Kinkell Bridge Square

Early Spring at Kinkell Bridge

DEAR READER, I have provided two photos of this last painting. One in the light and one against. The painting is 3 feet x 4 feet and I have left it on the easel to show size, scale, 3D, tonality, temperature, and design.

Whereas for detail, Kinkell Bridge was built 228 years ago. It is situated in Strathearn, Perthshire, and was designed to provide dry carriage access across the River Earn. It is a strong single lane structure, and it is easy to see how it was created with thoughts of the past rumble of heavy wagons and goods traffic as it crosses the River Earn. It is masculine in appearance, with sturdy buttresses, but is light and classical in design with sweeping arches, like the billowing of sails. These are also reminiscent of today’s asymmetric spinnakers in sailing, which copy the sweep of a bird’s wing, from where this image probably originated.

While remaining for a moment with present-day sailing designs, current racing dinghies still use the old but suitable Bowline knot extensively in their rigging. For despite a change in materials from rope to Kevlar, this knot is self-tightening and 99% successful. Thus, a measure for good design, is that it proves itself practically, and then becomes endearing as a result.

Kinkell Bridge is also made of suitable local red sandstone. This is also charming in colour, and changes from hints of cherry red in bright sunlight, to a soft pale brown in cloud, shadow, or approaching darkness. While the River Earn flowing beneath it, leaves Loch Earn at St. Fillans, runs east through Strathearn, under the bridge on a straight bank, then east and south, eventually joining the River Tay estuary south of Perth.

While talking here about this bridge, I was reminded of teaching art in schools, and describing the timeless importance of form and function in art and design. I recall I had taken a class to Hampton Court Palace, where my students were quick to point out many examples and images of long-established usage of architecture and design, for good design is beautiful, as we can see with this bridge and its apparent fitness within the Strathearn landscape today.

Many people today think that art has no relationship to their lives, but this is completely wrong. For everything we touch, our knives and forks at breakfast time for example, all have art in them. They were first drawn and designed by somebody and manufactured with a definite level of artistic design skills involved.

While by contrast, the modern art movement in the 20th century totally lost its way in this regard, when it pursued conceptual art, and its buzz line ‘The idea is more important than the object.’

With this premise, they frequently cast aside all notions of draftsmanship and design. However, those conceptualised objects still had to be made and did required a practical use of design skills. Some attempted to bypass this problem by getting others to make the thing for them, but they still required design skills, nevertheless. This problem was also confused and deflected somewhat for a long period of time, by the use of esoteric artistic jargon, but never solved.

So, it is also interesting to consider how 1793, when Kinkell Bridge was built, also saw the publication of Wordsworth’s first famous poems – ‘An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches.’ The wonderful Romantic poet throughout his career wrote of his great love and fears for Nature, its vital resources and natural life. Which of course, with our current conservation and major climate change concerns, are relevant subjects in our lives now as well.

While this Bridge is also much-loved today. It is charming to cross, with its views which just open over the parapets on either side as you slowly drive over being both excellent and inspiring. In fine weather, it is a happy place for people to stand upon, just looking and chatting, simply enjoying those fine views of this surrounding scenery. While likewise, situated in the countryside, it provides a convenient stopping, or meeting spot for cyclists, and has people photographing it regularly. It also has its own water level monitoring station next to it, allowing accurate levels of the water in the River Earn to be recorded weekly.

Kinkell Bridge is also a famous salmon fishing location. It has a two-mile beat for Salmon and Sea trout fishing. It has its own resident Ghillie, and I was able to paint at this spot with his kind permission and assistance. While our brief conversations in cold anti-social days, were often one of the few joys through a Winter working on this painting. For with 20 years of fishing, teaching, and river maintenance experience, he was always a daily pleasure to talk with.

Finally, I am left to describe those special moments this riverbank scene held for me, even when the weather did not. For a magic begins on the far side of the river when the sun is setting, both in Winter, or early Spring, as it drops low behind the bridge, and those nearby houses. We see the last final rays of the sun, still lighting the bridge, fall boldly, strongly, upon the water. Then crossing the river, they bathe the near bank in a soft yellow glow, and the tops of the rushes, like Christmas tree lights, flicker, as they move slowly in the winter current, sometimes stationary, or gleaming back and forth, lit brilliantly in those dying beams of sunlight. While below, with eddies and streaming passages, the constant flow of the water provides icy blue contrasts to a steaming white light above, or below where it falls brightly, to intensely shine burning upon the water surface. While again, on a larger scale across the entire view, the movements of the water, the red-blue shadows of the bridge structures, and the red of the bridge itself, each provide separate changing contrasts, to a fading sky.

Siting excitedly in this white dazzling and reflecting light, which warms the face and hands, and raises the spirit, it is not hard to believe one may be sitting in Nature, awash in God’s own light.

On the last day when I finished this work, I had observed a fisherman working his way up the beat to me. And again, under the bridge onto the next one. He was fishing the upstream fly. He was tireless, very skilled, and accomplished with his casting. After this he came ashore and spoke to me. He saw my painting and was obviously and unexpectedly surprised. He said, “How did you that?” I replied, “This is a very big question.” As I could see he was somewhat embarrassed, I was unsure how to answer for him. He said he had been landscape painting while off on furlough, but had been copying from photographs, and showed them to me on his phone. He understood how flat they were in 2D, and how his colours were also disappointing.  So, I was left explaining in general, if he wanted to work from Life, he would need to learn how to draw. He said he had looked into this but had not found anything. It left me sadly trying to explain problems about lost knowledge, with design and light, which haunted me throughout the week.  For I had a similar unexpected conversation to this on the telephone, plus, I was still fatigued from working seven days a week, for rather a long time.

I explained I had recently written an article entitled ‘The Pleasure of Drawing,’ which was about the joy and those difficulties with lost knowledge, the skills he was talking about. And I attempted to explain, what people require today is not more abstract treatises on conceptual ideas, but rules of thumb against certain poor practices occurring in Drawing, which would lead them into the cul-de-sacs I had talked about. And how these become common for everybody at all levels, but may feel especially hard and difficult for beginners, as there can seem so many at the start. I have talked about how this removal of Art from the curriculum in education created a vacuum. Where an insistence upon abstract ideas in art institutions and universities has sadly created this problem with lost knowledge and skills today. For help is always required in understanding past Great Art. While for the interested person, practical assistance is also needed to help avoid those personal cul-de-sacs, as the pursuit of Drawing will naturally generate a growing a need to improve your craft, your skills, and a better understanding of one’s feelings towards art and design. We can all do this by using a pencil, by learning about the use of a rubber, and how making a mistake, then rubbing out to improve the work is a happy success, as it helps create pleasure for our feelings and senses. With typical brilliance Leonardo said, “Everybody should learn how to draw.”

Yet sadly for me today, I have become increasingly aware of how this hard-earned knowledge, will soon become completely lost, if it is not soon shared at every level and understanding.

I find it hard to imagine any sense, or justification, for the removal of art and design, with crucial human understanding, personal skills and knowledge from Education. For any mention of the need to modernise education in this respect is wrong. Instead, we should be encouraging innovation, encouraging problem solving skills in an open happy positive fashion, and allowing access to education through art and design, for the non-academic slow starter, and the under-privileged in our society to participate and contribute. I believe there was also further modern nonsense talk that Art was different to science, intellectually opposed to scientific thought and progress. When nothing could be further from the truth, if we just recall the world’s greatest painter Leonardo, who invented so many things 600 years ago.

So, collectively, we should all set about encouraging and highlighting this need for a practical engagement with art and the sight skills we all have and encourage people to again learn how to use them for personal development, self-expression and pleasure. It is not hard to encourage this kind of learning, and requiring little kit, it is incredibly cheap for costs in materials, where just three pounds, will suffice for some time. Two pencils at £1.00 each, a rubber at 90p, and a sheet of Royal imperial paper 30p, which can also be cut into four and should last for some time.

And I should mention again with excitement, those 3-Dimensional skills used in drawing we can all use to express and communicate our vision, our passions, and our feelings. They are happily practical, and straightforward. They use the self-evident 3-D sight skills and knowledge we all naturally possess from childhood, through our own eyesight. And although considered perhaps with a general misunderstanding today, we may not all use them too often, but we do use all of them in driving. Where here again our new car designers, becoming aware of this limitation in sight use, are producing sensors as aids for stopping and reversing as well.

And if some people still think that making classical traditional art is just a soft activity, airy fairy, it is not. I should mention that I always work in front of the subject, be it portrait or landscape. And I would love to swimmingly say with today’s spin, that this painting I finished went well and easily. However, that would be untrue, for with this picture as you will have gathered, I was outside on my own in all-weathers in Scotland, and it was mostly cold, even in the sunlight. And this year strong winds, sleet, snow, and the changing height of the water kept foxing me. Our newly fallen snow was naturally melting, and my spot on the riverbank often disappeared under water. While as this river rises, many of the colours in that scene change, especially the water, which picks up peat, and turns red. it was practically a long working time, definitely challenging, exhausting, and very time consuming personally.

My aim is always to paint life. The subject of this painting, with Its change and movement, was about the magic of the last moments of falling sunlight within this view on the river. And the brush strokes I made throughout a long period of Winter, were about this change and the working moments of my life there too. This year, the shocking month of February seemed endless, until early March saw our weather improve a little for two weeks, then returned to cold, overcast and then again sunlight. At the Bridge, and for my painting at the end, it had become about dates and my time in the countryside.  While for the landscape and its occupants, this was a natural occurrence as the sun sets low down, with a joyful visual experience for us all to see, as that wonderful glory unfolds. I happily finished it recently in April.

For me technically, this painting was executed in the classical traditional terms in which I trained. I sought to create three-dimensional objects, whether natural or man-made, all with the use of light in three tonal values and three temperature values. And the forms or spaces in the picture are shown, with drawing that is not accidental in design, but inherent and essential. It embraces the size, the scale, the solidity, the movement, the mood, all providing aid to my Light in the complete Design; reaching out to the human eye and encourage it to be see clearly the natural reality it supports. While the lumps and bumps of paint, are my Winter workings, a record of my attempts to express that glorious Light. This was all concerned with feelings, an emotional attempt to be open to Nature, and to do justice to the faithful service this bridge has provided since it was designed and built.

And last, with regards again to the teaching of drawing today, rather than supress and squander this national resource, I do believe we should be encouraging drawing at every educational level. I had a seven-year-old, and an eighty-three-year-old, happily in the same class, as age makes no difference. For the very nature of first learnings in how to draw, is the same for all ages.

And finally, this is not an old-fashioned notion that is out of date. For ironically, it is now a new idea, that ‘The Pleasure of Drawing for Everybody.’ should again be recognised as a vital human experience, especially for wellbeing, growth, or emotional support, and not to be lost again through neglect or misunderstanding.

Will you help?

While, for my final contribution today, and from skills learnt at ­the Royal Academy of Art in London, I am happy to report we offer established practical Advanced Masterclasses in Fine Art, Classical Culture, and Advanced Art Appreciation, that is applicable for all ages. ­These skills are also fundamental to acquiring both intellectual understanding and practical skills for Fine Art, Design, Illustration, Animation, plus Th­ree-Dimensional Computer Visualisation Skills. And this past year, despite all the problems with Covid Lockdowns and Tier restrictions, I am also happy to report, we have filmed successfully a week of lessons and will be offering this same course in an On-line version shortly, with video lectures included accordingly.



Charles Harris

Copyright: Charles Harris International

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