Shetland: Towards Vaila

There’s a beach near Burrastow that looks towards the Island of Vaila.

Here’s a sketch I made from the cliffs above the beach.

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Those cliffs look steep and dark. The tower is a “watch tower”, I’m told, built by the Laird back in the day (1700s) to watch over his fishing operations. The story I was told was that the Laird’s tenants were selling their catch to Icelandic vessels out there in the bay. Then they returned with a meagre stock for the Laird. Or at least he suspected them of doing IMG_3490this. After all, he gave them very little, if anything for their catch. And the Icelanders would pay.

So he made the watchtower for surveillance. I was told this story in the Germattwatt café in Walls. The people made it sound as though it was living memory. But it was many generations ago, even if true. They also pointed out to me the place on the nearby hill where the miscreants were hanged, and left hanging, as an example.

The tower is listed as a project on the website of “Groves Raines Architects” as “Mucklaberry Tower, C19th 2-storey square plan Baronial reconstruction” . Their project was to refurbish it as a retreat, along with renovation of Vaila Hall.

On another day, from the beach, I determined to draw the rocks.

It was a very windy day, the wind blowing over the top of me.

 

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My rule for drawing rocks is this: everything that’s drawn is there, but not everything that’s there is drawn.

 

 

 

Shetland landscapes

Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together better if I don’t use many colours. And it’s faster.

Click the picture to expand it.

Shetland, Skerries of Easter Paill

The rocks off the ward of Mucklure are almost geometrical in their formations. They make abrupt right angles.

Here are the Skerries of Easter Paill, small rocks in the sea off Dounawall and The Hamar.IMG_3492

Here is another drawing of the same location. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale.

Here’s a map showing the location. I drew the picture sitting on a rock that was not pointed but smooth and rounded, at a convenient height. In fact, I saw the convenient rock first, and then thought, what can I draw from here?

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I had spotted a few items of plastic waste on the beach at the Seal Lagoon and intended to put them in my rucksack. But there was more and more, until they didn’t fit in my rucksack and I had a whole dustbin bag full. Then I realised I didn’t know what I was going to do with the bag. I carried it for the next hour, until I reached civilisation again, and found a bin. Moral of the story: don’t start collecting plastic waste until you have worked out a forward plan for the next step. This is a general life lesson, I think.

 

Shetland 2019 – pen and wash

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Here are some pictures I drew in pen and wash.

I spent a lot of time drawing rocks.

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Rocks off Burrastow

The rocks are overwhelming in their detail. Not every thing I saw is in the picture. But every thing in the picture, I saw.

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Here are some pictures I drew on the journey going back South:

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From the bus stop in Walls

And another one, really quick sketches:

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Another sketch from the bus stop in Walls

And here’s a sketch I did looking out of the window from my cabin on the boat.

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I sent a copy of this to PS, a magical person I met on Shetland. I was thrilled when she replied with a letter and a chart identifying the buildings:

Letter from PS.

On my next visit I shall walk over there and take a look.

Shetland, Historic site walk

IMG_3182The wooden sign from the main road said “Historic Site”, and pointed up a small road that lead steeply uphill. I was on my morning run and felt energetic, so I set off up there, keen to see the Historic Site. In Shetland, Historic Sites are often at the top of hills.

At the top of the first hill, there was no Historic Site, but a view of the next summit. I carried on. At the second summit there was no Historic Site either, just undulating hills in all directions. I was disheartened. I was also a long way from home base.

I turned around. In the distance was the island of Foula, which lurks on the horizon, looking menacing. Usually it’s seen across the sea. But from that second summit, Foula hovered above the green hills, too large,  too grey, too abrupt in its cliffs. As I started running back downhill, Foula sank reluctantly, until it disappeared below the horizon and all around was again soft green hills, and sheep.

The next day I resolved to find the Historic Site. I went on a mega-walk. Here is my route:

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You see marked the “Germattwatt Café” where I stopped on the way.

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I found the Historic Site which, against all expectations and precedent, was not at the top of any hill, but low down. near the sea, on a promontory, and near a fishing lake. There were low ancient walls, and the distinctive patterns of undulations that indicate a dwelling, property divisions, field boundaries.

In tribute to the wisdom of the ancestors who chose this place I stopped a while. There was a good view up and down the estuary. Good fishing was to be had, both freshwater in the lake, and salt water in the sea. Such fishing was still being had. In the sea was the fish farm and the mussel farm. I drew a picture:

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You see the stones of the Historic Site in the foreground. In the distance the “A971” makes its way East at the foot of the hill. The lines in the sea are the mussel farm. The high hill is  the Ward of Browland. Here’s the Ordnance Survey Map. The arrow shows the direction I was looking when drawing the picture.

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Then I walked on, following the sea. Here’s a drawing near the “pier” circled in red on the map.

The whole walk was 22km, and took 8 hours, including two hours of stops for drawing, refreshment and looking at the view.

 

 

Penzance small Boat Harbour

I ate a Cornish pasty watching the boats.

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The tower on the left is St Mary’s Church where I drew a picture earlier. The tower on the right is “The Bell Tower”. According to Trip Adviser, you can rent a holiday flat there.

There were people swimming in the harbour. Some one was getting dressed on steps next to the sheds in the picture. In an inner harbour, in front of Abbey Warehouse, young children dropped into the water from the road, and were recouped by a teenager on a paddle board.

Sketching in Crete 2019

The air in Crete was warm and damp. This affected the paper. See how the ink has spread in this pen and ink sketch at the airport:

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This is De Atramentis Black document ink on high quality watercolour paper, Saunders Waterford, in a small book 6″ by 4″ from the Vintage Paper Company.

After that, I used pencil and watercolour only. Here is a view of the Akrotori peninsula. The warship is lurking in the NATO base.

We lived with insects. At a hand movement, other movements occurred, in the air, on the kitchen surfaces, on the floor. Ants made their way across the breadboard, collecting crumbs or notifying HQ of the location of the honey drip. Beetles arrived suddenly, folded their wings and inspected the floor. I tried drawing them.

Two geckos made their miraculous appearance some evenings and early mornings. They emitted small squeaks.

These are images made on “sun print” paper, using plants, and cut-out paper shapes. The geckos are a species of nocturnal reptile: Hemidactylus turcicus or Mediterranean House Gecko. They are insectivorous, eating, amongst other things, moths. I wondered if they would like to live in the Barbican ducts. It must be quite warm in there, and they would be entirely welcome to devour the moths.

They stick to the walls not with suckers but with hairs on their feet. The feet of geckos are subject of intense scientific interest, I read, since these hairs are so configured that they get close to the wall on an atomic scale (10 nanometers or so). At this distance the molecules of the feet attract, rather than repel, the molecules of the wall. There is a whole compendium of physics effects which make this possible: quantum mechanical, electrostatic, surface tension.  There could be an entire undergraduate course on the feet of the Gecko.

Outdoors there is landscape…

…and a garden.

I am learning to draw clouds. There were a lot of them.

I am learning to draw quickly. Here are some very quick sketches from cafés.

The grass was cut around the lower buildings in ancient Aptera, revealing arches.

Arches make poetry in the Agia Triada monastery: a pre-departure pause….

…before the airport.

Technical details

Pictures done in sketchbooks:

Using Watercolour box 1:

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Sun print paper was from Cowling and Wilcox on the Kingsland Road. It is called “Sunography”. I printed it on both sides.

Excelsior, LT472, Lowestoft

I sketched “Excelsior” which was moored in Lowestoft Heritage Quay.

She is a former fishing smack, built 1921, now a training vessel based at Lowestoft.

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The water was very muddy because a dredger was at work in the river channel, providing education and entertainment to those on the jetty.

It took me 1 hour 15 minutes to draw Excelsior. I was sitting on the concrete, facing away from the dredger entertainment and looking at Excelsior through a fence.

Here is work in progress.

 

A walk to Wapping

Today was a beautiful day. It was a day to go for a walk.

I went to the river. Near Old Billingsgate I looked under London Bridge and saw Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. This is a 15 minute sketch, watercolour-only, no pen.

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Onwards towards the East, I stood on Sugar Quay, which has only just re-opened after years of being closed while the nearby hotel is built.

Here is the Shard, in context,  from a wooden bench on Sugar Quay.

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This map shows my walk:

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Tourists congregate around Tower Bridge. East of Tower Bridge, after St Katherines Dock, there are no tourists at all. It was suddenly very quiet. I went down “Alderman Steps”. There was this great view. The wind was fierce, and my eyes were streaming. I had a go anyway. Two mallards bobbed around amongst the floating quays, chatting away, looking around as if searching for something lost.

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Then I went on East. I had lunch in a hipster café called “Urban Baristas” on Wapping High Street.

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Lunch at the hipster café “Urban Baristas”

A man at the next table discussed flats on his mobile phone. He said Shoreditch was too expensive, so he was looking in Wapping. He’d found a good place, a view of the river, open plan, lots of space. Maybe it was offices he was describing, not flats.

Then I went on East. The river opens out here, it starts to feel more like an estuary. There are 1980s flats, brick-built, but in the river shores are the remains of the old trade: the old chains, the stanchions, huge shafts of timber, rotting piers.

Then the river bends again, and there’s a magnificent view of Canary Wharf.

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I drew this in about an hour, sitting in sunlight spiked with the smell of someone else’s fish and chips.

Here is work in progress:

Here is me drawing:

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Sketching in Shetland, 2018

In Shetland I was learning to paint clouds. Here’s one of the pictures I like best, also the simplest.

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Sometimes the clouds are lighter than the rest of the sky:

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Sometimes very dark:

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Sometimes rather complicated:

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Below is a picture drawn in the rain. I was using a sketchbook which had very heavily sized pages. In light Shetland rain, the pages became damp, and were absorbent.

The water is brighter than the sky: a Shetland phenomenon.

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See how this heavily sized paper lets me put layers of colour on.

Here’s another picture in the same sketchbook. See the colours in the sea.

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This was a sketchbook from the Vintage Paper Company, based, appropriately enough, in Orkney. The paper is described on their website:IMG_5323

“The paper was made in the 1950s in Somerset, England. It’s a 180gsm, 90lb rough surfaced paper ideal for drawing, ink and of course, watercolour. Made from cotton rag and gelatine sized, it’s a dream to paint on. “

It took a bit of getting used to.

I found it didn’t take the paint very well, until it was damp. Here’s an early attempt. See how I struggled to get the paint to adhere to the paper.

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This was painted in a strong wind from the edge of a hill. At first I thought this picture was a total failure. But later, it seemed to have captured something. perhaps you can see the rocks, the dry grass, the shifting sky and sea?

 

Later pictures were a bit better, especially if I kept things simple:Shetland 2018 drawing

IMG_5324The other sketchbook I used was a Khadi cotton paper, much more absorbent. Below is a picture of the roads of West Mainland. The roads are calligraphic strokes on the landscapes. Shetland 2018 drawing

Here’s anther picture of the roads:

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I also drew birds:

On a day it was raining outside, I drew my boots:

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Below is a picture of Burrastow Cottage, where I was staying. I swam in that bay. Despite the blue sky, the water was cold. I rate it somewhere between “refreshing” and “challenging”. That is, probably about 12 degrees Celsius.

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I had a wonderful time.Shetland 2018 drawing