2021 January

spectacles
Lines and patterns in the ordinary moments we often overlook.

As January begins we are in a worse place with COVID than we ever expected to be! The virus is mutating, and the more it spreads, the more opportunities it has to create variants that will make it more successful. We have vaccines already rolling out, but mass vaccination is a daunting and long process – and all the while there is the threat of a mutation that the vaccines cannot combat. Our current mutation (B 1.1.7 – the Kent variant) is thwarting all attempts to contain it. It is filling the hospitals to overflowing, and with a younger age profile than we have seen.

Covid statistics
How the new variant COVID is changing the vulnerable age-group profile

Those aged 60+ are highly vulnerable now, not just the 80+. So we start the year with an almost total lock-down across mainland Scotland, reinforced with travel bans entering or leaving the country. Needless to say the general background stress level is high, even though we, personally, are as well protected as possible. The change in the age profile has lifted us both into an earlier group of the vaccine. Hopefully February will see us getting the first dose.

Sunrise and the tree line
Morning across the howe, a sigh that never fails to delight!

So, while keeping track of the local and national progress of the pandemic, I am trying to keep a clear eye and close focus on the beauty that lies all around me, and close at hand! We’ve had some wonderful red dawns … and I grab a camera and capture the view as the sun rises over the far hillside! The weather has been cold since the start of the year, with overnight deep freezes that mean icy roads and some freezing fog too.

freezing fog on the road
Ice and fog, a dangerous but magical mixture.

Before the lock-down we drove to Inverurie to fill up the car at our nearest ‘pay-at-the-pump’ filling station. The ice and fog made for a beautiful sight but a treacherous drive!
And January 7th and 8th saw our first real snow event of the winter!

Night snow
The snow caught in the night street light – hypnotic!

It started overnight, and the street light allowed me to watch the snow swirling as it fell silently. I wondered if it would all be gone by the morning …..

sunlight on the snow
The pristine world when the day dawns and the sun shines.

…. but the delight of sunshine and crisp dry snow made a white wonderland of our world!
As the month progressed we see-sawed between deep freeze and torrential rain. The ground was either a muddy mess or a frozen muddy mess!
So I decided that it made good sense to look for some inspiration in the garden, and began shooting some things I usually overlook. One of these is our crab apple tree. The blossom is gorgeous in Springtime, but the fruit is usually ignored, both by the birds and by me too! I brought indoors a few of the last apples hanging tenaciously to the tree …..

crab apples
Shooting the winter garden and looking closer at the humble crab-apples

And we finally DID make a few trips to Tesco in Inverurie! We needed to fill both cars with petrol, and it is the only ‘pay-at-the-pump’ place we know. And along with the petrol I also raided the store for fresh cut flowers. They lift my spirits so much with their beauty, and also inspire me to reach for my camera and my paintbrushes.

chrysanthemum on the table
Chrysanthemum on the table – my first fresh flowers since January

Then, just before the month ended, we drove to Fyvie Castle. It is under 5 miles if we drive the narrow road over the hill – but with snow and icy roads we took the longer route using the main road. There is still lockdown, and the request is not to leave home, but there comes a point where the need for exercise and fresh air is paramount. Regular exercise keeps the muscles in shape, and that is essential. And our village only offers one pavement to walk along – and walking on concrete is not good if you have a bad back or hip!
So we took cameras, and went to see if the grounds remained open during this lockdown! They were indeed open, but the parking area was closed as it was too icy to approach. We managed to walk across the lawns, all icy and crunching underfoot. I took an infrared camera, wanting to see how winter looked through the IR lens.

infrared trees at Fyvie
Our first visit of the year to Fyvie Castle grounds, caught in Infrared.

We couldn’t do much, as the grounds were so icy and slippery. Even the loch was frozen! But the visit was a real tonic – and along with the flowers it marked a high point of January.

collage for January 2021
The images I uploaded to Flickr through the month of January 2021

And so to the collage of all the shots – indoors and outdoors – that I posted to Flickr this month. In 2020 I used these monthly collages as the page header. As a change I think I might use them as a ‘footer’ instead of a ‘header’ from time to time!

And on to February, and the roll-out of the vaccine, and a story of snow!
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2021 Vision

The shape of 2021
What will the shape of 2021 look like?

2021 and we are in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 began with hope and a sense of a fresh start to not only a new year, but a new decade. Hopes were quickly dashed as the virus spread across the globe, and we all struggled to handle the new reality. It changed the shape of our lives!
2021 begins with a new and more transmissible variant of the virus threatening to overwhelm our medical services, with another lock-down across Scotland, indeed across the whole of the UK, and a small glimmer of hope as the first vaccines are rolled out. So the question I ask myself is … what will the shape of 2021 look like? At the moment, as the year begins, I see it defined by the monthly blocks of vaccine jabs … we are being divided up by age and vulnerablity, and will be allocated a vaccine slot accordingly. So the months will be blocked out for me as I wait my turn.

So I am starting the new year as I always do, with the one resolution, to see clearly! To see with camera lens – and hopefully with the paint brush too this year.
There is something magical and paradoxical about the camera lens … when I look through it I can somehow see more than I can when looking around with just my eyes. I guess there is something about the narrowing effect of the frame together with the extra concentration demanded to frame and focus the shot. But the world can surprise me through the camera lens. And increasingly I find I can ‘see’ the reverse process … I look around and can see the potential photograph or painting that is there. I guess that the two sides of the coin are gradually coming together!
My ‘canvas’ has been radically and progressively restricted through 2020 – as the pandemic has developed my freedom of movement has been curtailed. Add to that the way that the pandemic has also taken so much of my small energy store away from anything creative, and focussed it on the increasing challenges of simply getting through the day/week/month.
And so the 2021 journey of discovery begins:

January – and the pandemic worsens, forcing another lock-down. And I try to keep focussed and creative.
February – the roll-out of the vaccine, and the worst snowstorms in years.
March – and has Spring finally arrived? And my painting picks up momentum.
April – Still no Spring, but we do get our second vaccine shot!
May – and finally Spring? And lockdowns are gradually eased once more.
June – and who has heard of the ‘Delta’ threat?
July – and the world shrinks as we tackle health issues
August – and summer is overshadowed by a 400% rise in Covid-Delta cases
September – and it’s all about shortages!

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2020 November

November 2020 collage
A collection of images posted on Flickr this November 2020

Yes, it is month 9 of living with the pandemic, and it seems that the promised winter ‘second wave’ of COVID is here.
Once again we are struggling to contain the impact on the NHS as the numbers hospitalised and in intensive care rise. The naive view of the ‘experts’ that somehow older people could be ‘careful’ and not be infected by younger members of their families has been revealed to be the nonsense we always knew it to be! Grandparents were called upon to undertake childcare, and free up younger adults to return to work, while also being exhorted to protect themselves as they are the most vulnerable group. Square that circle if you can!!

Here, we find ourselves sitting on the fringes of the medium to high infection areas, and quite well able to continue to ‘self-isolate’ together. For us the problems are all practical. Adjusting to not doing our own shopping, adjusting to so many functions of daily life moving online, and finding ways to keep active and engaged with the world beyond our gate!

Winter is really closing in, and we have had some wonderful misty nights and mornings to shoot.

misty morning
A misty November morning as the sun breaks through.

They can be difficult to shoot, as the camera struggles to find a focus in the misty morning.

night street lights
The ghostly street lights in the night mist.

Night shots can be very intense with big light contrasts

night mist
The night-time mist makes the world mysterious.

One area that has gained massively in importance is the technical. So much has moved online this year due to the pandemic, the lock-down, and the need for physical distancing in shops and work places.
Living in rural Aberdeenshire we do most of our shopping online, and have for many years. Grocery shopping in winter months moves online every year – so it is not so strange to move all our local grocery shopping online. But I miss being able to see what is available in the shops – to choose fresh vegetables, fruit and meat – and to buy luxuries such as flowers regularly too!
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus just how important internet connectivity is for everyone! Many people relied on the local library for internet connecivity, but the libraries have been closed here since March. And now banking, booking recycling slots, dental appointments and much more are reliant on the internet and smartphones.

Our biggest technical development has been in mobile phones. I’ve had a ‘smartphone’ for a while, starting with a neighbour’s old iPhone 5. Being a long time user of the iPad and Touch (which is really an iPhone without the phone) I was familiar with the computer system, so it was not a big adjustment. Even before the impact of the pandemic we realised that more and more functions depended on SMS messages to a mobile phone (for verification, identification and information).

iPhone screens
Living with a smartphone – 6 screens

My smartphone can and does track my sleep, alert me to deliveries, connect me to the emergency breakdown service for my car, bring me the news, take excellent photos and check I’ve cleaned my teeth properly! The least used function is making phone calls!

In our village we have very poor mobile coverage, mainly intermittent 3G which is affected by massive wind turbines across the howe. So adjusting to the new reality has been a bit of a bumpy journey and an expensive one! Smartphones are not cheap – especially if you don’t want a contract attached. The pandemic has accelerated the pace for us, and made us aware that we both need the skills and confidence to live with a smartphone by our side. The more we rely on it, the more important it has become that Mike has his own 21st century connectivity, and gets familiar and confident with using it. It seems that the days of having a mobile phone that is only a phone are consigned to the past! And the reality is that the longer we delay it, the harder it is to learn the increasingly complex little computer that accompanies us everywhere.
And so November draw to a close, with ever decreasing hours of daylight, and the first deep frosts and snowfalls ……

snow on the car
The first snow of the winter. The car needs de-icing!

Time to look out the de-icers!
And I’ll end the month with a second collage, of sunrises through November. We live in quite a deep valley, the Howe of the Ythan, which is the small river that rises quite close to us, and runs into the sea along our North sea coast. The steep hillside of the howe means that the sun has to be quite high before it lights us up …. dawn gives us a black silhouette and a sometimes dramatic sky! So mostly I shoot after the dawn display has dispersed.

November sunrises
A selection of November sunrise shots across the howe

But the skies can be so beautiful – vast open skies that the camera can only hint at! The colours are breathtaking, and it is a wonderful way to start any day! The selection here includes two shots I took after the sun reached us, and the black hillside has resolved into the familiar world of trees, fields, fences, sheep grazing, and the croft on the opposite hillside.
And so, on to December, which heralds the much discussed dilemma of how to minimise the spread of the virus as Christmas approaches … and more!
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2020 October

collage of October shots
The images I uploaded to Flickr during October 2020

October and month 8 of living with the pandemic.

October started with more signs that the ‘normal’ things of daily life were re-emerging – appointments for a dental check-up, a call for the annual ‘flu jab, and the one most on my mind – the annual service and MOT for my car!

reflections in the car window
Reflections in the window of my car!

This had been the moving force behind the long, slow return to driving that had dominated several months of lock-down. And all the hard work paid off handsomely, as I drove alone through mid-morning traffic to deliver and then collect the car. A great feeling to be back as a competent and safe driver!
The month was so full of practical needs that I took a break from my usual Flickr routine (16 photos to my more usual 24).
October means autumn this far north, and the garden needed readying for winter. This year had seen an explosion of growth – everything from weeds to trees seemed to flourish and grow alarmingly! The autumn colours were glorious, but short-lived as storms and gales stripped the leaves.

Azalea Luteum
The hedge of azalea luteum has grown massively this year!

So there was much to do, and many visits to the local recycling point! And like so many everyday things the pandemic means we have to plan for every visit – book online for a 15 minute slot, take the print-out of our slot, and then make sure you arrive roughly on time! It’s a routine we are now used to, appreciate and are happy to keep even after the pandemic …. but it does mean we need to plan in advance!

Then there was the boiler emergency. We found the boiler controlling our central heating and hot water couldn’t be turned off! And worse still, the hot water was always on too, overheating! So we needed urgent help as we poured boling water down the drain! The worst problem was sorted quickly, so we could turn off the entire boiler. But getting the central heating and hot water un-coupled took longer. Another chunk of time and energy!

We did manage one short trip out to Fyvie Castle grounds.
Locally, the signs that the harvest was over for the year were apparent. I love the fields when the barley is cut – the lines are wonderful (computer controlled machinery, of course in our 21st century world)

Barley fields
Barley fields in autumn, after the harvest.

Walking round the loch made for a refreshing sunny morning away from the demands of house and garden…

autumn trees
Walking round Fyvie loch as the autumn leaves begin to turn.

…. and the autumn tints were beginning to show, despite the extremely wet and windy month. Even the raindrops made for some lovely photo opportunities!

black and white berries
Raindrops caught on the rowan berries

At home I began to work again on my Canon 70D project, to master the skill of in-camera multiple exposures. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the details of how a camera works, and the techniques of getting what you want from the shots you take!

mutlipe exposures
Shelves – creating multiple exposures in Photoshop

so I started again by shooting around the house and blending the shots in Photoshop.

And, as we couldn’t get out as much as wanted, we strolled down the village to the Kirk.

Auchterless Kirk
Auchterless Kirk, around which the Kirkton (village) is collected

I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely visit the Kirk and surrounding kirkyard, though it is on our doorstep. I guess a lot of times we overlook the closest things, and go in pursuit of the more ‘interesting’.

Auchterless old Kirk
The remains of the old Auchterless Kirk, which has been restored and cleaned

Some years ago there was extensive ‘rescue’ work done to save the facade of the old Kirk that is in the Kirkyard, and was being overgrown by ivy. So I wanted to catch the sun on the newly revealed facade. The day was cold, and the sunshine was soon overtaken by the rain clouds – but I managed a few good shots. And I am determined to return and shoot the Kirk through the seasons!

And finally – how was the pandemic playing out?

Since the re-opening of primary and secondary schools the infection rate started to rise noticeably. The next step was to start the academic year for colleges and universities. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened next! We knew it would lead to growing infection rates, and as October played out the numbers catching and passing on the coronavirus grew exponentially. The figures for any area were expressed as numbers of positive cases per 100,000 people. And here is a snapshot of Scotland on October 20th.

COVID test information
A snapshot of infection rates across Scotland as of October 20th

In Aberdeenshire we are relatively low down the administrative areas – though we are affected by the ripple effect of Aberdeen city. Plenty of people live in the shire and work in Aberdeen. So as the month closed Scotland was divided into 5 levels, each with differing levels of restrictions. We were in Level 2, along with Aberdeen city. It meant:

Scotland wide rules:
Shops have been asked to reintroduce two metre physical distancing rules and reintroduce some measures which had been taken earlier in the pandemic, such as one-way systems in supermarkets.
The use of face coverings is now mandatory in indoor communal settings, such as staff canteens and corridors in workplaces.
Face coverings are also compulsory in shops and on buses, trains, trams, planes and taxis.
People are also being advised not to share a vehicle with another household. Where you have no other option, the advice is to keep windows open, wear a face covering and sit as far apart as possible.
People have been banned from visiting other households indoors since 25 September, when restrictions in the west of Scotland were extended to the rest of the country.

Some of the new rules are similar across levels one, two and three:
Places of worship can open with restricted numbers (50 people), and there is a 20-person limit for weddings and civil partnerships, and for funerals, wakes and receptions.
Schools will remain open, but senior secondary school pupils in level three areas must now wear face coverings in class, not just in communal areas.
Colleges and universities must use blended learning, and driving lessons can also take place.

In level two:
pubs and restaurants can only serve alcohol with a main meal. They must close indoors at 20:00 and outdoors at 22:30.
Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades are allowed to remain open. While stadia will be closed to spectators, drive-in events are permitted. All sport is allowed, except indoor contact sport for over-18s.
In addition people in Levels 1 and 2 are asked not to travel into Level 3 areas unless essential – and Level 3 people are not to travel to Levels 1 and 2.

That is quite a lot to absorb.
As far as we are concerned, as long as we can travel to the coast and places for exercise and fresh air we are content. Shopping is all online with delivery service.
So as October ends we are in Level 2 and hoping that the Level system will help to contain and then reduce the infection rate. But we are not feeling optimistic!
Personally I think that until senior school pupils and college students are working from home by remote learning we will not see any improvement. The numbers of people in hospital, in intensive care, and dying are the true indicators that are inescapable facts. And all three are alarmingly high! And like the first wave, this second wave is hitting the older age groups. So there is a sombre feeling here as we approach the winter months.

And so on to November and the winter closes in
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2020 August

Collage for August 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this August 2020

As August began (month 6 of COVID) it was becoming clear that the devolved governments across the UK were moving away from the ‘follow England’ pattern that had been established at the start of the pandemic. The UK (England) government had been mishandling the pandemic from the start, being slow to react and ignoring the evidence of what was happening elsewhere in the world.
Scotland had suffered badly both in the spread of COVID-19 in the community, and especially in recorded deaths. So as England moved to lift the lock-down and ‘get the economy moving again’ there was a more cautious approach here. We remained in lock-down longer, until the indicators were clear that the virus was under control. But as August began the decision was made to get children back to school. We start the academic year some weeks before England, so we would be the first to see how the ‘back to school’ experiment played out in real life! It was a pivotal moment for us all, and watched with some trepidation. We have a small Primary School in our village, and older students travel to Turriff daily, so our village was deeply involved!

As restrictions lifted we remained in our own protective ‘bubble’ that hadn’t changed since March – we were free to travel to our local beauty spots for exercise, bur we remained largely self-isolating. Nothing had changed to make us feel we were less at risk. It was still the elderly who were dying! As we have no children or grandchildren, and no family living locally, it was ‘lock-down life’ that remained our new ‘normal’. So we sat on the sidelines and watched events unfold! August set a new pattern for us, following the daily coronavirus updates. both with our First Minister and online too. It was hard work, and took quite a lump out of our time …. but we wanted to know what was going on.

Continuing our lives as close to ‘normal’ as we could, I continued with my watercolour experimentation and learning.
I was faced with my usual problem, I have PVS/ME and that means my life is a balancing act between what I want to do and what my meagre energy will permit me to do. Do too much and the consequences are brutal – weeks bedbound as my body tries to regain a balance. Long Covid is just the latest manifestation of what has been dubbed ME or ‘Yuppie Flu’.
So with a head full of ideas about what I wanted to do with my watercolour adventure I started moving beyond copying Cezanne. I wanted to paint every day, so I planned to do a small daily sketch. A study of something close to hand (I have rooms full of objects I use in my photography) it would sharpen my ‘looking’ skills as well as my drawing and painting skills. I also wanted to take some of Cezanne’s pencil sketches and paint them. So I began!

sketch book pages
Daily sketch and Cezanne pencil sketch

If I was photographing snail shells, why not paint them too? And give Cezanne’s pencil sketch of a tree a more Scottish feel?
I so enjoyed it all, but found that my energy was exhausted very quickly when I was sitting at a table, painting. I began to remember why I had abandoned pastel painting in favour of photography. I could shoot in small bursts, and then lie down. Painting demanded I was sitting for a longer time, and using muscles in very precise ways.
Time to rethink.
So I had to take the painting much more slowly, and even reduce it to two or three times a week. Sad, but essential if I was to integrate painting into my life over the long term. So I found a way to make the most of the painting I could manage to do ….

Eggs blending photo and watercolour
Daily sketch eggshells and blend with photo

If I was photographing eggshells, then paint them as well. Then, when energy permitted I could make a blend of photo and watercolour … and get something new and creative using minimum energy!

landscape blending
Blending a Lensbaby photo and watercolour sketch

And a step further with the blending. A landscape that one day I might paint …. well…. I could combine it with a sketch and make a new artwork!
And finally my paint-filled month was rounded off with another idea. Again using trees from the local environment, but this time extracting them, and using their shapes to go in another direction. Using masking tape, and practising using wet washes, I began to create ‘ghostly’ trees.

tree into watercolou
Taking the bones of a tree and playing with it in watercolours

It might take weeks to explore an idea, but at least it was feeding my hunger to create, paint, and photograph! A world to explore that took me away from the world of the pandemic.

And finally, yes, we did manage to get out (with cameras) and enjoy more of the freedom to roam. I took my infrared camera with the most colourful ‘Goldie’ filter and shot the trees at Fvyie Castle loch.

infrared bench in blue
Infrared of bench in blue

Processing them into cool blues – and vibrant reds!

Goldie Infrared
Goldie filter infrared of trees at Fyvie loch

And so August ended with me feeling very tired, but very happy with the creative results. OK, it was baby steps, but the ideas were forming, and my first blundering steps were enough to encourage me to continue with my ideas!

on to September
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2020 July

Collage for July 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this July 2020

And so we moved into July, with summer, and all that usually implies. But it is month 5 of lock-down, and we were still rewriting what we mean by ‘normal life’.

I had been driving regularly since May, re-learning (or remembering) the skills, and gradually building up the muscles and the stamina that I need to drive. From a few miles from the the village I built up the distance I could comfortably drive.
So, on July 1st I made my first trip to Inverurie and back, to take glass to the recycling point at Morrison’s supermarket. That’s a round trip of over 30 miles – so I was well pleased!
Throughout July I drove through rain, low cloud, poor visibility and a growing level of general traffic. It took a toll on my energy (which is always limited by PVS/ME) and that meant there was little left on many days. I drove early in the morning, to minimise the heavy traffic and farm vehicles on the roads, and often needed a cat-nap mid morning.

car key
The key to more than my car!

But it was (and still is) essential that I can drive again. Other options such as taxis and lifts from neighbours are no longer possible in Covid times, and public transport has always been virtually non-existent in rural Aberdeenshire. So, with the increased vulnerablity to life-threatening infection that we both face, I can’t afford not to be practiced, skilled, confident and proficient once more! Although my little Fiesta is 12 years old now, it is the key to my freedom, and ability to function in times of need.

pink rhododendron
First shots with the Helios lens on the Canon 70D – pink rhododendron

At home the summer was blooming with the the garden full of flowers. I always shoot the rhododendrons as they bloom in sequence, the white first, then the red, and finally the one small bush of pink. My attention was still focussed on the Canon 70D and the problems of shooting in Manual Mode with only an Optical Viewfinder. I decided to concentrate on the garden and immediate surroundings, as I could keep going indoors to read the LCD screen and try to find the right balance of settings to stop over-exposing or under-exposing my shots. It made for slow and frustrating sessions with a large failure rate! I knew I had to master the Manual Mode for the in-camera multiple exposures I wanted to achieve, so I continued to use the old Russian Helios 44-2 lens. After all it was one the lenses I wanted to use (along with the Lensbaby) so I might as well stay with it!
The shot above was taken close to the house, using the Helios lens, and I think it was the 4th attempt at getting the exposure right!

The most wonderful aspect of July was that finally National Trust Scotland opened up their gardens again! After months struggling to find anywhere to walk, we could return to Fyvie Castle grounds! A real breath of fresh air, bringing a sense of optimism and freedom.

sunshine in the park
Fyvie Castle grounds, and freedom to enjoying the summer sunshine!

Here, shot with my iPhone, a boy lying contentedly on the lawn in the sunshine! It seemed to sum up our feelings of relief and delight! The grounds were sadly neglected, and it will take years to repair the damage the lock-down inflicted. But these lawns close to the castle had been mowed, and it was a joy to see them and walk our familiar routes round the small loch!
Later in the month we drove up the coast to Cullen.

Cullen beach
Cullen beach on a bright but cold morning. Freedom from lock-down at last!

And climbed up the cliffs above Cullen bay to see way across towards the Moray Firth. Just visible in the distance is a blue shape on the horizon – the far hills across the Firth!

The view across Cullen Bay
On the cliffs above Cullen Bay – such a sense of freedom!

It was this we had been pining for! We never meet many people on our rambles with our cameras. So with open air and so few possibilities for encountering the virus, we felt that it had been misguided to deprive us of exercise and a sense of well-being! The months of absence and deprivation had impressed on us how essential these outings are to us. We were both quite exhausted after each visit. How quickly our muscles weakened even when we had had our own garden to walk in. What must it have been like for those trapped in small flats in tenements or high rise blocks!
July gave us back some joy and delight, and through the joy came some hope.

And a final look back on July must include the onward progress towards my watercolour painting goals! I had started by copying Cezanne watercolours. I found about his customary palette of just 6 colours, and the few brushes he used. I was making progress! But now I wanted to expand the colours I used, to paint trees closer to Scotland’s palette rather than southern France! So I took out all the paints (tubes and pans) that I had acquired years ago. And I found I needed to re-learn everything … the names on the pans had faded. And I couldn’t remember the properties of the colours – were they translucent? opaque? staining?

watercolour paints and charts
Beginning to organise my watercolours!

So I had to spend time online researching, and I discovered that the range of watercolour tints and types had changed and developed massively! So I began to familiarise myself with the colours I had, and added a few more too. It was a re-learning experience in itself …. and there was more to come in August too ….

On to August ……
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2020 June

collage for June 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this June 2020

So June came – month 4 of the lock-down. Not seeing family and friends was not too bad, as we are scattered, so the phone, email and Facebook activity were our main ways of staying in touch. What we missed most of all was the freedom to go and walk by the sea, and in the grounds of the local National Trust Scotland sites, along with Historic Scotland and others. We live in the middle of farming land, where there is nowhere for humans to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Walking a potato field is not fun!

walking in the woods
Trying to find alternatives to our regular exercise/walking

Trying to find alternatives to our regular sites for exercise and fresh air became a preoccupation as the weeks of Lock-down stretched out. It’s surprising how quickly your muscles become weaker with little or no regular exercise!

Sunshine through the trees in infrared
Sunshine through the hillocks and trees in infrared

I took cameras with me wherever we went, and captured the hillocks and difficult terrain in infrared and colour too ….

view through the trees
Still searching for a place to exercise!

Another inhospitable location … difficult to walk without keeping your eyes firmly on the ground beneath your feet, as the danger of spraining or breaking your ankles was very real!
I don’t think the decision to close down the GROUNDS of the National Trust properties in rural areas like ours was a wise one. The grounds were never crowded, and they provided essential spaces for essential exercise! Even with a garden, our health was being impacted by the closing of places to walk safely!

Indoors I was having more fun, and success as I continued developing my painting. I wanted to use some of the thousands of landscape photos I have taken over the years. I don’t think I could ever find the energy and stamina to paint outdoors, so I have to rely on the photographs I take together with the memory of the observations I make at the time of shooting. So my starting point was the trees that are all around us here. It chimed perfectly with Cezanne, whose watercolours include many tree studies!
I started by using some of my infrared shots, as they can give the clearest definition of the architecture of the tree, the ‘bones’ that you often don’t see until winter strips away the leaves. Infrared reduces the foliage to white areas … which I could then paint in from memory or imagination. The idea worked quite well – but I didn’t like my attempts at the foliage!! But then I had an idea. How about putting the IR and painted pictures together, rather than just throwing my watercolour away? I had already used this technique to blend together several photographic images … how about using this technique to create such blends?

blending painting and photography
My first experiment blending painting and photography.

My first blending experiment gently wove the colours from the painting with the original infrared shot. So I pursued the idea – whenever I came across a Cezanne image that reminded me of a local scene, I tried to merge them. Here an avenue of trees at Fyvie Castle echoed an avenue of trees close to Ceazanne’s home in Aix.

blending paint and photo
My sketch based on Cezanne’s avenue, together with a photo from Fyvie

OK – a very amateurish watercolour sketch! But I liked the idea of weaving the images together!

The other ‘newcomer’ during these pandemic months has been the purchase of a Canon camera. I’m a Sony fan, and most of my cameras are Sony – so getting a Canon, even an ‘old’ EOS 70D was a big step for me. Learning the onboard computer was the biggest challenge I foresaw. There would be a learning curve, especially as I wanted to use it Manual Mode. My plan was to be able to create multiple exposure images within the camera itself. This is something Sony have not developed! So I set about learning my new camera.
I shot first of all on Auto, with the kit lens. Just shooting from the front door, looking out along the path into the garden was my first step. I then took some of the shots and blended them together in Photoshop, to get the feel of how in-camera multiple exposure might look..

3 layer image of lockdown
using the Canon 70D and layering shots

As I looked at the result I realised I had (unconsciously) summed up the feelings of lock-down.

Next I moved on Manual Mode, and attached one of the lenses I wanted to use – an old Russian Helios lens that can give wonderful colours and bokeh effects. And this when I really stepped into foreign country!
All my Sony cameras use EVF, Elecrontic Veiw Finder. I hadn’t even heard of the alternative, the OVF or Optical View Finder. But WOW! was I about to discover what OVF means in practice!
Briefly with EVF I look through the view-finder and see what the result of my shot will look like. I can adjust the settings to make everything just how I want it to look, from focus to colour and light. What I see is what I will get! But the OVF just shows you what your eye is already seeing …. NOT what the shot you take will look like! You can adjust the focus – but otherwise you are ‘flying blind’. I found myself having to take a shot, look at it, adjust the settings and try again, and again, and again – before I could take the photo I wanted.
Imagine that you are walking down a tree-lined path, with dappled light, moving from strong sunshine into quite deep shade. With EVF I would simply look and adjust the image I see until I get an optimal balance of light values before taking the shot. Maybe 15 seconds to set and reset the camera. With OVF it takes me much longer and several test shots before I can take the final shot. No way to catch a fleeting light effect, to capture a swan suddenly coming in to land on the water! It felt like regressing to a much slower and clumsier age of photography!
Whether I want to shoot using the kit lens, or a specialist lens the problem is the same – to take multiple exposures I need to work in Manual Mode. So the problem remains. I need to shoot regularly and keep refining my skills and speed to reach my goal of making in-camera multiple shots!

On to July and a lifting of some restrictions!
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2020 May

collage for May 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this May 2020

And so May began – Month 3 of our ‘lock-down’ as we started the move to self-isolating in March, before it became law.
With the lifting of the ‘shielding’ group and move to the ‘most highly vulnerable’ group, we were free to venture beyond the garden gate! So I decided that this was the time for me to recapture my driving skills.

Ford Fiesta fascia 2008
Inside my little 12 year old car

With PVS/ME and assorted ‘challenges’ such as shingles, I had found little energy to maintain my driving. I have my small (12 year old) Fiesta that I love – but as the years flew past the traffic on the local roads got bigger and faster and there was just so much more of it. So lock-down gave me an opportunity to re-learn my skills on very quiet roads. It had to be a slow process, as the ‘cost’ in energy was high – one small session could take days of recovery. But if I could persevere then the prize (several months later) could be – would be – that I was a confident driver again. Such a vital goal for us, as we have no support network here, and shops, garages, dental and medical centres are all miles away. Public transport is almost non-existent at the best of times, and there would be no taxi service or helpful neighbours to call on in a pandemic! I needed to drive! So a whole lot of energy, time and focus was spent on driving through May, and indeed through all the summer months!

painting materials
sorting out my painting materials for the new challenge

Rather ambitiously I also decided that the lock-down could give me a second prize – a chance to start my painting again. With the very limited energy that PVS/ME permits I had given up my drawing and pastel painting in favour of photography, as I could achieve more within the energy confines. So I had an Art room lying idle with lots of materials – and the constant wish to pick up where I had left off, which was the extension from pastel into watercolours.
If I was to be largely confined to the house and garden – it could prove to be a perfect opportunity to begin again with my journey into watercolour painting. So I brushed the dust off the books I had amassed, and looked through the folders and drawers, the cupboards and shelves, and began to explore and re-learn!

notebooks of colour charts
colour charts for mixing watercolours

My adventures in watercolour have had a difficult road to travel. In 2016 I tried and felt I was making progress – when shingles struck, and wiped out all my energy and all my watercolour efforts. So starting yet again in 2020 I began by revisiting my 2016 sketches so I could pick up where I had left off – so rudely interrupted by illness!
I love Cezanne’s watercolours – I think they eclipse his oil paintings with great delicacy of touch and depth of observation. And they are a masterclass in technique, brush strokes and the use of colour. So Cezanne is always where I start…. and I began by reworking a few of my efforts – sketches I had studied from the originals in 2016.

copying Cezanne
Learning from Cezanne. 2016 and 2020 compared

Hmmm! I have lost a lot of skill in the last 4 years!

Learning from Cezanne
Learning from Cezanne. 2 from 2016 and one 2020 compared

It is back to basics, and relearning in a big way! Get out the huge tomes on Cezanne, and study the quality photos they have of his work from pencil sketches to watercolour sketches, right through to finished watercolour works! If I needed something to stave off boredom while living in lock-down – I have found it!!

So on to June, and lock-down in summer
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