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Showing posts from 2014

Christmas Greetings

"Snow at Brawlbin" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

Happy Christmas

A Farm in Snow

"A Farm in Snow" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Winter weather has properly established itself now, with cold winds and snow showers. Watercolour washes are taking a long time to dry, so I have changed to a more direct method of painting. This involves putting down colour at full strength first time, instead of building the painting in layers. Areas of similar tone are allowed to fuse softly at the edges. Of the two methods, 'Direct' and 'Controlled Wash', I think I prefer the speed and brushwork of painting directly. It's not ideal for soft, atmospheric effects, but it works well for subjects like this, where there are strong tonal contrasts and texture.


The End of Autumn

"Strath Kildonan in Autumn" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm

The calm sunny weather we had for much of the autumn seems to have ended now. Storms are on the way with icy winds, so scenes like this may be replaced with snow soon.


Memories and Imaginings

"Ruin Above Halkirk" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Another of the old ruined crofts that are spread throughout the landscape of Caithness. For a few local people they hold memories of family or lost communities, while for others they are a source of romantic imaginings.


The value of keeping sketchbooks

Over the years I have built up a large collection of sketchbooks. Occasionally I look back through them, enjoying the flood of memories that come to me, as well as seeing how my sketching has developed. They are also a good source of fresh material for studio work, when my recent sketches don't inspire me.

Looking at some sketchbooks from 25 years ago, I found the sketch below, from the time that I spent on the Isle of Arran. I could still remember the colour scheme, so I decided to try a painting of it.


Pencil sketch made in Glen Catacol, Isle of Arran


'Glen Catacol, Arran' - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

The crag on the left is called 'Creag na h'Iolaire', which means 'Crag of the Eagle', so I couldn't resist putting in an eagle soaring above the glen. It was useful for adding interest and balance anyhow.

After I finished the painting, I remembered that I had made a watercolour about the same time as the sketch. I managed to find an old pre-digital pho…

Sunshine and Showers

My favourite weather for painting is a mixture of sunshine and rain showers. I love the contrast between the sunlit yellows of the landscape and the dark blue-greys of the heavy clouds. The cloud shadows are useful for composing the tonal values of the painting, allowing a kind of spotlight to be shone on certain features.

These are two versions of the same subject, with the sunlight used to provide different focal points.


 "Dwarwick Head, Clouds Building" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm


"Dwarwick Head, Rain Clouds" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Scrabster Ice Quay

"The Ice Quay at Scrabster" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

A while ago I posted a painting of a 19th Century ice-house. This is a small watercolour of the modern equivalent, at Scrabster. A refrigeration plant produces ice in industrial qualities, which is piped into fishing boats moored at the quay alongside.


Syre Church, a Tin Tabernacle

"Syre Church" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Syre Church, a small church in Strathnaver. It was built in the late 19th Century by the Free Church, a group which broke away from the established church in protest against the control of rich landowners.
The building is of a type known as “tin tabernacles”. These were pre-fabricated structures, made of corrugated iron. They were quick and easy to construct and were often used by non-conformists. They also make attractive subjects for artists!

Recent Sales

Thanks to everyone who purchased my paintings at The Castle of Mey and recent art shows, and to regular customers on their annual visit to the area.

Here are some of the paintings that have now gone to new homes.


"Loch More in Winter's Grip" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"Maiden Pap" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"Low-tide at Wester Haven" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"Thulachan, Strathmore" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"Sunshine and Rough Sea at Dounreay" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"A Flow Country Bothy, Shurrery" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm

"Scrabster Lighthouse" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm

"The Old Man of Stoer" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm


Scotscalder Station

"Into the Sunset" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm
This view is from my nearest railway station at Scotscalder. It's unmanned, and if you want to catch a train here, you have to hold out your hand to tell the driver to stop. The journey south to Inverness takes three and a half hours, and winds in and out around the mountains and estuaries. I think the little building in the view is probably a line-man's hut, like another one that I painted recently.

Below the Castle of Mey

"The Castle of Mey from Wester Haven" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

This is an unusual view of the Castle of Mey, from the harbour of Wester Haven, which has featured in a couple of my recent posts, here and here. The misty effect beyond the rocks was caused by smoke that was drifting across from a fire. I thought it was a useful device for breaking up the strong horizontal of the distant shoreline.

The Great Herdsman

"Buachaille Etive Mòr" - watercolour - 25 x 36 cm

This mountain stands at the entrance to Glencoe and at the head of Glen Etive. It looks out over the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor and dominates the view for miles. It is a well-known landmark to anyone travelling north on the road to Fort William. The name, Buachaille Etive Mòr, means "The Great Herdsman of Etive", and it has a sister peak called Buachaille Etive Beag, or "The Little Herdsman of Etive".



Latheron Art Show 2014

These are the paintings that I am showing at the Latheron Art Show, next weekend, 23rd to 25th May.

"Sunset at Loch More" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

"Maiden Pap" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"The Old Inn at Milton, Dunbeath" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

"Thulachan, Strathmore" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm




Wester Haven

"Low Tide at Wester Haven" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

This is the little harbour of Wester Haven, which I mentioned in my previous post about the Ice House. The boat is used for lobster fishing, which is a common activity around the coast.


Ice House

"Ice House at Wester Haven" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

Before the invention of refrigeration, using ice for food-preservation meant that it had to be stored in some way. Ice houses are a common feature of the harbours around the coast of Caithness. They are vaulted stone buildings, set partly into banks or hillsides, and with turf roofs for insulation. In the winter ice was collected from lochs and rivers and put into the buildings through a hole a the top. Then in the summer it was taken out through a door at the front and used to pack around crates of fish for transportation. My painting is of a good example at the harbour of Wester Haven, below the Castle of Mey.

I painted this on Bockingford Eggshell tinted paper. It has a subtle green tint and gives a cool undertone to the watercolour. I don't use tinted papers very often, but they can be useful sometimes. This particular paper is produced in Cream, Grey, Eggshell, Blue and Oatmeal.

Moorland Burning

"A Hill on Fire" - watercolour -- 16 x 26 cm

When I looked out of the window the other day, I saw this plume of smoke rising from the hill across the loch. It looked dramatic and I thought it would make an interesting subject, so I decided to paint it there and then. I wasn't sure how long the effect would last, so I decided not to do any drawing; I just wet a block of paper all over and floated in various colours. As the paper dried, I gradually defined some of the forms until I had built up a soft-edged impression of the subject. Then I left it to dry and finished the harder-edged areas later.

I don't know whether this fire was accidental or deliberate. The moors are managed with controlled burning at this time of year, known locally as 'Muirburn'. The mature heather is burned off to leave tender new growth for the grouse to feed on. However we also get wildfires in dry periods, and it has been fairly dry until recently.


Returning to Nature

"Returning to Nature" - watercolour - 35 x 25 cm


When I first saw this scene from a distance, at Achscrabster Quarry, it looked like some kind of unusual tree. It was only when I got closer that I could see that it was a chimney completely covered with foliage, and what I had thought was just a patch of woodland, was a range of old buildings which were also becoming overgrown. It always fascinates me how, over time, nature can completely obliterate the works of Man.


By Keith Tilley

The Far North Line

"A Line-man's Hut, Kinbrace" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

The Far North Line must be one of the finest railway journeys in Great Britain, perhaps even in Europe. Parts of it travel along a beautiful coastline, while other sections have mountainous scenery and wooded valleys. Finally there is the Flow Country, with its big, open landscapes. Because it isn't a fast, busy line, it hasn't had to be upgraded very much, so it still has a feel of former times. Many of the stations still have their 19th Century architecture, and there are other old structures beside the track, like the line-man’s hut in the painting above. It would have been used by the man who was responsible for checking and maintaining that section of the line.

Impressions of the Pentland Firth

"Showers Over Hoy" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm


This is a series of paintings I made recently of the Pentland Firth; the stretch of sea that separates the Orkney Islands from mainland Scotland. It is a treacherous channel, full of strong currents and tidal races. The islands are often shrouded in cloud, giving them an air of mystery. Most of them are fairly low-lying, but the island of Hoy has some mountains and dramatic sea cliffs, and the famous rock stack known as the Old Man of Hoy*.

Does it get any better

"Sunset on a Winter Afternoon" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm

Painting 'en plein air' can often be a battle with the elements, but sometimes it can be pure pleasure. Recently, on a rare winter day with warm sunshine and no wind, I set up my easel outside my back door and painted this.

Lonely Thulachan

"Lonely Thulachan" - watercolour - 24 x 36 cm


A few months ago I wrote about the old cottage at Thulachan. I mentioned that it was in a remote location and that not many people visited it any more. This painting gives a better idea of just how isolated it is. I had climbed a nearby hill and made a sketch of the view out over the Flow Country landscape. This is the watercolour I made later from the sketch. 

The Passing of Time

"All Our Yesterdays" - watercolour - 16 x 26 cm


I have often passed by this old cottage and thought that it would make a nice subject in a rustic kind of way. There are lots of these old buildings in Caithness, and as I was painting this I realised that they represent a specific point in time. Within living memory some of them were still being lived in and worked as small farmsteads, but in a generation or two they will have disappeared; worn down by a combination of weather and neglect. We tend to think of the times that we live in as being the most important, but in fact they are transient, and future generations will think of us as being just as much a part of history as we do of our ancestors. I expect there is a moral to be taken from that: Maybe that we should embrace change because it is inevitable, and that resisting it holds us back. Equally, it could be argued that we should preserve memories of the past as a reminder of our development as people. Perhaps we need a …

Dawn of a New Year

"Dawn of a New Day" - watercolour - 18 x 26 cm


We are well into the new year now and I haven't posted anything yet, so here something to start with. I have some ideas for things I want to try this year, so the subject of a sunrise seems appropriate.