Saturday, June 25, 2016

Scotland Painting Retreat Wrap-Up: Part 1

At the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow

I'm still overwhelmed by the beauty and hospitality I found in Scotland. Wordsworth wrote that poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, and my soul is still working at such a fever pitch from the trip that there's little tranquility for me to do any recollecting in, so I promise not to wax poetic. There's so much to say, though, that I may go on at length and post a short series on the trip.

To begin, the goal of the trip wasn't just to paint Scotland. Most of us in the retreat had never been there, so the trip was also about exploring a country new to us. Painting is a way of exploring, and I think that any trip is enriched by it. But because painting wasn't the main goal, we chose to make sketches rather than finished pieces, and to work in a small format with a medium that would transport easily. Most of us chose pastel, but a couple used oil or watercolor or even pencil.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I took both pastel and oil. (You can read about my choices in this post.) Just before leaving, though, I made a quick change. Rather than take the 6x8 Guerrilla Painter Thumbox for oil, I chose to make my Double Sketchbox from Heilman, which was intended for pastel, serve double-duty. This saved me some room—I wanted to take just one suitcase—and ended up working quite well. I used the 6x8 oil palette that came with the Guerrilla box for my oils, taped it to the top of the Heilman box, and then used the Heilman optional easel attachment to hold my backing board, to which I taped a sheet of Arches oil paper or Multimedia Artboard. To be honest, though, I painted in oil only one day. Even despite the problems that rain and mist can cause with pastel, pastel was just a lighter load, especially with my stripped-down kit. I didn't have to take all the extras: the paper towel roll, the palette and tubes of paint, the brushes, the mineral spirits container, or the PanelPak for my wet paintings.

How I worked in oil, using my Heilman pastel box.

Now, on to the trip. Friday, I flew from New Scotland (Nova Scotia) to Old Scotland on a red-eye flight from Halifax to Glasgow. I can't sleep much on planes, so dawn found me stumbling drowsily through baggage claim and customs. A cab whisked me away to the Argyll Hotel, near the Kelvingrove Museum. The treasures of the Kelvingrove were like caffeine, so I spent the whole day at the museum. I'd made a point of not over-researching this trip as I wanted it to be a week of discovery, and so I was pleasantly surprised by the museum's collection. Besides the old familiars, such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Cezanne, I came across the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists—painters I'd never heard of but who definitely deserve study. The museum is an old-fashioned, Victorian one, so it also includes curiosities such as stuffed giraffes, mummy sarcophagi and rusty halberds. 

Outside the Kelvingrove - a bocce field!

Entrance to the Kelvingrove

Even Elvis likes the Kelvingrove

The Scottish Colourists

That evening, I met a couple from our group who were staying at the same hotel, and we went out to dinner at The Butchershop. My ears had not yet become attuned to the Glaswegian accent, so I didn't understand a word our waitress said. My friends, who'd already been a week in Scotland, translated for me. (As the week went by, though, I began to discern a variety of accents—many more than we have in Canada and America.) The day was a good introduction to Scotland, and it gave me a chance to figure out how the money system works, and to learn quickly that when crossing a street, traffic in the closest lane comes from the right, not the left. (An important survival tip!)

Sauciehall Street, home of the Argyll Hotel and the Butchershop

The next morning, Sunday, I rode out with my friends to meet the rest of our group. We were a total of 12 (10 painters plus 2 non-painting spouses), and we piled into the van driven by Malcolm Evans, husband and framer to the artist Margaret Evans, who arranged our retreat as one of her "Paint Away" adventures. Our destination was the Duchally Country Estate in Auchterarder in the middle of the southern Highlands, about two hours away. We stopped along the route for lunch at a little farm shop with a cafe and things for sale, and we also stopped in a town, the name of which I forget, where I had my first introduction to the lovely stone buildings so common in these villages. As we got closer to our destination, we explored a couple of location options for painting in Glen Devon. Although our schedule included field trips to such obviously scenic spots like Stirling Castle, we had two days planned for painting closer to home, and we thought it would be good to see what our options were.

It's not really Scotland unless you find a border collie

Glen Devon Reservoir

The resort, not far from the famous Gleneagles golf course, is situated in beautiful farmland: green pastures reaching to the tops of the hills, dotted with white sheep and criss-crossed by mossy stone fences. The resort itself is shaded by unique tree specimens and many, many rhododendrons, which seem to grow everywhere in that part of Scotland. We occupied three cottages at the resort, complete with kitchens, and it was a very comfortable place to spend the week. The resort also has its own restaurant, where we enjoyed two meals a day—a full Scottish breakfast (with optional haggis and black pudding) and a three-course dinner—plus a bar with an extensive whisky menu. On our arrival, we had an ice-breaker followed by a delicious dinner.

Our cottage at Duchally

The retreat participants - 10 painters (including me, not pictured) and 2 non-painting spouses

Rhododendrons a-plenty

In my next post, we start painting!

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