Sketching near Oban, Argyle and Bute, Scotland

The Lady of Avenel is an 102ft square rigged brigantine, currently based near Oban, on the west coast of Scotland.

Every year the Lady of Avenel needs a refit to prepare her for her working season. This year I went up there to join the working party for the refit.

I travelled by overnight train from Euston to Crianlarach.

Journey via the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Oban. Map from the Caledonian Sleeper webpage. The overnight journey takes about 10 hours Euston-Crianlarach. Then I caught a local train Crianlarach to Oban.

I drew some sketches on the journey.

The boat was at Dunstaffnage Marina. In between work sessions I drew some pictures.

On the boat was a sea dog, Shona. She had to be locked indoors while crew members were hoisting the engine out. I was not part of the engine-hoisting gang. So I kept the dog company and drew her picture.

I travelled back via Fort William. The High Street caters for climbers and walkers and has a large number of shops stocking all brands of outdoor gear. I examined some of them, then rested by the Old Fort.

Near the train station there is a park with several war memorials, and a poignant plaque from the young people of Hiroshima:

“From the youth of Hiroshima in the hope that the experience of 6th August 1945 will strengthen our search for a peaceful world. January 1st 1968. Hiroshima Junior Chamber of Commerce.”

Here are a few photos of the Lady of Avenel during the refit.

Scotland is beautiful.

Sunset after a swim. Beach called “Ganavan” near Oban.

I have sailed on the Lady of Avenel in previous years:

Outer Hebrides 2017

I took my sketching things on a swimming expedition to the Outer Hebrides with Swimtrek. We were on the wonderful Lady of Avenel 102ft square rigged brigantine. We started in Oban. It was raining when I…

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Lady of Avenel at Heybridge Basin

Here is Lady of Avenel, 102ft Brigantine. This was the third of three sketches. Here are the first two. I have drawn Lady of Avenel previously: Outer Hebrides 2017 See also these pages for pictures of and…

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Sketch notes from maritime Holland

This is Noordermarkt, as seen from Café Hegeraad, in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. It was a lovely autumn day, warm with a light breeze. I had the apple cake and a coffee. I had arrived from…

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I’ve written about my experiences of sketching and swimming here:

“Coastal workshop” drawings and prints

Last weekend I participated in a workshop led by the artist and printmaker Fiona Fouhy. We worked on the beach and cliffs around Botany Bay, between Margate and Broadstairs in Kent, UK

Here is a selection of the pictures I made during the workshop.

This a drawing done using a piece of white chalk from the cliffs, plus some work-in-progress pictures.

Sketchers on the shore, Kent chalk on black paper, A3

Here is a drawing of the white cliffs, done in white cliff chalk.

White cliffs near Margate, Kent Chalk on black paper, A3

We made some monoprints, using a portable printing press, perched outdoors on the cliff top at Botany Bay.

Back in the garden, we made more monoprints, this time using colour. Here is my series called “The grass will grow over your cities”.

A long time ago I first heard this expression in an exhibition in Berlin. “Over your cities the grass will grow”is the title of a 2010 documentary film by Sophie Fiennes about the artist Anselm Keifer. At the end of the film the artist says “Over your cities grass will grow”.

According to Daniel K Brown (http://cargocollective.com/danielkbrown/Over-Your-Cities-Grass-Will-Grow) “He is paraphrasing line 34:13 from the Book of Isaiah: “Thistles will take over, covering the castles, / fortresses conquered by weeds and thornbushes””.

My St James’ Bible has it as “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and thistles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be a habitation of jackals, a court for ostriches.” This is by way of a description of the “day of the Lord’s vengeance”.

My late father, the plant biochemist Prof. Don H Northcote, had a more positive view. He looked at paving stones and saw the plants growing in the cracks. “The plants will win in the end,” he asserted. I think he meant that as a good thing.

Sketching on the journey to Orkney

We travelled to Orkney by train via Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

I carried a long thin sketchbook and made drawings along the way.

Here is my very long sketchbook, 12″ x 5″ made by Khadi Paper, and bought at Atlantis in Hackney, London.

Burrastow and the bay

Here’s a view of Burrastow House, Walls, Shetland, as you enter the drive.

Burrastow and the bay, Picture 1, July 7th 2021

There was a lively wind. Those clouds looked like that, and kept changing. The small island on the right is the Holm of Burrastow. The hills behind it are the island of Vaila. Here is work in progress.

Then I drew another view, from higher up, on a mound above the road.

Burrastow and the bay, Picture 2, July 8th 2021 [SOLD]

Here is work in progress and a view of my sketching location for picture 2: a chair perched on a hill.

Both pictures on a block of Saunders Waterford 300gsm watercolour paper, “hot pressed”, 12 inches by 9inches. The yellow edging you see on the work-in-progress is masking tape. I put it round the edges for several reasons:

  • It enables me to hold the picture safely without leaving thumb-marks
  • I can write annotation on it, specifically “eye-line” and the heights of things.
  • When the picture is complete, I peel it off and it leaves a nice white border, which makes the picture easier to frame.

To see the comparison between the pen-and-ink and the colour, use the slider in the image below:

Compare the “before” and “after” on Picture 1

Experiments on a journey

Here is another experiment with printed backgrounds. My first experiment was this drawing at Monument.

I thought the background was a bit bright, so I chose more muted colours for the next attempt.

Here are the cardboard cutouts I used for making the relief prints. I used a small square sketchbook made by “PrintUrchin” and pre-printed the pages using relief printing ink, diluted with extender and water so it wasn’t too bright (learning from last time). It still came out quite bright. Those printing inks are heavily pigmented.

I printed the pages first, then took the sketchbook with me on my journey, and made sketches on top of the prints.

Here are some of the sketches. They are done on the train, hence the rather shaky lines. It’s amazing how the printing, done in advance, seems to fit the subject.

Here is the octagonal building at Pocra Quay, drawn while on a walk round Aberdeen waiting for the ferry.

Octagonal building at Pocra Quay, Aberdeen, 25th June 2021, printed background, 20th June 2021.

This octagonal building was a Navigation Control Centre, operating up until 1966. It was built in around 1797-8, according to the leaflet from the Aberdeen Heritage trail. I sketched it from the shelter of the doorway to the “Silver Herring” restaurant, on a cold, windy and rainy day.

Grain silos at North Allerton, 25th June 2021

This is a really fun technique. I shall use it again.

Shetland 2021 -scenes from a run

I came back from a run with my head full of images. I put them into pictures.

Scenes from a run, 27th June 2021, in Sketchbook P1

I enjoyed using a new colour: Lunar Blue from Daniel Smith. This is a highly granulating blue. You can see its effect here in the sky:

And here is Lunar Blue the sea:

Patch of light on the sea

A feature of the landscape round Littleure is the inland lakes, high up on the cliffs, as shown here on the right. On the sea, the sun shines through the clouds like a spotlight, which enchants me. In that picture you also see the granulating colour in the land: this is Green Apatite Genuine.

It was a misty day.

Over the brow of a hill, I see islands. It’s the end of the run. Time for a dip, and breakfast.

Shetland 2021 – roads

Shetland roads sweep across the landscape. I enjoy the calligraphic sweep of their curves and the simplicity of the lines they make.

“Cattle Grid” July 2021

These pictures are sketched on A5 sheets of F Amatruda Amalfi paper from The Vintage Paper Company in Orkney. These are lovely soft sheets with 4 deckle edge. They take the watercolour well.

Watercolours are Daniel Smith. Some of the white lines are achieved using a rubber resist, called “frisket”, panted on before the watercolour, and rubbed off afterwards.

Lake District woodcut

I made a woodcut of a valley in the Lake District in the moonlight. The hills on the skyline, right of centre, are the Langdale Pikes.

Langdale Pikes, Lake District, print from woodcut, image size 12″ x 9″

This was was made at the request of a friend, who has a house in the valley. Their house is one of those small rectangles you see, centre left, under the shadow of the hill.

Here is work in progress on the woodcut. Click to enlarge the picture.

The wood is Japanese plywood, 12″ x 9″. The ink is Schmincke Aqua Linoldruck relief printing ink, ivory black. It can be cleaned off with water. The seal is a hand-carved stone seal made my friend and mentor in Japan, who also supplied the special red seal ink, and instructions for its use.

I used “Masa small sheets” Agawami Japanese paper from Intaglio Printmaker. This is thin enough to use for hand-printing but strong enough not to tear when you pull it off the woodcut. It is pure white and very even, which seemed to be apt for the moonlit scene. One side is shiny-smooth and the other is more textured. I printed on the shiny side.

Here is another print, with a crescent moon:

And here is an outtake, a mistake, which I rather like:

Cloud studies

“I’ve looked at clouds..”

Here is a collection of cloud studies. This is me experimenting with “wet on wet” watercolour technique, from my desk. Click the image to see it bigger.

This wet-on-wet technique is a learning curve. For one thing, it makes my desk where I’m working all wet. I’m not yet sure how I’m going to translate this technique into a method I can use on location. I’m working on it. It’s certainly fun to see how the watercolour flows. The technique is a bit unpredictable, like tie-dying, or sourdough baking or surfing. One has to learn to guide rather than control.

I’m learning this wet-on-wet technique from the talented watercolour artist Matthew White in a video I’ve been watching.

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