Approaching painting

I was born in 1963 and have spent 35 years working as an ecologist. It was only last year when, driven by illness (see previous blog), I took up painting seriously . What a glorious, exciting and stimulating adventure it is! But my career as an ecologist means that I have a lifetime of catching up to do as a landscape painter and I have 35 years of mistakes to learn from. My approach to dealing with this is to dive in headfirst. I paint for 50-60 hours per week, and am always sketching (see below), painting or thinking about how to represent landscapes. I post many of these sketches and paintings on Instagram (712 posts as I write this) as an archive of ideas, experiments and hopefully progress. I also enjoy trying different techniques and approaches.

I am constantly challenging myself to think about how to approach painting. Every day I walk for 1-2 hours. At this time, I try and clear my head and focus on two things. First – the natural world. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful part of Scotland, with delightful landscapes right on my doorstep. It is amazing how these landscapes and the light varies, even during the course of a walk. Second, I am thinking about how I can best capture the light, the tones, the contrasts, the changing patterns and my emotional response.

There is definitely an element of addiction in painting. I’m searching for the next hit, for a freedom where I become one with both the place and the painting and where my work resonates with my emotional response. It is incredibly exciting, but also, at least for me, tantalisingly ephemeral. It will take a lot of time and a lot of mistakes before I get into that zone more frequently.


Brief selection of sketches from my sketchbooks. I sketch constantly because it is a joy and also to improve my skills. The first was painted almost exactly a year ago in Assynt, north west Scotland; the second at Mar Lodge, and the pine tree in my local Drummy woods.


Steve (July 1st, 2020)



  1. Kate Rastall on July 17, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Steve,
    I’ve read this blog post several times and one thing strikes me each time: you speak of your career as a scientist as separate to your career as an artist, but I see the two as 2 sides of the same coin. Certainly, it is now you have the time to learn the craft of painting, but your work and life as a scientist have given you a real feel for and deep understanding of the natural world, to a much richer level than most of us. Surely many of the skills in the 2 disciplines are the same: observation, patience, spotting patterns, a willingness to take on new ways of thinking and learning from mistakes, interpreting what you see and expressing it in a way that enables others to see from a new perspective. The list of similarities is endless. I see the scientist part of you informing and enriching the artist. I know you have always had a very strong emotional connection with the natural world and it’s wonderful to see that being expressed so creatively. Thanks for sharing your work on Instagram and on your website, and for allowing us to come along with you on your artist’s way. 🙂

    • Stephen Redpath on July 19, 2020 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks Kate. You are right that many of the skills required by a field ecologist are similar to those used by a landscape painter. Observation, patience & critical reflection are essential for both. So much has been written about the divide between the two cultures (see eg the famous essay by C.P.Snow) that it is certainly useful to remind ourselves of the overlaps.

      There are of course many differences between the approaches of science and art. I was reflecting how the practice of the two cultures FEELS to someone who was a scientist and is now trying to make his way as an artist. Now I have the time to be much more reflective and creative and to activly consider my emotional response, rather than strive for objectivity. There is a freedom that I haven’t really experienced since I was a young PhD student wandering the Cairngorms trying to how to understand the behaviour and impact of predators. Of course, it is not just that I have switched from science to art, but that I have also left behind a career with a government institute and then a university and the associated responsibilities and bureaucracy that those jobs involved. Now I sit in my studio drinking coffee and contemplating the stretched, blank paper before me with a big smile on my face.

      Sadly and worryingly, in the 60 years since Snow’s essay, the two cultures seem to have drifted further apart and there is a desperate need to try and bring them closer together. This is clearly a major societal task. For me now I am focused on my painting. I still look at the world in a similar way, but now I study and express it very differently. Certainly, I and my art are richer for having been a natural scientist. It would be great to hear from others who have experience of both worlds..


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