My interest in Dumbarton Rock and castle as a subject evolved throughout the course, starting with the exercise for Creating Mood and Atmosphere. In that exercise I realised the similarities between the Rock and the hill, Suilven, which I had used for another exercise, Working from a Photograph.
When I thought about it the similarities between the two locations which interested me were:
- The impact on the surrounding landscape despite being relatively small in stature
- The texture of the rock faces
- The complete change in shape, depending on your viewpoint
- The effect of light on their shape and texture
After a bit of debate between the two as a subject for the final assignment I decided that using Dumbarton Rock would allow me access on a regular basis for sketching and photographs. A weekend in Lochinver, with the intention of sketching Suilven, had shown the wisdom of this as bad weather ensured that the hill was glimpsed only briefly, for a few hours, before low cloud descended.
I began by doing some reading into the history of the Rock and castle and its relationship with the town. In addition I gathered information on the geology of the Rock and also found a lot of useful information on websites related to rock climbing.
During a search on the website for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, I found a number of aerial photographs of the castle and, coupled with my reading about the geology of the rock, I began to consider doing an abstract painting based on the contours and aerial photographs.
An abstract version would allow me to explore some of the textures associated with the Rock and, to complement this I started to think of a painting which would make use of mixed media and a textured background specifically for the rock face.
This, in turn, suggested the third picture in the series where I would try for a more impasto version, focusing less on the individual features and more on the profile of the Rock.
After a bit of consideration and playing with ideas in my development journal I decided on two square paintings and one with a landscape format.
Development of ideas
With an initial idea in place I did more research into the approach taken by other artists. The Rock and castle have been well documented in sketches and paintings and I selected a number for the development journal to give me ideas about viewpoint, format or style.
From previous research on Wilhelmina Barns-Graham I also started to think about the reduction of natural forms and creating work which was moving towards abstraction. A visit to the castle gave me more ideas about shapes based on the river and the detailed textures of the rock.
My approach with the three paintings was to try and not be overly prescriptive. I wanted to respond to ideas from the research, sketch, collect reference material and, once at the stage of painting, go more with the flow.
Dumbarton Rock – abstract from natural forms
For the abstract painting I moved from initial bright colours for under layers to something that became more muted. I added sand to the areas that were inspired by the river and also additional layers of a gesso and gel mix to create texture. A reference to the ‘cubist’  look of the rock gave me the idea to flatten the planes of the rock faces.
Dumbarton Rock – textured ground
For the textured piece I used the gesso/gel mix and a palette knife to create the underlying shapes of the Rock and then added and removed washes of pure colour to emphasise the shapes and texture. The use of process cyan and quinacridone red-orange gave the painting an ethereal look.
After submission my tutor suggested lightening the sky and water. The reworked version is shown below.
Dumbarton Rock – impasto
For the final painting in the series I tried to work in a looser, impasto style. I veered away from this but felt that painting was true to my initial thoughts on the castle and interest in the impact of it on the surrounding landscape.
Based on feedback from my tutor I created a second impasto version of Dumbarton Rock. She felt that my application of paint in the first version was too flat to be called impasto and suggested using thicker brushes or a palette knife to create more staccato strokes.
Overall, producing the series has made me explore new approaches to creating texture and trying new techniques. It has also allowed me to explore some of my initial reactions to the castle including the impact on the surrounding landscape from different viewpoints and the effect of light on the shape and texture of the Rock.
I have also enjoyed working on an extended project and being able to consider a subject in more depth. Working on this series has given me ideas for other aspects of the Rock that I would like to explore including:
- Taking viewpoints from the castle itself
- Trying out different mediums
- Focusing more on the detail of the castle itself – buildings, walls and trees within the grounds of the castle
- Working on more detailed sketches and tonal studies.
Visual review of series
Based on feedback from my tutor I revised the textured ground painting and also created a second version of the impasto picture. The different versions can be compared in the post ‘Dumbarton Rock – visual review of series’.
 Watson, John. A historical companion to Dumbarton Rock [online] Glasgow: Stone Country. Available from: http://issuu.com/stonecountry/docs/dumbarton_rock. [Accessed 13/08/2014]
Other sources for research
Historic Scotland – Dumbarton Castle – http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_100 [Accessed 13/08/2014]
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland – http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/ [Accessed 13/08/2014]
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland – aerial photos of the castle – http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/search/?keyword=dumbarton+castle&submit=search [Accessed 13/08/2014]
Related pages and posts
Creating mood and atmosphere – https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/looking-out/creating-mood-and-atmosphere/
Working from a photograph – https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/looking-out/working-from-a-photograph/
A Discipline of the Mind: the drawings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/a-discipline-of-the-mind-the-drawings-of-wilhelmina-barns-graham/
A visit to Dumbarton Castle – https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/a-visit-to-dumbarton-castle/
Assignment 5: Dumbarton Rock – abstract from natural forms https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/assignments/assignment-5-dumbarton-rock-abstract-from-natural-forms/
Assignment 5: Dumbarton Rock – textured ground
Assignment 5: Dumbarton Rock – impasto https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/assignments/assignment-5-dumbarton-rock-impasto/
Assignment 5: Dumbarton Rock – impasto – version 2 https://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/assignments/assignment-5-dumbarton-rock-impasto-version-2/
Dumbarton Rock – visual review of series http:://katespaintingpractice.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/dumbarton-rock-visual-review-of-series/