Scottish flowers



Two more drawings inspired by flowers found in Scotland. The top one was based on hollyhocks, old-fashioned flowers that are not often seen these days. The plants grow very tall, with elaborate ruffled flowers arranged along the length of the flower spike.

The one below was growing in the garden of Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye. I haven’t been able to identify it – the plant was a creeper, covered with pink/purple bell-shaped flowers, many of which had a long pendulous part hanging down, unusual and exotic.

As before (see my previous post here), the flowers were initially drawn in water-soluble graphite then coloured with watercolour pencils.

Adding colour


The experiment with water soluble pencils continues, but a little differently, as I have decided to add colour. Having the tonal drawing beneath gives a useful structure for the colour to go on top. I decided to leave some parts in graphite for contrast, and highlight the main parts of the flowers/berries with colour. The colour is simple, almost monochrome in each case, with no real attempt to create botanical reality, it is there more to enhance the shape and form, and maybe take the images away from their plant origins into another kind of object.

I used Faber Castell watercolour pencils (Albrecht Durer), so that I could continue to draw, but adding water gives more of a painterly feel, and some unexpected results.

The above image was inspired by a double begonia flower, below the inspiration came from spindle berries, crocuses and sweet peas.

All are 23 cm x 25 cm. Some of the drawings without colour can be seen here.


Scotland – from Stirling to Blair Atholl




After a month in Stirling we took to the road, heading west. Above is Stirling Castle, overlooking a field of Highland cattle. Our first stop was Oban, including a day trip to the Isle of Mull (don’t sing it, it never goes away …) then to Skye via a small ferry. After a loop around Skye we continued north, hugging the coast all the way. This meant travelling on single lane roads over mountains and along the coast, avoiding sheep and Highland cattle wandering the roads oblivious to any danger. Then across the top, down the east coast and back into England. We were blessed with the weather, mild and sunny nearly the whole way.

There were many highlights – breathtaking and unexpected scenery, a variety of castles in all states of repair, from ruined to still inhabited, a guitar festival in Ullapool, seeing stags and does late one night, and hearing the stags roaring in the night … we stayed in regular B and Bs, Airbnbs and even a castle, which happened to be in the right place on our 35th wedding anniversary. The photos below were taken on my phone, so please excuse any quality issues, and are just a selection of a great many!

Standing stones at Lochgilphead
Easdale – this small town was on a slate mine. All the houses were built of stacked slate.
The only bridge over the Atlantic Ocean!
Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull – note the rather creepy horse-hoof candlesticks.
Evening across the harbour at Oban
Unusual cloud on Skye
Dunvegan Castle in the north of Skye
Skye – waterfall and organ pipe rock forms in the background
Inverewe garden – although a long way north, the warm Gulf Stream winds mean that this garden can support a wide range of plants, including Australian tree ferns.
The Highland cattle were completely unfazed by traffic close by.
Graveyard with a view at Ullapool


Talmine, on the north coast of Scotland
The Stacks at Dunnet Head. There were seals resting on the rock ledges at the base of the Stacks. This is the most northerly point on the mainland, not John O’Groats as we are led to believe.
Ackergill Castle where we stayed for our 35th wedding anniversary – it just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The dining room in Ackergill Castle
Dunrobin Castle – the holiday home of the Dukes of Sutherland. In the garden was a summer house full of trophies from hunting trips, including heads of an elephant, a giraffe, buffaloes, tiny deer, tails of elephants, rhinos, not to mention the stuffed birds and human trophies from Neolithic graves. Deeply shocking.
The walled garden at Blair Atholl Castle


Water soluble pencils

Since I can’t resist art supplies shops, I tend to collect materials that look interesting – the most recent acquisition was a set of 6 water soluble graphite pencils. These are interesting to work with and require different thinking from normal graphite pencils. Something I like about them is the fact it is possible to get a painterly quality to a drawing, the water marks can add a new dimension. Another interesting quality is that adding water takes away the shine of graphite which can be unappealing at times. 

The top two drawings are small (postcard size) which is convenient while I am travelling. These are on rough watercolour paper, so have a natural looseness to them. The other two are larger, about 25cm square, on smoother paper, so they have a cleaner finish. 

These have all been inspired by plants of various kinds. 

Adding a wash of watercolour adds something else as well. I’m enjoying this, so the experiments will continue!

More drawing in Scotland 

My visit to Stirling is almost over and I will be sad to leave – I feel very at home here. The upside though is seeing more of Scotland over the next couple of weeks. It’s a beautiful country, with dramatic landscapes, deep history and friendly people. 

I have continued finding interesting plants to use as reference for my drawings- some are familiar to me, some not, and some I have rendered more faithfully to reality than others. The flower second from top is inspired by Willow Herb flowers, but they have taken on a heavier, more fleshy look. The one below is from the Willow Herb once it has gone to seed, with wonderful twisting tendrils and fluffy seeds escaping. 

I’m not sure what the last one is, maybe elderberries but perhaps something more toxic. 

The top drawing is a break away from the pen and ink, being drawn with water-soluble pencils, something I have never used before. It is quite different from the Liquid Pencil paste that I have used in the past. It takes a little getting used to, working out how much pencil to apply before smoothing out with a wet brush, and which level of pencil to use – I have HB, 4B and 8B. Today I will start a new one of these. 

Sketching on trains

Having a sleeping or otherwise occupied person in reasonably close range is a golden opportunity for sketching. So a train journey is pretty good – the best position is across the aisle, so my subjects are in seats facing the other way. I don’t want to be observed so sometimes have to pretend I’m doing something else, but as soon as they are asleep again or immersed in their laptop, then I can continue. These were done between Stirling and Edinburgh or Glasgow, in my small square sketchbook with a Staedler pigment pen. 

Drawing in Stirling, Scotland

At the beginning of September I arrived in Stirling for a month. While my partner is doing a sabbatical at the university, I decided to treat my time here like an artist’s residency, and build up a body of work inspired by the area. Stirling is a beautiful small city, with large, gracious Victorian houses and a castle overlooking the town. It is in easy reach of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, and surrounded by lush green countryside. There is a deep sense of history, with the site of the Battle of Bannockburn when the Scots beat the English in 1314 close by and castles in easy reach in every direction, so plenty of enjoyable distractions to explore.  

However, I am not interested in depicting landscape or architecture, my inspiration tends to come from the small details found in the environment, so I have been wandering around with my camera taking photos of unusual or interesting plants, leaves, berries etc that I find in people’s gardens or in the hedgerows. 

When packing to come here, I deliberately limited my materials, partly because I didn’t want to be carrying a lot of extra stuff, and partly because I wanted to force myself to concentrate on just one or two mediums. So, I brought a number of different black ink pens, a selection of graphite pencils and my travelling watercolour set. I tore up a large sheet of drawing paper into 12 pieces each about 25 cm square, and that completed my kit, along with a small sketchbook to carry with me.

So, two weeks in I have completed 3 drawings, all using my Rotring EF Art Pen. It has a nice fine nib and is satisfying to hold. The three drawings are all based on plants, but all enlarged and exaggerated, no intention of botanical accuracy, there was more thought given to playing with form and texture, and building up shape with line.