Those who follow me on Facebook or Google+ will know that we recently had, here in Scotland and much of northern England, a fantastic display of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. These shimmering displays are absolutely beautiful, and truly one of nature's wonders. At the time, I had several requests for a painting of the lights but I was engaged in commission work at the time. Well, a couple of weeks later, here they are! When you see them, the lights do not appear altogether, but shimmer constantly, lighting up one part of the sky and then another. You need time-lapse photography to see the kind of images that people think of when they think of the Aurora. Here, I have done the watercolour equivalent! I have tried to convey the movement and 'fizz' of the lights with quick and carefree brushstrokes against a dark, starry sky, to reproduce my impressions of the scene rather than being too literal. Down below, the calm waters of this little loch at the edge of my local woods reflect the colours of the sky serenely. Even though the sky was very dark for our display, I didn't want a dark painting so I have used the lights to illuminate the countryside, especially the distant hill, and silhouette the trees. I have also devoted most of the painting to the sky and the water to produce a bright and colourful picture, despite the darkness of the scene. I love the feeling of tranquillity in the painting, as the Aurora dances its silent dance in the starry sky. This is an eye-catching and evocative painting, which I don't want to take off the board as it keeps drawing me back! I'm proud to add it to my 'Inspirations' Gallery, which is clearly where it belongs!
In a recent post I mentioned killer whales - well, somewhat belatedly, here they are! This is a scene off the north-west coast of Prins Karls Forland, one of Norway's National Parks located way up in the high Arctic, at the same latitude as the north of Greenland. This is the sort of place, the sort of view, which completely grabs my emotions and stops me in my tracks. Normally I work from life but although I have been to the Arctic, I have never been here. The photograph was taken by a scientist from Norway (he's credited on the page) and, although it did not include the Orca (which I've added as a subject), it was heart-stoppingly beautiful. I knew I just had to paint the island.
I don't start a painting until I have sketched it and thought about it until I can 'see' the finished painting in detail in my head. This one required a great deal of thought, not necessarily because of the difficulty or detail of the subjects, but because my love for the cold and remote places on this beautiful planet required that the overall picture convey every emotion I feel for the place. I needed the picture to say 'purity' in every way, to present the clarity of the air and the crystalline beauty of the water. The colours had to be pure, so I have avoided too much overlapping of washes, especially in the sky which is untainted, crystal blue with pure white clouds. The snow sparkles in the low sunlight and the Orca splash pure white spray. In the meantime, the dark water in the foreground suggests the depths below. I hope I've succeeded in my aims: looking at the painting now, I think so. I hope you do too!
I've been a bit quiet lately, and I thought I'd explain why. First off, my wife has been poorly with a back problem, and that has meant I've had to do a little bit extra around the place to look after her. Poor girl, she's been in lots of pain. I'm very glad to report she's getting better now after seeing an osteopath. It's actually been nice having her around all the time, I just wish it could have been under nicer circumstances! Our new puppy, Zena, is also growing up nicely and demanding lots of attention and time! But the main reason I've been quiet is that I've been busy with commission work, and I'm afraid that I can't publish any of it! However, I'm now almost at the end of that and I'm looking forward to getting back to doing my own work again. Don't get me wrong, some of the commission work involved techniques I haven't used before, and they worked out really well. One of those techniques was the use of gouache, a kind of opaque version of watercolour. One of the key beauties of watercolour is that, by and large, it's transparent. I love building up colours with washes of different colour. For example, if you mix red and blue paint in the palette, you'll get purple, yes? But put a transparent wash of red on the paper, let it dry and follow it up with a thin wash of blue and you'll get... a blue with a red glow behind it! It's beautiful! However, one of the problems is that because you can't cover a dark colour with light, you always have to work from light to dark in a watercolour. It's OK - this is something you get used to, and I often find myself looking at a scene and working out what colours I'd use, and in what order. What's cool about using gouache is that it allows you to add highlights over dark. You can also mix it with watercolour to make different colours - so for all you watercolourists out there who fancy a go with gouache, if you have a full range of watercolours, all you need is white!
Mostly, in watercolour, if you want white in your painting, you have to save it, which means painting around it with every wash. You can use masking fluid but that's difficult to apply accurately - it tends to look 'blobby'. There's no substitute for saving whites, but I've found over the last few weeks that in some circumstances, white gouache can add a beautiful sparkle. I wish I could show you the sort of results I mean, but I can't. Maybe I'll use some gouache in my work for open sale in the next few weeks and you'll see then!
In the meantime, it's back to my own work tomorrow - Killer Whales, anyone?
A professional artist living and working in the beautiful north of Scotland. My work is realistic and quite traditional, though strongly interpretational in nature. My inspiration is the beauty of Nature, and the wonderful colours and moods she shows everywhere.