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Friday, June 29, 2018

After Scotland

Painting the "Old" Sligachan Bridge from beneath the "new" Sligachan bridge

Trina and I are settling back into our home and studio on Campobello Island, but the month in Scotland is still very fresh for us.  Soon, however, we will be busy with summertime projects—my plein air painting workshops start next week, plus I have some articles to write for The Artist's Magazine—but I wanted to pen one last post on Scotland before that happens.

I thought it would be enjoyable for everyone to see all the sketches I made on the trip in one post.   I've added them below.  You'll note a wide range of subject matter as well as weather conditions.  We had days of brilliant sunshine, but also days of moody mist.  I loved it all.  I was also very happy that I'd chosen gouache as my painting medium.  Sun or drizzle, it served me well.  I may teach a workshop or two in gouache—stay tuned.

The paintings follow in more or less chronological order.  To see where and when each was painted, click on the image to get a larger picture, and you can read my notes.  Most are 5x8, but a few are double-spreads, at 5x16.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Nearing the End of the Scottish Adventure

Stromness Harbour 5x7 gouache
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Set up painting on the street, and you can bet you’ll be asked a few questions. Invariably, while on this trip in Scotland, I have been asked if I’m painting in watercolor. When I respond that I’m painting in gouache, I expect puzzlement, but strangely, that has not been the case. When I start to explain that gouache is a form of opaque watercolor, I get an immediate nod of understanding. “Oh, yes, I can see that now, “ said one gentleman as he took a closer look.

One of my readers has asked to see a photo of my setup for this trip. I did post a short essay on it before I left (which you can read here), but now that I have been painting with it in the field for three weeks, I have pared things down. The photo shows my basic kit: 15-pan Caran D’Ache set, a Pentalic watercolor journal (140lb paper), a trimmed-down yogurt container for my water plus a strong magnet to hold it tight to the gouache kit’s metal lid, a couple of clamps, plus a French easel palette to clip everything to--and that’s it. It’s a small bundle I can carry in one hand anywhere. I do usually stuff it in my backpack, as I bring along a few other items: a short roll of paper towels, a few watercolor pencils, a gardener’s foam knee pad to sit on, plus water to drink and snacks. And, of course, a poncho in case things turn wet.

And it has indeed turned wet! We’ve had beautiful, sunny moments in Orkney, but we’ve also had the equally-beautiful smattering of drizzle and mist. I did not come to Scotland for sun but for the Scottish mood, and I am enjoying all of it. The other day, when it was blowing particularly hard and wet--a steady, 50 mile-an-hour wind--we took the foot ferry over to the Island of Hoy to hike and explore. Our 6-mile round trip to the Old Man of Hoy took us past ruined stone cottages, over boggy heath and onto particularly wind-pummelled hilltops, but it was a perfect time.

Now we have one day left in Stromness, followed tomorrow by a flight to Glasgow and one night there before flying back to Halifax, and then the drive to Campobello Island. Although I plan to write up more thoughts on this trip, when I get home I’ll be quite busy with workshops, articles to write and, of course, some Scotland paintings to paint for the trip’s patrons!

The basic kit.  How much simpler can you get?
I have used only about half the colors in this set.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Scottish Adventure Continues

Talisker Beach Waterfall 5x14 gouache

As I write, I am seated in a 200-year-old bothy--a stone lodge used for farmworkers--on the north end of the Orkney Islands. Far from being the rustic dwelling it once was, the bothy has been beautifully renovated and modernized by a local artist. But what I enjoy most is the setting. From my chair, I can see cows grazing behind stone fences, and a pair of guinea hens playing hide-and-seek in clump of wild roses. Farther off, looking across the Eynhallow Sound, I can see the island of Rousay, perched at the edge of the Westray Firth, and the white waves crashing against its eastern cliffs.

It’s already 7:30 pm, but the sun is still high in the sky. We are approaching the summer solstice, still two days away, and the sun won’t set until 10:30. Here at 59 degrees north latitude, the daylight period is nearly 19 hours long. I could get a lot of painting done with daylight like that--if I were painting. But I’m not doing much of that. There’s so much to see. The Orkney Islands have over 166 prehistoric archaeological sites, many of them dating from neolithic times, and we’re visiting them. The Ring of Brodgar. The Stones of Stennis. The Unstan Burial Chamber. And the most famous and oldest of all, clocking in at over 5000 years, Skara Brae. But we’re also enjoying historic sites, such as the St Magnus Cathedral, which was started in the 12th century and took over 300 years to build. Finally, we’re discovering connections with my ancestors, some of whom left Orkney for America at the time of the Highland Clearances.

The Isle of Skye plein air painting retreat ended a week ago now. I actually have painted since then. Marion joined us one last time after the participants left, and we went out to Talisker Beach. It was a windy and spitting-wet kind of morning. Sheep roamed with abandon in the pasture that abutted the beach; I settled down on the beach, away from the sheep dung, on one of the large beach cobbles where I painted first the sea stack and then a long arm of cliff that sported a waterfall. (Two days of rain followed the completely dry ten-day retreat, and every hillside had a waterfall.)

After that, we were off on our Orkney adventure, first taking a cab from Portree to the Kyle of Lochalsh and then the train to Thurso, followed by a ferry to Stromness at the southern end of the islands. I am now in possession of a car and learning to drive on the left side of the road.

By the way, I well remember my patrons for this trip and my project. I made many good studies on Skye and taken thousands of photographs, and now that I am settled on Orkney I will shortly get back to sketching. In the meantime, I leave my readers with the two sketches I did at Talisker Beach and some photos of our new environment.

Now I’m going to close the light-blocking curtains, shut out the sun, and try to get some sleep.

Sea Stack 5x7 gouache