Grabbing opportunities

As the moorland grasses and birch leaves begin to turn a rich gold and summer in the Highlands reaches a blustery close, thoughts which would normally be turning to winter adventures in far off places are remembering, instead, the precious days on the hill or on the water, taking the time to revisit old haunts, temporarily forgotten, or to discover fresh new corners right under our noses.

As devastating as it is to have to cancel trips to Morocco and Sri Lanka at this time, there are warm days and sketching opportunities still to be enjoyed right here, before wet, salty winds lash the landscape into its steel-grey, peat-brown winter plumage and painting outside becomes unimaginable.
Michael booked a place on the ‘Windswept Wilderness’ Scottish Highlands itinerary months before Covid-19 brought the world to its knees and was naturally very disappointed to miss out. Once national travel restrictions were lifted, however, he drove up to a nearby campsite and was determined to get some sketching in during his short break. I was delighted to be able to accommodate him for a couple of days out in the landscape while the weather was still quite kind.

Michael has done some painting before but never ‘en plein air’ and was eager to learn the first steps. Sometimes it’s all about knowing where to start, and how to face the fear of the clean, white page! With a little encouragement and a few pointers, however, he soon found he was in his element and chose a fairly tricky, complex view of coastal rock formations as his first subject.

Finding the best angle with the help of a card viewfinder he placed his horizon high on the page in order to showcase the jumble of colours, shapes and angles in the foreground rocks. He did this intuitively and I was impressed by the confidence he showed in the composition. He had not had much experience of colour-mixing with watercolours so we had a few practise exercises before going on to colour the sketch, which he’d mapped out lightly in pencil. Using a wet-in-wet technique for the rocks, he was getting some beautiful, semi-intentional blending effects which we didn’t want to risk spoiling with further layers, so although it was still a little pale, we decided to create more definition by returning to the pencil.

After a well-earned coffee from the flask and some of his wife’s delicious home-made fruit cake which he produced from his rucksack, we moved on to a second location, this time the iconic Split Rock. The sun graced us with its presence for a little while as it lit the horizon a bright silver, outlining the distant contours of Skye, Harris and Lewis. We found an empty picnic bench for a little extra comfort and convenience; it also had an ideal view!

I painted alongside Michael this time so he was able to watch how I tackled the subject at each stage. I must admit, though, that he made a much better job of his sky.
Very impressive, Michael, especially for a first try. I do hope you’ll be able to come back next year for the full itinerary!