Iona and the west coast of Scotland

From London to Carsaig for a week of painting and exploration. It’s crazy to think how we’re busy jetting all over the place to ‘get away’ when a days driving from London can land you in a place to remote, so dramatically different and so stunning.

The light. The remoteness. The wild vast skies. The jagged untamed coastline. The exposure. The elements. The light!

Wow what a world away from painting in Richmond Park or on the Thames.  Here the skies move fast, the wind really gusts and when the rains falls, it really batters.  But if you want atmosphere, movement, excitement or drama in a painting, then you have to go and find it. And you don’t get that from sitting in a studio copying a photograph, and you don’t get it from daunting out in a nice warm sunny day in the south of England. Or not so easily.

Painting on Iona was a battle from the start to the end. A friend and I trekked round the island  with our half box easels to find a painting spot. And sure enough while setting up, the first spots began to fall, but we’d had two ferry rides to get to this well worn painters spot made most famous by The Glasgow Boys. No going back.

The first rule is to batton down the hatches because as soon as you leave anything untethered the wind takes possession of it and then it’s a mad sprint down the beach to retrieve it. And that is wasting valuable painting time!  Setting up quickly we began quickly knowing we had limited time.  When the rain began to fall we had no option but to just cover the canvas in whatever paint we could, otherwise it’s impossible to make the paint stick. In a frenzy we worked, just trying to keep the canvas alive. This is when painting turns towards instinct. And thats exciting. No time to think, no time to ponder or really critique what you’ve done. You just have to hope that all the work and thought and practice you’ve put in will somehow come out.

The light too provides another challenge, because with such a wind the clouds and sky is constantly moving and changing. There’s no opportunity to ‘correctly’ copy what is in front you – you have to choose quickly and then work with that, cherry picking other elements that make sense with the overall scene. It’s an exhilarating game, a puzzle which you have to piece together very quickly.

I think this way of working also gives a painting that extra energy, not an energy – however beautiful – that is carefully curated in a studio but a raw natural energy. Something more real in some ways. It’s really about the painter and his/her immediate response to the environment that their for that time a part.

I suppose another skill is remembering that energy and the feeling you had while painting on location,  and then recreating that back into the studio. Difficult!!