Mapping the Landscape: Pen & Gouache

Drawing, or ‘mark making’, is something we all instinctively do before we learn how to read, write and count. As we grow and begin to learn these other essentials, for most of us, drawing becomes a secondary means of expression and thought, and as such, we lose the ability and inclination to draw. I’m no expert and don’t quite know how to explain this, but for some of us it simply never leaves – the need to draw is always there. 

Through the many artistic mediums available, there are different approaches to drawing and mark-making, and an artist will explore all possibilities to convey various ideas. My work largely depends on location, a sense of place or ‘genius loci’, time, atmosphere and my own feelings. In the past, my paintings have looked towards figurative social realism with a semi-surreal narrative, and have always included urban and natural elements of the landscape. Over the years, however, as a keen hillwalker and climber, I’ve developed a passion for Scotland’s wild landscapes, which each have their own uniqueness. 

Loch Coire an Lochain

The Stag Rocks


Despite being a relatively small country, it packs a punch: mountains that are not insurmountable, yet provide unique high mountain experiences; large areas of arable lowland and mosaics of colourful fields dotted with ancient towns, cities and villages; a coastline that dramatically changes as one travels around it from east to west; and the isles – the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, the Shetlands – that sing in harmony with the land. Scotland has a rich plethora of vistas that not only provides inspiration to the artist, but a sense of place to find our own mindful thoughts and life. 

I’d gradually been looking to shift away from merely ‘representing’ landscapes to possibly using the moods, colours and atmospheres experienced outside to direct a different approach to showcasing them. Fascinated by the flora, fauna and geological formations of the hills and higher ranges, I began to research the subject . . . and I must say, it’s quite interesting to ponder the ‘deep time’ you’re in when on a belay ledge for some time! 

Without knowing it, this has led to the formation of these current pen and gouache paintings.

Stob Coire nan Lochain


My current practice closely observes the nature of the mountain environment and its existence as a living force. For a while, I’d been trying to minimise the images down to simple lines and flat areas of colour, and after many attempts and failures, something started to develop. People (one of them a geologist!) also started to pass comments that the works reminded them of the contour lines on maps, but being too fixated on composition and semi-abstraction, this hadn’t occurred to me . . . though now, this awareness drives my development process. 

These pen and gouache works are a kind of topographical approach to mapping the landscape. Without being too representational, they focus on specific formations and capture the geometric crystallisation and flow of rock. Fine lines and flat washes relate to the boundary contours and colours on maps, but they also evoke a sense of place, time and the layered strata constantly in flux with nature’s cycles of erosion and rebirth.

Coire an t-Sneachda

Lead Image: Coire Ardair

Creator’s biography

Bruce grew up in Perth and graduated as a mature student with BA/Hons Fine Art from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee University, in 2009. His current practice is based in Wasps Studios Meadow Mill, Dundee, where he works as a freelance artist. He teaches life drawing and also facilitates art classes and workshops for the health and wellbeing sector within the community.

From a young age he has always been drawn to the outdoors and has a keen passion for the environment and nature. He continues to climb and walk in Scotland’s varied and wonderful landscapes, gaining inspiration for artworks that aim to evoke the geology, history and ‘genius loci’ of a unique landscape that is continually changing through time’s constant cycle of erosion and rebirth.

Facebook: Bruce Shaw Visual Artist
Instagram: @bruceshaw137