last theme was Sea. In the next few weeks I’ll also share my paintings on the themes of mountains, portraits, winter, abstraction, imagination and collaborations

It’s easy to imagine dryads or sidhe (faerie folk) hiding behinds trees in ancient forests. Many children’s stories or fantasies are set in the woods; think Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or Robin Hood! Trees seem to spark imagination – for good or ill (think of all those spooky tales or films set in forests!) I’ve wondered why this is – perhaps it’s the fact that in a forest so much is hidden – it’s a metaphor for the unconscious, for the unlawful and rebelious.

I find that painting trees requires loose brushwork (or loose line if it’s drawing) though in a different way from sea painting – not so much gestural as allowing the paint to drip and splash, leaving patches to imagination, with a strong sense of light/dark to bring depth so the viewer is led into the forest.

When painting forests of the Scottish Borders in 2014, I was inspired by the last line of a Borders Ballad called Erlinton, about a girl who escapes to the forests to be with her lover; now we shall walk the green-wood free. To me that line beautifully evokes the idea of Medieval tapestries and tales. So with that in mind, to enhance your viewing pleasure of the tree paintings below, here’s a music piece for lute by William Byrd – Will you Walk the Woods so Wild –  Byrd

Or if you prefer, here’s a beautiful performance of Dvorik’s Silent Woods from From the Bohemian Forest –  Silent Woods

I’ve headed each set below with these terms: Spring  Summer  Autumn  Winter

Spring

My favourite time of year – from the softening of air in March, to the explosion of flowers in April and May. I think it’s inspired my best tree paintings! Spring Sycamore, below, was bought by my dad in 2013. Probably because it was painted after a walk we took in spring near Queensferry. My dad passed away in 2016 and is remembered with great love by everyone who knew him. When we were kids he’d make tree swings in Queensferry forest with lassoe techniques on the highest branches of huge beech trees, so you could swing down an entire valley, terrifying at first, then exhiliarating! As he used to say, tongue in cheek (perhaps?) ‘if a kid isnae terrified it’s no a proper game’!

I was quite happy with the minimal paintings from the Water of Leith series below, I wanted to capture more with less (they’ve not sold though!) Spring Chinoiserie was a bit of a nod to Pollock, who expressed the energy of nature with rhythmic drips and splashes of household paint. Some works here – Pollock

Bare trees are all about lyrical line – I’m also thinking of beautiful tree drawings by the wonderful illustrator Pauline Baynes. Link to her drawings – Baynes

Summer

Emma and Friends (below) captures something of the idyllic feel of summer I hope. It’s of my niece and her friends after they’d completed their final school exams. They took a swim in the River Tweed and the green light of summer transformed them into luminous mythical nyads!  Most of these tree and forest paintings in 2014 were from a series inspired by Borders Ballads, as mentioned in my intro above. Technique-wise, I was more than a little inspired by a painting I love by Peter Doig  – scroll down on link to ‘Concrete Cabin’ – Doig

Autumn

Autumn can crackle with electric blue skies and neon oranges, or glow gently in a somnabulic way that makes me feel pleasantly gloomy and introspective. It signals hibernation to come, decay and the passing of time, with the smell of mulchy leaves and woodsmoke in the air, it’s almost clichedly poetic I suppose. Last year I’d planned a series inspired by October in a Highland mountain valley, but the focus for now is my current commission (to be revealed in October this year).

Gustav Klimt’s birches are unsurpassed I think – Klimt

Winter

Although spring is my favourite time of year, winter is endlessly inspiring creatively. The starkness and subtleties of tone make us focus on line and contrast. The monochrome work below; Canonhill Park – is the only time I’ve used a very definite technique as oppposed to experimental – the white blobs are impasto against a black ink flat background, I quite liked it it, but only for this one-off subject.

The paintings of Scottish artists Calum McClure and Andrew MacKenzie focus on line and nature, rather than colour. Winter trees feature in much of their work. McClure’s paintings are lyrical, loose and painterly, MacKenzie’s are more contained, with minimalist composition and delicate line – McClure

–   MacKenzie

Lastly, no post about trees would be complete without mention of Arthur Rackham. For anyone brought up with books featuring Rackham’s illustrations, ‘Rackham-esque’ is an unofficial term for magical-looking trees! Rackham

In the next blog the theme is mountains