After a sunny arrival on Saturday, with glorious sunset colours over the mountains and Loch Kishorn, the weather changed to unsettled for our watercolour week on the Highlands. However, we were able to spend most days painting outside, and worked a few mornings and afternoons in the studio, always a great complement to outdoor painting and for more in depth demos.
Day 1 – After a delicious full Highland breakfast and short introduction to the week’s plans, we had a good look around Bynaport to choose out subject for the first day. The stunning views from the house towards the dramatic Torridon Mountains across the waters made this an easy choice. To scale things down a bit, and to simplify the vast scenery we selected the green shed with its elegant weathervane, as a foreground motif. My demo for the day focussed on how to strengthen the foreground while keeping softer and cooler colours for the distant hills.
Day 2 – The second day dawned clear enough to make the five minute stroll down the hill into the village. There we found a jumble of colourful rust-red sheds on one side, and a row of whitewashed cottages at the other end of the bay, while in front us was the glassy surface of Loch Kishorn. We all turned out gaze towards the bay, and set to work enthusiastically. By lunchtime, the weather took against us, and we retreated to the studio, where I was able to finish my watercolour demo. In the afternoon, by special request, I started a second demonstration, to illustrate ways of depicting with the delicate tones of cloud and mist rolling over the nearby mountain-tops.
Day 3 - Our third day started with the determination to venture further, despite the lack of blue skies, and we made our way by car to Loch Damph. Gillian and Mark Pattinson, our very welcoming hosts who live a Brynaport, also own a spacious wooden Hunting Lodge high above the Loch, and they had kindly invited us to paint from there. Gillian is a very accomplished artist herself, and was able to find corners in the house and adjoining workshops from where we could paint despite the recurring showers. The views are almost overwhelming, but we were able to quickly outline the sections of the landscape we liked best. The foreground was enlivened by a proud and bright pink group of foxgloves sharply outlined against the softer tones of the green and purple mountains. We spent the whole day at Loch Damph, which was a good opportunity to discuss the problems of knowing when to finish a painting. My advice was to turn away from your watercolour, have a cup of tea, and return with fresh eyes to make the final judgement.
Day 4 – Low clouds over the mountains looked unpromising, and we decided to walk across the road to the exciting rocky shoreline of the Loch. It was a good choice, and we sketched and painted the cliffs and bladderwrack festooned boulders at the water’s edge, while taking advantage of the opportunity to explore the technique of painting rocks in 3D! Two-to-three metre high fishing poles, standing upright in the shallow water, gracefully punctuated the scene. Later on, the rocks I had collected from outside were placed on a table in the studio with some extra lighting, and I gave a demonstration, showing the light and shade essential to achieve the best features of rocks and boulders. After lunch we were able to work on our paintings, until another delicious home-baked cake appeared at teatime, Alison, who cooked fabulous meals all through the week, is also a great baker, and never fails to spread happiness when she appears with cake-stand in hand!
Day 5 – Our last day had come, and with it a hive of activities. We decided to consolidate on what we had painted so far, and completed any so far uncompleted watercolours. For those who were eager to start a new painting, I made a final watercolour demonstration of a rather unusual still life. It suddenly struck me that the colourful desk lamps which had had previously used to illuminate the rocks, made a rather jolly composition. A great opportunity to explore on the technique of capturing the very dark colours behind and between objects – also called ‘negative painting.’ It is a form of silhouetting that can be very effective. Thus, some very fine watercolours of lamplight were accomplishes just in time for clearing up the studio for the informal display of our week’s paintings.
The evening was a splendid event, with champagne, nibbles, and lively discussions about the diverse watercolours on show. Just as we were about to leave the paintings to indulge in the special dinner Alison had prepared – a Scottish fish and seafood feast – we were held back by the sound of bagpipes! We all grabbed a chair, and another sip of champagne, and enjoyed the compelling music of the Highlands.
It was an unforgettable week, with dedicated painting and lashings of fun, and some drama too. Not least because of the safe return of one of our non-painting partners, who was lost on the mountain for a night. He was rescued by the impressive teamwork of the voluntary Mountain Rescue team and the military’s helicopter. The week had indeed had more than its fair share of excitement! Needless to say, on the day of departure, the sun came out, and no one wanted to leave.
With best wishes and hopes for a glorious summer,