Panoramic views of north eastern coastlines, woodlands teeming with fauna and flora, and majestic hills rolling effortlessly into the horizon – we are undoubtedly spoiled by the natural beauty of Aberdeenshire.
Though many of us admire this remarkable part of the world, it takes a keen artistic eye to communicate that beauty onto a blank canvas.
As a great believer that ‘you can find a lifetime of painting within five or six miles of your home,’ Aberdeenshire artist David Johnston has found a never-ending source of inspiration in the Mearns land and seascapes.
Having taken up a paintbrush for the first time in his teens, the self-taught artist has been exploring his surroundings through watercolour for around 50 years.
‘I didn’t go to art school. In fact, I did English Literature at Aberdeen University, then went on to do a degree in Scottish Literature, as well as a couple years of research.’
Taking early retirement from teaching at Arbroath High School, David now dedicates all his time to art. Given his recent election to become a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, this leap to full-time art has more than paid off.
While some of his peers rattle out numerous pieces in a day, David prefers a different approach, investing a great deal of time in developing layers and depth into his pieces. Each painting is a labour of love, and that stems from a passion for his north eastern roots.
‘I love the place – the Mearns – the changing landscape and the changing seasons. A furrowed field one day will be something else the next, while a stubble field will be ploughed and the next day it holds a completely different atmosphere. I get great satisfaction in being able to represent that in the medium that I love.’
Though David has previously worked with oils, acrylics, pen and ink, he quickly settled into watercolours, enjoying the way they reacted to the surrounding environment when working on the spot.
‘You can imagine, on a muggy summer’s evening with the haar coming over the hills it will not dry as quickly. If it’s a dry, crisp afternoon in August, then it will react differently. So the environment in which a watercolour is created is part of the finished work.’
Keen to develop his paintings away from the subject, David now works almost exclusively from his studio which allows him to paint more regularly during the autumn and winter months, especially when working on commissions. As such, he has adopted a new technique, using digital images, sketches and visual memory.
‘I tend to work on a series of paintings on the same subject or theme at any one time, then move on. The starting point might be a visit to St Cyrus or a walk in the countryside near my home. The light and the time of year is important to me.’
As the seasons shift from the vivid greens of spring to the blinding blue skies of summer, from the autumnal hues of red and orange to the frosty whites of winter, so too does David’s palette. Working consistently with tonal colours, his pieces are an accurate and rather peaceful reflection of the Aberdeenshire environment in its natural state.
Showcasing his works regularly at one-man and group exhibitions throughout Aberdeenshire – including at Tolquhon Gallery, Gallery Heinzel and Eion Stewart Fine Art – it is fair to say that the north east has wholeheartedly embraced David’s calm and reflective style.
Attributing much of his success to his wife Gladys, who has supported and encouraged him over the last 36 years, as well as to his son, David, it is certain we will see much more of this artist in the coming months and years. To find out more about David Johnston’s work and exhibitions, visit his website: