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Issue 35 - A brush with art

Scotland Magazine Issue 35
November 2007


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A brush with art

Artist holidays are a great way to get creative and experience Scotland's outdoors. Kate Ennis reports

Artists have always had a canny knack of making their craft look so effortless. That may explain why art programmes on television enjoy such large and loyal audiences – watch close enough and the secret of how to recreate such visually appealing paintings may be revealed. Bob Ross on his enduring Joy of Painting television series or the talented competitors on Watercolour Challenge would be mesmerising to watch as they deftly created an atmospheric landscape.

Of course, the eye-catching scenery that the artists are depicting also makes compelling viewing. No wonder such shows have helped to inspire hobbyist painters, but also those who haven’t picked up a paint palette since school, to head outside into the field with a canvas.

The combination of being free to indulge in some creativity, as well as being immersed in a picturesque landscape, makes painting breaks an extremely popular activity holiday and there are few better destinations than Scotland, where ‘paint-able’ subject matter presents itself at every turn.

The country has always been considered a great destination for art lovers, of course, who are keen to view treasured collections at the National Galleries in Edinburgh or the Burrell Collection and Kelvingrove in Glasgow, as well as local artists’ showcases in smaller studios dotted around Scotland.

The Scottish landscape has long been a popular with painters too, both with Scotland’s own artistic sons – William McTaggart, Henry Raeburn and Alexander Nasmyth – as well as visiting English painters like Edwin Landseer, who loved the Highlands.

With brooding skies, lochs with serene reflections and dramatic mountain backdrops, as well as a wealth of manmade treasures, such as castles, gardens and picturesque ports, you can appreciate the attraction.

With an abundant number of locations for aspiring artists to choose from, there’s a good selection of art holidays available across Scotland. There’s also something to fit with the varied schedules, budgets and objectives of attendees, with shorter weekend breaks or more intensive weeklong residential courses. Courses largely cater for all ability levels too – from complete beginners to accomplished artists and can provide equipment and materials or advice on what to get.

Although they can’t guarantee to transform students into Picassos within a week, painting holidays are great for generating confidence and enthusiasm. They also provide the time and freedom to paint without distractions within a group of like-minded people, while also offering reduced prices for non participating partners.

The art teaching can vary between structured classes with group demonstrations to informal and individual tuition, or a mixture of both, but in all cases, guests receive a good amount contact with their tutor as groups tend to be kept small.

As well as professional advice about painting techniques, tutors are also invaluable in knowing the surrounding area intimately so can access the best locations for outdoor fieldwork, particularly the quieter scenic spots, which allow students to avoid an audience and become really absorbed in their surroundings.

However, for tutors like James Fraser, who runs the courses at Purple Heather Art Holidays at Strathspey, in the heart of the Cairngorms, the dilemma in choosing a location for students comes from being spoilt for choice.

“A favourite spot for our students is overlooking Loch Alvie from the Kinrara Estate near Aviemore,” says James. “From a vantage point above the loch, we enjoy a backdrop of distinctive purple-red hills and in the autumn, the birch trees turn to a sea of gold among the conifers,” he explains. “The deep reflections here are exquisite as the day wears on.” Trained at Edinburgh College of Art, James has more than 20 years’ experience of teaching art to adults. He believes the Highlands of Scotland are particularly special for artists because the colours of the landscape and quality of light are so unique.

“We are surrounded by a majestic natural backdrop of hills and mountains that change every hour, according to the light, weather and season,” he enthuses. “Green and purple dominate, then ochre, russet and brown add diversity to the landscape while skies shift from soft hues of grey to bright and deep blue. Vistas move from fresh, iridescent colours in early spring to deep, resonant tones in autumn.” So what’s the best media for capturing these wonderful colours? “Acrylics aren’t too suitable as the colours are too brash to reflect any subtlety,” advises James. “Watercolour and gouache or caran d’ache watercolour crayons are probably best for working outdoors because you can work quite quickly and capture the changing light and weather conditions.” Ah yes – the weather! Surely that’s a major hindrance to painting outdoors in Scotland?

“The weather here is actually better than many people think and it’s not that unusual to be able to work outdoors in October and even November,” he admits. “Alight shower is easy to cope with where there is shelter from trees but we have a contingency plan if the weather is really inclement.” This includes village halls, studios and even restaurants with wonderful aspects, to relocate to if necessary.

So what advice would he give to budding students planning an artistic getaway?

“Come with an open mind!” he asserts. “The landscape is probably more varied and spectacular than you imagine.

“Above all be expressive and adventurous in your approach. It is a time to see new things – it could also be a time to try working in a new medium.” Finally, James advises keeping a sketchbook record of what you see.

“Capturing moments of fleeting light etc with sketches, or a digital camera, will give you a good memento of your holiday and the opportunity to work up the sketches into larger pieces at your own pace back home.” In between watching an art programme or two for continued inspiration, of course!

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