Tag Archives: scottish landscape artists

Painting The Living Mountain. Artist’s Journal Pt 4

(Image above – Looking back towards the Monadliath Mountains. Photo Adam Brewster) 2021).

Pt 1: Here

Pt 2: Here

Pt 3: Here

In the next few weeks I’ll be posting an artist’s diary about creating a series of 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 4: In the Cairngorms

 

It wasn’t until March 11th 2021 that Adam and I finally arrived the Cairngorms. There had been numerous setbacks with most places closed due to lockdown. We finally found and booked a self-catering hut at Glentruim Lodge on the south west side of the Cairngorms (off the road that runs north to Aviemore).

The roads from Edinburgh to Glentruim were almost empty, which made for easier driving, and luckily no snow. On arriving we explored the area – a river valley surrounded by low hills with a view of the snowy peaks beyond. Tall beech trees towered over our hut and a family of red squirrels darted around the trunks – disappearing as soon as a camera emerged. I found the grace of these beeches compelling and thought of including them in the painting series, though I’d heard they weren’t considered native to Scotland. Later though, I discovered that they are in fact most likely native to Britain, having naturally spread north to Scotland following the end of the last ice-age.

Perhaps it was the marked contrast to being confined to the city throughout most of lockdown, but these trees and the general atmosphere of the valley felt more exuberantly alive to me than usual. The beeches looked almost as if they were throwing their branches into the bright blue sky. My painting takes me all over Scotland, to places more remote than where we were staying in the Cairngorms – Ardnamurchan, Sutherland or Torridon for example are beautiful, remote places near the sea.

Maybe it was the sheer scale of the Cairngorms though – the sense of larger than life mountains, trees and weather. I was reminded again of passages from MacDonald’s or Lewis’s descriptions of nature – trees on the verge of dancing, squirrels on the verge of speaking.

It was also the sense of uninterrupted nature – a stark contrast to trees in the city, because however lovely individual city trees can be – they’re not an eco-system or a community of trees interacting with each other. In 2018 when I’d been painting my series in response to C.S. Lewis’s Narniad, I’d learned (through reading Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia) that Prince Caspian is inspired by the Medieval concept of Mars. Not just the God of War, as more commonly understood, but the concept of valour or courage – an ‘iron will’, and also ‘Mars Sylvanus’ – the vigorous energy of early spring. Mar-ch, with leaves shooting from the branches of trees. Birches in March become purplish-red just before they produce their first leaves, as Nan Shepherd observes in The Quarry Wood – their branches coloured like blood-veins.

While painting and researching Prince Caspian/Mars, I’d also learned something of the nature of a forest. A scientist called Suzanne Simard had discovered that trees send nutrients to each other, they are all interdependent. At the time of writing this journal, I’m also reading Robert MacFarlane’s Underland, which contains one chapter with an absolutely fascinating account of Simard’s discoveries of the complex root systems of forests.

The trees outside our cabin in the Cairngorms ‘felt’ exuberantly alive because they were exactly that – they communicated a sense of energy – not simply through the visual indicators of fresh air in the lichen that festooned the trees, the restless red squirrels, numerous birds or the scent of crystal clean air, it was the energy of uninterrupted growth and health.

The next morning when we stepped out of our cabin to look at the weather we were greeted with a beautiful snow and frost covered landscape.  Our ‘wows’ were quickly superseded by ‘oh sh*ts’ however, as this made it seem less likely we’d be able to get in to the mountains. On checking our phones we discovered that Emma (our mountain guide) had already contacted us to say ‘Looks like winter has returned!’ She seemed sure we’d find a way in though.

We’d already had the disappointing news that we’d not be able to enter the Cairngorms through the northerly route and areas Nan explored so often. This was because the ski road leading most of the way into the Cairngorms had been closed for the season. ‘The best ski-ing weather we’ve seen in years – and no-one can enjoy it!’ Liam and Emma had commented.

Emma’s advice was to walk up to the plateau from the southwest, from Glen Feshie up to Carn Ban Mor (from Gaelic, meaning ‘The big pale cairn’). Since Emma seemed optimistic we could still climb, we got in our little car and headed north along the motorway to meet Emma at Auchlean carpark. The carpark was off the motorway and a few miles into the mountain valley and we soon realised the snow-covered roads would be an issue.

I rang Emma, who asked; ‘Are you in a four-wheel drive?’. I managed not to snort as I explained ‘no it’s just an ordinary car’. We agreed to meet as far along the road as our un-Cairngormworthy car would take us.  We spotted Emma at the road to the carpark and stopped. A quick discussion ensued; ‘Do you think you have Covid?’ ‘No’. ‘Well, it’s a short drive, just two minutes and I’ll keep the window open’.

Before leaving Emma’s car she quickly fitted us with crash helmets and ice picks; “Just in case we encounter slippy ice further up the paths” Emma explained cheerfully. I began to picture accounts I’d read of climbers hanging on to the edge of ice chasms on the slopes of Everest, hands immobilised by frostbite. Then I reassured myself with the thought that at least we wouldn’t run out of oxygen. That situation, described as the death zone, only happens at 8000 metres and Carn Ban Mor is only 1052 metres high! What were the crash helmets for? ‘There’s almost zero chance of an avalanche, it’s just a safety measure’ Emma replied reassuringly.

As we walked up the lower slopes through a forest of pines sparkling with fresh snow, I asked Emma about how she became a mountain guide. She explained that she’d grown up in the Cairngorms and that she’d always climbed, and that training really took that to a different level; ‘The difference is – you know and can say exactly where you at any moment, not just have the ability to get out of tricky situations or a sudden change in weather’. (Being able to give 100% accurate GPS coordinates would of course be the difference between life and death, if a climber breaks a leg on a mist-covered mountain).

This made sense in the light of the haunting descriptions I’d read in The Living Mountain (or heard about from friends or family) of the utterly disconcerting experience of navigating a way out of white mist in which you can’t see beyond a foot. In previous years, I’d climbed several mountains with an ex-partner, Tim. He’d learned how to navigate well, but wasn’t so foolhardy he’d walk into a blizzard given a choice. I remember one day we’d walked up into the Trossachs (a mountain region in Central Scotland) and were just about to climb onto the plateau towards the summit when a white-out blizzard descended. It was lucky we were standing next to a cliff. We simply stood there till it passed, then when the air cleared took the opportunity to walk quickly to the summit where we enjoyed blue skies and a view of Loch Katrine far below.

My mum (Gillian) had been the more intrepid mountain climber though. Her partner at the time, Des, was a geologist by training and had extensive mountain climbing experience. I’ll never forget her description of a sudden blizzard, so extreme that Des decided to tie them both together with a rope, while they navigated via map and compass down to a bothy and safety. She said that all she could actually see was the front of her anorak, which became encrusted with a growing hillock of icy snow crystals. I can well imagine her relief on reaching the bothy, warmth and safety.

It’s in conditions such as these that Nan would doubtless have found herself on occasions. Alone too. I think her imaginative descriptions, visionary insights and musings might lead the inexperienced to imagine her as floating elf-like along the mountain paths in a continual reverie! It’s clear that as well as excellent navigation skills, she must have had muscles (and nerves) of steel!

Our guide Emma pointed out the tracks and marks left by various animals as we walked through the snowy wood. She wasn’t what I’d expected as guide (I suppose Adam and I had somehow imagined a tough militaristic sort) Emma looked quite arty, with a mane of light red hair and green eyes; very Scottish! We chatted about Nan, and she agreed that she must have been an incredibly experienced climber – absolutely in her element in this arctic landscape.

As Emma explained, the Cairngorms are in fact a micro-climate, a ‘mini – Arctic’ in effect, with all the temperatures, weather conditions, flora and fauna associated with the Arctic. We were by now emerging from the woodland and as the trees thinned out we were able to look back at the astonishing views behind us of the snow-covered Monadliath mountains to the west of the Cairngorms.

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Iona Paintings

Above, Misty Evening, North End Iona. Oil on 6×6″ wood. Rose Strang 2021.

The painting above (and two paintings below) were painted after a trip to Iona last month in mild weather. The feel is very different from the last time I was on the island in winter 2018 when the skies and sea were stormy and dramatic. This time Iona was green, tranquil and contemplative with calm weather.

These are the small start to a larger series I’ll be painting starting from next week, in response to the landscapes of Kilmartin and Iona. More on that soon.

In the meantime, contact me if you’re interested in these small paintings, at rose.strang@gmail.com

 

'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 ..

Applecross Series day 3

'Ardban Evening' Oil on 17x112 wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Ardban Evening’ Oil on 17×112 wood. Rose Strang 2020

'Ardban, Morning Mist' Oil on 17x112 wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Ardban, Morning Mist’ Oil on 17×112 wood. Rose Strang 2020

Today’s paintings of Applecross for the Limetree exhibition which launches 31st October.

A bit more experimentation today as I feel my way into this new series. These are both in oils – I wanted to say a bit more with less. It’s not quite getting there yet but these have more of the mood I’m trying to capture. I’ll be painting seven seas in different moods, also forests. Just to try something completely new I’ll be painting some road sketches sine the journey to Applecross is so dramatic.

More tomorrow …

Stormy Sea.Sold. 'Stormy Sea. Ardban'. Charcoal on 31x22" paper. Rose Strang 2019

Off to Wander …

Above, ‘Stormy Sea. Ardban’. Charcoal on 31×22″ paper. Rose Strang 2019.

‘Off to Wander’ is the title of  a book I received in the post yesterday …

'Off to Wander'. Mary McCormick

‘Off to Wander’. Mary McCormick

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Excerpt) 'Off to Wander'. Mary McCormick

(Excerpt) ‘Off to Wander’. Mary McCormick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Mary McCormick while on an artist’s residency on the Isle of Iona in Autumn 2018. I was very grateful for her grounded presence in the hostel, which attracted numerous interesting characters, not all easy to get along with! Mary decided to close her gardening business at the age of 68, to travel around the world on a shoestring budget. Iona was one of her last destinations before she returned to the US to find work conserving its depleted grasslands.

Her book is a real inspiration to me as I’m attempting to write a series of small books to accompany my paintings – it’s proving a challenge! Not the writing (which I enjoy) but the choices on what to keep in or out of the books, how much information, how formal or informal and so on.

I love the fragments of experience in Mary’s book and the non-linear style. Have a read of the small excerpt above which is a lovely example of Mary’s humour and meditative observations. If you’d like to buy a copy you can contact Mary McCormick via email on:

offtowander@swcp.com and if she has enough copies left she’ll post it out to you.

I’m off for a wander myself next week (with my partner Adam, my friend Donald, and sister, Catherine)  to the wonderful Applecross Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. We were there last year, during which time I painted a series for a gallery in Fortwilliam.

This year I’m painting a series of new works for the Limetree Gallery, Bristol. The exhibition opens 31st October and (lockdown restrictions willing) I’ll be traveling down there to meet people (one-to-one) who are interested in the paintings. I’m honoured to be showing alongside two artists whose work I admire: Anna King and Mhairi McGregor .

As always I’ll update painting progress from Applecross. In the meantime, here are some lovely pictures from our stay last year!

 

 

 

 

'Sunrise, Ruby Bay. Fife. Acrylic and oil on 36x36" wood panel. Rose Strang 2020. (private commission)

Sunrise, Ruby Bay.

Above: Sunrise, Ruby Bay. Fife. Acrylic and oil on 36×36″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2020.

Below, some details from the painting …

 

This latest private painting commission is of Ruby Bay in Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. It’s so-called because if you sift through the small pebbles in the bay you can find tiny little garnets, not rubies as such but very like them!

Ruby Bay is on the Fife coastal path, near Elie Bay. It’s a beautiful stretch of coast-  the most famous beach on that stretch being St Andrews (of Chariots of Fire fame). The tower, built in 1779, is called Lady’s Tower as it was used by Lady Janet Anstruther (Janet Fall) as a bathing tower – a rich person’s beach hut if you like!

I wanted to capture the classic cool tones of an east coast sunrise – clear, cool and only slightly hazy. Looking at this painting in real life (it’s bigger than it seems form the photo at thirty six by thirty six inches) you sense movement from a calm tide about to recede from its high point. The lilac tones of pre-dawn are just about disappearing, replaced by clear turquoise. Lemon-yellow sunlight is just kissing the tips of the rocks, tower and grass.

The painting took about six days. It was started with gesso to lay down composition and background texture, then acrylics to get contrasts, the acid tones of lichen and the built up layers of rough-textured rock. Lastly I used oils for the sea and sky, and the cool light blue in the shadows.

It’s been a pleasure to paint  – complicated and with varying textures, but I think I’ve captured the calm and the pure light of sunrise in the east. I’m quite keen now to have another go on smaller wood panel to create a more abstract version.

The photos below show most stages of the painting …

 

 

'Water of Leith. 10'. Oil on 7x5" wood. Rose Strang, May 2020. Unframed £250

Summer Exhibition, Limetree Gallery

Above, Water of Leith. 10. Oil on 7×5″ wood. Rose Strang, May 2020. Unframed £250.

The ‘ Water of Leith’ series of paintings below will be on sale from the Limetree Gallery from around mid-June. If you are interested in any of the paintings, or would like to reserve or buy one, please contact the gallery on their website here – Limetree Gallery, Bristol

Below the paintings – more about the inspiration behind this series …

This series takes inspiration from Edinburgh’s Water of Leith, the river that runs from the Pentland Hills twenty five miles out of the city, to the shore at Leith Harbour.

The paintings are mainly from the stretch of river that runs from Stockbridge in Edinburgh up to Roseburn – possibly one of the most scenic areas of Edinburgh, which is already a very scenic city!

I took photos and made sketches last month for the oil paintings, which were completed in my studio. The time of May is always beautiful, but one of the upsides of lockdown has been the quiet and the cleaner air – these paintings hopefully reflect some of that peace; the gentleness of rain drops on a peaty river, dark as a glass of Guiness! I particularly love the vivid greens of May against these dark backdrops.

I’ve shown a variety of views – some detailed and others more abstract. I enjoyed paring these colours and compositions down to their more abstract basics in some paintings (7, 8 and 11) but equally enjoyed painting the complex scene in number 9, which shows the glassy stretch of water just before it tips into a waterfall at the most scenic part of the Water of Leith at Dean Village. Number 6 is just below the statue of Hygeia (I didn’t paint her but might do in the next few weeks – interesting to think that in ancient times we’d all have been praying to her during this pandemic!) I remember playing in these shallows as a kid and thankfully it’s not changed at all since then.

This stretch of river is in the most elegant (or posh if you like) part of the river, you can see across the river to private gardens, which, along with green light of the deep, tree-filled valley adds to its feel of mystery.

It’s taken a lockdown to make me focus on places closer to home, and though I’ve missed trips to the beautiful west coast this year, it’s been more rewarding than I imagined to paint my home town in spring.

As mentioned these paintings are all available through the Limetree Gallery, Bristol, who will be very happy to answer any queries you have about the paintinngs, you can contact them here – Limetree Gallery Contact

'Water of Leith. 7'. Oil on 7x5" wood. Rose Strang, May 2020.

Water of Leith Series (in progress)

Above – today’s two paintings for the Water of Leith series, which is in progress. These are available (though as these are oils they make take a week or so to dry) through the Limetree Gallery, Bristol. Please contact the gallery if you are interested in any of the paintings, on their website – Limetree Gallery

I’m still very much enjoying the process of working in oils for this series. Well, enjoying isn’t exactly the word! I’m muddling through my experience of working in a new way – I find it’s conducive to more simple abstracted painting. Not because that makes it more easy but because the paint quality asks for more space and simplicity. Also, if I wanted to paint a very detailed oil painting it would take months due to drying times, not my favourite way of painting – which is akin to binge-watching a series rather than waiting for a once-a-week installment! A mood and volition can be sustained more easily without long breaks.

I’ve always admired artists who can say more with less, but the process (or at least my process) is always to start with observing everything in some detail; like a camera pan that then takes ever closer close-ups. I can’t reduce down patterns until I understand them. Maybe in a few years that process will become easier though.

This is a calm series, reflecting my mood during lockdown, which on a personal level I’ve enjoyed in many ways. I’ve been painting more with less distractions, which is welcome.

The two paintings above were just finished today, anyone interested in them can reserve or buy them through the Limetree Gallery, but they won’t be completely dry till about the 7th June.

Here’s some images showing the series so far …

 

'Water of Leith. 6'. Oil on 7x5" wood. Rose Strang, May 2020

Painting in oils

I’ve been hugely enjoying this new series in oils, featuring studies of the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s river which flows from the Pentland Hills down to the shore at Leith. This series is still in progress and there will be around ten paintings, some diptyques.

The water of Leith always has a rich, peaty colour, which looks so beautiful in contrast with the colours of May. I wanted to capture the dewy light and light rain-showers. During lockdown I’ve had to focus on local landscape in Edinburgh. but the light has had a crystal clarity (less pollution maybe) that’s been inspiring.

I usually paint in acrylics as it’s quicker (drying time) but with more time on my hands these past few months I’ve been able to experiment with oils and I love it! I think the received wisdom is that oils are more difficult, but I find them easier in many ways, especially on this small scale.

The paint has a flow and intensity of pigment that gives immediately more luminous, deep or subtle effects and I realise that a lot of my time painting acrylics is in making the paint surface look better – with more depth or texture etc. In future, if I want texture or impasto I’ll probably start with acrylics, wait for it to dry then paint surface colours in oil. (All very tedious information for the non-painter maybe!)

It’s good practice for my upcoming seascape commission in which I want both texture and subtle watery effects. I’ll post more on that soon. In the meantime I’ll be posting updates on this series.

The ‘Water of Leith’ series will be available from the Limetree Gallery when the series is finished, which should be by mid-June – I’ll clarify the date when I know. So if you like the look of these paintings and would like to reserve one,

you can contact the Limetree Gallery through their website Here

 

 

'North Berwick, Summer'. Mixed media on 18x18" wood panel. Rose Strang 2020. (NFS, Private Commission).

Finished Commission – North Berwick

Above: North Berwick, Summer. Mixed media on 18×18″ wood. Rose Strang 2020 (NFS, private commission).

I finally completed this private commission today and it will be winging its way to a new home soon!

The painting shows part of the headland past the town of North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland on a summer’s day in August.

This is one of my (and my family’s) favourite places to be. Though it’s just about thirty miles from Edinburgh, it always feels quite ‘away from it all’, the rocks are beautiful and as a kid it was heaven to play here, as an adult too!

The person who commissioned me works in a hospital, so I hope this painting is uplifting during a stressful time for folks in the NHS. Having said that, I hear that the non-Covid wards are not busy since everyone’s too scared to go into hospital for fear of either catching Covid or placing more strain on the NHS.

Below – a few photos showing some of the development of the painting. The challenge was capturing that lovely curve where sea meets land, also the dry August grass. The sea was not so much of a challenge once I’d toned down the rather too bright turquoise. You’d see bright turquoise on the west coast of Scotland but not the east coast!

The final touch was a lot of gesso splashed – it gives a sense of atmosphere and messing up a postcard-like view makes it more real – the way the eye sees in real life with peripheral vision and sun in our eyes, changing weather and so on.

It was both a challenge and a delight to paint, a big thank you to the person who commissioned this for giving me a really nice project during lockdown!