Wed, 08 Apr 2020
A Walk in the Park

Luckily, we're still allowed a walk in the park, for exercise. Once a day anyway.

Living in Stockbridge, I'm lucky to be near the Botanics and Inverleith Park. The Botanic Gardens are closed just now unfortunately but the park is open. It's a lovely great big open space, with an outlook over the Edinburgh skyline from far East to far West, including Arthur's Seat and the Pentland Hills. Lots of bird life around as well, not least around the pond. Spring's here, the sun is out and we're (mostly) stuck inside ...

In frostier weather last year, I did an early morning visit and managed to take some decent photographs. From one I did a small study. And earlier this year I expanded it to a large canvas. This is the largest canvas size I've used so far and I think it came out well.

Below: Inverleith, Frost and Trees (study), oil, 18x24cm, Dec 2019

Below: Inverleith, Frost and Trees, oil, 50x60cm, Feb 2020

Tue, 07 Apr 2020
Thinking Big

I've been enjoying listening to Professor Roger Penrose talking about aspects of his work on YouTube. Not only is he a very clever guy, he's also a good presenter. He's done an amazing amount of interesting and important work in mathematics and physics and is well known for his expertise in exotic things like Black Holes. I remember buying a book of his years ago called The Emperor's New Mind, in which he theorises on the nature of consciousness and its links to quantum mechanics. In book form, over my head; but in talk form, much more accessible.

Penrose saw work by the great Dutch artist M C Escher at an exhibition in Amsterdam in 1954. Struck by how ingenious Escher's "impossible" drawings were, he invented some "impossible" stairs with his father, Lionel Penrose. From a picture on Wikipedia :

Credit : Sakurambo - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Escher loved this and incorporated the idea in a famous drawing of his called Ascending and Descending :

Credit : Official M. C. Escher website, Fair use, Link

Here's some Penrose :

Sat, 04 Apr 2020
Graveyard Shift

Swaffham, Norfolk, has a lovely church in the centre of town, SS Peter and Paul. This is where I experienced a beautiful rendition of Handel's Messiah a couple of years ago.

Last year I painted this study of a scene in the graveyard, looking towards the church with the early morning sunshine strong but low in the sky. I thought I'd try and expand this onto a bigger canvas, starting the larger painting today. Early days. It has one of those complicated trees in it, something I always have to stop and think about how to do. Background first, then paint on top? Or foreground, and paint background around? I'm going to try the first option and see how it goes.

Below: SS Peter and Paul, Swaffham (study), oil, 18x24cm, Nov 2019

Thu, 02 Apr 2020
A Cloudy Day

The Mound again. This time in full sunshine with a bright blue sky and a lone cloud that seemed to park itself over the castle. Yes, this was a real scene. I liked the strong contrast and bright colour here and did a small study last year. In the painting, I reduced the people and car traffic, leaving things a little lonely. Earlier this year, I blew the study up onto a larger canvas.

Below: Mound with Cloud (study), 18x25cm, oil, Oct 2019
Below: Mound with Cloud, 40x50cm, oil, Feb 2020

Tue, 31 Mar 2020
A Gash in the Sky

My second "study" was done from a reference photograph I took one evening at sunset, standing near the top of the Mound and looking out across the city. The sky was full of dark blue clouds but the setting sun made a bright yellow/orange gash stretched across the horizon. Quite a view.

This was the second of the quick paintings I attempted to do last year. If you want to do something like this in 2-3 hours, you have to compromise. Be bolder and much less fussy or concerned with detail or embellishment. Being a generally tight and fussy painter ... this is a challenge.

Below: Sunset, Mound (study), 18x25cm, oil, Oct 2019

I thought the result was promising enough to do a larger version earlier this year. I'm pleased enough, it was the largest painting I'd done up to this point and I even have a frame for it.

Below: Sunset, Mound, 40x50cm, oil, Jan 2020

The "Mound" in Edinburgh is, literally, a big pile of dirt: an artificial hill that connects the Old Town to the New Town. It was formed from the excavated dirt, rock and rubble dug up when the New Town and Princes Street Gardens were created in the 18th and early 19th Centuries. It's quite scenic now, with the Scottish National Gallery and Royal Scottish Academy at the bottom, and the old Bank of Scotland building near the top. Standing close to this at the top of the hill, you can look down and across the New Town, and over the Firth of Forth all the way to Fife.

Sun, 29 Mar 2020
All Go

When Google's AlphaGo AI triumph was news in 2016, I was impressed but not very informed about the board game Go, or the real achievement. AI (and "machine learning") was starting to make a lot more news though, and people started to take notice.

DeepMind's artificial intelligence system AlphaGo beat the Korean Go master Lee Seedol 4-1. Go is an extremely popular board game, especially in China, Japan and Korea, and it is considered a much harder game for a computer to play than chess. DeepMind was a British AI company that Google bought in 2014. Few people thought a computer could beat a good human Go player, at least not for a decade.

Watching the documentary film AlphaGo - The Movie on YouTube opened my eyes to the scale of thing. The Korean interest in the AI challenger match was intense: the sort of press scrum you get on the Hollywood red carpet for big film stars. Also quite astonishing how much the Korean Go experts discounted the possibility of losing (any game). I found this film quite riveting. Great to see inside a cutting edge technological start-up as well.

You can watch AlphaGo - The Movie on YouTube. You don't need to understand the game.

Fri, 27 Mar 2020
No Sunshine on Leith

This was completed yesterday, started the day before :

(No) Sunshine on Leith, 10x8", oil on canvas board

Named from the great Proclaimers song, Sunshine on Leith of course. This shows a big warehouse in Leith, from a photograph I took after a bike run down and around various bike/walk paths starting at Warriston. A cloudly, overcast day.

This took two afternoons because I ended up wiping off the main warehouse after messing it up. I knew I'd have some trouble painting the big building: all the windows and complicated front decoration! This sort of fine, straight-edged detail often causes me headaches when painting wet in wet using oils At least the case when I'm not wanting to use layers, let things dry, take extra care over time.

And a last point. Yet again, a huge amount of trouble getting a decent photograph. Something that looks like the actual painting. I have a Canon EOS 700D, not a bad camera at all, shooting in RAW format. I know how to set ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I use a tripod. I've taken the RAW into a RAW editor to play with (Darktable), used a photo editor (Gimp) to try adjusting and have had a lot of trouble with the results. In some cases, I think it might be glare, perhaps exacerbated with the canvas texture showing up in the light/glare. I still need to figure out a good way to do this. It's very important to get this as good as possible. I'll get there .. still diggin'

Thu, 26 Mar 2020
Victoria Crowe
This comes via The Scottish Gallery. Victoria Crowe in her studio talks about the "self isolation" she's doing :

Like her, I see an artist's life can already be quite isolated in the studio, on your own. It's harder for many people. I loved Crowe's show at the City Art Centre last year. I'd love to see her actually painting because I was intrigued by some of her techniques.

Wed, 25 Mar 2020
Two to Start

These are two small oil paintings done recently on canvas boards. Both 8x10" and completed in an afternoon. This is a photograph using my mobile phone camera :

All the rest of the photographs are from my Canon EOS 700D but using the built-in JPEG (not RAW), then slight "auto" white-balance in an image editor, then a scale and re-export ... and I'm usually unhappy with the way my paintings come across on the computer! I need to fix a workflow that makes them look more correct.

This was done on 2020-03-19 after a visit to the beach at Portobello :

Portobello Beach, Receding Rain, 8x10", oil

This was done yesterday, 2020-03-24, and is from a screenshot from a YouTube video (see below).

Cliffs in Cornwall, 8x10" oil

Thoughts on Painting

I've been watching quite a lot of the artist Tom Hughes on YouTube via his channel Thoughts on Painting. He is a Bristol based plein-air oil painter and it's been interesting watching him work, and travelling around the country. No fuss or magic, but down to earth and personable. It's made me start considering trying outdoors painting myself and buying a similar "pochade" box. The painting above was done from a screenshot taken off a video he shot in Cornwall: after finishing a painting, he panned his camera around and I thought it looked worth a go myself! I like his work: it also reminds me of work by another painter who is out and about all the time, Peter Brown. Brown's painting of George Street, Bath, in the rain was worth a big mention in a post I made in 2017.

Tom Hughes' web site is :

Tue, 24 Mar 2020
Smaller Still

Talking about small scale art, the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh has an annual show in December called "On a Small Scale". It is an exhibition of small postcard sized (15-21cm) works of art by well known and invited artists. There are four walls filled with all these works, perhaps a couple of hundred in total (I didn't count). All media and all small. This type of exhibition is my favourite because of the huge variety on the walls: there's always something good, sometimes great. Another reason to look forward to December.

Path to the Loch, Argyll, by Robert Maclaurin, oil on linen on board, 15x21cm

Slow Morning, by Gertie Young, mixed media, 15x21cm

Mon, 23 Mar 2020
Small Scale Art

Now I'm in Edinburgh, I have a bit more room to devote to painting in my "studio" (bedroom number two - no actual bed). This makes a big difference.

Late last year I decided to try and do more painting, and seriously sit down much more. I seem to have a lot of trouble starting anything, sitting down and actually getting going. Plenty of procrastination. I think this is a trait shared by many people. I pushed a bit harder and started a small (8x10"), quick (2-3 hours), afternoon oil painting. This turned out well so I tried to keep this up. I bought a lot of small canvas boards and thought "who cares?" if I mess up, or rip them in half afterwards! I didn't quite keep the pace of one a day up, and doing quick (what I called) "studies" requires quite a bit of adjustment. However, I managed to do quite a few small paintings over a few weeks into December 2019, until Christmas got in the way.

Some of these turned out quite well I think, and some good enough to be redone on a larger scale. This year I've painted four much bigger paintings based on four of these studies; two are the largest paintings I've done. I think they have all turned out quite well and I hope to stick them up here.

In the meantime, last week I biked down to Portobello beach early, my first time down there. Lovely place that should be beautiful in the summer (but busy I bet). Of course, it rained: a heavy shower passed over quickly but, luckily, I was sheltered. I had a few photographs and painted this the day after, showing the rain clouds moving off towards North Berwick. Quite a striking view and I'm pleased with the end result :

More to come hopefully.

Sun, 22 Mar 2020
On the Brighter Side

Maybe more time for :

  • Spring Cleaning
  • Art - more painting
  • Reading - getting through a queue of books
  • Learning something new
  • Talking to friends and family
  • Meditation - would love to get into this again
  • Getting a different perspective on life

Oh, and maybe there'll be a baby boom.

Sat, 21 Mar 2020
Trying Times

And within a breath, the world was changed ...

It looks like we're in for a difficult and trying time for the next few months. If the disease doesn't get us, maybe the cure will. The BBC, doing their bit, have ramped up the coverage, extending their (5) PM radio news program to start at 4:30 pm, more news to add to our misery keep us informed. I'm listening to much less of that and more Radio 3.

I used to be a bit of a news junkie, reading the papers and taking in the news all the time. However, given the explosion in news media over the past few years, even from as far back as the start of the 24 hour news cycle with CNN 30 years ago, I've reduced my consumption a lot. Especially over the past few years, I've shrunk what I read, hear or watch a huge amount. This was for the sake of my own mental health: the news media seemed to cause a constant anxiety, worry and agitation, let alone political polarisation. I think this could well be a major causal factor in the decline of many people's health over the past decade. That and advertising perhaps. The internet, for all it's wonderful utility, has made it much worse.

With this new pandemic hitting, things are much worse. I'm trying very hard to not take in too much horror or hysteria. I don't even watch television but I know it will be winding up the panic day in and day out. No wonder we all get so sick, tired and angry.

Stay informed but it might be a good idea to switch off the firehose of negativity.

Take care everyone.

The above cartoon is by (I think) an American political cartoonist called Bruce Beattie. I took the image from the blog Maggies Farm.

Thu, 19 Dec 2019
Even More Advanced

And from the History Blog again, a post about more discoveries from the Mycenean site of Pylos in South Western Greece. These are digs close to the so-called Palace of Nestor (Nestor being King of Pylos and having fought on the Greek side of the Trojan War).

One of the original finds include a small agate sealstone made on Crete, so of Minoan manufacture. This is the "Pylos Combat Agate" and is described in more detail here. It is under 4cm long and exquisitely carved into the very hard quartz agate. The detail is stunning.

This is 3.6 cm long (click to enlarge) :

From the post :

one tiny agate sealstone of Cretan manufacture emerged from its thick lime accretion to reveal itself as one of the greatest masterpieces in ancient Greek art, far more advanced in craftsmanship than anybody realized the Minoans were capable of in 1,500 B.C.

Tue, 17 Dec 2019
Christmas Cheer

The History Blog is a superb site that does daily posts on an interesting piece of history in the news, as chosen by "livius". Well chosen and interesting content with decent pictures. The blog is always worth a visit and is very well curated.

Recently, we have had a post about the first Christmas card created in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant, organiser of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 and postal reform advocate. There were 1000 cards made and some were also sent to America. However, as the post says, the "American bourgeois sensibilities" were not so happy with the depiction of the whole family enjoying a Christmas drink, including the toddler. A bit different today.

For a better view, see the original post on the History Blog (where you can click the image to expand).

A more recent post is about some famous Minoan frescos on the island of Thera. Dating from the 17th Century BC, the colourful pictures show monkeys playing and hanging around. They have now been identified as grey langurs, a species native to southern Asia e.g. the Indus Valley. As the comments mention though, it is a little surprising no one tried to identify them before. In addition, no one should be surprised at how much long distant trade occurred in the bronze age. It is an open and interesting question on why most of it stopped.

Thu, 05 Dec 2019
Rego Retrospective at Modern Two

Just before I left London I saw that there was a Paula Rego exhibition on in Milton Keynes and I decided to try and travel up there and see it. Paula Rego is a Portugese artist long resident in the UK and I've come across her work a few times, finding it strange and very memorable.

Needless to say, in the time I had to sort out my move to Edinburgh, I didn't make it up there. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to see the the Edinburgh National Gallery of Modern Art was hosting the exhibition in my new home city. It's called Obedience and Defiance and I went to have a look last week.

Left: Pillowman, pastel, 2004

Rego uses her studio like a theatre set: she has props, sets them up and dresses it up. The result is often strange and uniquely hers.

I don't like her earlier work much but her later, more representational art is very good and instantly recognisable. She has a striking style and works at a large scale in pastel (in itself, a bit different). The same faces appear, with odd and unsettling scenes in some. Some works are definitely harder to look at: they're at the opposite end of the spectrum to the sweet or pastoral. She's done some work that shows she is in the same tradition as Francisco Goya. A good artist getting some proper recognition now.

Tue, 26 Nov 2019
Drizzly Monday Afternoon

A Monday afternoon, a bit wet, but getting out of the house for an hour or so to look at some art. First call was the Dundas Street Gallery for an exhibition called Lost Castles by Nichol Wheatley. He was in the gallery and very personable for a chat about his background, art, technique etc. .The oil paintings seem to be popular and quite a few were sold, always a great sign and good to see. The works are colourful and striking, the theme being old Scottish castles, often run down and broken. Lochs, sunsets and mist can add to the atmosphere.

Below: Castle Tioram at Dusk, Nichol Wheatley, oil

Second gallery visit was to the Torrance Gallery for a look at their Christmas Exhibition. The gallery is always interesting, showcasing a large number of art works. For Christmas 2019, even more works on display and some very good indeed. Of particular note were the watercolours by Ken Ferguson: beautiful work. He is the second watercolourist that's got my attention recently.

Below: Daybreak, Ken Ferguson, watercolour

See more of his work at the Holroyd Gallery site.

Sun, 24 Nov 2019
Edinburgh Art Fair 2019

There's an Edinburgh Art Fair every year and this was the first time I've been. As the name implies, it's a large fair full of stands showcasing works of art from lots of different artists and galleries. Quite a few artists were on hand to chat. There's painting, print, sculpture, ceramic (and other media I might have missed); overall a very worthwhile visit. I felt like asking about technique occasionally and came away with a better understanding of some (at least potentially). The main trouble I have is figuring out whether I've been down all the aisles and nooks and seen everything!

The best way to attend is to find a gallery "invite" and get in free: you should be able to pick one of these up compliments of a neighbourhood gallery and I got mine from Dacre Art who have a "pop-up" Christmas exhibition on Dundas Street just now.

I saw a lot of art I liked at the fair but one artist seemed to stand out for me that day: a watercolour artist called Janet Kenyon. I've never painted anything much in watercolour, but is is a medium with very particular qualities, often beautiful: if you can pull it off. Kenyon can. Her city and landscape paintings were very good indeed and I was tempted!

Left: Evening light Silloth on Solway, Janet Kenyon, watercolour, 53x50cm

Thu, 21 Nov 2019
Heroes and Villains
Ray Perman gave a very good talk at the Edinburgh Central Library about the history of finance in Edinburgh, in particular its various "Heroes and Villains". He has a book out called The Rise and Fall of the City of Money. I had a browse through the book in a shop and started finding it quite absorbing: but managed to rein in the temptation to buy (for now, my queue needs shortening).

His talk was excellent. Speaking off the cuff for about forty minutes he covered the foundation of the Bank of England, the Company of Scotland and subsequent Darien disaster, to the City of Glasgow bank collapse and all the way up to HBOS and RBS in 2008. A sobering talk in the end but also one that was witty and interesting. It also highlighted how far our system and regulation failed before, and after, the upheavals eleven years ago.

Ray Perman as a website.
The BBC has an article covering the book

Tue, 12 Nov 2019
Of Time and Place

A very decent collection of paintings by Neil MacDonald at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh, in an exhibition called Of Time and Place. Most are modest in size but have a certain feeling and atmosphere to them.

The Open Eye Gallery a usually very good. I'm lucky to live near a lot of great private art galleries that change their displays regularly. Keeps things interesting.