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Planning Retirement Online

Art Masterclass      November 2005


Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.


Art masterclass

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;

This month: an Art Masterclass featured in the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.

Scottish Colour

Inspired by the landscapes of Scotland, as well as the Impressionists and Colourists, Hamish MacDonald has become well known for his vibrant paintings in oils and mixed media.

Vibrant, exciting and expressed in an intensely personal way, Hamish MacDonald's wonderfully evocative landscapes and still life paintings have deservedly earned him huge success over the last 30 years or so. His work is both exhilarating and highly individual, and it is not surprising that it is now much sought after.





Boat at the Jetty, mixed media

on board, 12.5in. x 15in (32 x 38cm)



There are examples of his paintings in many important collections, including those of HM the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and various public and corporate institutions.

A great admirer of the Impressionists and the Scottish Colourists, Hamish is continually exploring an approach that places the emphasis on a bold use of colour, often combined with strong, gestural brushmarks, and from this he has evolved a style that is distinctly his own. His ideas and inspiration mainly come from the coast and landscape of Scotland, particularly from his frequent trips along the west coast. But Cornwall is also a good source of ideas and he now regularly travels abroad, recently to Morocco and Italy, for example. Hamish has always felt a strong affinity for the Scottish landscape, with its drama of scale, light and mood.

"My greatgrandfather had a croft at Morar, which is on the mainland coast near Skye," he says, "and I think this is where my love of the west coast comes from. But of course I also paint subjects from all over Scotland. The east coast is interesting as well, and I particularly like the fishing villages, such as Crail, near Fife Ness. My aim in every painting is to capture the unique spirit and character of the place. And I hope that when people look at these landscapes there is a real sense that they couldn't be anywhere else but in Scotland."

Green Ropes, mixed media on


151/2x20in. (39.5x51cm)



Summer Fields, Skye, mixed media

on board, 36x48in. (91.5x122cm)


"Although Scotland is still my first love, the success of my work now enables

me to travel more and try out ideas from other places. What I especially enjoy about this is that painting in Corsica or Malta, for instance, demands a

completely different approach to the one that I have been used to in Scotland.

In my view it is good to give yourself a new challenge, and I like the fact that

you have to reassess all your thinking about colour. As opposed to the

restrained colours in Scotland, abroad there is far greater warmth and intensity.


"However, even in Scotland it is colour that I consider to be the most important element in my paintings. Of course, I usually exaggerate what I see and feel

about colour, but nevertheless, in a hot climate there is still the need for a

different palette to convey that sense of heat — a warmer palette with an emphasis on ochres and yellows. And there is also more contrast in the skies,

which are bluer.


Source material

"For many years now I have preferred to paint in the studio rather than on site. This is quite different to the way that I started in my youth, when I was fanatical about painting on the spot, even when the conditions were cold and uncomfortable. But by my late twenties I became disenchanted with this approach because I found it difficult not to put in every feature that I saw in front of me. In consequence the results were very illustrative, which was not the quality that I wanted. Since then, working away from the actual subject matter has given me more freedom to select and compose.

"So for most of my career I have relied on developing ideas from location sketches and photographs, supported by my own feelings and recollections of the scene. I have all the necessary source material around me in the studio, and by working in this way I know I can put more of myself into each painting. I use whatever reference material will help me with expressing the essence of the idea that I have in mind.

"The sketches are usually made in pencil or charcoal, although I also sometimes use pastel and watercolour — it depends what I have with me at the time. I take various photographs as well, from which I may use a group of cattle from one and a tree or some cottage from another. But photographs are never for copying, I would say.




Cattle by the Lock, Wester Ross,

 mixed media on board, 151/2x20in. (39.5x51cm)



Still Life with Lemons and Pigeon, oil on canvas, 36x48in. (91.5x122cm)

"The fact that I now have two studios is a great asset. It means that there

is no problem in varying the subject matter or medium, switching from a

landscape to a still life, for instance, or from oil painting to mixed media.

And because I always have several paintings in progress at the same time,

if I experience problems with one I can leave it for a while and go to the

other studio to work on something else. One painting will often help another,

so that when I return to the 'problem' I know exactly what to do. Another advantage is that I can leave everything out, ready to continue next time."

Hamish works with a wide range of media. Sometimes he paints purely in oils

or perhaps gouache or acrylics, but more often these days he likes to combine paint, collage and other media to explore different surface textures as well as colour.

"I can't exactly explain how," he says, "but once I have made a start, the

subject itself seems to suggest the medium and approach to use. And

whatever painting I'm working on, I always regard it as a process of

exploration and discovery. This is because I believe there has to be a

dialogue between you and the painting. So although I might begin with an

idea, and a general sense of how I want to develop it, the reality is that the

final painting may look quite different

Spirit and spontaneity

"Also it is very important to me that, before I start work, all the materials are set out in the studio in the particular way that I am used to. This is because in my most successful paintings there is always a period (perhaps of only four or five minutes) when I am working quite automatically, when the subconscious takes over. Then I need to be able to pick up the brushes, paints or whatever without stopping to find them, so that there is no interruption to the creative process. This may sound a bit mystical, but that's how it is!

"Canvas is still my favourite surface; it is a lovely sensuous surface. But I also work on prepared board and card. I like a variety of surfaces, just as I like to work with different media and subject matter. I think if you are a professional artist painting every day you need this sort of stimulus.

"By the same token I accept that not every idea will be 'inspired'. So on days when I don't have a good idea I work at finding one — by looking through the source material or experimenting with colour. In my experience there is no substitute for hard graft!

"As I have said, I do not paint to a set procedure. I may start off in oil paint or perhaps with a combination of acrylic and oil, and if it is going well then, before I know it, the painting is finished.



Storm Wave, Morar, mixed media

on board, 9x9in. (23x23cm)



 Yellow Fields Below Black Cuillins, mixed media on board, 15x22in. (38x56cm


"At other times I may start with the background textures, working with

both paint and collage, or I may feel that having started in oil I want to

introduce collage or mixed media. It depends on that 'dialogue' and the

needs of the individual painting. It is always a joint effort from me and the



"Many of the decisions and reactions when painting are instinctive, of course,

and come from accumulated knowledge and skills. For me, the quality I most

want to achieve in my paintings is a feeling of spontaneity; I want them to

look as though they have been created in a sort of glorious, exciting rush.

And although I'm working mostly with colour and texture, at the same time

I want to capture the atmosphere, light and mood — to convey the feeling

of a windy, rain-soaked day, for instance, or the way light falls on the water.

It is important, too, that not every part of the painting is fully explained, that something is left to the viewer's imagination and interpretation.

"Success depends on a variety of factors, not least of which is knowing when

to stop. If you go too far the work becomes tight and loses its spontaneity, whereas if you stop too soon it looks unfinished. Again, experience counts.

But in every picture there is something unknown and magical that has to be discovered. And this is why I prefer not to analyse my work too carefully — because it can take away that magic!" 



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