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. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Out of my comfort zone-cherries in pastels

cherries in pastels nic mclean nicseARTh
Cherries in pastels 11 x 9 inches
So, if you've been by recently then you know that I think I've found my medium in gouache and I defintely know my subject matter is all creatures great and small but sometimes it's good to challenge ourselves and step outside of our own little comfort zones. So, with that in mind,  I decided to try one of the challenges in the Society for All Artists website which was to recreate a still life of cherries in pastels.

I had a hoak through my art supply cupboard and lo and behold I still had the small box of pastels and the last few pages of a pastel paper sketchbook that I've had since school (that's over 25 years! )

Anyway I spent about 2 hours on this and I remembered exactly why I haven't used pastels since my school days - they are incredibly messy for one thing and that chalky feeling on my fingertips kind of sets my teeth on edge. 

More crucially though,  I feel like I have very little control over them and as someone used to adding lots and lots of tiny details to my paintings that was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone.

It was an interesting exercise though, both in using a medium I'm not very familiar or comfortable with and also in drawing a subject that I would never normally consider. 

I think I'm going to make it a regular exercise just to test my artistic mettle although I'll set myself a time limit of a few hours for each painting/drawing/whatever rather than the multiple sessions each of my paintings normally take.

I may even dig out the dreaded oils again. Who knows,  I may discover I can emulate the wonderful loose brush stroke-y style I admire if I'm restricted to completing a piece in just a few hours.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Soulful - Horse's eye in gouache

Souful Horse's eye in gouache NicseARTh
'Soulful' - Horse's eye in gouache 33 x 22.5cm

So, I promised myself this year that I'd spent my time online more productively and what with all the parcels arriving on a pretty much daily basis, you can't argue that I haven't been productive in my online shopping habit.  However, I mean more along the lines of making money from selling my art than spending money on must have items on Ebay!

With that in mind, I googled how to add SEO (search engine optimisation) to my blog in the simplest way possible - I'm many things but technically savvy enough to write computer code is not one of them.  

So, I learnt that as far as pictures on your blog are concerned, if you want them picked up by search engines then it's actually really very easy - right click on the picture and click on 'properties' then give the picture a title which sums up what it is 'Horse's eye painted in gouache ought to do it for this one. Then if anyone happens to search for an image of a horse's eye this picture has a good chance of being in the results - another way for folk who might not otherwise come across your blog to discover your work. 

Also the title of your blog posts is important if you want the search engines to notice you.  So, no more trying to be inventive or intriguing with my titles.  Instead, I will be calling a spade, a spade (or an effing shovel as they say in my home town) and my title will literally say what the post is about - in this case, my most recent painting in gouache of a close up of a horse's amazingly beautiful eye. 

This is taken from a really lovely reference photo on Paint My Photo taken by Ruth Archer and it has a sad story attached to it. The horse in the photo was called Humphrey, he'd been extremely ill and the weekend the photo was taken was unfortunately his last.  When I saw the photo, even before I knew the sad story behind it, I knew I wanted to paint it. As anyone who knows me knows, animals' eyes are my 'thing' - I just adore the depth and soul reflected back at us and this one was so very beautiful.

As my friend Sandra would say, this is another of those distance paintings (that is, it looks better from a distance!)

Here are the stages it went through:

Session 1 - 18 Feb 14

Session 2 - 20 Feb 14

Session 3 - 23 Feb 14

Session 4 - 25 Feb 14

Session 5 - 26 Feb 14

Session 6 - 2 Mar 14

Session 7 - 3 Mar 14

Session 8 - 7 Mar 14

Session 9 - 8 Mar 14

Session 10 - 9 Mar 14 - final piece

I worked at each session for between 2 - 4 hours even though it looks like very little has changed between some of these pictures - there were many, many layers of hair!

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