Hands-On Watercolours 3

in the style of Cezanne AK
Study in the style of Cezanne, from Angelika Khan Leonhard

In the style of Cezanne

My next move was to experiment using the things I was learning about Cezanne’s techniques and palette. Could I take the bare bones of an idea he sketched out, and develop it myself? Taking away the colour, the paint, and just with a hint of outlines from a minimal drawing. There is so much in there, just waiting to be developed. He had an eye for extracting the essentials.

Cezanne painted sketch of tree

I started by making a pencil drawing of this painted sketch. The motif of the lone tree, the viaduct and the distant mountains that merge into the sky. Using the motif I began with faint pencil lines …..

based on a Cezanne sketch

…. and the minimal Cezanne palette. I did several versions – some thinking of the colours that I am more likely to see locally here in the north of Scotland and then thinking about how to create the sense of volume in the foliage, or the sense of the receding landscape to give depth.

Only then did I look back at the original and see where my decisions and thinking were different. Later I used them in another experiment, blending them with landscape photographs of my own.

blended watercolour and photo

Here I blended one version of the tree with a view across the Moray Firth. It was the sense of the receding landscape that made me think of the shots I take looking along the receding coastline here.

Might the foreground tree add something, and make something interesting?

Cezanne pencil sketch of tree

Some of Cezanne’s drawings are so fleeting, so minimal that they are compelling and tantalising. There is a whole world of possibilities that I am just beginning to explore!

One thing that I learned was how Cezanne created harmonies by using the same colours and tones across the ‘canvas’. He built up an image using layers upon layers with slight tonal differences, that create both depth and also a unity that makes the whole visually satisfying.
My early experiments are both minimal and very simple! But faced with a blank sheet of paper it soon becomes apparent that you need a clear idea of where you want to go!

in the style of Cezanne 1

So I am off on my own, with the merest hint of a tree or two. A hint of foreground and more distance across the water.

experiments in the style of Cezanne

The same outlines, but in reverse. Again trying for a unity across the page – a sense of foliage and sky, of the solidity of the earth …. and using Payne’s Grey (a lovely grey with a hint of blue)on a fine rigger brush to suggest the lines of the trees.

Tree trunks watercolour

And starting to use more solid trees and tree trunks from my own landscape, but keeping the touches gentle and soft, and as simple as possible.

Ah – that magic word simple. We tend to think of simplifying something as making it easier. But the kind of simplification that Cezanne is a master of is, in fact, a complex and subtle process that is learned and refined over years! How to ‘simplify’ a landscape yet keep the spirit, shape and essence of what you are seeing – and then translate it into a painted image that is not just a version of a photograph. That is no simple task!
I came across a handbook that has proved useful in this process of simplifying …..

Book cover Angelika Khan-Leonhard

The header image of this page is my version of this cover image. The book takes a fully realised Cezanne landscape and breaks it down into steps – applying layers of colour across the canvas. Then some details from the image are looked at more closely.

Using the original palette (and even the brushes) it is a useful way to get to grips with his technique. Then there are several photographs that are given the ‘Cezanne treatment’. One of those is the cover photo. The exercises are a useful way to expand one’s understanding of his way of working and thinking.

On to Watercolour 4 – Blend and merge with photos
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Hands-On Watercolours 1

cover Cezanne
Cezanne watercolours

As I approach watercolour painting for a second time, after a long break, why have I chosen Cezanne as my guide and teacher? Well, his watercolours are mainly either landscape or still life – the two areas I am interested in. Yes – but it’s more than that.
He painted hundreds of watercolours, but rarely displayed any. Maybe he thought they were inconsequential (in his day watercolour was seen as a second-rate medium) – maybe he used them to think about a subject – maybe they were a personal passion, and private. I can’t say. But to me they are more ‘alive’, more vibrant than his finished oil works. To me they express his soul in a way that moves me, and I want to learn from them.
But I need to dig deeper into why they draw me, and leave me breathless in admiration.
If I look at the photographic work I do, there may be some clues. The camera lens can do so much. A macro lens can show details that escape the naked eye. A landscape lens can record the scene before me accurately. Specialist lenses like the Lensbaby can distort the image in surprising ways. I enjoy all of those capabilities, but I don’t want to reproduce them in paint! But some of the qualities and effects I seek through the lens do resonate when I look at a Cezanne watercolour:

Cezanne landscape

Minimalism
He can take a landscape and extract the essence of the scene. With delicate strokes he can suggest an entire landscape with a minimum of paint.

Cezanne water-melons

Light
The paper is rarely if ever covered in paint. The white of the paper shines through, and allows the subject room to ‘breathe’…. to suggest rather than reproduce the subject in detail.

Cezanne Still life on a table

Use of colour
The closer you look, the more you realise that the colour choices he makes are quite amazing. And the variations in tint and brightness make the subject vibrate and sing!

These are just three of the things that draw me to study Cezanne. I want to discover how he can paint a watermelon, an onion, a knife or a carafe and be both a suggestion – an impression – and also jump off the page as so alive I feel I could reach out and touch it!

So some research was called for! I needed to find out how he created the watercolours, and then start to study them carefully!

Cezanne palette colours

Luckily I came across some information about the palette he used. It comprised just 3 colours – lemon yellow, cobalt blue, rose madder (genuine). To save having to mix them each time – I added yellow ochre and burnt umber.

Cezanne palette

And I made up a small box of the same colours. OK I added one of my own favourites – Payne’s grey for darker lines. The plan was (and still is) to work on copying Cezanne using his palette.

On to Watercolour 2 – Study and learn through copying
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2021 April

plum blossom
The Japanese plum tree is usually a mass of pink by now – but winter is still with us!

April is the cruellest month! How right T S Eliot was!
Winter continues unabated – sub zero nights and cold days have dominated April 2021. The plum blossom is almost completely killed on the Japanese flowering plum tree by the gate. Usually the tree turns into a pink delight in April, but this year there are just a few random pink dabs among the bare branches! The new green buds on the hydrangeas and azaleas are blackened and blighted too. It is indeed cruel! There is more hail than snow, and the high winds sweeping down from the Arctic are driving the hail off the large field behind the house, and into our garden, building up against the house, and into our faces when we open the back door!

winter in April
The garden is full of the snow and hailstones blown off the field behind the house!

By the middle of the month the snow has been replaced by overnight frosts and bright sunny days. Better than the constant snow and hail, but the weather pattern is still so very cold, even at midday. The blue skies are very welcome, and the sun is hot through the window glass – but it is deceptive! And there is now no rainfall at all – so the land that has been soaked all autumn and frozen solid all winter is now too dry for the Spring planting to germinate properly.

winter sunset in Spring
It looks more like midwinter than April!

On the personal front we have managed to continue to do some of our own grocery shopping. The lockdown together with the vaccine roll-out has seen a welcome and reassuring fall in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. There is now a Covid Dashboard provided by PH Scotland that shows cases by Local Government areas, and within each area too. So we can check to see how safe the places we wish to visit are.
It is a strange world when the freedom to enter a shop and choose my own fruit and vegetables is a real treat! What used to be a regular chore has become a mark of returning normality, and real delight to look forward to!

April 14th – and another milestone. We both get our second vaccination jag!
That is only 8 weeks since the first, and we were expecting to wait another month. So now we only need to wait another 3 weeks to ensure the antibodies have built up fully. Early May will be so good!
No ill effects from the 2nd AZ shot – a mild ‘flu’ feeling for a day, but not even a sore arm!

April 26th – and there is a lot of easing of restrictions, both for travel, meeting others, and for opening up of shops, cafes and pubs. The emphasis is on outdoor meetings and venues as these first tentative steps test how effective the lock-down and vaccine roll-out have been.

But most of these changes are not affecting us two, as cold winter weather continues to make indoors most appealing! So I have been enjoying shooting anything and everything that I can find lying around in my studio! Catching the fleeting moments of sunshine, and celebrating the feeling that the year of constant stress might be loosening its grip…

feather and hydrangea
Feather and hydrangea, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

I call this slightly frivolous excursion into random still-life shots my Flickr Odds and Sods album, and am happily adding to it as often as I can!

tiny medicine bottles
Some of my tiny antique medicine bottles – as a monochrome
feather and stone
Feather and stone, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

And before April ended we managed another trip to Fyvie Castle and grounds, to see if the new green of Spring had finally managed to emerge. This time I took a Sony NEX-7 with the magical Zeiss Makro E 50mm F2.8 lens. Usually used for close macro photography, I have discovered it is a wonderful landscape lens too!

Spring at Fyvie loch
Spring is finally showing the first signs of new fresh green!

To round off April with the photography I’ve posted on Flickr, here is the collage of my online month.

collage of shots for April 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for April 2021

April ends the way it began, with driving hail and freezing temperatures.

And on to May, and has Spring arrived .. at long last?
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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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2020 September

September 2020 collage
My collage of all the photos and images I uploaded to Flickr during September 2020

We started month 7 of our pandemic experience with bright sunshine and the determination to get out and about as much as possible! So September 1st saw us driving to Fyvie Castle grounds for fresh air and photo opportunities.
When Mike is driving I usually shoot my ‘drive-bys’ of the countryside as we pass. With today’s smartphones taking such good qualty shots, I often use mine rather than an actual camera! Here we are climbing up the steep hillside out of the howe of the Ythan.
The barley has been harvested, and the fields are ready for hay baling. This croft and the trees on the horizon are a feature of the landscape we see from our house. But I rarely get to catch such a goood, close-up shot! And yes, that angle really is accurate, the hillside is steep!

hillside croft
climbing the hillside out of the howe

I took an unusual combination of cameras and lenses – an old Eastern European lens, the Meyer Optik (known now as the ‘bokeh monster’) and an old Nikon D90 which has been converted to shoot only in the infrared range. This one has the gentle 720nm filter, and was my very first infrared converted camera, and my way into the whole IR world!
[more about my adventures in IR here]
Trees are a special subject for me, and together with catching the play of light, a great obsession when I am photographing outdoors.

Infrared sunshine and trees
Sunshine and trees at Fyvie Castle, caught in infrared.

The infrared light range turns the greens of the grass and leaves white, which makes the foliage very delicate, and also makes for a scene that looks like winter!

Fyvie castle walk in infrared
Fyvie castle walk, and driveway, caught in infrared

Branches, tree trunks and tarmac give wonderfully contrasting dark tones. We can walk down this driveway, listening to the pigeons cooing, and the leaves rustling, and the cares of the world seem far away.

Autumn leaves in the sunshine
Autumn leaves caught in the sunshine

This time in colour, with the heavy Meyer Optik lens. It can really capture the rich colours of the autumn leaves. As September began the autumn colours were just beginning to appear. We had fingers crossed that there would be a sunny dry month ahead, to give us the best of the flaming reds and rich golds as the leaves turned.
And a week later we were back to see how the colours were progressing …

across the loch at Fyvie Castle
Across the loch at Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire

This time with a Canon 70D and another old lens attached – a Russian Helios 44-2. The Canon is not my usual camera – I use mainly Sony. So I struggle with this 70D!
But the views of the loch and the trees are always beautiful and so calming. I think this year, more than before, we value the therapeutic effect of our trips out. Instead of thinking only in terms of exercise and photography, we now find the added value of reducing the stress levels, and refreshing our spirits.

As we picked out more calm days with the promise of sunshine, we went adventuring up the coast twice during September – once to Banff Bay, and then further up the coast to Cullen, both favourite haunts we had missed through the long lock-down months!
We rarely have the luxury of choosing times when the tide is in or out … we need to go in the morning when our energy is ‘in’. By lunch-time it is most definitely ‘out’ and we need to head home for a siesta!
Banff Bay found us enjoying the sand as the sea retreated ……

The beach at Banff Bay
The beach at Banff Bay on a chilly September day

while Cullen found a wild (and very noisy) sea delighting us with crashing waves.

Cullen Bay stormy weather
Cullen Bay with the waves crashing. Wild and noisy!

We kept true to our plan, and visited the grounds of Leith Hall twice in September too. It was exactly a year since we were last there! This time entering the Walled Garden we met our first sign of Covid changes, with a one-way system to walk around and a reminder to ‘social distance’. On our second visit we found some of the gates we often use to access the top levels of the gardens were locked. We met almost no other people as we wandered around with our cameras … glad at least, and at last to be able to enjoy the fresh air and the gardens.

Leith Hall
Leith Hall nestling among the trees

The Hall looks as majestic as ever. I’m not sure if it is open to the public again, but our main delight lies in the tree walks, the flower gardens and the wonderful views.

Leith Hall autumn colours
The autumn colours at Leith Hall. Shot with the Lensbaby

The autumn colours were showing in some of the trees. This one is close to the huge rock garden, which is being rescued, rebuilt and re-planted according to original plans recently found at the Hall.
So September had the feel of sunshine, the outdoors, visits to favourite haunts, and a whole lot of photographs!
But that was not all. At home we had a surprise with the best harvest of plums we’ve had for years.

the plum harvest
2020 has been a bumper year for our plums!

We are aware that the single Victoria plum tree we have is now over 20 years old, and maybe past its best in producing plums. Some years the frosts kill the flowers in Spring, some years there is not enough rain, or too much – not enough sun or too much. So a sudden bumper harvest was a great surprise and delight. Home grown plums, fresh from the tree, taste so good! We collected a bowl like this every day or two for about two weeks.

But of course I can’t look back on September without reference to the pandemic!

This month saw the biggest gamble, as it was decided that schools, colleges and universities had to open again. It began with schools. Here in Scotland we start the school year a few weeks before the rest of the UK, so we were the first to try out opening up our schools, both Primary and Secondary. Personally we looked on with sinking hearts, as young children are notorious spreaders of infections. Is coronavirus so different? And teenagers and college students are the least likely groups to follow the guidelines on social distancing and avoiding crowds! But the ‘science’ said differently … at least in September! But as the month ended there were signs of infection rates picking up. October might prove to be a difficult month!

On to October and autumn arrives.
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Morning mist across the howe

mist morning turbine
The sun lights up the wind turbine as the mist lifts

Yesterday morning brought the most glorious sunrise. We’ve had several misty starts recently, but not one where the sun broke through so early. I grabbed a camera at 6.30 a.m. and went out to catch the ever-changing scene as the sun and the mist danced together and wove such magical patterns before my eyes and lens!
Here the huge turbines across the howe (valley) were slowly revealed as the mist rose – catching the metal with the light! Two minutes later the turbines had vanished again!

tree silhouette
The mist hides everything except the lonely bird in the tree

A few minutes before, and the sun was just changing the colour of the mist from grey to gold. And here it caught the ‘early bird’ waiting to catch the proverbial worm! Nothing of the view down the howe towards the Kirk was visible – just the tree and its lone occupant!

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The invisible boundaries!

The gate
The invisible boundary is our gate, though there are occasions when I step across the road!

Lock Down! We’ve been this way for most of March and the whole of April. Our driveway never had a gate, just the gateposts and a low boundary wall. This morning the misty start to the day had me out with my camera before anyone else was stirring!
As the sun came up and the mist dispersed it caught the last flowers on the ornamental plum tree by the gate. Just the kind of morning when we would usually pack the car with cameras and head up the coast to shoot the headlands and the bays of Aberdeenshire. Or maybe drive inland to wander round the walled gardens of Leith Hall, before a fish and chip lunch!
Dream on! It will be a long time before what we took for granted, and counted as ‘normal’ will return. But we do have a quiet village, a good garden, and such lovely views, especially when the sun shines ;o)

Bow Fiddle

Bow Fiddle Rock seen from the cliffs above, on a calm day.

The Bow Fiddle Rock is near to Portknockie, a small cliff-top fishing village on the Moray coast between Findochty and Cullen, that overlooks the Moray Firth.
The sea around Portknockie is home to dolphins and many sea birds. and it is where the Bow Fiddle Rock can be seen and photographed. The rock is so called because it resembles the very tip of a bow. It was formed by erosion of a rock called Cullen Quartzite which is one of the many types of quartzites found around Scotland. Cullen quartzite is about 2500 metres (8000 feet) thick and makes up the coastline from Buckpool (the west end of Buckie) to Logie Head, the main headland east of Cullen.

The cliffs at Portknockie
The cliffs at Portknockie, showing the rock formation.

As you leave the village and walk towards the Bow Fiddle, you can clearly see that the entire coastal cliff structure has the same steep downward angle. This has been formed over many millions of years, and is visible evidence of the fact that Scotland and England were once part of different ‘continents’ that collided and made the distinctive Scottish Geology and geography!

I’ll let Scottish Geology.com explain
“Quartzite is a metamorphic rock, which means that it has been altered in nature by heat or by pressure. It was originally sandstone laid down in layers under the sea around 750 million years ago. More and more sediment piled up on top until the sandstone was buried several kilometres down, and as the pressure from overlying rocks built up, and heat from the centre of the Earth rose into the crust, the grains of silica in the sandstone were crushed and welded together to form the much harder rock called quartzite.

Movements of the tectonic plates which make up the surface of the Earth also had an effect. Scotland lay on the edge of an ancient continent called Laurentia, and another continent called Avalonia, on which what is now England lay, was carried towards Laurentia and eventually the two continents collided. The result was to crumple and fold the strata of rock, which is why the rock layers making up the Bow Fiddle Rock slope down to the south.

Over millions of years the overlying rocks were eroded away again, and the Cullen Quartzite became exposed at the surface, where the sea and the weather began to attack weaker spots in the rock and carve out the arch we see today. The sloping layers can be traced on to the land from which you first see the Rock. From further east along the clifftop, you get a completely different view, where you can see that the Rock is a long sloping slab of rock.
source: Scottish Geology.com

The Bow Fiddle Rock appears
The Bow Fiddle Rock appears with the surrounding rocks

As you walk along the cliff top path, the Bow Fiddle rock begins to appear, very much aligned with the mainland cliffs. You can walk round the headland, or scramble down the narrow track to get a sea level view.

Bow Fiddle Rock
Bow Fiddle Rock seen from the seashore

From the seashore the rock towers out of the water, and the surrounding sound is of the seagulls and other birds that inhabit the rocks and cliffs all along this stretch of coast. When I was shooting these photos the sea was calm and tranquil, and the midday sun cast strong shadows.

The rock strata at Bow Fiddle Rock
The rock strata at Bow Fiddle Rock at Portknockie

Once you have seen the effects of the massive collision between the two continents, you can recognise the distinctive sloping layers and steeply angled rock formations all along this stretch of coast.

Rocks near Findochty
The same rock striations as the Bow Fiddle, showing the effects of tectonic plate movement.

Here, just a mile along the coast from the Bow Fiddle, the same steep angle is clearly visible. It is fascinating and awe-inspiring to imagine the forces at work over 500 million years ago that have given us this wonderful, sculptural coastline!
© 2019 Elisa Liddell

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