Sunday 27 December 2009

Birds & Beasts In The Depth Of Winter

Almost Christmas; another milestone ready to disappear into oblivion through the rear-view mirror as we hurtle forward through time at excruciating speed. Where the hell has this year gone to???

In three months time we’ll be celebrating out first anniversary in the Gallery and, I suppose the fact that we’re quite happy to continue with the business must mean we’ve gotten something out of it – albeit not much financially – but it has been a great way to meet folk (locals and visitors alike), and to exchange birdy tales. The last month has been very quiet, but has at least given me a bit of breathing space within which to concentrate on fulfilling a few commissions gleaned during the warmer months.

The peregrine portrait is a diversion from my usual work; I don’t tend to make straightforward portraits much nowadays, but this piece presented many challenges. I made several false starts to the painting until I found myself in accord with the way the piece was heading. The blocked-in feel of the background was difficult for me to achieve, not technically, but I had to stop myself going back in there and layering more detail and texture on. I thought the result fairly successful.

When a very nice couple came into the shop they seemed more interested in discussing the distribution of species (rather than my preferred topic; the re-distribution of wealth – theirs to me!) and they left with a smile and a promise to return at the end of their holiday. Hmmm – everyone always says they’ll be back. They won’t!
But they did return a week later, buzzing with the experience of connecting with a nice flock of snow buntings over at Mull Head. I’d been kicking a lovely snow bunt along the path at Ness Point on my twice-daily walks with mad-dog Donnie for about a week too and showed them the sketches I’d made one morning. Good move. We discussed a commission, sizes and prices.

The ensuing watercolour is one of my favourite pieces of work from the past few months and it was enthusiastically received. The returning cheque was more than enthusiastically received by the paupers of Stromness (us).

An unfortunate incident presented me with yet another corpse to study from;
A teacher at Edie’s school had noticed a bird being flushed a short way by a passing car and, as she went to see where it ended up, re-flushed it and it flew directly into a neighbour’s window. The house-owners came out and identified it as a young curlew and I was telephoned to collect it, if I wanted it. Walking up the drive I could see the bird draped over a window ledge. I could also see it was a woodcock. Straight home and to work.
The second was a beautiful ‘alba’ barn owl – a rarity up here – that had been fund in the South Parish of South Ronaldsay. My good friend Paul Higson was good enough to collect the bird and I made a start on a study. I didn’t, however. Feel I was doing the bird justice so I curtailed my work and popped the body in the freezer for another day.

It’s always good practice for any artist to tackle subjects which take them out of their own personal comfort zone and commissions often do this. Up here, agriculture is a way of life and most families have a connection with the land and livestock. The sheep are north country Cheviots and were owned by the father of a friend who wanted to surprise his dad on Christmas.
The hares and lapwing painting is a similar scenario; a husband’s secret pressie for his wife (added pressure n the painter, knowing a marriage could be at stake!)

Other self-motivated pieces from recently are the brown trout painting and this observational piece of a local hooded crown on the beach

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!