Friday, 21 September 2018

Paintings of Edinburgh

I think of myself as a landscape painter. But this year I have also been working on a series of paintings of Edinburgh. I have been praised for not adapting my subject matter to suit my style, but the other way round. In this case, the nice stranger who said this at an exhibition may be disappointed, for I am pursuing a unanimity of style. I start with a piece of watercolour paper. On this I collage bits of torn-up newspaper, using acrylic paint (usually white and raw sienna) as an adhesive. When I have made a sketch (or found one in my collection of sketch-books), I make the picture with black ink, and acrylic paint. For the ink I use either a twig or a home-made reed pen. I find this gives a more expressive mark than a conventional pen-nib. To apply the paint I may use brushes of all sizes, and also occasionally rags or a tooth brush.

Here is an example:



I like to think that this gets something of the feel of the place, even though all the details may not be accurate.

Around the Old Town I have usually found it satisfactory to use the paint sparingly, as in this view of the High Street from outside Gladstone's Land (up the outside stair).



On the other hand in this painting of a front door in the New Town I found myself using so much paint that the collaged newspaper more or less disappeared. 



Incidentally, there are far too few flowering tubs around the New Town steps and balconies. What a wasted opportunity!

So far there are ten paintings. Most of them are of views around the Old Town, but there is so far one landscape. This view of the city from Corstorphine Hill has an added resonance. It as here that, in "Kidnapped", David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart parted company. While I was doing the sketch I saw two foxes run across the golf course.



The boldest - the background painted with a two-inch house-painter's brush - is of the Festival fireworks at the castle, seen from the Meadows. Quite a gang of us south-siders would gather up there every year to enjoy the show. We missed the famous waterfall down the north side of the castle, but thanks to portable radios we could enjoy the music.


This photo definitely looks less good than the original. If you want to judge whether the same is true of the the other pictures, drop in to the Cornerstone Cafe underneath St John's church on Princes Street. So far there are ten paintings. The cafe can accommodate five; so you will have to make several visits to see them all. My plan is to carry on with this series for a while, so there should be a few more to come.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Duddon in winter - painting

After my last exhibition one of the people whose opinion of my paintings I value said to me: "I liked your show, but you want to use bigger gestures." In fact the larger paintings in the exhibition did have some big gestures, with rags or knife; but living in a smallish flat while we moved house meant there were more small paintings made with small brushes. But the incentive was there now to paint something less fiddly.

Step one was to cut a piece of hardboard 24 inches by 34 inches and back it with laths to stiffen it. Then I started with a house painter's brush and some ultramarine blue to give wintry feel all over and provide a background for the depth of the wood and the depth of the water.



The sketch was of the River Duddon on December 30th.


The next step was, still with the house painter's brush, to indicate the rocks and the line of the far bank. The rocks were mostly raw sienna, raw umber and cadmium orange, with a lot of white. Where the trees would be I made the strokes vertical.


Then it was a case of dabbing with the rag so as to represent the ground on the far bank under the trees. The colours were all wintry, darker as they receded into the wood.


The trees were put in with simple vertical strokes, varying the pressure on the brush so as to get a feeling of rough bark. Umbers and siennas and orange were the main pigments, but also some of the green of old moss, made with ultramarine and cadmium yellow.


All these painting sessions were separated by a good deal - sometimes days - of looking and thinking.  The actual painting sessions were more like an hour each. By this stage I was bringing the picture down to the sitting room for a few days and then taking it back up to the painting room when opportunity offered. Now came the moment I was worried about. I had to start working on the water.


The question was what should be light and what should be dark. And also what should be reflected. I did want to give the feel of an ordinary mid-winter day with a river neither in spate nor low.


I see that the photos, smaller and on screen, do not show how these versions were not quite right. As I said above, some days were spent thinking between each version.


The pale areas are made with ultramarine and white, raw sienna and white and cadmium orange and white. The fact that it is not clear which patches are reflections of the sky and which are white water over rapids is immaterial to me. I mostly used an old brush with stiff bristles to give a feeling of turbulent water, with layers showing though. From time to time during this process the rocks had been given a little more definition. The strong diagonals in the composition from bottom left to bottom right are balanced by the diagonals of the rocks, from bottom right to top left.

The loosely scrubbed pale patches were seen to contain a very distracting image of a face.


Well, I think this is finished. Some dark lines - mixtures of ultramarine, raw umber and cadmium red deep, were used to give a little more definition to the flow of water. Between the foreground rocks there was put a quick suggestion of looking through the water to the stones beneath. If this looks more like a touch of shore above the water-line that does not matter. Perhaps I will make some more changes, but I think this is it.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Bicentenary of Saint John's, Parts 1 and 2


             


                          The Bicentenary of St John’s

The Church of Saint John the Evangelist, Princes Street, Edinburgh was consecrated in March 1818

          
                                      CANTO ONE
                Think 1818. George III was king
                And Europe was awash with creativity.
                “Heart of Midlothian” was Scott’s new thing;
                The Marx couple celebrated Karl’s nativity;
                Gruber wrote “Stille Nacht for us to sing.
                The list o’erwhelms a heart of sensitivity.
                                It's far too long! In fact it might be speedier
                                To look the whole lot up in Wikipedia.

                And, don’t forget, this year did Mary Shelley
                Conceive her famous Doctor Frankenstein.
                (I say “conceive”. He was not in her belly,
                Rather her fecund fantasy divine.)
    I guess the Shelley household was a melée
    Of quill, ink, paper – all the author’s line.
                And this, in fact, was rather handy as
                Her Percy Bysshe was writing “Ozymandias”.

    But what about the Athens of the North,
    Then slithering from off its lofty perch,
    Street by new street towards the Firth of Forth?
    The old crown jewels were found after a search
                (That Scott again) and many a man of worth
                Thought the New Town should have another church.
                                So, just as Byron started on “Don Juan”
                                Why, Daniel Sandford thought he’d build a new one.


                These lines may make a nest for some church mice,
                Or act on my friend Dorp like an emetic,
                But “Cornerstone” is free, so there’s no price;
                I trust my readers to be sympathetic.
                A bicentenary doesn’t happen twice
                So it seems right to pen some sort of epic.
                                And what could better suit a bold romancer
                                Than write his verse in a Byronic stanza?



                                                CANTO TWO

                This Sandford – Bishop Daniel, I should say –
                Dreamed of a new church for a new season.
                His diocese perhaps would point the way
                From the Enlightenment and Age of Reason
                To post-Napoleonic piety. A day
                For Godly worship to confound the heathen.
                                He wanted most (and bless his cotton socks)
                                A Gothic temple, not a preaching box.

                Let’s have, he thought, stained glass; a solemn file
                Of lofty pillars, drifting ever higher
                Towards the vaulted ceiling in the style
                Called “Perpendicular”. Let’s have a choir
                Engendering pious musings. All the while
                He planned two churches piskies to inspire.
                                And first of these two New Town Gothic halls
                                Was Ps and Gs – in those days just St Pauls.

                But churches aren’t just castles in the air,
                Whether for Kirk Established or some sect.
                They must stand up; put up with wear and tear.
                They’re stone and mortar, lead and glass, bedecked
                With ornament. And they must have a care;
                “Authentic Gothic detail” would be checked.
                                You need an architect. They chose to turn
                                To the young, up-and-coming William Burn.

                An architect is not the only thing.
                By no means! There are plans to make. A lot
                Of funds to raise and give, donors to bring
                And many legal tangles to unknot.
                We had the man! Wealth, energy and “zing”,
                Needed the Ts to cross and Is to dot.
                                So if on May the Sixth your spirits fly, go
                                Drink a toast to Forbes of Pitsligo.





Saturday, 10 March 2018

Art Exhibition - "New Landscapes"

During the last week of February I had an art exhibition in the Dundas Street Gallery, in Edinburgh. I showed 40 paintings, and lots of hand-made cards. I meant to write this in time to encourage folks to come to the show; that did not happen, but anyhow, here it is now. You can enjoy the views without worrying about the weather.

The Beast from the East arrives in Dundas Street

I paint places I love. As a result the method of painting is usually adapted to the subject, rather than the other way round. Sometimes I revisit a subject I have tried to paint many times before; but I like to think I have got a bit better with practice.

Wetherlam from Crowberry Hause

I do like painting in the open air, on the spot, but the weather is not always supportive of this approach. In August last year, when I walked about 2 miles up a roughish path to get the view I wanted of the Scafells, the ridge disappeared in cloud.

Plein Air

 Fortunately I had a drawing of the ridge made about 4 years before. so the picture was finished at home - keeping, I hope the on-the-spot feel.

The Scafells from the top of Mosedale

Sometimes I use rags instead of brushes. Nice people say I sometimes capture the mood of a place. This one was all rags. I hope it is recognisable. The skyline was altered after a second visit to the site.

The Langdale Pikes



On the other hand this one of Feshie Bridge was painted entirely with a palette knife, expect for the stonework round the arch. Like the Langdale Pikes it was done from sketches made on the spot. For some reason I cannot explain I do not find any pleasure in working from photographs, with only three exceptions I can think of - none in this exhibition.

Feshie Bridge


One of my most useful bits of kit is a pochade box I bought fairly recently. It fits in a rucksack, so I can take it up the fells or to the beach. All these pictures, by the way, are done in acrylic. I know this medium has its detractors, but it suits me very well.

The pochade box in use, painting the Bass Rock

Old Copper Level at Paddy End (painted with the pochade box)


The hand-made cards went unexpectedly well. Over 100 were sold. They are fun to do, and a lot less stressful than making a painting. Often I am trying to catch a mood and working from memory - or imagination.

Hand-painted Card in Acrylic

One very pleasing feature of the pochade box is that I can paint using it in the front passenger seat of the car, without making too much mess. This one, for example, was painted on a poor day, sitting where the road goes close to the shore, north of Ullapool.

The shore at Ardmair

That is quite enough for one blog-post. I may not be able to resist putting more paintings up in future.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Scotland from 1707-1815: A Support Pack

My main work last autumn as a history teacher and examiner was to write a support pack for Field 4 of Advanced Higher History. It studies Scotland from 1707-1815.

The SQA hold the copyright for the document, but they are happy for me to publish the link. Here it is:

https://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/48466.html

If you go to this page you will find what I have written by clicking on "Additional Course Support".

This is one of the minority options in Advanced Higher History, chosen by many fewer candidates than some of the self-evidently exciting and interesting fields from the Twentieth Century. One likes to think that as the candidates grow older they will read about all of them; but in their final year at school they have to chose one. Unlike some of the more popular options there is not one clearly suitable text-book for candidates; nor would any publisher commission one, for the numbers are too low. The popular options, to their advantage, also have A-level equivalents, so excellent text-books do exist.

This support pack tries to fill the gap. It is not a text-book, and it will not replace  candidate's own work.  The intention of this support pack is to give candidates the guidance they need to get the best out of a fascinating and rewarding course.

We do feel that this option deserves to be more popular. It includes serious politics, such as the results of the Treaty of Union and the impact of the French Revolution and radicalism. It covers momentous economic changes, both in agriculture and in industry. It also deals with the results of these changes, notably urbanisation, and the changing life of the Highlands. For those who like romance and military adventure (one should say the bitter hardship of civil war) the Jacobite rebellions provide plenty. The Kirk during this period was grappling with old certainties and new doubts. Above all this was the period of the Scottish Enlightenment, when Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Reid, James Hutton and many others transformed the way we think of ourselves and our world. There are compulsory elements in the course, and also many options. For example, those who wish to find out more about Robert Burns, Alan Ramsay or Walter Scott will not be wasting their time.

I do hope that in a year or two I will be marking your work, or your pupils' work.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Bicentenary of St John's Part 1

               
In 2018 the church I attend, St John the Evangelist, Princes Street, Edinburgh, is enjoying its 200th anniversary. I am using my satirical column in the church magazine, "Cornerstone", to celebrate the fact in verse. I hope this will be the first canto of half a dozen. 
                

"What is the matter with telling the truth with a smile?" Desiderius Eramus to Martin Dorp, 1515 (Dorp had been complaining that the "Praise of Folly" was too frivolous)


                Think 1818. George III was king
                And Europe was awash with creativity.
                “Heart of Midlothian” was Scott’s new thing;
                The Marx couple celebrated Karl’s nativity;
                Gruber wrote “Stille Nacht for us to sing.
                The list o'erwhelms a heart of sensitivity.
                     It's far too long! In fact it might be speedier
                     To look the whole lot up in Wikipedia.

                And, don’t forget, this year did Mary Shelley
                Conceive her famous Doctor Frankenstein.
                (I say “conceive”. He was not in her belly,
                Rather her fecund fantasy divine.)
    I guess the Shelley household was a melée
    Of quill, ink, paper – all the author’s line.
         And this, in fact, was rather handy as
         Her Percy Bysshe was writing “Ozymandias”.

    But what about the Athens of the North,
    Then slithering from off its lofty perch,
    Street by new street towards the Firth of Forth?
    The old crown jewels were found after a search
                (That Scott again) and many a man of worth
                Thought the New Town should have another church.
                      So, just as Byron started on “Don Juan”
                     Why, Daniel Sandford thought he’d build a new one.

                These lines may make a nest for some church mice,
                Or act on my friend Dorp like an emetic,
                But “Cornerstone” is free, so there’s no price;
                I trust my readers to be sympathetic.
                A bicentenary doesn’t happen twice
                So it seems right to pen some sort of epic.
                      And what could better suit a bold romancer
                     Than write his verse in a Byronic stanza?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Water. A few thoughts.



At the end of the summer I was asked to write a short article for our church magazine about water. This is not, as I say in it, in any way an academic paper, and all the statistics in it can be easily found on-line, if you have time to look. But I do think that these points are worth sharing more widely, so here they are.

Water is one main theme for St John’s during 2017. Water is our principal focus during Creationtide. So the Editor has asked me to write an article on the subject. I am not going to attempt anything lyrical or passionate on the subject. This has often been done by others, much better than I could do. Instead here are various facts. This is not a scientific paper, nor am I an expert, but as far as I can find out, these facts are accurate. I hope they will provide a stimulus for thought, a stimulus for prayer, a stimulus for conversation, and a stimulus for action.

The human body is about 60% water. The bones lower the average, of course. The brain and the heart are well over 70% water.

The dreadful floods in Texas and neighbouring states, caused by Storm Harvey have been fully reported. At the time of writing (August 31st) 33 people have been killed and about 100,000 homes have been affected. Also during August there has been severe flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. These floods have killed about 1,200 people and left millions homeless. Many have been killed in mudslides. Niger is affected by severe flooding every rainy season. This summer has been no exception. Between 40 and 50 people are reported killed and thousands have been made homeless.

Our planet is as likely to be affected by drought. That strange phenomenon El Nino has made drought conditions worse than usual in many parts of the world in the last couple of years. The countries of Southern and Eastern Africa have been worst affected. In an article for the “Guardian” in March Lucy Lamble reported: “More than 20 million people in four countries are at risk of starvation according to the UN, making this the biggest crisis facing the world since 1945.” Oxfam describes the drought in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia as the worst in living memory. USAID, the US Government’s agency in this field, reckons that food insecurity caused by El Nino will continue in Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe till some time in 2018. Prosperous countries are, of course, better able to mitigate the effects of drought, but climate knows no frontiers. Parts of the state of Montana are experiencing exceptional drought as I write.

The relationship between drought and migration is extremely complex and is the subject right now of much academic study and debate. It would be inappropriate for me to pronounce definitively on the subject in an article such as this. Suffice it to say that there clearly is a connection. In September 2015 “Time” magazine carried an article headed: “How climate change is behind the surge of migrants to Europe.” According to the UNHCR there are some 65.6 million displaced people around the world. The number drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of this year was over 2,000.

The pollution of water is a vast subject on its own. According to the National Academy of Sciences 1.8 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases such as cholera. Tens of millions of others are seriously sickened by water-related ailments. Meanwhile at sea there is the problem of plastic pollution. Sir David Attenborough summed up the situation:
“There is no away- because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean it does not go away.” An article in the July edition of “National Geographic” tells how the area of severe plastic pollution in the Pacific covers roughly one million square miles. This is not just the notorious “garbage patch” of highly visible plastic waste. Even more alarming are the microplastic particles that may be so small as to be unnoticed and do not necessarily float. The creatures that live in the sea inevitably eat them; we do not yet know what consequences will follow.



I am sorry that I cannot write a more cheerful article on this subject. But I guess if everyone who reads this article does a little, well it will add up to a little more.