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Tue, 30 Sep 2014
Glasgow 2014
# 08:06 in ./general

I couldn't visit the Kelvingrove Museum again last week because, having got a train and then a bus, on getting there I came up to a sign telling me it was closed today "for a private event". This turned out to be some Ryder Cup thing.

The disappointment turned out to have a silver lining however because I decided to walk the 20 minutes over the River Kelvin and up to the university, braving a busy freshers week to have a look at the Hunterian museum and gallery.

What a lucky turn of events in fact! The museum and university was a very interesting find and, with so many fresh faces about, it was easy to have a good look and not stick out.

Glasgow University has some history, going back to the 15th Century, amd some of its buildings certainly have the historic feel, including the cloisters shown to the right.

On the left, the extremely beautiful and ornate staircase leading to the museum. The sun was streaming through the equally ornate windows giving the whole room a slightly magical feel, dust motes and all.

The museum itself is a classic old-style type, like the National Museum in Edinburgh, full of artifacts and curiosities, including a lot of Roman archaeology from digs at the Antonine Wall and medical oddities from William Hunter's collection.

Below: Roman shoes (man, woman,child) from the Bar Hill fort at Kirkintilloch, East Dumbartonshire.

On the other side of the road is the Hunterian Art Gallery, home to a small but good collection of paintings and drawings from the renaissance to modern times.

They have a lovely Chardin. On the right "A Lady Taking Tea", painted in 1735.

From the notes :

When Hunter acquired this painting, he is unlikely to have been aware of its exceptional place within the artist's career. Today Lady taking Tea is considered one of Chardin's greatest achievements. Its simplicity, composition and subtle balance of few colour accents embody the painter's very personal contribution to French genre painting.

The more Chardin I see, the more I appreciate him.

Plus some very good Scottish colourist paintings.

On the right, John Duncan Fergusson, Spring in Glasgow, 1942.

Overall, a very civilised day out and worth another visit.

Thu, 25 Sep 2014
Edinburgh 2014
# 08:28 in ./general

I'm in Edinburgh just now and doing what I usually do when I'm up here visiting friends and family: check out the galleries and museums!

American Impressionism

The Museum of Modern Art has a good show on American Impressionism. Most of the artists are new to me but they hold their own against the French greats. A few Monet's were also on display, as well as some Mary Cassatt works.

Some very good paintings and very well laid out. I especially liked the twelve small "haystacks" surrounded by a large central painting by John Leslie Breck. Inspired by the Monet classic, it's quite a beautiful sight, especially the lighting and arrangement. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed in the exhibition!

There were a lot of other artists represented here that were also very good. I bought the book and will try and mention more of them here.


The National Portrait Gallery has a Ruskin exhibition. Better known as an art critic and writer, Ruskin was also a good artist, particularly drawings and watercolours of mountains, buildings and even geology.

John Byrne

Also at the Portrait Gallery is a small show of pictures by John Byrne. I'd never heard of him until a few weeks ago when I came across a BBC program on You Tube called What do Artists Do All Day? Liking what I saw, I was looking forward to seeing his work in real life and it was well worth it. Large, colourful and accomplished pictures, many self-portraits.

Tesco Prize

Finally, I saw this small picture at the main National Gallery, part of a Tesco art prize for children. Bethany MacDonald draws a girl dancing. It's a good picture but I liked the way she's drawn the little face and hand poking round the curtain at the back, watching the performance!

This is for the Primary 4 to Primary 7 group, and she goes to the Flora Stevenson Primary School. More here.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014
Scottish Landscape
# 08:24 in ./art

Another week and another painting exercise to bore people with! Not that I'm actually managing to spend a lot of time painting really. Every little seems to count though.

My latest is another from Will Kemp, this time a course, bought and downloaded.

The finished painting completed a week ago - a Scottish island landscape (click for a larger version) :

This is actually the second of two I did of the subject because I messed up the sky in the first version and started again (since "fixed, see below). The second stage of the painting was an optional addition of some "vibrancy" to the sky (which worked well) but the last stage started by toning it down again, which I screwed up (clouds went badly wrong, "plastic") ...

OK clouds (before my last stage) :

Turn into ... bad clouds ...

They turned much worse as I tried to fix them, the acrylic making the surface turn quite "plastic" as I covered the canvas and lost its traction. I put the entire painting aside in (temporary) disgust ...

I "fixed" the sky in the first version later whilst doing the second version :

Once again, I'm fairly happy with the outcome, although it was a bit up and down. I have to stress "fairly" there however because it didn't turn out as good as I hoped.

I found the hardest part being the clump of houses on the right, the layout and geometry of the roofs and walls. I couldn't get it quite right even though the drawing looked OK. Maybe my brushes were too big? But then Kemp's a believer in using larger brushes! Then again, it's not a photograph and it doesn't matter too much - it's impressionist.

Also, I find it hard not to paint to the tutor rather than the actual subject of the painting, paying more attention to what the teacher's doing than the reference picture. Hard to avoid in this sort of situation really but you don't always need to do everything they need to do really.

Right now it's a positive to follow the course whatever the style because the aim is to learn the basics and feel comfortable with the medium, but it's hard not to stray. In past years (long past!), I was much more of a detail person, so struggle not to jump in and get too involved too soon (as Kemp warns against).

One thing I noticed this time around was how hard it is to calibrate the colour between the computer/tablet screen and my inkjet printer for the reference photo. I used a tablet to display the reference in the end because I just couldn't get proper colours printed. This is very like the problems cinema film colourists face when grading films.

I'm enjoying all of this so far anyway, even though it's frustrating sometimes. When it all comes together it's absolutely great. Art's the incessant search for the sublime, as someone like John Ruskin might have said. Or at least something you can give as a present without embarrassment.

Mon, 15 Sep 2014
Learning to Sit Still
# 20:13 in ./books

I read a very good short article by the author Tim Parks online in The Guardian the other day. It takes about 5 minutes to read, and is well worth the time. Have a look, it's funny as well :

This is more than medicine.

Parks is an atheist and a sceptic and as an author he lives with words, "in his head" (as he says). He also believes in the rational fruits of science and the scientific method, thinks too much perhaps, maybe the classic over-thinking. He also has a serious problem with chronic pain in his "pelvic floor", something that had been plaguing him for years. In the end, medical science seemed to be doing nothing for him, however much he tried and the diagnosis for his chronic pain seemingly the null result: they can't find anything wrong.

Approaching despair, a serendipitous discovery led him to try healing himself with a relaxation technique (showing some surprising promise), which in turn led him to massage (shiatzu), finally leading him to try meditation. Parks doesn't believe in any "new age", or spirituality, in fact he's dismissive of it all. But by the end of his journey, he's quite a changed person.

His book is called Teach Us To Sit Still and I bought it on the strength of the article.

It really is one of the best and (in the end) most profound books I've read, entertaining as well as philosophical. People will wince (especially men) at some of the medical descriptions (with pictures unfortunately), but it's so well written, and funny, that you keep turning the pages. As becomes fairly plain in the book, Park's seems to "tussle" with himself, a far from relaxed man. The book is his argument with himself as he discovers what it is to relax and "let go".

I've been sitting, trying to do a daily meditation since the start of the year. I've read about the benefits of doing mindfulness meditation but a book like this is fantastic in showing the journey someone might take when doing the practice. As Tim Parks shows, it can be life-changing.

The book is highly rated on Amazon, with a lot of people describing how good a read it is. I completely agree.

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