St Abbs Head is a majestic torn and contorted precipice colonised by kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills among others. I was somewhat overawed, perched myself looking down onto the cliffs with birds soaring out to sea and returning to their nests. I attempted a technique I’d used before but never outdoors: layers of charcoal, gouache and pastel, seeking textures and colours emerging from greys.
This approach works by building layer after layer, allowing these to dry over days, permitting time to look and think. As an open air sketch, it risks being crude and overworked, making texture for its own sake.
That same day we were scheduled to take the boat to Fidra to draw the nesting birds there. The first landing party had left and we stood on the quay waiting for the boat to return for us. It seemed a long time. Here’s a page from my pocket book of Fidra through the telescope.
Actually, the boat had grounded, wrecking its steering gear. Our colleagues who had landed had to be rescued by the RNLI lifeboat. That’s why we ended up at St Abb’s Head for the remainder of the day.
Interestingly, it is claimed that Fidra was the geographic inspiration for Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I have previously illustrated a scene from that book: a high basaltic plug stands proud behind a marsh from which birds rise in alarm at the sounds of foul murder. I’d used the layered charcoal and gouache and ink approach step wise over some weeks.