Saturday, 19 April 2014

Spring has sprung and lambs are everywhere

I love this time of year in Caithness as little lambs are being born all around us - we can look out the windows of our dinning room, sun room and kitchen and see them bounding all over the fields behind our house, running after their mums and forming little gangs that race up and down after each other.  It's cuteness overload (and I try not to think about their fate despite all the many TV adverts showing their cooked limbs served up with mint sauce - yuck).

Anyway,  we've been taking loads of photos of the lambs with their mums and I decided to do a little ACEO version before trying a larger painting.  

Sheep and lamb expressionist ACEO Nicola McLean
A mother's love - ACEO in gouache and watercolour

I wanted to try something a bit more expressionistic for the background rather than trying to paint in what was actually there so I dripped some paint and just let it run to see what it would look like. I think I like it, although it'll be interesting to see how it looks on a larger piece. 

I think because the animal paintings I've been doing recently have been semi-realistic and very detailed and time consuming I just wanted to try something a bit looser and fun. It seems that I'm not ready to tie myself down to just the one 'signature' style just yet!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Pay it Forward

'Purdey' - doodimal (zentangle pet portrait) Nicola McLean
'Purdey' - doodimal in ink and gouache

I recently visited my friend Tracey Fletcher King's blog and she mentioned she was taking part in the Pay It Forward Art-making Project for 2014. She'd learnt about it from Marji.  The whole idea is as follows:-

* Pay It Forward Art-making Project for 2014 *

I promise to give a small work of my art to the first five people who comment on this post and say "YES, I want in". A 'like' alone is not enough of a commitment, nor is a comment about thinking Pay It Forward is a great idea.

You must in turn post this as your status update (on Facebook) or on your blog and make or give something to the first five who comment on your status.

The rules are simple:
– It has to be your work, made by you, and the recipient must receive it before 2014 ends.
РIt can be anything art-based: a drawing/illustration or a conceptual work of art, a photograph, a knitted item, cross-stitch, papier mach̩ Рor anything in between.

I'm paying this forward thanks to Tracey Fletcher King which makes her number 1 on my list.  Yes, you can be on each other's pay it forward lists.

First five, GO! (By the way, Marji's already said she'd like to be on my list so really it's the first 3 to comment here!)

PS. It doesn't matter if you aren't an artist, try something out, google/ YouTube how to make stuff, step out of those boundaries.

Step 1 -Copy&Paste this (see below) as your latest entry on your favourite social website (in my case, it's this blog) 

Step 2 -For the first five people who comment on your blog entry saying they want to participate, you will do an art trade with them that must be completed by December 31st 2014. I would count as the first person so technically you only need another four. If you find your friends are keen you can do as many as you want. 

Step 3 -All forms of art count including creative writing , photography, digital anything goes!
If you have any more questions, just email me and let me know. 

By the way the illustration on this post is a doodimal of my wee Purdey that I intend to get S to frame in one of his gorgeous upcycled pallet frames and hang in our bedroom.  It isn't what I'll be sending as part of Pay it Forward -I'm still thinking about that! 

I'll be linking up to PAINT PARTY FRIDAY this week as I haven't been partying for the longest time and I thought it was time I popped by to visit some friends, old and new. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014


Purdey the Tuxedo cat in gouache Nicola McLean
Purdey - sketch in gouache

Well, those of you who are friends with me on Facebook will already know the sad news of  my little cat, Purdey, who I had to say goodbye to on 28 March. She was old (about 13 or 14) when we adopted her only 8 months earlier and I knew she had arthritis in her hips and was rather grumpy and set in her ways but after she got used to her new life and to us she was such a different cat from when we first brought her home from the shelter. Then she would lash out and growl at us whenever we went near.  By the end however, she would sit with me each evening in our sun room, either on my knee while I gave her reiki or else curled up in the dogs' bed while they were safely down the other end of the house with S. She seemed to enjoy our company (always on her own terms, of course) and would curl around S's legs while he pottered away making his gorgeous reclaimed pallet picture frames out in the garage. It was still my greatest wish for the dogs to just get used to her presence so that she could curl up in front of the fire with us all together in the living room.  Unfortunately that was never to be. 

It was with heavy heart and tear-filled eyes that I took her to the vet on the Friday morning as I think we already knew what they were going to say. She'd lost the use of her back legs the night before and the vet said it was a blood clot from her lungs blocking the arteries to her legs. She was in pain and uncomfortable and the kindest thing would be to let her go. I'm sure vets are used to huge outpourings of grief which is just as well as I couldn't have contained my tears even if I'd tried (and I had tried, unsuccessfully, while asking the receptionist for an emergency appointment). I stayed with her until her tiny life ended and then brought her home to be buried in the little garden that she'd been able to access from her cat flap. It had been her own little outdoor sanctuary, safe and secure from overzealous attempts by the dogs to meet her (or eat her - we never did let them get close enough to find out). 

I put one of my gratitude stones on top of her grave because I'm so very grateful that she got to spend her last eight months with us, being loved and learning to give affection. The dogs are my babies but there is something about a cat - their sleekness, their independence, the way they bunt their tiny noses against our chins and curl themselves around our legs. 

The real deal

I took a lot of photos of her but unfortunately most of them were taken on my phone at night so aren't as clear as I'd like. The photo I used to paint this portrait was the very first  photo I took of her the day I brought her home from the shelter - it summed up the grumpy wee cat she was back then but not the sweet little cat she became. I miss her.

tuxedo cat doodle nicola mclean
Purdey Doodle

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The pity party and the retirement card

So, my orang-utan painting didn't get short-listed for the Wildlife Artist of the Year competition.  I got an email on Friday and had a little flutter of anticipation and excitement followed by a thud of crashing disappointment as I read the words thanking me for taking part and telling me how very high the standard of entrants was but that unfortunately on this occasion I had been unsuccessful.  

I contemplated having a Kevin style tantrum and ripping up all my art pads, breaking all my paintbrushes in half, kneeling on the ground with my arms raised to the skies and wailing 'WHY?'. I contemplated just stopping painting forever because, really, WHAT.WAS.THE.POINT.  

What I actually did was to allow myself a half hour pity party during which I will admit to shedding a frustrated and disappointed tear or two and then I reminded myself that it was just one competition and that even if I didn't get short-listed this year, there was always next year by which time I'd be a whole year more experienced in painting animals in gouache.  My recent exercise in being grateful what for I do have, instead of moaning about what I don't, kicked in and I reminded myself that worse things happen at sea and focussed on all the good stuff in my life instead. 

To reinforce the fact, I took the dogs to our favourite beach and had an invigorating walk along the shore reminding myself that just over a year ago I'd still have been stuck in an office in Belfast working full time instead of living in our dream location having so much more free time to paint.

Other good things that happened this week were having my seal cub painting as the first poster boy for the Association of Animal Artists countdown to the exhibition posters and being asked to create a retirement card for the Scottish SPCA Inspector over in Orkney.

I've only met him once but I was given a couple of photos of him and this is what I came up with.

Retirement card caricature in ink and gouache

It's been a really long time since I did any caricatures and it was fun to do something a little whimsical again. I hope it brings a smile to his face. 
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