Art and the local landscape

A pencil sketch of a Blackface sheep taken high on a crag on the Isle of SkyeHere we are at the end of January already and the doings of winter are going ahead with vigour in the community. The one winter weekly activity I am involved in is the Country Dancing Club which started up again as soon as it decently could after Christmas. The short educational courses run by Assynt Community Education – a very worthy body if ever there was one – have also got started. I know that there are knitting and pottery courses under way, but I have my name down for the art course which will run – as it did last year – in May, in the hopes that there will be a chance to get out and about with our sketch pads.

This is a wonderful place for artists! The clear air and the light are in my opinion perfect. Of course there are those who prefer the warmer, steamier light of the south of France for instance – as did the Impressionists – but I just love the clear light we have here. And the colours in the sea – which is pure, clean, Atlantic water – are fantastic at any time of year ranging as they do from a clear turquoise to a steely, stormy grey with white horses flying with the wind.

Today, the sea was a brilliant blue, reflecting the paler, winter blue of the sky. As I walked over to Badnaban – just twenty minutes along the wee road – I was reflecting on the colours around me. The grass looks a very pale green now and had a good covering of frost, sparkling white in the shady places. The pale, yellowy green of the grass contrasts wonderfully with the stronger, darker green of the gorse – or whin as it is known up here. Here and there a yellow flower peeked out of the whin bushes, a promise of the spring to come. The white of the lichens on the rocks and stones looked almost like patches of snow, and the pale, pale green of the lichen which grows on the trees looked almost ghostly in the bright light. I really enjoyed my walk today…

Yesterday, I was up in Clachtoll visiting my friend, Fiona – we were having a sort of “arty” morning over a cup of coffee, which is what has inspired me to write about such things today in this blog post. The weather also helps! On a day like today, it would be wonderful to be out there sketching – from the warmth of a car!! In summer of course, we do get a chance to get out there for a while from time to time, and on a calm sunny day, when the midges are hiding from the sun, it is a delight – but I have to admit that we don’t get a lot of days like that! Now that I know the secret of keeping the dreaded midge at bay – i.e. a daily dose of a garlic pearl and Vitamin B1 pill – I hope I will be able to get out even on overcast days because they can actually be every bit as interesting as sunny days from an artist’s point of view.

Not that I have any claims at all about being an artist!! I am very much at the start of my journey which I hope one day will turn me into being at least competent with a pencil. I say pencil because that is the medium I find I like. Fiona on the other hand is a great water-colourist and also loves to use ink in a very free fashion. I completely envy her confidence – I am a long way off that!! I have included one or two of my efforts at drawing the landscape round here on previous blog posts (for example, the Kirk in Lochinver or my rendition of the Split Rock) – not very inspiring I hear you mutter – but I have no apologies about doing it again! I have included these not terribly good drawings because I want to show the wealth of subject matter there is to reproduce in an area such as this. OK, we don’t have picturesque villages, wind mills, old churches or beautiful old barns – but what we do have is well worth painting. Today I wished I had my sketch book with me and the competence to draw the small herd of deer I saw just as I turned down the road to Badnaban – the hinds were lying down enjoying the sun while a couple of stags were grazing quietly nearby. For someone able to sketch quickly, they would have made a wonderful subject.

Sketch of a house in InverkirkaigThe reflections in the lochs and lochans are amazing in this sort of weather. Most of the lochs I have passed in my travels over the last couple of days have been covered in skim ice, and are of course absolutely still. The reflections this phenomenon causes are completely different from the mirror reflections of those calm days when there is neither ice nor wind on the lochs. These reflections are sort of muted – matt if you like – with a cold, Christmas-cake icing sort of tincture to them – at least that is how they appear to me…

So what do we have here to offer the artist? Well, the big mountains of course, and our mountains are very distinctive, rising singly out of the ground as they do – deeply old and craggy. Then there are the lower hills which sort of band together and flow into each other. Then there are trees – lots of them in sheltered spots as in the woods, but where they grow more sparsely, they make an excellent subject – a lonely skeletal tree on a blasted heath, what could be more romantic a subject than that! And of course there is lots and lots of water…

An outdoor stone wall...... and an indoor stone wallRocks and rock walls make a wonderful subject for drawing – I like using a Conti pencil for that – a Conti pencil being a sort of a cross between a pencil and a stick of charcoal, which is brilliant for shading in the dark places between in stones. We also do have picturesque bridges – after all General Wade with his road and bridge building did get this far north after the Battle of Culloden! Our beaches too make wonderful subjects – some are rock and some golden sand – or in the case of Clashnessie beach, finely ground shells – but all have craggy shore lines with lots of interest, and of course wonderful sunsets on a fine day.

Never mind the sheep and/or chickens, colourful boats in the harbour or on the foreshore and those fantastic decorated rocks…!

As an (I hope) incipient artist, I personally have barely started to scratch the surface of what there is to depict around here. We have resident artists of course – I have mentioned Mary King who has the “Picture Shack” in the village, and there is John Fielder who I gather has a reputation further afield, and I know there are others – but I have never seen anyone sitting outside, sketch pad on knee, as you do in other picturesque places like Kirkcudbright or the Mull of Kintyre – or indeed the West Country of England – all of which are well-known for their artists. Maybe it’s just that proper artists are so able to draw a quick sketch that I have never actually seen them do it! And maybe here people are too worried about the weather or the midges and choose just to take a photograph and go home to paint the subject in the comfort of their studio or sitting room. That seems a pity when this is such a peaceful, extraordinary area where one can sit out on a rock in the sun and really get the feel of the place. I am hoping this year that the art class can get out and about to draw – last May the weather was so bad that we were only able to sit in cars to draw while Mary got soaked running between us!

So, my message to all those out there who enjoy picking up a pencil, pen or paint brush – when you come here, don’t forget to pack them and a folding chair and then, when you get a suitable day, just go and enjoy…

A sketch of a sketch - the islets in Loch Assynt

[Art works by Clarinda]

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18 Responses to Art and the local landscape

  1. Steve Bishop says:

    Dear Clarinda-As a retired teacher I spend a great amount of time reading accounts of life in spectacular places that I have seen or have a desire to visit.In reading your accounts I was amazed that you mentioned a gentleman who is dear to me.My wife and I spend half of the year in Florida and the rest of the time here in New Hampshire.On our living room wall in Florida is a beautiful painting done by John Fielder.I was the academic advisor for both of his children who attended our school.His ex – wife continues to live in the village in which the school is located.John’s picture of a Scottish locale will forever remain in its place of honor .To us it is truly beautiful as are your accounts. Steve Bishop. Greenland,NH

  2. Clarinda says:

    Dear Mr Bishop,

    Thank you very much for your comment and kind words. I envy you your painting!!

    You will be pleased to know that John Fielder is still around albeit getting on in years. He walks between his home in Achmelvic and the shops in Lochinver on a regular basis wearing his distinctive leather hat and if you can give in a lift, he will give you a pack of postcards of his paintings, which is always very welcome. We will miss him when he is no longer with us!

    Best regards


  3. caroline hayes says:

    I notice you mention John Fielder on your blog. I’m just wondering if he is the artist who was once a Youth Hostel Warden at Carn Dearg on the shore of Loch Gairloch. I stayed there with my parents in the late 50s and early 60s and was very taken with his work as displayed on the walls. I’ve been looking for a mention of him off and on ever since and this is the first time I’ve even seen the name. when i was at the hostel I was given to understand that he had submitted a picture for the RA summer exhibition, but apart from his coming originally from Yorkshire, I know nothing else.

    • Clarinda says:

      From what you say about the John Fielder you knew of in the ’50s and ’60s, I am 99% sure it would be one and the same person.
      I don’t know a lot about the John Fielder who lives here – but I do know that he submitted a work to the Royal Academy a few years ago and considering his age now, I would be very surprised if there was another artist of the same name and generation – and living in roughly the same locale! I also believe that the gentleman concerned was originally from Yorkshire.

      I have to say that I too like his art and as he gives a pack of postcards of his pictures to anyone who gives him a lift when he needs it, I have a good few examples – albeit in postcard form!

  4. Liz Dyer says:

    Long ago I knew John Fielder quite well. He is from Barnsley, Yorkshire, and was initially warden of the Achnashellach Youth Hostel, moving to Carn Dearg in the early 60s and handing Ach over to Dave Goulder whom I later met and married. John married Jane Carver in 1966 and they wardened Carn Dearg together until John retired and restored a croft at Big Sand where both their children were born. Dave and I ran an independent hostel in Glen Torridon and acted as a gallery for John, selling a lot of his paintings and drawings. We sit up when our lease expired and Dave restored a derelict croft on John’s land, which was destroyed by an arsonist in the 1970s along with our collection of John’s pictures. I have not seen John in many years but am still in touch with Dave.

  5. John Ryden says:

    Yup thats John Feilder all right. I got to know him back in the 60’s through Dave & Liz Goulder at Glen Cottage in Torridon. Subsequently I stopped with John & Jane at their Big Sand croft when writing my Uni thesis, then after many years ran into John at Achmelvich. He was living in one caravan & painting in another! I guess that was 2006?? He’d taken to using his bus pass to go shopping in Ullapool – fantastic!
    My mum still has one of his paintings on her front room wall.

    • Clarinda says:

      Hello John,

      Thank you for your comment and sorry it has taken some time to respond, but Christmas and lack of internet connection for nearly a month didn’t facilitate matters much!

      I thought you’d be interested to know that life hasn’t changed much for John. He still takes the bus to Ullapool – he can be seen at the bus stop in his unmistakeable hat in all weathers! – goes marching up the steps to be bank like a man half his age; and still carries his shopping back to Achmelvic – although he will take a lift if it’s offered! He continues to live in a caravan in Achmelvic and although I don’t think he paints now, I have it on reasonable authority that he still keeps a studio in another.

      I just hope he is coping in his caravan in the 100+ mile an hour winds we have been experiencing recently…!

  6. Rod Robertson says:

    This could be the same John Fielder I’ve been trying to find. Does anyone know whether ‘your’ John Fielder is the same.. a couple of years ago I stumbled across a lovely drawing of a girl dressed in 19th century style walking down the steps at The Vennel, next to Brown’s Close in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. The drawing shows the tight Vennel with Edinburgh Castle in the background. It’s signed John Fielder ’73.

    I had to buy it, from a 2nd-hand rehousing charity in Edinburgh, out of a pile of their pictures, as I have relatives who lived there going back into the 18th and early 19th century. We’ve since emulated the drawing, taking photos in the same spot 🙂

    Could this be the same JH, did he spend time in Edinburgh in the early 70s? Does JH have more pics on a website anywhere and does anyone know whether he did any more drawings of Edinburgh?

    The JH above sounds a true man of the world, lovely words about him 🙂

    • Rod Robertson says:

      Please excuse my writing JH above when it should be JF!

    • Clarinda says:

      Hello Rod,

      Thank you for your comment – sorry it has taken so long to reply, but a combination of Christmas holidays and no internet for nearly a month rather got in the way!

      I am sorry but I can’t be much help to you. I don’t know JF’s work well enough to know for sure whether or not he ever lived and worked in Edinburgh. All I do know is that he seems to have been based in the Highlands one way or another for most of his working life.

      I only know his work from the pack of cards he gave me in return for giving him a lift once. These are mostly land/seascapes – some are of house interiors or exteriors, basically of the local type of “black house”, and very few contain people. None are cityscapes…

      I just “googled” his name and got no information worth mentioning – and none to do with the JF we know and love – so I can understand your frustration and am sorry I can’t be of more help.

  7. John Ryden says:

    In ’73 the John Feilder was living & painting at Big Sand near Gairloch in Wester Ross. I’ve only seen his highland landscapes & Tolkein themed paintings. The couple running the craft shop above Achmelvich circa 2006 knew him in more recent times.
    One of life’s characters, long may he be on the back of the beach!

  8. Lynda McLeod says:

    My husband and I have known John Fielder for many years. I had a caravan beside his in Achmelvich for many years. We have about 19 of John’s paintings. I bough my first one in 1988. John did do the girl in the Venn el. He had a gallery in the New Town Edinburgh in the early 70s

    • Clarinda says:

      Hello Lynda,

      Thank you for your message and I am very happy to know that it was indeed John Fielder who painted the girl in the Vennel. I envy you your collection of his work!


  9. Macleod says:

    I’m afraid to say that John died yesterday in Achmelvich. Sorry to be bearer of bad news

  10. Jane Mallalieu says:

    a great man who was respected by many and who also had great respect for his neighbours in Achmelvich. (Willy Macleod… as we rounded the corner by your house, he murmured his fondness for you. “He is a gentleman”. I just gave him a lift last Monday and, although devastated, will remember his lesson to me, to look for the beauty in the world.)

  11. Sherie Greer says:

    I was looking for any pictures painted by my great uncle John Fielder and came across your blog. Can I just say it has been so heartwarming to read all the comments about him. It was only recently I got to know about him from his sister getting in touch with me and wished I’de had the opportunity to meet him.

  12. Linda says:

    Can anyone email me a photograph of John Fielder. I came up to Lochinver last week April 2016 and was saddened to hear of his death. I knew him in the 80’s and can I find a photograph… unfortunately… No! Can you help? Linda

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