No negativity here!

Every time I receive an enquiry from someone in a warmer climate asking about a sketching holiday, in Scotland, ‘this year’ – ie, during deepest, darkest winter – it always makes me smile. Perhaps they have not quite realised that Vistas holidays take place outside, in the landscape, and if the landscape is unavailable (behind clouds, mists or thick blankets of the wettest rain) then there really isn’t going to be much painting going on. Even on a relatively fine day there’s likely to be a shower, and when we’re using watercolour, well, does anyone remember the Cadbury’s Flake advert?

In my dreams, and who knows, perhaps in the distant future, I’ll have a suitable studio which will be light, warm and cosy, with room to house winter (or indeed, summer) weather refugees. But at present, it exists only in the imagination of others.

From time to time I hold classes locally, for locals. Recently these have been taking place in the small village hall up in Stoer village, a couple of miles from Split Rock which has wowed many a Vistas client at a more appropriate time of year. On Friday I had to come up with a class idea quickly, and my eyes fell upon a pile of fallen autumn leaves during a brief respite from the monsoon-like rain showers. From deepest crimson to palest ochre; brilliant orange ones with surprisingly bright green veins; crinkly-edged, smooth and curly; just sifting through them was therapy in itself. I must remind myself, sometimes, that just five minutes in Nature is worth more than a box of tablets when it comes to one’s mood.


The brief was to capture the feel of a deep pile of leaves in vibrant autumn colours, and we tackled this with the use of negative painting. With the class lasting only two hours, we made three ‘layers’ of leaves of different shapes and sizes, first covering the paper with a wet-in-wet wash, then carefully painting around each leaf shape, before drying the paper and drawing more leaves, tucked behind the first and repeating the process. Finishing by painting the darkest areas deep within the imaginary ‘pile’ really made the top leaves jump forward.

I find that by teaching these classes I learn, too. The next time I introduce this exercise I will choose smaller leaves for the initial layer to avoid a ghostly, ‘unfinished’ look, and introduce some spatter. If I was doing the activity myself, I am sure I wouldn’t be able to resist going in with the pen, too, though this would probably ruin it.

My students produced some absolutely gorgeous, uplifting images and I am now dying to have a go at it, so I am hoping there will still be some colourful leaves left when I return at the beginning of November. It’s time for the ‘Mists of Time’, La Gomera itinerary this week, and I’ll be travelling to Tenerife on Wednesday. Fingers crossed the weather holds for us and the leaves there are still quite green!