Staple Rock

At St Abbs Head, the rounded cliff tops fall away into grass-covered, steep inclines, which drop straight down to the rock-strewn sea.  Looking from on high, it appears that the sharp blade of Staple Rock is suspended over the waves, hanging there ready to drop and cut the sea in half.  A scramble down the scree allows access to a lower platform.  From this view point, the triangular stack is firmly rooted, its base visible through the water.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (1)

I covered board with charcoal and clawed back the tones and shapes first with my fingers and then with water and finally with layers of white acrylic.  I poured sepia calligraphic ink onto the central mass, squirted it from the water bottle and rocked the board until the ink settled and dried in the sun.  The darker tones were mixtures of sepia and paynes grey inks or charcoal.  Lastly, I used watercolour over the various tones created by acrylic white and charcoal for the sea and sky, grass and flowers, and the receding stained rocks at the back.

The distant sea was teeming with moving white specks, distant feeding gannets, added with a shake of the brush.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (2)

Here are the preliminary sketches from the same day, made first in ink lines, liberated with water to create the tones, and then in freehand watercolour.

2014-07-14 St Abbs (9)

 

 

St Abbs Head: Experimental landscape I

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.

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/treasure-island-violent-death-and-birds-in-motion/

Cultivation on ash

In arid sub tropical terrain, moisture collects in pits dug and walled in the volcanic ash.  In each hollow, a vine is planted.

For this I threw watercolour at the page, creating the sky, crude green pyramids and a pink and brown ground.  When dry, I drew in with charcoal and chalk to define the landscape.  A bit of white and black gouache was used to create the stronger contrasts.

I have taken much inspiration from this recently formed and dynamic terrain.

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/a-rip-in-the-ground/

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/volcanic-landscapes/

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/drift/

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/inked-with-sepia-and-paynes-grey/

a rip in the ground

This is the first in a sequence of paintings in which I  explore how the flat basalt plain was rent by powerful forces.

The sky and foreground were rendered in charcoal then gouache and ink whereas I painted the distant volcanic craters in transparent glazes.

The composition leaves a bit to be desired, not yet giving the sense of raw power that must have shapes this scene.

Amended 24/04/2012 – I photographed this again in natural rather than electric light and with a fixed rather than a handheld camera. It comes out rather better I think.

Volcanic landscapes

This basaltic landscape in Lanzarote resulted from very recent volcanic activity, geologically speaking.  The rock is twisted into harsh, sharp features and is barely colonised by lichen.  I drew in ink using one such piece of rock on one of these sketches.  Yet the fields of ash bear crops in circular depressions dug to trap condensing moisture.  In the background sit the calderas and the rocks are stained in unexpected colours.