Appropriately, on a cold, snowy morning, Libby Scott the Scottish-based landscape painter, gave a talk on her work, at Edinburgh’s “Birch Tree Gallery”. Although not describing herself totally as a “plein air” painter, because she does enjoy experimentation in the studio – the beginning of her work is sketching in the landscape, on the spot, and she relishes rain spots on her sketchbook.
An active outdoors enthusiast, she has gone abseiling, rockclimbing, canoeing and skiing with her husband, and for years taught off-road driving for Landrover (the first female instructor they had). So getting outdoors in wild, remote landscapes is hugely enjoyable for her, and she communicates that excitement in her paintings and when she speaks about her subject.
Together with her love of landscape, Libby grew up with a familiarity with the studio environment, from her artist grandmother. More recently at a key time of career change, she inherited her grandmother’s painting materials, along with her books on famous artists – which Libby had occasionally doodled over with a crayon, in her preschool years! This inheritance inspired her to begin painting herself, leading to her current work as a full-time artist.
Having studied textiles and then ceramics, Libby brings a love of textures and layering to her work. The classic British landscape artist, Turner, was an influence with their luminosity and his approach of working in the landscape even and especially during stormy conditions. One key contemporary influence was Kate Downie – for whom she was a volunteer gallery assistant in Kate’s 50-0 exhibition. This gave her an opportunity to be around the materials and workflow of a working professional artist. Libby is an admirer of the work of Scandinavian painter/printer Ornulf Opdahl because of the darkness and relationship of sky and land.
She continues to be influenced by the work of ceramics artists, in particular citing Sam Hall for the richness and organic feel of his surfaces. Her ceramics training has helped her develop a sensitivity and awareness of surface, the build up of layers and the quality of the mark applied.
“I work always in mixed media… I just love the build up of layers, and the richness that I can gain from all of these – they each have their own individual qualities that I pick up; and I use them in my own peculiar way.”
Recommended Kit for outdoors
- A rucksack (Haglof brand, as they give sideways easy access to the backpack)
- A wee pot of premixed ink – usually a favourite teal/indigo colour
- a water bottle
- a tool roll (inherited from Grandmother) to hold brushes
- Unison pastels – handmade, pricey but with a very high level of pigment
- Handmade block to lean on (ideally birch ply for lightness or MDF) with bulldog clips – easy to carry by the side (as in her photograph)
- Paper used – weight 220-250 grms – a brand sized externally and internally (as a member of a print studio, she got to experiment with a wide array of papers)
- a camera, for reference
In warmer times of year, Libby uses materials which can dry quickly in the open air: watercolour and white acrylic and inks. In cold weather, she prefers to use oil pastels, dry pastels and a lot of pencil.
“I like the weather in the surface of the painting, evidence of it – so sometimes you’ll see slight splotches or marks or the wind’s picked up or whatever”
Sketchbook “my visual diaries”
At the talk, Libby generously had brought in some of her sketchbooks, which were
shared around the audience, to quiet murmurs of delight, while she was still speaking. She also explained her progress from the work in the sketchbook to the finished art piece. Her sketchbooks are available to view on her website, here. In her talk, she emphasised the importance of them, which she had learnt during her ceramics studies – and how devastated she felt when she lost one, in the final year of her academic studies. She also referred to another contemporary Scottish landscape painter, Barbara Rae, as someone relying heavily on her sketchbooks, who had similarly been vastly disappointed by accidentally losing two on a flight. (see here for my review of Barbara’s extensive polar pictures exhibition at RSA in 2018).
“The reason why I’ve maintained sketching so much and why they’ve ended up being developed into such a key component in relation to my work is that there’s just a sheer loss of inhibition in these books – there’s some sort of connection that I have in that.”
She begins with pastels – not in the usual way – but scrapes some pigment off, onto where she wants it on the page, then uses a brush to apply it dynamically, with Aquarelle pencils and ink.
Libby identifies one difficulty for Scottish artists as the lack of studio spaces. Her own studio is the spare bedroom in her own house. Having sketched outdoors, with a wide range of materials, Libby then brings her materials indoors, prints out her photos taken onsite, makes a “montage wall”, including perhaps a few bits of foliage from the scene – and begins to paint on larger scale paper. “I wouldn’t call it a recreation, but a continuation.” She has learnt the right percentage to be able to mix acrylics with oil paints.
Libby’s talk was peppered with references to using social media – she maintains an attractive website, Facebook presence, Twitter and uses them to stay linked with other artists. This makes her work very accessible, wherever you live. The talk was videoed by Josh Davie – and there are now two videos of the event:
She is aiming to make a series of drawings, possibly paintings in the Findhorn location later in the year, which will yield more pictures of water in the landscape – the Moray coastline.