The last day of the Seabird Drawing Course in June was spent in at Aberlady, a rocky coastal strip cut by a river emptying between sandbanks into the Firth of Forth.  I made rapid sketches in charcoal of curlews probing the sand.


Pickings seemed lean when suddenly, one found a crab.  His whole demeanour changed as he set off up the bank with another in hot pursuit.  I had only left myself a tiny bit of empty paper for this avian drama.


Although using the scope, I was practising watching, closing my eyes to fix the image and then drawing without a second look, rather than trying to copy moving birds directly.I don’t capture much detail but I am trying to get a better sense of movement.  Charcoal is such an expressive (if clumsy) medium for this.

On the far bank, under storm clouds, were a line of dozing eiders.  I took watercolour notes for a later painting.



Drone II

How might it feel in my home town if we walked under constant surveillance from a kilometre in the sky?

If those remote eyes guided missiles?

If any male over 18 years were defined as a legitimate target?

If any gathering of more than three people were viewed as terrorist activity?

How might we live our lives, buy and sell, celebrate and mourn, work and learn, protest and be free in fear of sudden, targeted, guided but blindly lethal attack?

How much or little might our society have to change for this to be thinkable?


Experimental drawing: shards

The chosen reference for our experimental drawing workshops  is the work of Anselm Kiefer.

His work is carried out on a large scale, constructed thickly with paint, clay, ash, straw, metal, glass and the written word.  The images constitute a dialogue, perhaps more an argument with recent history, art and culture.

Responding to his art challenged me.  Paint combines with solid materials stuck to the surface.  Is this collage or mosaic or painting or a display of found objects?  Are the components iconic or, like individual pigment granules, devoid of individual symbolism?  Other than scale, what distinguishes this art from a child’s picture of glued autumn leaves?

In my first layer, I blocked in a silhouette of my home town in acrylic rose and phthalo green.

Weeks then elapsed.   I returned with toolbox, a hammer, glue, white porcelain plates,  bark, feathers from a predated corpse and tarmac gathered from a surface disrupted by a root.

I suspended the shards and granules in a sea of glue and swept into shapes using a plastic blade.  In my mind, there was a direct link back to this earlier work in charcoal (

Two more weeks have passed since.  Paint and glue has dried.  This week, I spent some time drinking coffee, just looking and thinking.  Then I tried to recreate and expand the obscured cityscape, painting into and over this surface.  I will post that next layer sometime soon.

I have only seen Anselm Kiefer’s paintings as photographs.  I cannot find an example displayed in the UK although the Tate and the National Gallery of Scotland seem to have archived a number of pieces.  I did not know of him earlier in the year when work was exhibited at the White Cube.  My knowledge of him to date is largely gleaned from the internet, including

Fine artist Chris Wood comments below and introduced me to the work of Julian Schnabel.  I post the link here so anyone else interested in this theme can follow it.

Gannets nesting on Bass Rock III

How can I give you a sense of what it means to draw on Bass Rock?

At the landing point there is the cry of a peregrine overhead.

Climbing through the ruined castle, we face down the malevolence of the watching herring gulls.

Ascending, we are forced from the path because it has been taken over by nesting gannets. Gannets nest everywhere, covering the slopes, two or three feet apart, the length of a neck and beak.

I drew this, perched myself on a ridiculous three legged stool that sank unstably into the guano enriched mud that covered the rock.

Here are other quick line sketches I did of gannets stalking past.

Gannets nesting on Bass Rock II

Exercises in rapid brush stokes as the birds shuffled and moved around their territories.

I found this a significant challenge and was full of admiration for the more confident and expressive paintings created by others there.


Gannets nesting on Bass Rock I

These are large powerful birds. When they land, there is a thud.

I sat an arms length away, one length of a wing away, a neck stretch away, a stab of that long bill away.

The sharp ammoniac smell and the clamour haunt me still.

18/06/2012 Bass Rock, Firth of Forth


Tyninghame estuary on the North Berwick coast feels like a visual treasure trove, harking back to childhood seaside holidays.

There is a wide coastal plain, strewn with rocks, draped with seaweed, pocked by pools. Gulls, waders and ducks were far off at the shore line. Sitting and concentrating, I was surprised by the gurgle and splash as the incoming tide crept close.

I found a spot to paint, my umbrella canopy lashed to my tripod, the stem in my jacket pocket, braced against the wind and drizzle. The paper was not wholly protected by this contrivance – the top spattered with droplets.

As the rain increased I sheltered beneath nearby trees. Watercolour was now impossible but I thought perhaps I might get away with chalk pastel. Interesting effects anyway.

By the way. this is my 100th post. Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to look at my art, comment and even follow this blog. It really has made a difference to how I approach this work. I enjoy looking across your art in all its diversity.

Experimental landscapes IV: St Abb’s Head

The final one in the series:

Drawn from memory, sketches and photograph on my phone.

Charcoal and white gouache, watercolour and chalk pastel.

Experimental landscapes III: between breakfast and homework

Bridging the gap between breakfast and homework this morning, we folded a piece of purple typing paper to create a book with panels as numbered pages.

Unfolded, we took turns drawing a continuous line across the panels aiming to create double pages in the book from the discontinuous panels.  We began with a dinosaur theme but the middle pages got hijacked by a fairytale castle and somehow the last ones became cityscapes.  We wanted to colour it quickly and the paper would not take paint, so we used thick chalk pastels, too big for the job.  No finesse here.

I refolded it, sewed the spine and cut the pages .  Here is the sequence of pages, with pretentious words added.

This quick game was based on the method suggested by Greg Poole and described in the last post.