Dark December Days

Last time I wrote about a long held ambition on this blog it was to go onto the Bass Rock and June 2012 saw this become a wonderful reality – albeit a smelly and noisy one!

So, now I think I need to divulge another ambition of mine in the hope that at some point in the future I can relate to you my experiences of overcoming it.

Islay Hare, ink and gouache

You may have noticed in my work that there are a lot of depictions of birds and animals at night. I think there are a number of reasons for this, the main one is my interest in the secret life of creatures and what better time to explore this idea than when most of us are asleep or blind to much of the night’s activity.

I love Samuel Palmer’s work, particularly his early work which combines acute observation of place with a sense of intangible magic. I have a postcard of this piece up in my studio:


Samuel Palmer, A Cornfield by Moonlight with the Evening Star, Watercolour with body colour and pen and ink, 830

I also have an image of this intriguing painting, Thinking on Comets, by one of my favourite artists, Mary Newcombe, up in my studio.

mary newcombe thinking-on-comets

My ambition is to be able to spend sustained periods of time out in the night, I would like to be as familiar and comfortable with the activities and landscapes of the night as I am during the day. Unfortunately bad night vision and an overenthusiastic imagination often send me swiftly back inside to the comfort of electric lights and a reality that is tangible to me.

Scottish naturalist John Lister Kaye devotes an entire chapter to ‘The Night’ in his book Song of the Rolling Earth. The following (heavily edited) description of an encounter with a badger in a pine wood is spine tingling:

‘I become aware of a low snuffling coming up at me from somewhere below, away down the slope. I freeze…its snuffling is profundo, a little too gruff, too intermittent and somehow too strong. The snort is powerful, authoritative, a little tetchy, not to be fooled with.

The hairs on my neck begin to rise…I know the author of this elemental grubbing, grunting, snuffling wheeze…I know exactly who this is…This is the friendly daemon of my boyhood woods…He comes on. There is no wind and scent is his principal ally…Now he is only ten yards away. Slowly I realise that the dim path I followed down off the moor was, of course, his…I am sitting not three feet away from this one. I can scarcely believe my luck. This fellow is grubbing his way from a feeding foray. I can see his stripy face. I wrest my eyes a foot to his right. The friendly moon-striped face is clearer now and he’s digging again. Phorrt! He snorts the the peaty soil from his black nostrils. I can hear his powerful jaws chomping…He comes on again. Pad, pad, pad, pad…I can hear his claws rattle on the stony path. I hold my breath. He is only six feet away…Twice he turns to look at me. The glistening nose at the end of the pied face is inscribing Ws in the air as he floats molecules of essence across his palate like a wine taster…He stops and sniffs my protuberant boot, steps back, skirts it warily, almost crossly, and stops again. There is a frozen moment of uncertainty. I hear his gut rumble and his short breaths. He is so close that I can smell him now, a dark, wild, organic musk like a tramp’s. He swallows, an audible spasm of muscular intimacy at the very warp of his being. I am breathing his hot breath…Purposeful and unhurried he turns away and trundles up the path – his path – whence I came. I turn to see him go. His shaggy, bear-like silhouette brands my brain. He is an indelible effigy of the night.’

And to finish, another of my own night time scenes:

moonlit pheasant 3 web

Moonlit Pheasant, Monotype


About flyingcreature

I'm a Cumbrian born painter and printmaker based in Scotland. My work is inspired by British nature. I studied on the Foundation Course at Leith School of Art in 2003 before going on to take the MA Fine Art degree at Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University graduating in 2008. I now make my work from my studio in Coburg House and teach drawing, painting and printmaking at Leith School of Art and around Scotland.
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4 Responses to Dark December Days

  1. Leo du Feu says:

    Can I come?

    Your Islay hare, he really glows… and the moon & mountain, and grass & sea. Beautiful piece.

    • It wouldn’t be the same without you Leo…and it may help my night fears having someone else with me! Thanks for the comments on the Islay hare…I am still keeping yours safe for you.

  2. Kay Miller MD says:

    As a native South Dakotan, I love pheasants…and want to be able to sketch them easily. Browsing the vast IOE/Internet of Everything, I came across your blog with the pheasant above. I love it! My Grandmother was a “bird person,” and my husband and I love birds. So, it was doubly fun to find your blog.

    • Hi Kay, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my blog and enjoyed my pheasant print! They are wonderful birds and they are not too bothered by humans so can be drawn more easily than a lot of other things. My advice is to get your sketchbook out and give it a go! It is very nice to hear from a fellow bird lover. Best wishes, Kittie

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