Take a look at the Cloch lighthouse near Gourock on the Firth of Clyde, while the mist was swirling outside the comfort of our car. You can also see it in the photo below on a gentle spring evening when the opposite coast is clear to almost touch. Naturally we were hoping for that kind of day to come and sketch, but we have to work with what you have.
In addition, the mist is atmospheric and more ‘lighthousey’ (if there is such a thing!).
Since settling back in Scotland, I’ve wanted to come here and draw the Cloch lighthouse. I do love these buildings: the architecture, their sense of isolation and at-a-distance role they play in warning us of the dangers of the elements all appeal to me. Consequently, there’s something primal about a big light blazing in the darkness, bright beams washing over the land and water, aiding unknown souls seeking guidance and reassurance. Long before the appearance of the glass lenses that refract and scatter light across the waves there were fiery beacons. Hence the desire to reach out a helping hand to get one’s fellow man (or woman) home seems very human to me.
A SCOTTISH LIGHTHOUSE
Now, I’ve cheated a bit with this post. Because although it’s practically on our door step (and we were there the other day), this artist outing was from a year ago. When the Scottish summer was similarly patchy and all my medical challenges lay ahead of me.
But I was very happy with my drawing from that day and am planning a painting en plein air of the Cloch lighthouse from a different angle. So I thought that day had to be worth a revisit.
By the way, the Cloch stars in a forthcoming film The Keepers, about three… lighthouse keepers!
MY IDEAL LIGHTHOUSE
Lighthouses galore dot the Scottish coastline, all of them automated now. Although in the not too distant past they were all manned and provided a living for many. In fact, I can remember dropping off the post and papers to the lighthouse keeper on the Bass Rock on a boat trip around the island. These days many old ‘lights’ are up for sale, along with the islands they sit on, or have become homes or hotels.
Indeed, a lighthouse would be a dream home for me. Imagine being surrounded by crashing waves, endless sky and dramatic weather. As fond as I am of the Bass, I think I’d prefer one on dry land. Just can’t imagine nipping out for coffee whenever I was craving one!
Speaking of which, how about a quick caffeine refuel at Cafe Continental in Gourock? A nice cafe with fantastic views of the Firth of Clyde where you could also churn out a quick sketch or two. It was already filling up for lunch when we arrived decked out for a Scottish summer’s day, prepared for all kinds of weather.
Yikes, buildings! Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about sketching this beautiful building as I’m much happier doing land or seascapes. No such fear with Stephen who has a knack of capturing all kinds of man-made structures. Just imagine lots of boxes, he said. Keep the lines and angles correct and everything in scale from the start. Use every roof and window to help you measure distances. Once you’ve achieved this then the perspective falls into place. He’s certainly got a talent for such pieces. Another Scottish artist friend once asked him if he’d ever done any architectural drawing.
With his advice I started to tackle the shapes and find the various angles and their relationships to one another. In the meantime the Scottish summer was in full-swing, that is the rain showed no sign of abating. Thank goodness then for the comfort of the car as well as a wide pavement to park on! With the wipers on and the rain on full pelt, we set to work.
PEN AND COLOURED PENCIL SKETCH
Forty minutes later and we had two decent additions to our sketchbooks, both of them very different. Stephen’s work is fabulous with its attention to detail and little flourishes. The wee car he added at the end and there was very nearly a Vauxhall Astra that had to be put in, due to a passing photographer. Out popped the driver with his dog and camera, kindly offering to move when he saw us both (and of course we didn’t say yes).
As you can see Stephen used a pen for the outlines and details, adding a limited range of colour. The greens are effective, each one a different shade, likewise the railings, roof tiles and the spots of texture on the wall.
MY COMPLETED PASTEL SKETCH
As for yours truly, I plumped for using chalk pastels. Yes, I should branch out of a bit when it comes to my preferred media, but pastel is quick and blends colours together nicely. It’s harder to add detail with chalks, so I don’t try to record every nut and bolt. Pleased with the end result, I feel I’ve killed another demon, and now I’m raring to sketch another building.
Next one will be in oil pastels perhaps, as I haven’t used them in some time and I can be sure of some bright colours. Seeing as I’m someone who likes a clean and tidy house, it really is quite satisfying to get my hands dirty. Above all, it feels like I’ve really done some art.
GREAT LIGHTHOUSE BOOKS
If sketching a lighthouse in the rain isn’t your thing then why not read about them in all kinds of weather? Grab a coffee and settle down for a great read this dreich and wet summer. Four books featuring these wonderful buildings for rainy Sundays:
The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst. All about the family whose works speckle the Scottish coastline. Robert Louis Stevenson, more familiar with us as a writer, set Treasure Island on Fidra (off the East Lothian coast) so the story goes. Easy enough to see why if you’ve been there and lucky for us that joining the family firm wasn’t for him.
Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper by Peter Hill. A veritable treat, this book follows the adventures of the writer one summer in his art student days in the early 1970s when the lights were still manned. So if you’ve ever wondered what it was like working on a lighthouse, then I highly recommend this enjoyable read. His own maps and illustrations sprinkle the pages and the camaraderie he experienced with the other men working on the lights is a joy. A world long since passed which the author describes with warmth and skill.
The Lighthouse: The Mystery of the Eilean Mor Lighthouse Keepers by Keith McCluskey. This one I’ve yet to read, but the cover and the notes on the back cover grabbed me. So I’ll probably leave it for autumn when the nights are drawing in and there’s a soya hot chocolate in my hand. Furthermore, it’s not set on a grassy island where seabirds happily nest by the looks of it. Certainly not a ‘fluffy’ lighthouse tale, if that’s a word that could ever be used!