Starting: Lots of new beginnings

Left to right: 30x60cm canvas prepared (oil) from Forfar Loch photo; : 16x7in acrylic paper on board prepared (acrylic wash) from Forfar Loch photo; 16x12in canvas prepared (acrylic wash) from sketch book (shown above); 30x30cm canvas blocked out with composition in acrylic (started last night)

Monday morning arrived with a touch of frost and clear blue skies.  Just the right weather to think about new beginnings.  Spring is definitely in the air – within me and in the World.  The above photograph shows the three new works I have started this morning plus the one I started on late yesterday (mentioned in yesterday’s blog).  So let me tell you a bit more about each one and how I hope to develop them.  I’ll take them from left to right.

The 30x60cm canvas is a continuation of developing the Forfar Loch project I started last week (see last week’s blog on Starting about that one).  Since finishing the Tighnabruiach commission in December last year I have been itching to start another landscape in oils.  I love working with oils.  I love the smell of them, their fluidity and buttery feel under the brush or palette knife.  I love the smell of the thinners too; I know, I ought to be using low odour thinners.  And as for the linseed oil, well there is nothing like adding a bit of that to the oil paint to thin out for glazing etc but oh it does add to the drying time!  I’ve given this canvas a wash of Burnt Sienna (Seawhite) and used a cloth to evenly apply this then dabbed out the areas to lighten for clouds and reflections.  I then thickened up the paint and used a 3/4 inch flat brush to map out the darker areas.  The burnt sienna will add a touch of warmth to the painting.  The reference photograph was taken last week when I was out walking.  Even although it was a cold blustery day there was plenty of sunshine and I felt warm inside and out.  This view struck a chord with me, making me think of and compare two lovely places where I have lived (Suffolk) and where I now live (Angus).  This painting is likely to take me about 2-3 months (or longer) to complete as I use traditional oils which will need time to dry between layers.

The 16×7 inch was originally going to be painted onto a panel however, when I removed the panel from a beautiful frame I have in the studio, I realised that the panel was only hard board with rather rough edges.  I thought that a coat or two of gesso might be good enough but I was not happy with it so I cut out the exact size of the board in specialist acrylic paper (Seawhite 360gsm) and glued it to the board.  I now have a suitable support for the painting.  This rendition of Forfar Loch will be completed using acrylic paints and I think I will use either the Galeria (Daler Rowney) or the Seawhite acrylics.  I have prepared the support with a two-tone acrylic wash (blue) and have set the horizon about one third down from the top.  The light blue wash for the sky has been ‘dabbed out’ in places to show the lightness of clouds.  The darker blue (ultramarine with a touch of burnt umber) has been applied in a watery wash, again dabbed out to show the highlights on the water then thickened and applied to the areas in shadow or darker tones.  I’d like to get this one finished by the end of March; one of my completions as part of my goal for that month.

The 16×12 inch canvas will be another abstract.  This one has been inspired by my waking thoughts at 6am this morning.  Why I was thinking of skiing heaven only knows – I have never skied in my life before!  There is, as with a lot of the abstracts that I have been doing, a spiritual element to this particular piece but I may talk about that another time.  So at 6am this morning I wrote a few lines in my journal and made a quick doodle to remind myself of the shapes/composition I had thought of.  First thing I did when I got into the studio this morning was to sketch out my idea in my sketchbook using coloured pencils to remind myself of the colours I felt would work.  In the photograph you will see the initial sketch above the prepared canvas.  Again I have used a thinnish acrylic wash (Galleria burnt sienna and crimson) to map out the composition.  This too I hope will be one of my completions for March – but we’ll see how that goes as I have a habit of delaying the finishes and I also have an abstract WIP (70x70cm) that needs some attention and finishing too.

Finally, the 30x30cm canvas on the right is one that I started late yesterday after finishing the two abstracts (see yesterday’s blog).  As I mentioned, I don’t like to waste anything and I had quite a bit of acrylic in blue (coeruleum and ultramarine), black and white left over from previous painting sessions so I set about blocking in and imaginary scene.  This one technically is a ‘starter’ from last week rather than this week but one I hope to work on in-between the others.  This one will get finished as and when according to how the Muse directs me.

A lengthy blog to start the week on and I am now way behind what I should be doing.  So it is off to tackle some of the more boring tasks of being an artist – keeping the paperwork up to date and a little marketing.  May you all have a happy week.




Completed: Two Abstracts

Two abstract paintings completed today. Both acrylic on canvas (deep edge) 50 x 50cm. (left) Untitled at present. (right) Blue Sails in the Sunset.

With the end of the month looming, I spent today concentrating on trying to get some art work-in-progress completed.  I am the devil’s worst for starting new work and either taking ages to complete or just abandoning it to an obscure hiding place.  Out of sight really does mean out of mind in my studio.  If I can’t see it then it tends not to be worked on until I have a major clean up and rediscover these half-worked canvases etc.

At the start of the year I quietly resolved to attempt a start and a finish for each week of 2017.  Not a resolution of course.  Experience and self-knowledge tells me that resolutions, especially when made and disclosed, often fall by the wayside early within the first quarter of the year.  So my 2017 aim is not a resolution.  I had considered making it a resolution, because I knew I could make a fast advance on achieving this by adding the artwork for the FunAday Dundee (FADD) January event.  But that would be cheating.  So instead I set a personal goal of attempting at least one start and one finish every week after the FADD exhibition.  That was two weeks ago.

I am pleased to say that, so far, I am on track to reaching my goal.  Very much aware though that I’ve only worked through two weeks and I have many more to go.  Like a whole ten months of commitment.  Whilst I am working to a schedule there will be no foreseen problems in achieving my goal.  However when summer comes around there may very well be a multitude of distractions to cause delay.  Like my eldest daughter’s wedding in August.  And there is the visit to my home the week before that from the third daughter and her brood of boys, including the adult boy.  That might be August wiped out.  Then in September my good friend from Suffolk comes to visit for two weeks.  And that is two weeks of burn-out adventure time.  There is so much of Scotland to show her, especially as this will only be her second visit to Scotland.  Aside from those planned events, I also have to filter in visits and fun times with all four daughters and grandchildren.  I have a feeling the goal posts will be getting moved around a wee bit before the end of the year.

But it is not all doom and gloom.  So far it is all going well.  In the two weeks post-FADD I have managed to complete three art works, giving myself a head start.  This week I have completed the two above, both part of my ongoing abstract development project.  Both pieces were inspired by the smaller versions (15x15cm canvases) I did for FADD.  The Untitled one is more or less the same but larger than the smaller one (Under the Bridge), however the Blue Sails in the Sunset (this title may change) has managed to paint itself completely different to the smaller version.

The Untitled one is quite precise with its sharp lines and the only curves are in the bridge where the long boxes or shafts recede under.  I don’t feel the boxes are going away from the viewer so perhaps I should not use recede to describe their action.  I feel the boxes are more rushing out from under the bridge to meet with the viewer.  What do others think I wonder?  I know an artist friend thinks this piece of art is quite representative of an album cover.  My own thoughts about this painting is that it seems to have more male energies than female.  Perhaps that is why I am struggling to come up with a title for this piece.

Blue Sails in the Sunset has a completely different feel to it.  It was painted completely with palette knives and has many layers applied freely and thickly, sometimes being blended in wet-on-wet (particularly the sky) or applied randomly and thickly as pure colour one on top of another when dry.  There is a lot of movement within the stillness of the sun bedding down for the night.  I’ve deliberately tried to achieve this juxtaposition in order to create a form of communication.  Whether or not it works will be dependent on each viewer’s perception.  I feel I may have overworked this piece but I have decided to call it a day on this one and get it off the easel so that I can start something new.

In both paintings I used Daler Rowney System 3 Heavy Body acrylic paint.  I had some leftover paint and, as per my usual practice, I used some of this to make a start on a prepared canvas waiting in the wings to be started.  I’ll talk more about this next week.  The rest of the leftover paint went into a plastic container (the sort you get from take away restaurants) with lid and this will be used another day.  I try not to waste much.

And so ends a productive week.


Starting: Forfar Loch (day 2)

FORFAR LOCH oil pastel on panel 10x20cm (reference photograph & art by Annie McLean)

Since Wednesday’s inspirational walk round Forfar Loch I have managed to draft out a project sheet with a couple of sketches, some notes and a colour chart for oil pastels and chalk pastels.  Today I decided to work on a small piece using oil pastels.

The support is a piece of mountboard primed with a layer of gesso.  I lightly mapped out the main contours in a fine pencil then applied oil pastels directly onto the board, overlaying white and the lighter colours for the reflections on the water and the clouds in the sky.  I used cotton buds dipped into white spirit then dabbed off the excess before blending the layers to create the tones.  Where I needed a bit more precise shaping and blending I used a no. 4 filbert. This was particularly useful in forming the clouds.  The cotton buds were very useful for lifting out the colour where I wanted white reflection on the water.  Once I was happy enough with the proportions and composition I then applied more highlights and shadow using the pastels.  I may well work a little more on this one but I am aware I sometimes ‘fiddle’ then overwork a piece.  Therefore this wee one will sit on show in the studio until I decide whether or not it needs more work.

I have planned out two canvases for this same scene in oils – a 20x60cm (I think the composition lends itself to a long narrow canvas) and a 30x60cm, a standard size for me.  Not sure which size to choose as yet.


Starting: inspired by Forfar Loch

FORFAR LOCH looking towards the town.

Most people, apart from those working shifts, consider the weekends as their days off from work.  My days off tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  A mid-week weekend.  This helps accommodate workshops on a Sunday and studio opening hours over the weekend for visitors to browse etc.  It also means that I have less people around when I want to indulge in going out and about. Public places are less crowded and often I have an historical venue (almost) to myself.  This week I had Tuesday in Arbroath visiting the Abbey and a lovely up a hill and down again followed by a blustery walk along the seafront.  I spent time along the seafront and beach having lunch then sketching before walking back into Arbroath along the King’s Drive.  Perhaps I’ll get round to posting more about this another time.

Today’s photo though is of my Wednesday afternoon walk around Forfar Loch.  Yesterday was full of bright sunlight and a cold wind but nevertheless a pleasant walk.  Birds a-plenty came to say hello from robins, blue-tits and even a bright red bullfinch.  Of course there were all the water birds too but that’s not what this blog is about.  The photo shown today is from the far end of the loch looking towards Forfar.  The scene reminds me so much of Suffolk, particularly the Minsmere area.  I just had to stop to admire and reminisce.  Here and there.  Angus and Suffolk.  It brought back so many memories of both places that I think this has to be this week’s Starting Piece for art.

My first choice of medium is pastel although I may well start with or go on to do other studies in a variety of mediums.  We’ll see.  All dependent on the Muse of course!  Time and other commitments too factor into what will become of this inspiration.  I’ll perhaps post some WIP (work in progress) photos as the week goes along.




Gustav Klimt

Adele Bloch-Bauer 1907 by Gustav Klimt

Born Baumgarten, Vienna on 14th July 1862; died 6th February 1918.  This painting shown here is the one I have chosen for the Facebook challenge given to me by my friend and fellow artist Tricia Colyer.

Gustav Klimt, for me, is one of the most impressive artists of his time.  His paintings are full of sensuous story-telling, almost touching on the erotic in one or two of them.  I particularly like his use of gold and silver leaf in his art work. The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (left), completed in 1907, is perhaps his most sumptuous in application of both gold and silver leaf.  It is semi-abstract, if that is a correct term to apply to a piece of art, but has at its core the most delicate renditions of portraiture ever completed by any artist.  He has captured the character of this woman and presented her quite serenely and gently to those who look upon her.  She looks out of the painting with reverence and command.  This perhaps is exaggerated by her eyes being very high up in the overall composition.  Of course, having no knowledge of the woman I cannot say for certain if he has done her justice or not.  But to me she is beautifully composed and presented.

Gustav Klimt is one of the artists I have looked to for developing my abstract work in 2017 along with Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky.  You may hear more about Klimt (and the others) throughout this year.


Life after FADD

FunaDay Dundee 2017 exhibition display

January was busy.  Extremely busy and different to most Januarys for me.  I’m not complaining; far from it.  I enjoyed ‘the ride’ and at times felt the bucking of the beast under me, especially when it came to having to do the practical things one must do in order to keep our lives running smoothly.  I lived and breathed ‘Small Talk’ (the title of my Fun A Day Dundee 2017 work); I thought of nothing but small canvases (6×6 or 5×7 inch) 24/7 for 31 days.  In fact, the ‘bronco beast’ bucked me so hard towards the last few days that I considered taking a few of the canvases forward into larger pieces.  I almost came out of the saddle trying to get one 50x50cm deep edge canvas completed before the end of the challenge.  But I managed it.  I managed 32 painting (31 small, one larger artwork) in all during January.  Quite a feat.  Quite an achievement and one I am quite happy about.

January has gone, quick as a puff of smoke out my late father’s pipe.  The exhibition has been held and was a successful event with a lot of hard work from the organisers (well done Sam and the Team!).  All that is left now is the collection of the remaining artwork and a big void that needs to be filled.  Perhaps I’ve just tamed the beast beneath me.  But I think not.  My Muse is not that gentle with me.  I’ve lived with this Muse long enough to know that she sleeps when she wants to then comes at me kicking, biting and tossing me around without respect for my human limitations.  I have a feeling that the bucking bronc she became in January will quieten somewhat, allow herself to be ridden with saddle and reins, then revert back to her boisterous self once she gets the bit between her teeth.  (All of a sudden I have visions of a young arab mare I used to ride out on in my teens!  Many is the time Cindy would bit my a**e as I mounted!!).

Hopefully I can get through February without any bites on the bum then maybe saddle up for another round of art adventures in March ….. April ….. May …… Watch this space!


Small Talk

FunaDay Dundee 2017 exhibition display

Yesterday was an eventful day in more ways than one but I am pleased to say that I managed, without my car, to get all 32 paintings to the Dundee Wasps studios as planned and hung ready for this weekend’s exhibition. (see photo left)

Preview: Friday 10 Feb 7pm-9pm

Saturday 11 & Sunday 12 Feb 10am-7pm

At: Wasps Studios (level 4), Meadow Mill, West Henderson Wynd, Dundee DD1 5BY.

All welcome – I’ll be there Fri & Sat.

My 2017 project is about communication through art and so I thought I would call this one-a-day-in-January project ‘Small Talk’.  Originally I had intended to set out the paintings in the order I had done them but it did not flow so well.  Probably as I managed to do an extra painting in the month of January.  I felt that the small deep edged abstract (bottom right) would look good on a larger canvas, so I managed to get a 50x50cm deep edge canvas done over the last two days.  32 paintings in one month is quite some task I can tell you.  I had some idea of what I was going to do for each day but as the days slipped by I found that other ideas and inspirations were coming to mind.  Some I am more fond of than others and there is one that I really do not like much at all but felt I had to put it in as it was part of the project.

It has been a wonderful way to start the year.  The activity itself has produced new ways of working, new ideas and a rather full project folder which will see me through most of this year.  I certainly feel more energised and enthusiastic about my art.



Artist Tip: how to get started on a blank canvas/support using acrylic

PAINTING A GROUND (on canvas) TOP: is a single colour ground on canvas.    LEFT: is a canvas prepared with tints of one colour, marked out with lines and shapes.   RIGHT: a bright lime green ground as the base colour for a springtime landscape

It was wonderful yesterday to be part of Kirriemuir’s first Feel Good Festival.  So many people came out in support of the event and we had a constant stream of visitors in the Town Hall.  Have a look at some of the photos posted here: Kirriemuir Feel Good Festival.  One of the visitors to my table told me that she was often put off starting a painting because she was afraid to ‘spoil the white canvas’.  She asked how she could overcome this problem.

The white support, whether canvas or paper, can often be a barrier to the creative process.  Fear rises up within us at the thought of making a mark that will look silly or wrong.  And we all know that any mark stands out more prominently against white.  So how does one overcome this fear of starting?

One thing I would suggest is to get rid of the white as soon as possible.  Think of a background colour that would compliment your composition.  One that is sympathetic to the colour scheme you will be using or even a complimentary colour to help the composition/focal point stand out.  Once you have decided on what colour will work best then take a large flat brush and cover it with the mixed paint.  Experiment with a weak wash (this will allow some of the white canvas to show through) or try a thick application (this is useful for creating texture using brushstrokes).  Most of the time I use an in-between wash, one that will cover the canvas evenly and smoothly.

Let the ground, the wash you have used, dry then begin your painting.  Having this overall base colour will help to balance the painting, especially if some of it shows through the overpainting.  I have used some very bold colours to help me create a mood within the painting, such as magenta as the ground for an early evening scene or a lemon yellow ground for a very bright summer day.  My favourite grounds are usually ochre, terracotta and reddish browns to add a warmth to the painting, especially landscapes.  Although using an almost luminescent green can be useful for capturing the feel of spring.

Sometimes I will experiment a little with the ground and use tints and shades of the same colour, randomly applied.  This sometimes helps me to ‘see’ things on the canvas which is useful if I have no set idea of what to paint. On occasions I will even mark out lines and/or shapes that I can ‘see’ in a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue.  This often leads me to create an imaginary scene.  Have a look at the photo above to see some of the grounds I currently have lying around my studio waiting to be painted.

Working on a coloured ground is also useful for working in oil as well as acrylic, bearing in mind that traditional oil paint takes longer to dry than acrylic.

I am happy to answer questions online or in person.