Sunday, 28 April 2013

The best reality show...

Sketch 54 of 75 (still going!!)

Since moving up to the north of Scotland, our TV viewing has dropped considerably. The thing is, we've discovered the best reality show of all - our windows are our new flat screen TVs and the stars of the show that keep us fascinated for many hours are the many,varied animals that we share our garden and surrounding fields with.

We now spend so much time just staring out the window watching the lambs as they group together into little gangs, racing, skipping and jumping round the field before running up to the nearest sheep for a suckle. The sheep then sniff the lamb's behinds to ensure its her lamb she's giving her precious milk to and if it isn't, she unceremoniously head butts them out of the way.

Flopsy relaxing in the evening sun

Last Monday, the weather was really bad here, gale force winds and torrential rain and the poor little lambs were taking a right battering out in the elements. I'd been watching them through the rain spattered windows on and off throughout the day, wishing I could bring them all inside to the warmth, later in the evening I noticed that two little lambs who were curled up together had been in the same position for quite a while and even when other sheep came over to them, they didn't seem to be moving. S and I were there with binoculars trying to see through the windows which were still being hammered with rain.  

'Maaaa - where are you?'

I was so worried about them that I ended up phoning the farmer.  He arrived shortly after and straight away he said he had a sheep who was a really negligent mother and he bet it was her just leaving her lambs out in the cold. He walked over to the lambs, saw the mother who was mooching around nearby and said 'yep, that's her - she's a terrible mother' (how he knew one sheep from another when they weren't even marked we do not know!). He lifted the two wee lambs up. They were floppy and limp, still alive but only just.  He said they had hypothermia and took them off to put them in an incubator saying that they would be grand.

We felt so relieved we'd been nosy neighbours and called the farmer when we did or those little lambs would've been goners.  Of course, it's kind of bitter-sweet as in another 9 or 10 weeks they'll be send to slaughter anyway but hopefully, they'll at least get to enjoy another few weeks of innocently skipping around the fields before then. 

S has a book on garden birds and we've both turned into spotters, grabbing the book every time a new kind of bird stops by the feeding table. So far we've seen blue tits, great tits, coal tits, chaffinches, green finches and gold finches all of which, according to the book, don't live in the far north of Scotland!

We also have lots of pheasants pootling about in the fields by us. The males seems to have a whole harem of females and will chase other males away if they dare to come too close.  They often go tearing across the fields like road runner!

Phillip the Pheasant

About two weeks ago, a male pheasant was in the field by our garden while I was out there so I threw him a handful of bird seed to see what he would do.  He came over and ate it while I stood there.  He then started turning up at the same time every evening in the hope of another bite to eat and yesterday every time I took the dogs out to the garden he came waking up to the fence expectantly! He now turns up about 3 or 4 times a day with his harem of lady pheasants waiting for another meal!  He comes right up to the fence and even when our two dogs are there he's obviously bright enough to realise he's safe on the other side of and he just tucks into the bird seed, all the while making a wonderful soft, clucking cooing noise which we swear sounds like 'thank you'! He's now the subject of my next painting!

Phillip strutting his stuff

Some days I feel like I'm in a Disney film as I look out and there are lambs skipping, rabbits hopping, birds flitting from feeder to feeder, the tiny field mice sneaking a nut or two while the birds aren't looking and pheasants pecking for morsels.  All that's missing are the birds coming to tie a ribbon in my hair while we sing together a la Snow White!!

I'm linking up to Sunday Sketches hosted by Alexandra. Thanks for stopping by and all credit for these great photos goes to my lovely husband, S!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Monkey Business...

lion tailed macaque nics earth
'Miles Away' - acrylic on canvas 30cm x 25cm

Last Friday I got an email from the Animal Rehabilitator Manager of the Vervet Monkey Foundation who found me via the VIVA UK! Art for Animals project.  They are holding an art auction on 18 May to promote animal and vegan artists.  The Director and Founder of VIVA UK!(a charity promoting a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle and campaigning against all sorts of animal cruelty issues) will also be giving two presentations at the event.

All funds raised from the art auction will go directly towards helping the plight of the monkeys in South Africa and enabling the Foundation to continue educating people about a vegan lifestyle and how it's kinder to the planet. 

I was invited to attend but it's way down the south of England so a tad too far for a night out.  However, while I can't attend the event, I could certainly donate a piece of art.

As the pieces I've been working on recently are all ear-marked for upcoming exhibitions (and I didn't suppose anyone would want to auction my self-portrait!)I said that I would be happy to donate a painting that I would do especially for the auction. 

I didn't have to think too hard about what I was going to paint. I have a beautiful photo I took of a lion tailed macaque from our unfortunate visit to Belfast Zoo last year. I'd been planning on painting it for a while. I know it's not a vervet monkey but hopefully they won't mind that.

I've entitled this piece 'Miles Away' because of the wistful, far-away look in his eyes (and the fact that his true habitat is many miles away from Belfast Zoo). 

Here are the stages it went through:

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4 - final piece

I'm linking up, as always, with Paint Party Friday, and will endeavour to visit as many folk as I can.  Thank you to everyone who pops by here - I really do appreciate your feedback.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Still no Puffins...

Sketch 52 of 75

When we came to Caithness on holiday last year before ending up moving here, we went in search of puffins as they are known to burrow and nest on the dramatic cliffs that make up the coastline along the north coast. We didn't see any last year but later learnt that it was too early (March) and that they should be around in May as that's when they tend to mate and nest. We've been on a couple of puffin searching expeditions this month but still no sign so we'll try again in May and see if what we were told is true - they are elusive little birds!

I want to paint a puffin as part of the series of local animals paintings I'm doing for the upcoming art exhibitions and really want to be able to use a photo I've taken myself (read - a photo that S has taken as he has the patience and bells and whistles camera to get a good shot). However, if all else fails then I can always go to my favourite photo reference source - Paint My Photo as there are some great shots already on there. 

Sketch 53 of 75

Anyway, I'm linking up with Sunday Sketches today and here is a sketch I did of a puffin for the 75 day challenge (yes, yes, I'm still banging on about that!) as well as a little baby deer(which was actually crouching down like that although in my sketch he looks a little deformed!) I also plan to do a deer painting and I have the perfect photo I took of a gorgeous little doe at the Ark open farm last year which I can use.

Here's my other post this week in case you missed it - I've just submitted my entry to the portrait competition so will find out at the end of May if I've been short-listed or not!

                    Here's me and who's like me:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Here's me and who's like me...

... is an expression we use in Northern Ireland about someone who thinks they're the bees knees, someone who's really full of themselves and it's an expression I couldn't get out of my head all this week as I worked on my latest painting.

This is why...

sky arts self portrait competition
Me, myself and I.

Now, anyone who's been reading my blog for a while will know that I paint animals. I rarely paint humans. I mean, I have painted people in the past and I used to do a lot of caricatures but I really just prefer to paint animals.  

As for self-portraits, well, I haven't done one of those since high school many moons ago!  It's quite weird staring at yourself for extended periods of time while you recreate your own face in acrylics. If anyone should know what I look like then it's me but there's always that fear that folk might look at it and think 'well, she must think she's prettier than she is' or 'does she really think that's what she looks like?'!! Part of me thinks I should make me as pretty as possible - like air-brushing a photo,  while another part of me thinks I need to add a few more wrinkles and dark shadows just so people don't think I've got tickets on myself!

Anyway, the reason I even painted a self-portrait is because Sky Arts TV are running a competition - Portrait Artist of the Year and in order to enter you have to submit a self-portrait.  If you get short-listed then you are invited to attend one of four heats held this summer in London, Glasgow, Dublin and Cardiff where you have to produce a portrait of three sitters, one of whom will be a public figure.  

One artist from each heat will go through to the final where they will take part in two more portrait trials.  The work will be hung in the National Portrait Gallery and the overall winner will be given a £10,000 commission to paint Author Hilary Mantel.  All of this will be televised and shown on Sky Arts later this year.

Now this is all well and good and, as you can see I decided to give it a go, however, whilst I don't for one second imagine that I will even get short-listed to the heat stage, I'm not really sure what I would do if I did because the idea of being on TV brings me out in a cold sweat, the idea of painting a real life figure in public with people watching me makes me feel physically sick and the idea of both of those things combined is enough to have me running for the hills so I better hope I don't get through to the Glasgow heat!! Still, what a fantastic opportunity to showcase your work for any artist that does get through.

Anyway,  I started out trying to do this in my usual pointillism style but it made me look like I had really bad acne scarring so I decided to just paint without any dots other than for the background!

Here's the stages it went through - quickest painting I've done so far as it only took me 5 sessions of a couple of hours each. 

I'm linking as always to Paint Party Friday, hosted as ever by Eva and Kristin

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Some long legs and a sheep re-worked...

I missed last Sunday's Sunday Sketches, hosted as always by Alexandra, for no reason other than being too lazy to actually go upstairs to our computer den and type up a few words. I did have sketches to post - I still have 25 of the wee blighters left from the 75 day challenge!

Anyway, here is one of them - thanks to a photo I came across on one of the many animal pages I follow on Facebook.

Sketch 51 of 75
If you happened by my blog on Friday you'll have seen my other post this week which was my Lost Sheep painting.  After posting it, I decided I didn't like how dark the dark parts of it's wool were so I lightened them a little and did a little tweaking that possibly no one but me would notice or care about.  

Anyhoo,  here it is in its revised state.  I think it's done now and I'll give it a coat of glaze before adding it to the Highland Cow as pieces to submit to the exhibitions (there are three coming up that I've learnt about so going on the negative idea that no one will buy them I plan to exhibit the same pieces at all three!)

The Lost Sheep -  acrylic on canvas - 40cm x 50cm 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Wait a minute Mr Postman...

I've been the lucky recipient of a couple of lovely things in the post recently.  

Firstly,  I got this gorgeous handwritten and illustrated letter from Ziggy Shortcrust.  I discovered Ziggy by happy accident one day when browsing through the arty blogs I follow and discovered a link to her.  Intrigued, I clicked on the link and was very glad I did.  She creates wonderful Elves among other things and has set herself the very steep challenge of bringing back the handwritten letter by writing 365 letters this year.  Anyone who wants to receive one simply emails her with their postal address and she will send you a beautiful, personalised letter which she illustrates by hand, both on the envelope and on the page itself. Well, I definitely wanted one and so, this arrived just before the Easter Holidays. 

Courtesy of Ziggy Shortcrust

If you like, you can write back to Ziggy, and I think it is only polite to do just that. I just need to decide how I will illustrate my letter back to her.  And I need to find some decent writing paper - it's been so long since I've hand written a letter to anyone that I don't think I even possess such a thing any more!  I may have to use one of my blank greetings cards and do an original illustration on that instead - it'll still be handwritten so I hope that counts!

Courtesy of Ziggy Shortcrust

Then, I received these beautiful prints all the way from Canada from my very lovely on-line friend, Laurie, another wonderful artist and writer of beautifully nostalgic blog posts at I love a cloudy day.  She sent these by way of a house-warming gift for our move to Scotland and I am truly delighted that, yet again, this art blogging community has provided me with so many genuine on-line friends from all over the world. And I happen to love owls!  Thank you Laurie!

Courtesy of Laurie at I love a cloudy day

Courtesy of Laurie at I love a cloudy day 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Lost Sheep...

Not a biblical reference but rather the name of my latest painting. 

The Lost Sheep - acrylic on canvas 40cm x 50cm

You might remember way back here I did a doodimal based on a photo of a sheep we'd taken at the Ark Farm.  Well,  I knew I wanted to paint that cute face in acrylics as well and so I decided to have her set against the back drop of the Northern Lights to make it local to Caithness.  Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis in Scots Gaelic is Fir Chlis which translates literally to The Merry Dancers so I had planned to call this painting 'The Merry Dancer'.

However, there are vast numbers of sheep in the fields all around us up here and I noticed that none of them had the pink fleshy nose and mouth of this sheep.  I tried Googling sheep breeds to see if I could find out what type of sheep she was but to no avail.  I looked on the Ark Farm's website but could't see her on there either.  Eventually I phoned them and asked if they could tell me what breed the super friendly and inquisitive sheep with the pink noses were.  I was told they were Dorset Sheep.  Hmm, so not really typically found in the Highlands of Scotland then?  In fact, you probably couldn't get much further away geographically as Dorset is at the South West of England about 722 miles away from Caithness!!

As I had already spent quite a bit of time on this sheep, I really didn't want to start over with a more Scottish breed, just for the sake of being geographically correct.  As I had already used a great deal of artistic licence in creating the background, I decided to extend it a little further and so I give you Daisy, the Dorset sheep, who wandered a little too far from home and ended up at Duncansby Head. She may even have been doing her own version of the Lands End to John O'Groats walk. As luck would have it she arrived on a clear night in late winter and the Merry Dancers decided to put on a show just for her.

Sorry about the photos - by the time I finished it the light was going out of the day so the photos are a bit dim.

Here are the stages it went through during the different painting sessions - not as long as the cow took but I suspect I might not be finished tweaking this one yet. 

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4

Session 5

Session 6

Session 7

Session 8 - Possibly finished, possibly not!

In other news - I got me a job!!  I've been looking for part-time work since we moved here and, on Wednesday, I had an interview  with a charitable organisation called Alzheimer Scotland working two days a week in their office in Thurso.  They phoned me back that afternoon to offer me the job. It's perfect as it is something I will enjoy and the bonus is that it means I can still volunteer two mornings a week at the animal re-homing centre and that still leaves me a full day and two afternoons during the week to spend on art (as well as the weekend).  I'm really happy about it and looking forward to starting there in the next week or two.  

Happy Paint Party Friday.  Don't forget to pop over to the party to meet some of the other party-goers!

**Updated - I did tweak the Sheep again - here is session 9 where I softened the dark parts of the wool a little and tweaked a couple of other bits.  And it's a better photo taken in daylight!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The end of days...

...75 days, to be precise.  

Sketch 48 of 75 - my second attempt at life drawing -
wee Brodie having a nap on her favourite chair.

Yes, I can now breathe a huge sigh of relief because Friday 5 April sees the end of the 75 day sketch challenge!! 

Looking back over the last 75 days, I was excited to start the challenge.  I was fired up with enthusiasm. I was a little less enthusiastic when I realised it was taking me well over an hour to do each sketch.  

I became much braver by not relying on pencil and eraser to correct mistakes. I learnt I need to plan my composition better to ensure the subject fits on the page. I used up a whole box of fine tipped black pens on the course textured paper of my sketchbook. 

I worked my way through as many breeds of dog as I could find in my dog calendar. I thanked Google for providing me with a lucky dip of animal inspiration for the remaining sketches. 

I loved some sketches. I hated some sketches. I managed to get my sketching time down from an hour and 45 minutes to 15 minutes.  It showed. 

Sketch 49 of 75

I lost all enthusiasm and felt like a school kid obliged to do homework before getting to go outside and play. I moaned and groaned. Some days I didn't sketch.  Some days I played catch up and did three sketches one after the other.  I knew this wasn't really the point but I figured as long as I did 75 sketches in 75 days it didn't really matter. I vowed never to do another challenge that lasts that long. I was still glad I saw the challenge through to the end. 

Even though this is the end of the challenge, I'm not showing you the final sketch today.  Oh no, you lovely people have the joy of knowing that today I am showing you sketches 48, 49 & 50 so you've got a whole 25 still to go and I'm keeping them back to make sure I've got something to illustrate the next 25 blog posts with!! 

I am hoping to have finished my latest painting by next Friday so you may get a reprieve from the ink drawings next week if you pop back to see what the subject of my painting is (and by inviting you back next Friday I've now set myself the challenge of making sure I finish it in time!)

Peggy Gatto's dog, Simon - sketch 50 of 75
The little guy above is Simon, Peggy Gatto's dog. She happened to comment on my blog on 8 March that she'd love me to sketch her dog, I said sure, she emailed me a photo and this was the outcome. 

I'm linking up with Paint Party Friday and will, as always, do my best to pop over to visit with as many participants as I can. 


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