Sunday 23 September 2012

Lochwinnoch RSPB reserve & second-hand books

I've been meaning for some years to go to the RSPB's Lochwinnoch reserve in Renfrewshire. It's only 25 minutes from Glasgow Central, and trains run every hour. RSPB members (I am one) get free entry and so do visitors arriving by foot or bike or train or bus. Come by bike and you can also claim a free hot drink. Anyway, it was about time I did another of my railway days-out and it happened that a free Saturday in my diary coincided with a sale of second-hand books at the reserve, so I made the effort to go.

Leaving Linlithgow at 8am got me to Lochwinnoch at 9.40am. The station is nice, really nice. It obviously has a dedicated someone or several someone's looking after its platforms, probably as part of ScotRail's Adopt-A-Station scheme. There are planters all along filled with mixed herbs: rosemary, thyme, mint; yellow cornflower or marigold, chamomile or pineapple mayweed; (I need to learn my plants) some heathers too. In one of the planters I noticed a green-veined-white butterfly, perfectly camouflaged, perched with closed wings showing the thick furry veins that the name suggests. A black dot is on the underside of the upper wing. It's a great idea having such a variety of flowering and scented plants on the platform to liven things up for both humans and pollinating insects. I wonder if anyone's been tempted to sneak a sprig of rosemary to add flavour to their sandwiches...

From the station it's only a five-minute walk along a not very nice busy road to the reserve. Don't worry though, there's a pavement the whole way. I spent 3 or 4 hours, walking south for a way alongside Barr Loch then north-east to explore the paths and hides running alongside Aird Meadow Loch. Also I chatted for an hour or more with volunteers and staff in the visitor centre. There are telescopes and binoculars set up to watch the happenings on the reserve.

I didn't actually see a great variety of birds but I enjoyed taking the time to sit and do a few sketches of the scenes around me. The first was a panorama looking west across Barr Loch. Out on the water were mute swans, tufted ducks, mallards and one solitary pochard with its warm chestnut rounded head. Flying over the water were gulls and crows and swallows, having to battle a bit in the strong wind that blew drizzle the length of the loch. The reeds didn't take up the fight - they bent strongly under its force. I was sheltered by a stand of saplings as I made my sketch and ate a packed cereal breakfast.

Lochwinnoch panorama, pencil in sketchbook, 14.5 x 41cm

My other two sketches were of a wooded archway that I looked at across the reed beds. I've always had a taste for the fantastical - my paintings at art college were pretty much dominated by this (see the imagined worlds gallery on my website). As I've become increasingly interested in natural history I've not really done these imaginative landscapes. Not because I've lost that interest, just because there's never enough time to paint all that could be painted. Anyway I've felt that urge creeping up a bit more recently and have decided to start building a collection of sketches - scenes I encounter in the real world that have something of that other-worldly feeling about them. They may or may not be turned into something more finished one day. These two sketches are a good example.

Lochwinnoch woodland archway, pencil & pen in sketchbook, 14.5 x 20.5cm

Lochwinnoch woodland archway, 2nd sketch - much quicker, pencil & pen in sketchbook, 14.5 x 20.5cm

And the books - I came back with a wallet £17 lighter but a rucksack six books heavier - two about owls (Always my favourite. I seem to dream of owls, perhaps more often than is healthy - I've had eagle owls, snowy owls and at least one great grey owl, all in my West Lothian garden! Jennifer knows.) Also The Life of the Robin by David Lack which has been recommended to me lots of times, and a book of sketches by Charles Tunnicliffe - beautiful to look at and important to learn from. And a book to go in the present stock for Jennifer's Christmas...

Friday 14 September 2012

painting birds in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh

I was asked by Art in Healthcare to run two art workshops at the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, on 10th & 11th September 2012. I was to base my workshop on an artwork from the collection of 1400+ paintings, drawings, photographs and prints that Art in Healthcare makes available for display in hospitals and healthcare centres. You can look through the collection by clicking here. It was great fun browsing so many works of art and deciding eventually on a lovely lithographic print by Edinburgh-born artist Colin Thoms of a cheeky dark bird standing against a sunny yellow background.

Colin Thoms - Bird, Tree and Red Sun - lithograph, 49x65cm - image courtesy of Art in Healthcare

Working in a hospital was a new experience for me, one which I now hope to repeat. The atmosphere in Sick Kids is great, staff are friendly and relaxed, wards are bright and airy, the playrooms... well... they make you want to stay all day! And most importantly of course - the children. The kids I worked with ranged in age from 3 to 11. All were really enthusiastic and had a great time using paint and crayons and pastels and glue to make their own collaged pictures of birds. Every child who took part created a beautiful artwork which will hang on the hospital walls to brighten the days of all who visit and work there. Here they are for you to enjoy too...

barn owl, by Luke, age 8

blackbird, by Finn, age 5

two owls, by Toni-Lee, age 7

colourful bird, background by Keegan, age 4, bird & leaves by Jessie, age 6 

buzzard, by Bethan, age 11

eagle, by T.J. age 8

flying gulls, by Sean, age 7

kingfisher, by Rhian, age 4

owl & woodpecker, by Caitlin, age 7

rainbow owl, by Joy, age 11

robin, by Abby, age 3

owl, by Adam, age 11

(thanks to Amelia Calvert, Volunteer and Outreach Manager, Art in Healthcare for taking all the photos)

Monday 3 September 2012

an ancient beech, before and after

I was delighted yesterday to be back at Avonmuir House near Linlithgow, invited for the second year running to be artist in residence -for one day only- whilst the garden was open to the public under Scotland's Gardens Scheme. Entrance fees went to charities supported by the scheme and to Combat Stress.

Avonmuir is a beautiful house built at the very end of the 18th century. The garden is large with a walled area of lawn and fruit trees and beautiful flower borders - yesterday attracting small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies, but not as many as you'd expect. And as seems also to be the case across Scotland this year the apple harvest is disappointingly low, although those that were on the trees were juicy red and tempting. I had a display of my work in the little lichen-green summerhouse here, and another in the tea tent (wonderful mini carrot cakes!) I did my painting elsewhere, in my favourite part of the garden - by a little burn that babbles under trees and ivy, a path winds alongside. It's shaded there but dappled sunlight filters through, twinkling in the branches.

tree stump and burn, watercolour, 28 x 38cm

I finished the day with a half-hour sketch done from the exact position I painted in last year. What a difference a year makes... 364 days ago I was looking at a beautiful wide spreading beech - now all that's left is a massive stump with logging all round. Major boughs were lost in the winter storms 2011/2012 and the rest had to be felled. It's sad to see such a magnificent tree gone but I'm glad I was able to paint it last year. It'll be interesting to see what new plant life develops now that the area is open to light. Counting the rings showed that the tree was 400 years old. Think of all that's happened in those four centuries.

Here you can see my 'before' and 'after':

blackbird & wren by the ancient beech, acrylic on card/board, 18.5x23.5cm, 4th Sept 2011

no blackbird, no wren, but a robin singing merrily beside me, watercolour & pencil, 27.5x38cm, 2nd Sept 2012