Monday, June 27, 2016

Scotland Painting Retreat Wrap-Up: Part 3

Many kinds of green

I should probably mention greens.  Scotland is, if anything, green.  Although I'm told color changes with the seasons, in summer green dominates.  Although it's spiced here and there with the magenta of rhododendrons and foxgloves, and the orangey yellows of gorse and broom, the land speaks green.  But not just one green; there are many.  Just as it took me a few days to start hearing the different accents of the locals, it was the same with observing the varieties of green.  The more you look, the more you see.

My pastel choices for the trip.
(A reader asked, "Why the full sticks?"  She would have taken half-sticks so she could fit in more colors.  My response: "Yes, that's the way I usually do it, but I wanted to have the full sticks. One reason, I wanted to make sure I didn't run out of a favorite color. Second, I like the longer stick for "feathering," which is something I do a lot of. Having more colors isn't always a good thing. I'm pretty good at mixing color with pastel. You might check out my post on the 14-stick Extreme Limited Pastel Palette, if you haven't already seen it. You can do wonders with just 14 sticks!")
One painter following me on daily postings on Facebook suggested I take all the tubed greens off my palette and just use blue, yellow and red to mix my greens.  I had just one green, phthalo green, and I found it too cool and harsh for most of the landscape; instead, I used just a touch and relied more on the warmer colors to modify it.  As for pastel, I used my new set from Pastels Girault (the Michael Chesley Johnson Plein Air Set) and supplemented it with a few greyed greens from Unison and NuPastel.  When I painted in pastel, I tried to start with a base of warmth—reds, oranges and browns—and then worked the greens over this.  My experience of painting in Vermont, Maine and the Canadian Maritimes helped considerably.  But the greens do seem different and much more varied in Scotland.  (Look at some of Margaret Evan's beautiful pastels, and you'll see what I mean.)  Pure greens, right from the tube or stick, don't cut it.

At dawn, I could see that Wednesday would not only be green but very wet.  On my morning walk, the clouds were thick and low.  By the time breakfast ended, intermittent showers were passing through.  I offered to do a pastel demonstration at the little sheep farm across the road.  I wanted to make another stab at greens.  Midway through the painting, it began to pour.  I got comfortable very quickly with holding the umbrella in one hand and painting with the other.

Photo by Judith Schutzman

Rainy Day with Sheep 9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson
The rain seemed like it would continue for the day, so after lunch a few of us headed for the studio to rework some earlier paintings.  Someone proposed the excellent idea of visiting a local single malt whisky distillery, Tullabardine.  I've done tours of wineries in America, but I've never done a distillery tour.  I learned that production of whisky (in Scotland, it's not called Scotch but simply whisky, and without the "e") starts with a beer, but quickly moves to the distillation process.  At a certain point, the whisky goes into oak barrels.  Two kinds of barrels are used at Tullabardine; one is a single-use barrel from the American bourbon industry, and the other is from France and was used to age pinot noir.  We got to sample both whiskies, and we all agreed that the pinot noir barrels gave a smoother, fruitier taste.  The one aged in the bourbon barrel tasted harsher, almost medicinal.

Tullabardine Tasting

The "Flavour Wheel"

One interesting thing we saw was a  poster of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute's Flavour Wheel.  When we spied it in the tasting room, we all thought:  "Color wheel!"  Similar, but not the same.

As Thursday dawned, the sky promised more rain.  It didn't turn out as drenching as Wednesday's.  With umbrella, and either preceded or followed by a pot of tea, one could paint in comfort.  This was our day at the famous Stirling Castle, and I was excited to make at least one painting of it.

I could write volumes on the castle.  It's history is long and fascinating.  Although this impregnable hilltop has been occupied for probably two thousand years, the current castle dates from the late 14th century.  Various Kings James built different parts, and recently, the Great Palace built by James V in the mid-16th century was restored to its original appearance.  One of my favorite spots in the castle, though, is the old North Gate, which was the first gate built in the castle wall.  When I saw it, I felt like I'd stepped back in time—or perhaps into the movie set of "The Lord of the Rings."  I expected Gandalf to arrive any moment on his white steed to prepare the troops for an invasion from the Dark Tower.

From a painter's viewpoint, the castle, after several hundred years of building and re-building, provides a myriad of interesting compositions.  My little sketch, which I made in the rain holding my umbrella in one hand, doesn't do it justice.  I did have fun rebuilding one wall so it would fit the design better.  By the way, I made sure to tour the castle first to get that out of my system.  I didn't take the official guided tour—too many tourists and it was hard to hear the guide—so I wandered on my own, armed with map and camera and an inquisitive painter's eye.  It was important for me to explore before settling down to paint.  Otherwise, I'd have been itching to walk around and take photographs.

Find the painter! A participant spied from the top of the castle wall.  Imagine if I'd
had a crossbow rather than a camera.

Castle Walls 9x12 pastel by Michael Chesley Johnson

After lunch deep within the castle walls at the Unicorn Cafe, we drove off to Stirling Bridge, a beautiful expanse of stone crossing the River Forth.  This was the site of William Wallace's 1297 victory over the English.  From the bridge, you can see the Wallace Monument, perched on a hill two miles away.  Some of us painted, but the rain was falling harder, so I walked around and took photos.  The photos would, I thought, yield many more pantings than a single painting done on the spot.

Wallace Monument and a feature of the Stirling Bridge in foreground

Stirling Bridge
The next day, we would see another old bridge and an ancient cathedral.

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