The view, westwards, from our village – Ink on a Watercolour Moleskine
This scene shows the start of West Lothian. In 1851 James Young patented a process to extract paraffin oil from the local oil-bearing shale which exists in this part of the world. His process was so successful it meant that Scotland became the major oil-producing nation of the world at that time. So much shale was extracted that some reckon parts of West Lothian have sunk by up to six feet. To the left of the picture, five “small humps” punctuate the horizon. (They are actually around 270 feet high). These are shale “bings”- bing is a “heap” or “pile” of something e.g. a “slag heap”. Locals have long referred to these bings as the “Five Sisters” parodying the “Five Sisters of Kintail” which is a mountain range in the west of the Scottish Highlands. These five bings have become so entrenched in the local scenery that they are now protected by Scottish Heritage – other bings, and there are many, are gradually being re-used as base material in the construction industry, or landscaped into the local environment. To the right is the start of the Bathgate hills which rise to around 1000 feet. The total length of this horizon is about 12 miles which I hope has conveyed some idea of the scale of this part of the Central Lowlands of Scotland.
The view, westwards, from our village – Ink on a Watercolour Moleskine
Ravenscraig Castle, Kirkcaldy – Ink/Watercolour in a Watercolour Moleskine
This ruined castle sits on a high rocky outcrop, strategically overlooking the Firth of Forth, between Kirkcaldy and Dysart. It was built by James 2nd in 1464 and was considered to be the latest in technology. Its 14 feet thick walls were designed to withstand cannon fire from enemy ships entering the Forth. This worked well enough until bigger cannons were fitted to bigger ships and the castle became somewhat, redundant. It has been used for a variety of things over the centuries ending its useful life as a munitions dump during the first world war. Today its ruins are managed by Historic Scotland.
This scene is very familiar to me and would have been well known to my father and his father who came from the small town of Dysart just over the end of the distant headland. When I was a wee boy the beach, or “sands” as they were know were crowded with families bathing in the summer weather. I learned to swim here and have loved swimming ever since. Unfortunately pollution and the advent of foreign holidays have put paid to this sort of pastime. Aye! – Nostalgia isn’t like it used to be!
Union Canal east of Ratho – Ink/Watercolour on a Watercolour Moleskine
It is possible to walk from Edinburgh all the way to Ratho, and beyond, along the canal tow path. This scene shows the approach to Ratho after the eight mile hike. Although I didn’t walk this far, yesterday, I joined the canal nearer home and was rewarded by a nice day, much warmer than of late. Even the snow has all gone and the temperature has risen to a tropical 12C. Spring MUST be on the way.
Chestnut Trees – Ink/Inktense on a Watercolour Moleskin
Two Chestnut trees grow at the east end of the village. They are so close that, when they are in full leaf, it looks as if there is only one large tree. They are also suffering from signs of distress as they are sending up fresh growth from their roots. An old(er) resident told me that the trees probably started life as small hedging plants, or even chestnut fencing posts which rooted, and were allowed, either by design or neglect, to mature. They have been pruned so often, to allow the road to remain clear, that they are fighting back by sending up “suckers”. The good news is the bend in the road, near the cottage, might be bypassed with a new road some distance away and the trees will be left in peace.
The Cowgate, Edinburgh – Watercolour with ink highlights on a Watercolour Moleskine
If you look at a map of Edinburgh you might notice that some streets cross over each other. Parts of the old town were built well below the High Street and the Castle but, when the town needed to expand thoroughfares were built, on bridges, above the old parts. This scene shows, I hope, the Cowgate where animals would be driven towards the Grassmarket which is just visible through the arch. The Grassmarket lies at the foot of the south side of Edinburgh Castle. It gained notoriety as a place for public executions, a fact that is marked by a brass plaque inserted into the ground at the end of this large, rectangular square. North Bridge, crossing over the Cowgate, is supported by the arch. There are many such bridges in the city and these, themselves, have become built upon over the centuries. It can be a bit confusing, albeit exciting and interesting, for visitors to find their way around this area. Just another way in which my adoptive city oozes historical charm.
Arthur’s Seat from Blackford Hill, Edinburgh – Watercolour on a Watercolour Moleskine
Edinburgh is supposed to be built on seven hills (Trying to be like Rome, Lisbon etc). The trouble is, most folk argue which of the many hills, in the city, should be included in the list. (Parts of the city are very hilly – just ask any cyclist). The main consensus is, however, that Arthur’s Seat is at the top of the list. The “Seat” can be seen on the right of the background and is an ancient volcano. It dominates Edinburgh’s skyline. It is supposed to look like a lion crouching but maybe our imagination is running riot here. To the immediate left are Salisbury Crags which overlook the old town and the New Scottish Parliament. The “built up area”, shown is between Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Hill and lies towards the southern part of Edinburgh. The city’s old observatory is on Blackford Hill but is rarely usable these days due to light pollution. To the left of this scene the Firth of Forth and the hills of Fife can be seen towards the north.
Old farm buildings – Gauche and Ink on a Watercolour Moleskine
I went for a walk in the clear, bright air this morning. Did some quick sketches by the side of the road and – it started to snow again. I think the the snow gods were lying in wait. Its no fun being out in this with passing motorists shaking their heads in disbelief and sympathy. The page was so wet I covered it with some old gauche I had forgotten about when I returned to a warm house. I just about think I’ve salvaged something from the day.
Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands – Watercolour and Inktense pencils on a watercolour Moleskine
I noticed some snowdrops peeking through the ground, the other day, and immediately was transported back to our visit to the Dutch Bulb fields a few years ago. I thought this painting might remind you folks that spring should not be too far away. This magnificent garden grows many hundreds of varieties of bulbs all in individual beds. The colour is spectacular. I loved the way they are set in trees, Margaret reckons I paid more attention to the trees than the flowers. She’s right. I know it’s wrong! I promise to seek professional help.
The Bass Rock, Firth of Forth – looking towards the East Lothian Coastline
Watercolour and ink highlights in a Watercolour Moleskine
The Bass Rock is just over 100metres high and guards the entrance to the Firth of Forth. Edinburgh is about 20 miles to the right of this scene. In the past, hundreds of years ago, it was used as a prison and, like the American Alcatras was considered escape proof. Today the rock is home to the largest gannet colony in the world so access is restricted. In the background is North Berwick Law, a hill which overlooks the small town of North Berwick. The Law is about 180metres high and is the remains of a volcanic chain which runs the length of the Lothians – Edinburgh Castle sits on part of it. Firth is a Scottish word for estuary, in this case the estuary of the River Forth. This confuses many visitors when they hear about the “Forth Bridge”, they often ask where the other three are. East Lothian is famous for its fertile lands, comparatively low rainfall (compared with the rest of Scotland) and its golf courses which are among the most well known worldwide. Muirfield, where the Open is played every few years, is just along the coast in the village of Gullane which has four other courses – we Scots like our golf.
Kirkcaldy Railway Station around 1910 – Indian ink on a regular Moleskine Renefijten has described, in his last two posts, how he makes a sketch which describes the tones and values before his final painting. This is something I am guilty in NOT doing and should be, of course, a good habit to get into. I decided, therefore, to try this on my drawing describing the station in the town I was brought up in. If you look to the rear of this effort you can see the factory belonging to Barry, Ostler and Shepherd. Kirkcaldy had many such factories belching out smoke as in this one. The town was famous for the production of linoleum floor covering and the whole place stank of linseed oil. There is a famous poem which describes a young boy’s growing anticipation, of visiting his grandmother’s house, there. Part of the last verse says: I’ll sune be ringin’ ma Gran’ma’s bell, She’ll cry, ‘Come ben, my laddie’, For I ken mysel’ by the queer-like smell That the next stop’s Kirkcaddy! The boy in the Train – Mary Campbell Smith Although the whole area has now been modernised, it was, incredibly, just like this when Margaret and got engaged, in 1971 and I took her to visit my parents for the first time. The poor girl must have wondered what she had got herself into.