Tag Archives: Scottish artists

Romance in the Scottish Highlands! (new commission)

Above: Scottish Highlands – “…with rain on your eyelashes”. Oil on 48×48 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022.

The Scottish Highlands could be described as northern rainforest with an average of 182 inches of rain falling each year! Dreich! You might say, but it’s all about perspective …

The commissioner of the painting above, is Jamie Johnston, who lives in Colorado where she runs a wonderful organic bee farm that’s been in the family since 1908 – The Beekeeper’s Honey Boutique.

Jamie decided to get married in Scotland back in 2016 – ‘It rained the whole time’ she said, ‘but I loved it!’  She got in touch with me because she’d ordered a copy of the Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. (I’d been commissioned to provide paintngs for the book). Jamie described her enjoyment of the paintings while reading the book, which led to her contacting  the Limetree Gallery who represent most of my work.

She particularly loved the rainy dark ones which I love painting – they reminded her of the rainy weather during her romantic holiday and wedding in the Scottish Highlands.

Jamie decided that what she’d really like was a large version for the walls of her new home. The remit was just to paint whatever I liked, as long as it captured something of the Scottish Highlands drenched in rain. As any artist knows, it’s such a pleasure to be given a free rein to experiment, so I immediately began to visualise how it might look and how I’d create the right feel and atmosphere.

Jamie had sent a few photos of her time in the Highlands, which were really lovely as photos, but she explained these were just to give a sense of the sort of thing that had caught her eye – she didn’t intend for me to copy them. I did use one of them as a starting point, for composition and because I liked the waterfall and cloudy skies. Once the basic composition was sketched in though, I just built up layers of paint, drips and splodges until it had what I thought was the right feel. I wanted to get the sense of the Highlands – that pelting rain can quickly turn to sunshine then back again in the course of a few minutes!

Also giving a true sense of how water forms the landscape in Scotland, cutting swathes through rock and landscape over time – and further back in time – the retreating glacial action that gave those hump-backed whale-like shapes to the mountains.

You never know if you’ve managed to capture what a person has in mind, so I was swithering a bit on whether to add more, or change the painting. In the end I decided to send the image to Jamie by email to see what she thought. Painting it was a pleasure, but how someone reacts is what makes the commission a success.

I opened the email with some trepidation, so you can imagine what a huge smile Jamie’s reply put on my face for the rest of the day! …

“ROSE!!!!

I am dying!!! WOW!!! It is soooo incredibly beautiful…even more so than I imagined possible!!! Like I literally cannot stop staring at it!!! Those clouds…the colors on the mountain…those colors of that mountain valley down below…SERIOUSLY…how do you do that?! That is incredible!!! The talent that you have contributed to this world literally blows me away!!! I’ve never used this many exclamation marks in my life but I am on such a high right now!!!

It is beautiful. I love it immensely. Thank you for sharing your talent with me. It makes me very happy knowing I get to hang this (the first picture we will hang in our new home) & I can have a coffee or glass of whiskey & just stare at it & get lost in my memories through your beautiful painting. THANK YOU!!! Love, love, love. You captured EVERYTHING I had hoped for & then some”.

This blew me away as a response – music to my ears indeed!! Jamie also gave me the go-ahead to title the painting and so I began to think of romantic poems by Scottish poets (I too find the rainy Highlands romantic!) my favourite was this little gem, by Edwin Morgan:

Kiss me with rain on your eyelashes,
come on, let us sway together,
under the trees, and to hell with thunder.

Edwin Morgan. 2004. (Poem commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh  for Valentine’s Day 2004).

Hence the title! Scottish Highlands – “…with rain on your eyelashes”. And here’s another photo to show scale ..

Rose[13465]

A HUGE thank you to Jamie for this really lovely commission – Jamie and partner can always expect a warm welcome here in Edinburgh should they return at some point. In the meantime, I too shall enjoy a wee whisky in front of it before it wings its way through the clouds to Colorado!

Edinburgh Come All Ye

Above: Edinburgh Come all Ye, a book of poems by Alan Spence.

This book of poems by Alan Spence celebrates Scotland, Scottishness and the events of 2017- 2021, during which Alan Spence was appointed Edinburgh’s Makar. Each of the poems is accompanied by artworks by some of Scotland’s best known artists, and I’m honoured indeed to have my painting Wells of Arthur’s Seat, St Anthony’s Chapel from St Margaret’s Loch included in the book and as front cover!

Artists included are – Victoria Crowe, Alison Watt, David Williams, Calum Colvin, Doug Cocker, Andrew Archer and Joyce Gunn Cairns.

‘Makar’ is the title given to a learned and established poet who’s been invited officially to represent their country or city. Alan Spence was a great choice for the role from 2017 to 2021. His poems celebrate Scotland, but he is also influenced by Japanese literature and often writes in Haiku form. He’s also a lovely human being and great fun! He and his wife Janani opened their book shop and meditation centre in 2017 and I’d often drop in for a chat and to buy a book. In 2018 I invited Alan and Atzi Muramatsu to collaborate on a project that explores the history, flora and fauna of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. It’s a hill rich in history and pre-history and my interest was in the wells that are dotted around the hill.

Alan’s beautfuul poem Wellwater which features in this book, is in the form of a wish, prayer or invocation. I was delighted by it as it captured the very essence of the project – the fact that since pre-history ordinary people believed that St Antony’s Well had healing properties. As Alan expresses in his poem ‘it’s free, it’s for everyone’. We might question the healing properties the well may have had, but in fact the water did have a high iron content (and who knows what effect their faith in its power may have had?)

The book is available to buy on the links below, and an event to launch the book takes place on the 7th September at 7pm at the Scottish Poetry Library. Alan will give a talk as part of the book launch and is sure to be as engaging as always with characteristic sensitvity and wit! It really is a delight to be a part of this book and I very much look forward to reading it.

Book launch – Edinburgh Come Al Ye, Alan Spence

Buy book at Scotland Street Press – https://www.scotlandstreetpress.com/product/edinburgh-come-all-ye

Buy book at Poetry Books – https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/products/edinburgh-come-all-ye-by-adam-spence-pre-order

Summer Exhibition Limetree

Above: Sanna Bay, May. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 19.5 by 19.5 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022. Below Primroses. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 19.5×19.5″ canvas. Rose Strang 2022

min 'Primroses, Ardnamurchan'. Oil on 19.5x19.5 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022

These two paintings are for the upcoming Summer Exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Bristol, which launches on the 15th July and continues until August 31st.

They take inspiration from my recent trip to Ardnamurchan where I created a series of works for Coast – a two-artist exhibition at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan (link Here)

It’s interesting that these two new paintings look more distilled and dreamlike than the rest of the series, which must be to do with them being created later, not immediately following my trip there. The one subject I hadn’t painted was the beautiful primroses that decorate the banks of the Silver Walk near Castle Tioram. I love the way they emerge from dark crevices in May, looking so delicate and fresh – beautiful wild flowers that grow abundantly on the west coast.

Donald McColl sang about the landscape of Ardnamurchan (and primroses!) in his beautiful song ‘Nach Falbh thu air and Turas Leam?’, and here’s our arrangement of the song again, featuring footage of Ardnamurchan and some of the painting process …

(Exhibition of the two paintings above from 15th July to 31st August at the Limetree Gallery Bristol.)

Ardnamurchan complete series

Above – Pine Trees, Silver Walk. Ardnamurchan. Acrylic and oil on 47×47″ canvas. Rose Strang 2022

This last painting completes the series for the upcoming exhibition at the Resipole Gallery, launching 12th June this year.

These give an idea of scale …

All paintings in the series below.

By Monday I’ll hopefully be posting progress on the video I’m editing, it’ll be a busy weekend!

Ardnamurchan series day 3

Above – Birches, Silver Walk. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 31×31 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022

Below – Tioram, Silver Walk. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 31×31 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022

2 Tioram, Silver Walk. Ardnamurchan

Two more paintings for the series of Ardnamurchan, which I’m creating for the Resipole Gallery. Exhibition launches 12th June this year. I’ll be travelling up from Edinburgh for the launch so if you’re planning to drop in I’ll be there to say hello!

I’m also working on recording a song, discovered in the the archives of the School of Scottish Studies. It’s by a singer and songwriter called Donald McColl and it’s about the flora and fauna of Ardnamurchan. I’ll be adding it to a video I’m also making about the series.

More on all of that soon!

Resipole Series day two

Above – Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. Oil on 34 by 24 inch wood. Rose Strang 2022.

Below – Sand Dunes, Sanna Bay. Ardnamurchan. Oil on 30 by 30 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2022

Sand Dunes, Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan

Two more paintings today. The subtle greens and whites of the sand and sea at Sanna Bay, and the dunes as you approach Sanna Bay with a beautiful early summer blue sky on the horizon.

These paintings are a new series for an exhibition at the Resipole Gallery launching 12th June this year.

Ardnamurchan in May. New series …

Above – Silver Walk, Ardnamurchan. Oil on 34 by 24 inch wood. Rose Strang 2022.

This painting is the first in a series I’m creating for an exhibition which launches 12th June at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan. The show will feature work by myself and landscape artist Jim Wright.

It’s such a pleasure to create a series for the Resipole as it means I get the chance to travel up to Ardnamurchan for inspiration. It’s a beautuful part of Scotland, quite remote and unspoiled, though these days there are more visitors than when I first came, in 1992.

I was entranced by the ancient forest of birch and oak growing all the way down to the sea, and of course Castle Tioram, which featured in my Planet Narnia paintings inspired by the book Planet Narnia, and the cosmos as understood in the Medieval imagination.

I  wrote about the forests of Ardnamurch in 2018, exploring the idea of a community of trees and the discovery by scientist Suzanne Simmard that trees ‘talk’ or communicate as an eco-system, through mycelium – a complex root system of fungus that sends ‘signals’ from tree to tree.

Wandering through the forests of Ardnamurchan, you really feel the alive-ness of the forests here, many of which have been left untouched for hundreds of years. In the case of Ariundel oak forest in east Ardnamurchan, thousands of years!

So in this new series, I’m tackling a subject I’ve long wanted to paint – the Silver Walk near Castle Tioram. We went there a couple of weeks ago in early May, a time at which the forest is at its most vibrant I think. It was shimmeringly beautiful, luminous in fresh green leaves and the seas reflecting cerulean blue skies. Sometimes when I’m in a place like this I feel almost overwhelmed – my mind, emotions and senses being flooded with luminous colour. It felt idyllic too that it was warm enough to sit there in a T-shirt and paint some sketches!

I think my painting above is a good start, I want to keep it loose and light in feel to express the feeling of Ardnamurchan in May.

I’ll be posting the paintings as they’re created every couple of days. In the meantime, here are a few photos of us in Ardnamurchan this May! ..

From Iona to Staffa

Above Iona to Staffa 3. Oil on 12 x 12 inch wood.

This series is inspired by a trip to the islands of Iona and Staffa last year. Although I’ve been visiting Iona since about 1991, I’d never been to Staffa – surely one of the wonders of the world with its astonishing hexagonal basaltic columns and sea caves surging with green water.

At first I wanted to capture something of the feel of the journey, which was in fact quite wild – in a small boat on a tumultuous sea in dazzling sunshine – we even saw dolphins! It was the underlying sense of myth that stayed with me though.

Iona’s spiritual history is well-known – St Columba, an Irish prince said to be exiled because of a violent dispute, travelled to Iona and began a life of spiritual contemplation with a group of monks back in the 6th century. His journeys around Scotland are remembered in history, also in tales of miracles. He was no doubt a complicated human being who’d lived a violent life in Ireland, who changed during his time on Iona – devoting his life to religion.

The island itself was said to have a druidic past. This is part speculation as those times weren’t recorded in written language in the same way as  Christian history was. Place names around the island do suggest this pre-Christian history though. It’s suggested that the Book of Kells was written by monks on Iona some time in the 9th century, but the book is now at Trinity College Dublin. Some believe the book was created in Kells, Ireland, but if you consider the fact that part of north-east Ireland and the west coast of Scotland were essentially one nation at the time, called Dalriada or Dál Riata, then it could make sense that the book might be written in the peace of Iona and taken to Kells when Iona was later attacked by Vikings.

Monks were drawn to such places at this time in the past, in the spirit of the ‘Desert Fathers and Mothers’ – a tradition inspired by Jesus’s contemplation in the desert. Basically, anywhere remote and removed from society was seen as ‘desert’ – a place to contemplate God.

Staffa, which is about 7 miles from Iona, has a mythical history stretching far back into the mists of time! It’s other name is Fingal’s Cave – inspired the myth of Fingal (Fin means light and forms part of the name of the port on Mull from where you travel to Iona – Fionphort) from ancient celtic stories. This can be a confusing subject because there was in fact a series of poems called ‘Ossian’s Tale’, created by author James MacPherson, about Fingal, but this series of poems was discovered to be ‘fake’ – not the work of a real person called Fingal from the ancient Celtic past. The stories were gathered from ancient Celtic poems though, and so it is a fascinating work.

I won’t get too detailed here about the confusion of myth, and translations from original Scottish Gaelic myths and stories by McPherson – Ossian’s Tale does mention numerous place names that still exist, and which made up Dalriada in Scotland and north-east Ireland in the third century. The myths probably refer to an ancient warrior, said to be a giant, who created Staffa as a stepping stone from Ireland to Scotland. This refers to ‘The Giant’s Causeway’ on the coast of northern Ireland which shares the same hexagonal basaltic stone features as Staffa.

Well, that’s a lot of info, which may give an idea of why I wanted to capture a sense of myth from my trip to Staffa from Iona! It doesn’t really explain the way I feel about such an experience though. Suffice to say, it stimulates my imagination and despite the numerous tourists that throng the islands these days, I still feel the spiritual pull of these places.

I used to visualise lying in a wooden boat in the crystal clear green water of the Sound of Iona, rocking gently on the waves in the sun. Where Iona feels gentle, Staffa feels almost overwhelmingly dramatic –  you feel you’ve taken part in a real life myth when you travel there.

I’ll end this post with some of my photos of Staffa …

'Through Kintail 2'. Oil on 33x23" wood. Rose Strang 2020

From the Mountains to the Sea

I’m delighted to see that my large painting ‘Through Kintail 2’ (above) has sold in the latest Limetree Gallery exhibition From the Mountains to the Sea. I think it looks considerably better in real life than from a photo, so I was very pleased to see it exhibited ‘in real life’ since most exhibitions during lockdown have been online.

Two of my paintings remain in the exhibition; ‘Through Kintail 3’ and ‘Through Kintail 4’, images below. You can browse these, and the other beautiful works in the exhibition on the gallery website Here

This series was created as part of a wonderful journey to Ardban in Applecross. Getting there takes you through the mountains of Kintail which looked so classicly Highland-y in their autumn colours and misty weather. I love road paintings which always give the sense of a journey.

This year I’ll be exhibiting in an exciting new two-person exhibition at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan, more details to follow! …

Painting The Living Mountain. Artist’s journal. Final part.

(Above: Signing copies of The Living Mountain. Photo Adam Brewster)

Pt 1: Here

Pt 2: Here

Pt 3: Here

Pt 4: Here

Pt 5: Here

This is the final part of my artist’s diary series about creating paintings for The Folio Society’s publication of The Living Mountain, by author Nan Shepherd.

(The Folio Society edition of Nan Shephard’s The Living Mountain illustrated by Rose Strang and introduced by Robert Macfarlane is exclusively available at www.foliosociety.com)

Link to book …

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, published by the Folio Society 2021

Pt 6: Dreaming a response

The world of mystery, or the spiritual, is subtly touched on by Nan. With But did I dream that roe? I explored a more mystic experience of Nan’s Living Mountain. This image, and title quote, came from the chapter entitled ‘Sleep’.

A few of my paintings were on rough wood which Adam had cut up after removing some shelves from a kitchen cupboard. The wood was ideal – textured and roughened with age, from the Victorian era when our tenement flat in Edinburgh’s Leith area was built. When painting it I allowed the grainy wood texture to show through. I used oils directly on to wood, with a swathe of solvent diluted Mars black. It has a density in comparison to Lamp Black oil paint and, unlike acrylic black, it dries to a lovely matt surface. Given a day or so to dry, you can scratch through to the wood or surface below which gives a good sharp calligraphic edge to the drawing, similar to line-making in the etching process.

The swathe of black oil paint with a large brush had created three peaks suggesting exaggerated mountain peaks. With the end of a plastic vitamin pill container dipped in white oil paint I created a simple moon. After dripping small droplets of purply lilac onto the black, I suggested the fire-lit smoke of a smouldering fire to the bottom right corner, then etched in the outline of a roe deer. I left it at that, knowing the image should be as simple as possible. I hoped it would say a little about the feeling of the Highlands on a moonlit night. Scotland’s culture is rich with otherworldly stories and myths. The symbology of deer, more often stags, has a central place or role in our mythical past, going far back into pre-history.

Recently I visited Kilmartin Glen, on the west coast of Scotland thirty miles south of the town of Oban. Kilmartin Glen has more pre-historic man-made marks than any other place in Scotland. There are numerous standing stones and remains of ancient burial cairns or ‘cists’ are they’re called. Even more intriguing are the mysterious ‘cup and ring’ marks that date from around five thousand years ago. No one knows what they were for, though there are literally hundreds of theories. Seen in real life, these marks are utterly strange. We sat and gazed on the cup and ring marks at Ormaig for an hour or so. I sprinkled purple flowers into them, poured water into them, photographed them and filmed them. I’d filled them with flowers and water to enhance the patterns and while this did enhance their strange beauty I was of course none the wiser as to their purpose!

kilmartin

Cup and Ring marks at Ormaig, Kilmartin (photo Rose Strang 2021)

Earlier this year about spring 2021, an amateur archaeologist called Hamish Fenton climbed into one of the burial cairns at Dunchraigaig in Kilmartin and shined his torch on to the underside of the slab that covered the cist. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the outline of an antlered deer. While these are still being investigated, it’s believed that these stag drawings, if as old as they’re believed to be, are in fact the earliest known pre-historic drawings in Scotland. Link

Professional archaeologists believe them to be about four to five thousand years old and, while there are other similar depictions of deer, none are as anatomically accurate and detailed as those discovered by Hamish Fenton. Celtic myths describe ordinary people falling asleep then waking in the land of Tír na nÓg – a land of the ever young, inhabited by faeries, or otherworldly folk who can turn into deer at will. The very dreamlike passage of Nan’s hazy memory of seeing  a roe deer while half asleep suggests those myths:

My one October night without a roof was bland as silk, with a late moon rising in the small hours and the mountains fluid as loch water under a silken dawn: a night of the purest witchery, to make one credit all the tales of glamourie that Scotland tries so hard to refute and cannot.

It’s a subject she explores in her works of fiction with subtlety, enchanting the reader with descriptions that can only come from someone immersed in a landscape familiar to her.

The toughest painting of this commission was the final one. I was so moved by the final passages of The Living Mountain where Nan describes the way landscape has been changed by her experience; ‘… everything became good to me’.

I chose that as the title of my last work for the book, though I felt I’d need another year to experiment with ways to depict it. In the end, I took a painting I’d started, which I felt ‘said’ something about the unknown or ungraspable aspects of the mountain and added small details which added to a sense of scale.

I partly had in mind Nan’s description of falling in love with the Cairngorms while on holiday as a girl, which she describes in the final chapter; ‘Being’:

So I have found what I set out to find. I set out on my journey in pure love. it began in childhood, when the stormy violet of a gully on the back of Sgoran Dubh, at which I used to gaze from a shoulder of the Monadhliaths, haunted my dreams. That gully, with its floating, it’s almost tangible ultramarine, thirled me for life to the mountain.

There are two other suggestions of a living creature in the painting that I’ll let viewers discover for themselves – they’re subtle but intentional. Having sent off the series to Sheri Gee, I was none the wiser as to how they perceived the paintings. It’s a strange fact that someone’s response can completely change my feeling about a painting I’ve created. I must be easily influenced sometimes, as there are paintings I’ve created which don’t please me at all, until someone comes along and says ‘I love this!’ On the other hand, there are paintings I’ve created that I think capture the essence of something I’ve struggled with for years – but then those paintings get almost zero reaction!

I knew that the Folio Society couldn’t wax lyrical about the paintings even if they did like them, since they had to be perused and approved of by a panel. As it happened, the panel included Robert MacFarlane, who was to write the introduction to the book (as he has for previous publications of the Living Mountain).

Sheri, who had been wonderfully supportive of the creative process, was kind enough to send me a preview of the part of Robert MacFarlane’s introduction that described his response to my paintings, and I was very touched by his words. In fact to be truthful I was awe-inspired by his capacity to read exactly into the intentions I’d had for several of the paintings; namely and in particular Flowing from granite and I like the unpath best.

Needless to say it was a boost to my artistic confidence about the series, which I’d found a challenge – The Living Mountain being a book for which I had profound respect.

It inspired me to immediately order a copy of Robert’s latest book; Underland. I had some years earlier read The Wild Places, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also had a beautiful hardback copy of The Lost Spells, written by MacFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris’s magical watercolours, which I’d received as a gift from my cousin Christine who knew I’d enjoy Robert’s work as much as she had. Apart from these though, I felt remiss in knowledge of his more recent work.

By this time, the Living Mountain commission had been completed for at least a month. It was now a case of simply waiting for the October publication. I was tackling a new painting commission about the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk and MacFarlane’s Underland played into my imagination as I attempted to capture the atmosphere of that landscape. The book’s observations on what we choose to bury, and why, played into my understanding of the treasure buried at Sutton Hoo. Or more accurately the beliefs and emotions that may have led them to bury their dead and their belongings in the way they did. Reading Underland, it was also very clear that Robert MacFarlane’s entire approach to life is intensely observed – he’d merely turned his X-ray mind towards my paintings!

It’s a grand thing to get leave to live.

The quote above is from Nan Shepherd’s The Quarry Wood. Geordie, a farmer, and father of the novel’s heroine Martha, remarks after killing a hen; ‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, refering also to the times in which the novel was set – during WW2.

Painting this series was a blessing for me during lockdown, I felt privileged to have a meaningful project to throw myself into when so many others had their lives turned upside down – an experience that left many people demotivated, isolated or depressed, not to mention worried about income. I wondered at times how Nan Shepherd might have dealt with a pandemic. I’m pretty sure she’d have been out in the mountains, checking on folks like ‘Big Mary’, offering help.

The Folio Society kindly sent me several copies of the complete book. Seeing my own paintings in this beautiful publication of The Living Mountain is a moment to savour indeed. From my fascination as a child with the illustrations of Charles Folkyard in The Princes and The Goblin by George MacDonald, to illustrating Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. Both authors grew up up in the countryside of Aberdeenshire, for both authors landscape plays a profoundly meaningful role in their world view.

When I place Flowing from granite side by side next to Folkyard’s illustration of Irene and Curdie in the mountains, I do get the feel of something similar, albeit in very different styles!

Working on these paintings has been wonderful, and I’m grateful to Sheri Gee and all at the Folio Society for choosing my work and presenting it perfectly, to Erlend Clouston for his friendly support and everything I learned about Nan, and to Robert MacFarlane for his insightful words about the paintings; all sincere in their dedication to the legacy and inspiration of Nan Shepherd. It’s an honour to be part of that.

Rose Strang December 2021