Water colours

I have a beautiful book: cloth-covered and filled with photographs and a few heartfelt words. It is ‘Brighter Later’ by Brian David Stevens. His images are of the sea and are presented in pairs. In most of them there is no land to be seen save a pale smear of beach, though some have birds and a few are streaked by groynes. Each square photograph, taken with great skill and care, has a twin; not an identical brother or sister but one that is ever so slightly and lightly different in its perspective. They remind me of my student days peering through stereoscopic lenses at paired black and white photographs. Those ‘practical’, pre-satellite geography lessons showed how, through the miracle of photography coupled with polished glass, two-dimensional flat images could be transformed into a strangely satisfying 3-D rolling landscape.

Somehow Stevens’ pictures, taken over the course of a year from around the UK coast, have given me a similar stereoscopic unsettling (you can find his work here: http://briandavidstevens.com/albums/pFVx2/brighter-later) . His captured views look out at the sea and sky, something I do myself every day. They are unusual because there are no seaside towns, piers or people; rather, they are crammed with clouds and water, waves and mists. Their altered perspectives persuade the viewer to retrieve memories of looking out to sea; it is almost possible to feel the salty air and hear the swash of water. And they remind us of what we do more often than not when visiting the coast: we gaze outwards to horizons, to watch the waters, assess weather conditions and, maybe for a short time, simply pause.

I live close to the gentle waters of the Inner Sound and the turbulences of the Minches. The sea is my daily companion and at the top of a small cliff close to our croft I pause and attempt to judge sea state and cloud types, and the likelihood of rain. And, wind strength permitting, if I can stand, I’ll take a photograph.

I started recording cloud and sea colours because I wanted to paint. I had been introduced to the works of American painter Jon Schueler who stayed for a while at Mallaig. He lived and worked in small cottage overlooking the Sound of Sleat, a vibrant stretch of water that runs between the Morar coast and Isle of Skye. His paintings were mostly of sea and sky, often horizon-less, yet filled with rich colours, and I became fascinated by what and how he was seeing these landless places. He, like Stevens, always looked outwards, away from land and at times his paintings are unsettling for their lack of grounding, of earth. He wrote at length about the lure of the sea and how, in trying to understand light and colour, became certain only ocean and atmosphere could teach him. His output was prodigious. And so, with Schueler’s paintings in mind, I tried to catch the elusive colours of sea and sky in watercolour and acrylics. Inexperience with paint prompted photography; if I took a photograph, I reasoned, I would at least be able to reproduce the colours I was seeing.

When I received ‘Brighter Later’ as a Christmas gift I was enchanted and remembered then my Schueler-sea-sky-pictures, taken from the same cliff-top spot.

Here are just a few. They are undoctored; colours, tone and texture are as captured by my old camera. They are cup-filled with water in almost all near-oceanic and atmospheric states: liquid and aerosol, mist, cloud, wave, slick sea surface and mysterious haar. There is stillness and motion, calm and quiet fury; there are horizons and yet in some, no discernible edges at all. They are paint-filled with vibrancy and colour: blue, green, grey, purple, pink, orange, yellow, silver, magenta and even near-black.

I am emboldened and will try brush on canvas again.

About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
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12 Responses to Water colours

  1. itsanamartaa says:

    I love all the photos you’ve shared!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alisondunlop says:

    Exquisite, luminous, meditative. For me, the images speak a thousand words. Thank you Annie. x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Alison.
    Isn’t mother nature just wonderful!


  4. Sigh…
    I had almost forgotten about this.
    When I was still painting and drawing, some 10-20 years ago, I had this urge, fetish almost, to try this subject over and over again.
    It felt like the ultimate test to try to create depth, because it seemed like that was the only thing going on in the paintings/drawings, and there are no boundaries, trees, signposts or roads to help create it.
    As far as I remember I never made a single decent one, as they turned out static – in a wrong way – but there was always this thought running around that “it should be possible”.
    Your pictures, and the artist you link to, provide a great amount of ideas that could help tackle the subject.
    But nono no….no. Life is short… I shouldn’t go there…


    • Go there! Try it! I tried years ago and failed. But one day we’ll succeed.
      Check out the gorgeous work of my neighbour and friend artist Alison Dunlop.


      • Thank you very much for mentioning Alison Dunlop. Even viewed through the internet I found some of the works truly breathtaking – especially among the watercolours.
        A wealth of ideas again – who would have thought that abstract could contain such light and new layers – It never occurred to me, as I never dared to go beyond a mere touching the boundary between naturalistic and abstract.
        It is such a new world, 10 -20 years later.
        Back then I felt like being just about the only one being “original” enough to try to conquer 2- dimensional paper in this specific way, now I am beginning to sense a reason for this “originality” – a common longing to try to contact an earthbound void – full of promises – or just life.
        I was bound by my limitations – static- yes. It is another thing to be able to paint like Alison Dunlop – at least now I can sense it.
        But …. well.. “Go there!” is the right thing to say, as it truly feels like a movement of the state of mind. The children will develop some drawing and painting skills some day, and I am sure that I will dip my toes into the water at that point. At least.

        Thank you for your post – an eye-opener for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. MrsB_inthehills says:

    Such an endless variety found in a simple scene. Enchanting

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for pointing me towards the blog Annie. Like you, I photographed the sea daily to provide me with a source of ideas to paint. Being in a wheelchair, I often can’t get to where I would like to be on the shore, so the photographs give me the ideas – endless changes of colour, pattern and mood.


  7. Pingback: Elemental Colours and Inner Sounds (Water Colours II) | Red River Croft

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