Sunday, June 26, 2016

Scotland Painting Retreat Wrap-Up: Part 2

Clouds over Loch Earn

Historically, June is one of the driest months in Scotland. We had, however, a number of misty, mizzly, drizzly days with intermittent dry breaks and rare moments of sun, including one full, glorious day at the end. But we loved the wet weather. Scotland seemed far older and more mysterious because of it. On many a morning hike, it felt like I'd gone back a few centuries and might meet Robert the Bruce around the next bend.

Oil painters, of course, can stand a bit of wet. One of our acrylic painters on her first day found that her painting washed off in the rain as she carried it back to the van. (She repainted it back in the studio later.) Pastel painters learned that pastels can get a little gummy but otherwise remain workable, so long as you paint under cover. All of us made sure we brought waterproof coats, and some had umbrellas. If you go prepared for rain, you'll still have a very successful painting retreat.

Monday morning, our first full day at the retreat, arrived overcast. I discovered, right across the road from the resort, a sheep farm with old stone barns. The road, like many country roads in the area, was a single, paved lane with "passing places"—pull-offs—here and there. We lined up along the roadside, minding the extremely sparse traffic, and got to work. Although this wasn't a workshop, I offered a pastel demonstration. Because this was a group of advanced painters who had worked with me many times, most were itching to get started, so I had few takers.

Smart painters avoid painting in traffic lanes

Barn and sheep study 9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

The sheep were always an attraction

Later, we headed into town for a little lunch and then shopping for groceries. Although the resort gave us breakfast and dinner, lunch was not included. We decided to get groceries so we wouldn't have to waste time in a cafe each day. It seemed like a good idea, but we usually ended up going out to lunch, anyway; the cool weather often called for soup and cup of hot tea. As for groceries, we were glad to have Malcolm, who served as our shopping guide. Unlike in America, where portions are described in both grams and ounces and calories, here the packaging was confusing with just grams and kilojoules. And I wanted peanut butter. Did they even have peanut butter in Scotland? They did, and Malcolm helped me find it.

After shopping, we went to Glen Devon to paint a tiny waterfall we'd spotted on our scouting trip the day before. Any showers we had that morning ended, and we had great views of rolling hills. Most of the painters went immediately to the waterfall, but I wanted to wait until everyone was set up and then go look around a bit. (Although I wasn't instructing, I still was responsible for everyone; as in my workshops, I wanted to make sure they weren't having equipment problems, that they were set up where I could find them, and that they understood our departure time.) I found many things to paint but finally settled on an old stone bridge.

The trails of Glen Devon

Bridge and fir study 12x9 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

It's not hard to find the painters in this landscape.

Tuesday morning, the sun came out. It was a beautiful morning, full of warm sunlight. Daylight, by the way, lasts a long time in Scotland in June. We were at 56 degrees north latitude and were approaching the longest day of the year. Dawn began around 3:30 am with the raucous cawing of crows, followed by sunrise around 4. Sunset wasn't until 10 pm or so. I always saw the sunrise, but I never made it to sunset.

The area reminds me much of Vermont's Champlain Valley...only more vast.

I like to engage my retreat groups in a critique session. It's always voluntary, but everyone participates and learns from it. We had our first critique before breakfast of the prior day's work. I always guide the session in these retreats, but after making my remarks, I let everyone add their thoughts. We were given the boardroom in the resort for a studio. From there, we had nice views if we needed to paint indoors, but we only had one wash-out afternoon, as you'll learn in a future post.

Ready for the first critique
After a hearty breakfast, we headed up to St Fillans on the shore of Loch Earn. This tiny town features plenty of lake scenery plus old stone buildings. It also has a great restaurant and hotel, the Four Seasons, where we had lunch and facilities for the day. The Four Seasons is not to be confused with the American chain; this is one-of-a-kind with a stunning view of the loch. Some of us painted buildings in town, but I decided to paint the loch and surrounding hills. This was my one day of painting in oil. I offered up a demo, but most just wanted to get going on their own pieces. (Boys and girls, I really do have more things to teach you!)

My oil set-up 
Loch Earn study 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
(bottom half would make a nice painting on its own)

Loch Earn 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

That's our van on the right

Midges, a small biting insect similar to the "no-see-ums" we have in America, are reputedly hungry in the Highlands in June, especially when a warm, sunny period follows a rainy period. I never encountered them on this trip. But they're just another environmental annoyance, like rain; if you're prepared for them, you'll still have a great painting trip.

In the next episode, we'll paint in the rain and then visit a whisky distillery to warm up!

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