Sorbus aucuparia – Nicola Macartney

Rowan growing beside Loch Tay © Nicola Macartney

I have always been fascinated by Rowan trees. It is maybe something about their place in Scottish folklore that I like. They are reputed to be trees which offer protection against witchcraft and enchantment – not generally a big concern these days. Nevertheless, I had to remove one from my garden a few years ago and I was told that it was bad luck and I should plant another!

They have long been a part of the Scottish landscape and the gaelic for rowan which is caorunn appears in several Highland place names. Another reminder of the relationship between plants and our everyday lives.

The rowan I painted is one growing in a garden on the south shore of Loch Tay. I think it must have been a good year for rowans as the trees were full of berries. The colours were amazing and I was struck by the variety of differing shades in the leaves and berries on different trees – from blue greens to bright spring greens and from orange to pillar box reds.

Returning to my studio, I set about drawing out a branch. I chose a specimen that seemed to embody the rowan’s exuberant growth with leaves sprouting in all directions and a large number of berries. I decided to paint the branch at 2 times life size as I felt that this would accentuate the impact of the bright colours and vigorous growth.

Work in progress © Nicola Macartney

I chose a composition where the berries were coming forward because it created a pleasing shape and allowed a view of the lower berries which I hoped would give a sense of their weight.

Colour matching for Rowan © Nicola Macartney

I always use a fairly limited palette. In this painting I used two yellows, new gamboge and windsor lemon, a few reds but mainly pyrrol scarlet and permanent rose and for the blues, windsor blue, aquamarine and indigo. Colour matching is always tricky when the painting takes longer than the specimen survives.  Luckily, I had taken the advice given to me and had planted a rowan tree in my garden which gave me a living reference. Maybe not quite protection from enchantment and witchcraft but hopefully protection from bad colour choices!


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