Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Endangered+Rhino+Vanishing+Impasto+Acrylic+Vibrant+Colour+Nic's eARTh
'Vanishing' - impasto acrylic on box canvas 70cm x 50cm

This is my submission for this year's David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year competition. Last year I had not long discovered the joys of gouache and used it to create a realistic portrait of an orang-utan. I was really pleased with it at the time even though unfortunately it wasn't shortlisted.

This year's piece couldn't be more different. Firstly I had to decide which animal I wanted to paint. I had a look through all the photos S and I have taken over the years of trips to wildlife parks and zoos with his son (unfortunately zoos are a necessary evil for obtaining reference photos until such times as I can afford to go on an actual safari).

close up+impasto+acrylic+pointillism+texture+impressionism+Nic's eARTh
A close up showing the thickness of the paint - it's practically a sculpture!

Anyway, as luck would have it,there was a great photo of a rhino that S had taken which was perfect as I really wanted to paint an endangered animal (there are several different categories but that is always the category that speaks loudest to me) so I was especially pleased to have the chance to paint one of the most critically endangered animals on the planet ('Pleased' isn't the right word as I'd be more pleased if there were no endangered animals at all but I'm sure you know what I mean).

Rhino horn+Close up+Impasto Acrylic+Texture+Vibrant Colour+Nic's eARTh
Close up of the Rhino's horn - does NOT improve sexual prowess

Because I was painting such a large animal, I wanted to use a large canvas and decided on a lovely chunky box canvas measuring 70cm x 50cm (27.5 x 19.7 inches for my friend Carol!) Instead of painting a purely representational painting of a rhino this time, I thought it was important to get across the fact that they are vanishing from the planet so I wanted to have him literally disappering into thin air against the backdrop of a starry night. Hopefully this is pretty self-explanatory to anyone looking at it.

It's no great surprise that this year's entry was always going to be full of vibrant colour and texture so I used an impasto technique with a palette knife and mixed acrylic modelling paste into the paint to give it more body (and to help it go further - the only downside to loving oodles of thick texture is the amount of paint I actually go through!)

close up+impasto+acrylic+impressionism+vibrant art+rhino's eye+Nic's eARTh
A close up of the texture around the eye

Ironically, a couple of days after I finished the painting there was a news article about how there are now only 5 Northern White Rhinos left in the world (all of them in captivity or in secure conservation parks). The photo I used was of a Southern White Rhino but they're only slightly better off, numbering about 20,000. It's crazy to think that we've done this to so many animals for no reason other than human greed and once they're gone, they're gone for good.

vibrant+impressionism+colourist+Scottish+Landscape+texture+Nic's eARTh
'Happiness and Joy' - teeny landscape 7.5cm x 7.5cm (just under 3x3 inches)

In other more cheerful news, this is a teeny tiny landscape I posted on my Facebook page last week to brighten an otherwise dreary, dreich day. I asked for suggestions for the title and got a whole 2 responses - 'Happiness' and 'Joy' - which I thought were very appropriate as that's exactly what I wanted this wee piece to evoke in the viewer so I decided to call it both! This piece is available in my Etsy shop for the bargainous price of £15.00 plus postage.

Putting it into perspective

So, fingers and toes crossed that my rhino might make it through the shortlisting process this year but if not, he'll find a safe home on our living room wall - I'm quite fond of him.

Thank you as always for popping by and leaving me comments - they are always greatly appreciated. I'll see you all at Paint Party Friday on er, Friday!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Boris, a pet portrait, snow and other stuff...

chocolate labrador+dog+pet
'Boris' - acrylic on box canvas 5 x 5 inches

This gorgeously serious looking chap is another of the pet portraits I was commissioned to do as a surprise Christmas present. The feedback I got was that the recipient was delighted with it and will be purchasing a small easel so he can take pride of place in the hallway of her home so everyone visiting can see him!

chocolate labrador+pet portrait+Nic's eARTh
The original photograph and Boris' portrait. 

In other art news, I am working on several different paintings at the same time which is my absolute favourite thing - I get to switch around between landscapes and animals and between large canvasses measuring 70cm x 50cm and tiny ones measuring 7.5cm x 7.5cm! I've just finished my entry to this year's Wildlife Artist of the Year competition and am working on some large landscapes for an exhibition in March that's been organised for the committee members of the Society of Caithness Artists (I'm the current secretary on the committee). I think this is the first time this sort of exhibition has been organised as it's usually just the annual exhibition in the summer that all the members of the Society take part in so hopefully, if it goes well, this one just for committee members might also become an annual event. 

This is a very close up sneaky peek of one
of my work in progress paintings -
any idea what it might be?

In non-art news, the snow we had last week disappeared after a couple of days but not before we went to Melvich Beach which is at the bottom of a short, but sloped, dirt track and then spent an hour trying to get the car back up it again as it turned out it was frozen solid under the snow - let's just say nerves were frayed as was the car mat that S had to put under the front tyre to get a bit of grip, over and over and over until we finally made it to the top of the hill!

Melvich Beach in the snow before 'frozen track-gate'

The snow did then reappear on Saturday which just happened to be the 2nd anniversary of our move to the far north of Scotland. We had the most magical, snowy walk around Baillie Wind Farm with deep snow underfoot and big soft flakes falling gently all around us. It was perfect. Of course, later that same day the snow turned to sleet and normal rainy service has since resumed!

Baillie Wind Farm

Baillie Wind
Baillie Wind Farm 

Brodie wearing her red coat so she doesn't disappear in the snow!

Wrapped up for the elements at Baillie Wind Farm 

That's all from the far north for this week. I'll be popping over to Paint Party Friday to see what adventures (artistic and otherwise) other folk have been having this week.  

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Life imitating art & the week that was Scotstorm.

Scottish Landscape+Mountains+Snow+Impressionism+Vibrant+Acrylic+Nic McLean
'Dance along the light of day' - acrylic on 7.5cm x 7.5cm canvas

Yesterday, I wondered if I had some secret superpower – the ability to conjure something up simply by painting a picture of it. I was painting another teeny landscape inspired by the hills I can see from our sun room window. For some reason I was drawn to paint them covered in snow and, not two hours later, there was actual snow falling all around us! We woke up today to a winter wonderland (so I can now officially stop complaining that we’ve not had snow in the 3 winters that we’ve been living here). I’m going to test the theory of my super painting powers by painting some £50 notes to see if they might also materialise (hope springs eternal!)

So apart from the snow that’s been a crazy few weather days in the UK, huh?

Thursday night last week we had 100mph winds up here in the far north of Scotland and we were very lucky that the only damage our wee cottage suffered was a few lost roof tiles and the collapse of part of a dry stone wall in our paddock thanks to a neighbouring tree crashing into it.

S took advantage of a lull in the storm to fix the roof before the winds started up again on Friday afternoon so we didn’t lose any more in round two of #Scotstorm.

Scottish Landscape+Art+Impressionism+Nic McLean
My mini painting posing in the actual snow! 
£15.00 plus £3.90 UK Postage


We also learnt just how reliant we are on electricity and electronic gadgets. No heat, no hot water, no mobile phone reception (although that’s not unusual up here anyway), no TV, no house phone as they require electricity (luckily we had an old fashioned non-digital phone that we were able to use to phone our families to find out what was happening in the outside world!), no WiFi so (sharp intake of breath) no internet - I even had to resort to reading an old fashioned book made out of paper as kindles are only as good as the power that recharges them!

This was the view from our sun room this morning

Never have we been more grateful for the wood burning stove S installed before Christmas as we were warm and toasty in the living room as we sat in companionable silence reading said paperback books by the glow of our head torches. It was quite cosy and fun the first day what with S cooking meals on his camping stove which we ate on our laps while the dogs dozed in front of the fire. By day two however I had the Geordie voice-over man from Big Brother providing a running commentary in my head as the novelty wore off (Day two and Nicola still can't wash her hair) and the prospect of a second day without hot water and internet access did not fill me with joy.

Just to put the size in perspective

Thankfully power was restored to Craggis Cottage by tea time on Saturday (and we were the lucky ones, some of the folk up around here had no power for 4 days!) So, Saturday night saw us with normal service resumed - sitting in front of the TV complaining that there was nothing good on and scrolling through our phones to see what we’d missed on Facebook and realising that, actually, we’d missed very little!

I didn’t get to link with Paint Party Friday last week because of said weather shenanigans so I’ll try again this week.

Now, I’m off to paint some money…

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lexie. A pet portrait in gouache.

Golden Retriever+dog+pet portrait+gouache+Nic's eARTh
'Lexie' - Gouache on A3 (29.7 x 42 cm) watercolour paper.

It seems like a really long time since I painted anything in gouache. In fact, before being commissioned to paint Lexie, the last time I used gouache was for the leaf painting that nabbed me first place in the GreatArt competition back in July 2014. 

This was on A3 watercolour paper which I soaked and stretched on a drawing board before starting to minimise buckling which, thankfully it did.

Work in progress - photo courtesy of Lexie's people. 

Lexie was my first ever local commission for a pet portrait. Thanks to S blowing my artistic trumpet to his work colleagues, I was asked to paint Lexie as a surprise Christmas present. The person who commissioned me was delighted with the outcome when S gave it to him and said that I'd captured Lexie's expression perfectly which is always good feedback to get. 

As for gouache, initially I loved it for getting detail in realistic paintings but now I'd quite like to try some colourful impressionistic landscapes like the ones I've been doing in acrylic. I have a whole bunch of mounts and backing board in different sizes so it would be good to find a use for them. 

At the moment though I'm working on a large acrylic painting which, if it turns out the way I hope it will, is going to be my entry to this year's David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year competition. I think it'll be very different from my entry last year, a little less replicating what I see and a little more trying to represent an idea on canvas. It'll either work or it won't but right now I'm at the hopeful stage!

pet portraits+dogs+acrylic+gouache+Nicola McLean+Nic's eARTh
Lexie with some of the other dogs I painted in 2014

My head is overflowing with ideas at the moment. Whether they translate on paper or canvas is, of course an entirely different matter but rather too much inspiration than none at all, I say.

Speaking to some of my other artist friends it seems they're in a similar position - bubbling over with fresh ideas - it's a good time to be an artist! I'll be linking up with them at Paint Party Friday to find out how folk are putting those ideas into practice. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Be bold, be brave, be daring...

First things, first.  Happy New Year to everyone - I wish you a year of colour and light. 

'With a million stars all around' - impasto acrylic on canvas 132cm x 45.5cm

This is a painting I've been working on here and there for quite some time. It was always intended to go above our fireplace and I finally finished over the Christmas holidays. It's the largest painting I've done so far measuring in at 132cm x 45.5cm and I discovered that it is incredibly difficult to get a decent photo of this size of canvas especially with the lack of daylight at this time of the year this far north. The finished piece, like most of my art these days, is very different from how it started out but I'm happy with it and it's now in situ in our living room. I've called it 'With a million stars all around' in another nod to my favourite band.

In situ

The title of this post was the catchphrase of Simone de Pury on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist. For the full effect it needs to be said in an exaggerated 'Allo Allo' style french accent. 

close up+Northern Lights+night sky+impressionism+Nic's eARTh
Close up sky texture
It was actually S who suggested it as the title of my first blog post of 2015 because, as folk are prone to do as another year full of abandoned resolutions comes to end, we'd been discussing all the things we'd both like to achieve in the next year and how we need to be more daring and bold in going after the things that we want.

impressionism+vibrant+acrylic+landscapes+Nic's eARTh
Close up land and sea texture
On a personal level we both want to get fitter - S used to run marathons but over the last few years we've both become rather more rotund than we used to be - I guess it's the only downside of happiness - I was always much thinner when I was miserable!!

impressionism+ocean+northern lights reflections+Nic's eARTh
Close up sea texture

So the plan is he's going to sign up for a marathon at some point in the second part of 2015 and then he's got something to work towards. I don't think I'm ever going to be a marathon runner but I might perhaps sign up for a 10k (watch this space!)

impressionism+colourist+landscape+vibrant+Nic's eARTh
Close up land texture

As well as painting rainbow colours I intend to eat rainbows as well - for a vegan, I currently eat a shockingly bad diet - too much beige food and not enough colourful food so the plan is to start actually using the many vegan cook books I have and cutting out the packaged food (once we eat our way through the excessive amount I bought for Christmas!)I also need to buy a new slow cooker after melting the bottom of our existing one (I was trying to heat up a saucepan of mulled wine and turned the wrong stove top ring on - I hadn't even been drinking at that point!!)

I must love those colours - even my jumper matches!

Artistically, I want to continue on the colourful path I started on last year and plan to spend my time online in an altogether more productive way - sourcing new galleries to approach, finding out about more art competitions that I can take part in, perhaps finding another painting workshop to attend in Scotland and using the Creative Your Shining Life 2015 Workbook by Leonie Dawson which Kirstin recommended recently on her blog. I've got it saved to the desktop of the shiny new laptop that my thoughtful husband bought me for Christmas so I can work through it easily and make a more definite plan of how I want to paint the whole world with a rainbow!

Have you made any resolutions for yourself and your art in 2015 and how do you plan to stick to them?

I'm linking to Paint Party Friday. If you haven't already, pop by to see the wide variety of art that everyone brings to the party each week. 


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