Hot Topic Monday: En Plein Air

copyright Annie McLean

Every art magazine, each arty email I have received recently, all seem to be discussing en plein air working. I’ve also been looking at a few art competions or ‘Call for Entries’ and there appears to be an increase in ones involving painting outdoors in the local areas. I’ve always enjoyed working outdoors but have not always been comfortable about having lots of passers by hence my en plein air work tends to be isolated locations. Time for a change perhaps.

So what exactly is ‘en plein air’ or ‘outdoor’ painting? Does the whole process involve being outdoors or is it acceptable to to start outdoors and finish off indoors? My own outdoor work is often finished off in the studio but I wonder if I am being true to the genre of en plein air. The Glasgow Boys (an alliance of about 20 Scottish painters in the late 19th centuary) were great believers in outdoor painting with their distinctive naturalistic styles. I wonder how many of them started outdoors and finished in the studio?

It would be an interesting experiment to work some paintings fully outdoors, either ‘Alla Prima’ (in one sitting) or over a few days working at the same time each day to keep the light correct. One sitting means that the weather is not likely to impact on the scene and our British weather is so unreliable that we are unlikely to get the same conditions two or more days running. I sketched a scene two days ago in the hope I could return the following day to paint, but the bright sunshine had changed to dull and overcast. No lovely mottled shadows on the path to paint!

Over the next few months I will compare different methods of working outdoors. Perhaps keep a journal of the process.



Another week over

St Mary’s House Priory, Witney

This week has ended pretty much as it started – non-stop busy. The beginning of the week was hectic trying to get the last painting finished and framed for the Buxton Spa Prize exhibition. Then it was packing and travelling for a working 10-day holiday delivering paintings, visiting family and cracking on with the next projects and paintings.

Witney Market

First stop was Bradford for a family visit then onto Buxton to submit two paintings followed by a cross-country road trip to Witney (Oxfordshire) for more family time plus some en plein air painting, forward planning for the next 12 months and marketing (which was not planned but happened anyway).

I will be away from my studio over the next week – more family time and more art working. I am enjoying re-visiting some old favourite haunts in Oxfordshire and making plans for starting a new collection – The Cotswold/Oxfordshire Collection. On Thursday 27th I head off up north again to New Mills for more family visits and the Buxton Spa preview evening. I am hoping there will be enough time for me to spend outdoors sketching and painting some new Derbyshire scenes to add to the Derbyshire Collection.

A busy life makes for a happy life – stay busy and stay happy.


First Pickings

The First Pickings of Strawberries
Oil on Panel 18 x 19.5cm
Gift Tag 4 x 6.5cm

There is something special about picking the first strawberries of the season. Yesterday I opened up the polytunnel to find that there were quite a few rosy red, rip strawberries, just right for eating. I picked a bowl full for our Sunday dessert, and told Bob he couldn’t have one until after I had captured their mouth-watering plumpness in oils. We had them with yogurt, a healthier option than cream, after our dinner. Yum! I’ve picked a few more for breakfast this morning!


What Did I Do This Week?

Preparing the new panels

It was a slow start to the week with me still being in recovery mode. I don’t often get colds but this one was a monster. ‘Flu, perhaps even ‘man-flu’. I couldn’t unfuzz my head to paint for the first couple of days so I ‘pottered’ for short periods in the allotment or walked a little around the Wee Red Toon where I live. Walking took me past the Photographer/Framer shop. Yikes! Almost £300 lighter and a whole load of frames to stick in my wee flat! Kyle was selling cut-price frames from the framer and I could use them for The Bothy project and other events coming up … plus a few (okay, several!) spare that I could use for works not even contemplated yet.

By Wednesday I was well enough to go out shopping in Dundee with my youngest daughter Pauline. Not clothes shopping or ‘girly’ things. Lunch out then straight over to B&Q to buy 5mm ply cut into a whole variety of sizes to use as painting panels and to fit into the new frames. Then there was shopping for new paintbrushes and gesso. Perhaps this week was retail therapy artist style.

The end of the working week was more productive with me preparing the three paintings for Dunkeld Art Exhibition and working on the paintings for the Buxton Spa event. Time is getting nipped up for completing these and I must have them finished Monday or Tuesday of next week otherwise the oils will not be dry enough to frame or transport etc. I also managed to prepare a 40x40cm panel for my 5th Bothy painting and two 120x450cm panels for some en plein air work in the coming weeks.

Saturday was delivery day for the Dunkeld Art Exhibition. Bob came with me and we made an afternoon of browsing galleries, shops followed by a delightful tea and cake rest in a lovely wee cafe in Birnam. I also managed to fit in a bit more work on two Buxton paintings and pleased with how they are coming along. The sheep are starting to ‘talk to me’! I often find, when working on a painting, that I have ‘conversations’ with the piece. Perhaps that’s why I hate parting with some paintings.

And now I am on Sunday. Usually it is a gardening, housework or walking day but I feel the call of the sheep in my two landscapes on the studio easels. I wonder if Bob will cook dinner again …….


Self Care

Sometimes we need to be reminded

I, like many other artists, am not always very good on the self-care side of things. I can fly high and hit the ground hard. I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t have these massive ups and downs if I just took a little ‘time out’ for myself. When I saw this Facebook post it hit a chord with me. I needed reminding. I need looking after too. Everything starts within onself. How can I love and care for others if I neglect myself? I will work my way through the suggested self-care routines, maybe even add more. There has to be a wee bit of self-care each day before we can even begin to think of doing and being for others. Self-care is freedom.

Have a good day, -A-

Preparing for Dunkeld

A FLEETING PRESENCE: Acrylic on Board 31x54cm (framed)
MORNING LIGHT: Acrylic on Board 37x37cm (framed
WAVELENGTH: Oil and Sand on Specialist paper31x31cm (Mounted & Framed)

These three paintings are heading off to Dunkeld this weekend. The Dunkeld Art Exhibition runs from 20th June to 29th August 2019. Opening hours are Monday – Saturday 10-7pm and Sunday 12-6pm. The venue, The Duchess Anne Hall, The Cross, Dunkeld PH8 0AW, Scotland, is in the centre of Dunkeld close to the Cathedral.

Many artists take part in this annual event and it is worth a visit if you are in the area. Artist information including a selection of their work can be found on the exhibition website


Self Development

As a self-taught artist I sometimes felt disadvantaged and lost in my attempts to improve my knowledge and techniques in producing art. Disadvantaged in that there was neither opportunity nor financial support to embark upon structured academic learning. My parents could not afford to send me to university or art college. I married young and had four daughters during my twenties. Work and family filled most of my days, with creative time being limited to making art with my children. It was only as I edged towards the end of my forties that I could indulge the dormant Muse within. But I felt so lost to the art world and learning.

I started to buy some art materials, things that I remember using when I was at school sitting Scottish Highers. Trying to pick up the threads of enthusiasm and remembered lessons was difficult. I stumbled a lot in those days trying to find a way to improve the untutored skills within me. I had the time once my daughters had grown up and one by one left home. I had been writing stories and poetry, some of which were published, but now I wanted to indulge in my greatest passion of all – painting. How could I begin to make ‘proper art’ after such a long time away from education? Finance and time were still limited but I plucked up the courage to commit to a six week certificated course on watercolours. Little did I know then that watercolours are quite unforgiving and need to be worked from light to dark. Nevertheless, I stuck at it and learned from the (many) mistakes I made. I still shy away from watercolours at times, preferring to use the creamy, buttery oils which can be manipulated on the canvas or panel and worked dark to light if so desired.

It has been almost twenty years ago now since I started encouraging my inner artist to come out. I’ve worked at trying to develop my skills by attending a variety of short courses on a variety of mediums and techniques. I bought books, and have quite a substantial collection now, subscribed to various artist periodicals, joined numerous art groups and involved myself in Open Studio events both in Suffolk where I lived until 2014 and in Angus after returning to Scotland. All of these things contributed to my learning, and still do although not always in the same proportion plus Angus Open Studios no longer exists.

It has been a tremendous journey so far, with lots of ups and downs. I’ve met some really interesting people, discovered lots of new ways to make art and above all I have enjoyed myself along the way. It takes courage to let go of ‘old ways’, determination to learn new skills and above all confidence to believe in oneself as a person and an artist.

Being an artist without a degree in some instances can carry a sense of disadvantage, but it is possible to ‘find a voice’ in the art world. The self-taught artist just needs to shout louder.



ON TULLOCH HILL by Annie McLean [Oil on board 12x9inch framed]

Most of my inspiration comes from the land. The more remote and wild the area the better for stirring up my Muse. My most recent project is to build a collection of landscape interpretations and impressions based on mankind’s attempt to survive on the rugged and isolated areas of Scotland. The BOTHY COLLECTION is well on its way, having just completed the fourth painting in the series. You can view the artwork on my website in New Work Gallery:

Next step for these small (9.8×9.8cm) acrylic on wood panel paintings is to have them framed prior to being exhibited or presented for sale. Look out for more Bothy paintings being added to the collection ……..



Oh my! 11 months since my last blog – what happened to the time?  All those days and weeks swallowed up without stopping for a glance backwards.  Perhaps 2018 did not want to be recorded. Endings, beginnings and lots of muddling through.

2019 has started with the Fun A Day Dundee project once more.  This year I am attempting miniatures.  One small wooden gift tag painted with an original acrylic painting for each day of the month.  I can’t always manage one each day but I am doing what I can, when I can.  Mother takes up a considerable amount of time at present due to her health issues and the travelling between her home and my own – she lives 100 miles away which is two hours drive or five hours bus journey.  I find it difficult to have any time for painting when staying with mother so I decided that time can be used for ‘thinking creatively’ whilst time at home can be ‘action time’.  In other words I paint more than one gift tag a day at home and make notes for other tags when at mother’s.

In addition, I have a rather large (48″ x 24″) canvas to complete during January.  A commission that has taken much longer than it should have due to caring for my mother.  Just the finishing touches to do then it will be off the easel waiting for the clients approval prior to delivery.

As if that is not enough to be getting on with, I have committed myself to working with several others on Julia Cameron’s book Finding Water.  I had to back out of the last Group in 2018 (Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way) when too many pressures became overwhelming.  Perhaps I’ll return to The Artist’s Way at a later date.  For now though it is Finding Water.

It has been a joyous start really to 2019. Mother, although now completely immobile with various health issues, can now be left for a few days at a time. This means that I am now able to get back to the pleasures of creating artworks. I felt I had almost lost the artist within. These wee wooden tags are now becoming obsessional. I had an idea in December that I would like to paint a small gift tag for each of my four daughters. Then I thought I’d like to include grandchildren. Before I knew it I was painting tags for Bob’s family also. Then of course there were a few close friends. And Bob too. I ended up painting 28 wee tags! Somehow it seemed odd to give a gift tag without a gift. I then had to go out shopping for small extra gifts (I was giving money this year as I didn’t have time to shop!) to attach the gift tag to. Those wee tags kept me busy during December; and now I am still just as busy during January doing more tags for Fun A Day Dundee!

Time to get on with the day. May 2019 bring joys a-plenty to all. ~A~

Lady’s Tower


LADY’S TOWER by Annie McLean Mixed media on paper £POA  Image: 8x12cm.  Mounted:15.2x20cm [unframed]
Sunday was a cold day, perhaps not the best day to walk along the coast of Elie in the East Neuk of Fife but the sun shone, coaxing me and my Muse outdoors.  I had not set out to gather inspirations for my artwork; the trip out was meant to be just another ‘chilly picnic’ with Bob, enjoying each other’s company and countryside.  Bob parked up at the harbour car park and guided me across the sands, grasses and rocks towards the east side of Elie Ness.  We stepped out of the car to a severe biting wind, thinking a short walk before lunch then perhaps another short walk in the other direction after eating our picnic in the car.  We stopped many times during our walk that our ‘chilly picnic’ became more like a mid-afternoon feast as we took so long to complete what should have been a short walk before lunch.  


I was glad I had packed my camera as there were so many scenes of inspiration that captured my eye.  Bob, as always, was patient with my need to indulge the Muse. We stopped several times to take photographs and to absorb the beauty of this delightful place.  We did continue our explorations after lunch and, as before, I gathered more photographs and ‘beachcombing gifts’ that will work their way into some multi-media work at some point.

Lady's Tower and Bob DSCF9888_edited-1
Lady’s Tower – and a patient Bob.


Here are some links for those who wish to know more about Elie and the Lady’s Tower:

Lady’s Tower – a short walk from the Watersports Car Park.

Elie – a tourist page showing areas of interest around Elie and Earlsferry