I have wanted to attend Feis Rois for a long time. When I first took up my fiddle again, about twenty years ago, my two children were quite small and I didn't feel I could escape for a whole long weekend to myself. Goodness knows why - I must have been a bit mad. The years passed, I wondered about going but never got organised. Then, around New Year time this year, an old school friend got in touch. She picked up her fiddle again last year; hers had collected more dust than mine, although perhaps that has made her even more determined to play again. "Let's go to the Feis!" she said. I didn't need to be asked twice. We were best friends right through school, from Primary 6 to sixth year. Competing in class, spurring each other on to study hard and, oh yes, sitting beside each other in the second violins in the school orchestra.
So, on Friday 4th May we travelled to Ullapool (by road, not ferry, contrary to appearances from the photo above), booked into our lovely B&B with views out over the sea towards the Summer Isles, and headed to the High School to register for the Feis. To describe the Feis, I am borrowing some words from their website - "a weekend bursting with music, song and dance and a stellar team of tutors to inspire participants of all levels". And that is exactly what it was, and more. Although I've been playing fiddle and, more recently, mandolin on and off for twenty years, I chose to attend a beginners' harp class. I went to this every morning. It was wonderful. There were only six of us in the class; all keen to learn and loving every minute of the new experience. Rachel Newton was our tutor - she was so patient, kind and full of laughter. And a great teacher! "Thumbs up, fingers down" became our mantra. The time flew by; we learnt a tune by ear, and the beginnings of a second one. Several of the class asked where they might acquire a clarsach so they could carry on....
Afternoons were spent doing group work under the expert tutoring of Lauren MacColl, along with Mairearad Green and Signy Jakobsdottir. I played my fiddle. We had a chance to play some of the music from The Seer, a new composition by Lauren, commissioned by Feis Rois. I learnt a lot, including the fact that a tenor horn sounds great in traditional music, 3 x 4 = 12 (I did know that, but this involved drumsticks and chair backs) and that an accordion can make a sound like waves on the shore.
It wasn't all about the music. Mostly it was, to be fair. But sustenance was required. Coffee breaks in the morning were a highlight, with volunteers serving endless cheerful mugs of tea and coffee, and fabulous, substantial homebakes seeing us through until lunchtime. The whole weekend was marvellous; there was a concert with The Shee and The Seer on the Saturday evening and a tutors' concert the following one. There were sessions in the pubs all through the town, which went on into the small hours. Tunes were shared, songs sung and I left feeling replenished, refreshed and inspired. The icing on the cake for me, however, was succeeding in encouraging (not single-handedly, I admit) a reluctant joiner-in to do so. The look of glee on his face after just one workshop was a joy to behold. That, for me, is what playing music together should be all about. A fun and enjoyable experience, shared with others.
I'm looking forward to next year already!
Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I like trying out new things. I was booked on a lino cutting workshop recently, which was unfortunately postponed at the last minute (due to adverse weather conditions). Undeterred, I took myself off out to the studio and dug out the starter lino cutting kit which I bought last autumn. I read the instructions ( a first for me!) and even watched couple of Youtube videos (again, not something I do that often - this one with James Green in Sheffield especially appealed to me). And then I just had a go. To start with, I made some different marks in the lino, using the cutting tools; some thin and some thick. This was on a very small piece of soft lino, about 5cm x 10cm.
I was quite happy with the results. I wasn't aiming for a particular pattern or shapes. I used one colour, then turned the lino round and added another layer using a different colour. It was fun to just play!
I then moved on to creating a picture. As is often the case, I didn't quite have the right tools for the job. I didn't have tracing paper, so made do with greaseproof paper from the kitchen drawer instead. Shame it was the brown stuff, as it made it hard to see through. I only had black printing ink (it came in the kit); I wanted to try out other colours, so had a go with some gouache (applied to the lino with a brush, so brush marks appeared in the print - might be a good effect, if that's what you're after). I also tried acrylic paint, applied with a roller (or brayer), which was the right sort of consistency, but too sticky for the paper I was using - the top layer of paper came away and stuck to the lino.
I carried on experimenting. Test prints were done on old magazine pages (see the first image) and subsequent ones on good quality printing paper with poor quality monoprints on the back (my own ones from a screenprinting workshop I attended a while ago). The plan is to do a series of prints of Aberdeen buildings - so far the Old Town House and King's College have made it into print. It's certainly a work in progress - quite a bit of refining is needed - I'll keep you posted!
"Me" "How you started" "Where".
It's always good to try something different, learn something new. This month I've been taking part in something called March Meet the Maker, which is happening on Instagram. I've not been using Instagram very long, so thought joining in with a daily challenge would be a good way of expanding my reach a little. It's only half way through the month and already I have learnt so much and found some really interesting makers from all over the world!
Routine : where all my computer stuff gets done and where
I am writing this blog post. Chair, piano stool, laptop. Sorted.
How it works : A daily prompt is provided by #marchmeetthemaker founder, Joanne Hawker. This ranges from Who are you? to Where do you make? to Helpers, Boomerang and Flatlay. Yes, I know, I had to find out about the last two! But what makes me feel a whole lot better about that is the fact that I've seen plenty other people asking what they mean as well. I am not alone, which is good.
Prompts have also included How you Started and Dreams and Plans, which have provided food for thought, looking into both the past and the future! It's been a thought provoking time. I have probably spent even more time than normal (and I already spend quite a lot) on social media these past two weeks, but I've seen some really interesting posts, especially the ones about how people started making. There are milliners, illustrators, potters, ceramicists and jewellers out there, all making lovely things.
Flatlay (photo from above) Dreams & Plans Work clothes
If you want to see how I get on with this challenge for the rest of the month, just pop over to Instagram - I am there @pebbleson
Today's prompt is Helpers - here is the photo I will be posting of our lovely new furry friend! He's called Pepe and helps me by creeping up on my knee when he thinks I've been on my laptop long enough and it's time for a walk. Time for a walk in the woods, some fresh air and some space to switch off or plan what's next.
Sometimes it is the things you see every day which inspire you. A colour or texture catches your eye, and you're hooked. The itch starts, and you find you have to paint it. Whatever it might be. This happened for me a couple of years ago, when I was working with the lovely Vital Veg at Midmar. Every week I packed beautiful, colourful veg into veg bags for customers. Some of the veg came home with me. And some of that came with me to the weekly art class I was attending.
I wasn't aiming for still life. Nor was I trying to make an exact, photographic image. I was aiming, I think, for a celebration of deliciousness. I laid the veg (the larger the better, some soil was often present too) on a sheet of white paper on the table I was working at, with a large piece of (usually cartridge) paper beside it. I had seen that this was how the wonderful Elizabeth Blackadder paints her gorgeous flowers. I am a great admirer of her work, so off I went...
Another influence fed into this process. A few years ago, I attended a workshop with Sofia Perina-Miller, whose work I also greatly admire. She paints fabulous striking flowers, as well as many other subjects. She showed us how to paint directly onto paper, without doing any initial drawing. This was an entirely new experience for me - and I found that I loved the freedom of it! Instead of feeling constrained by the pencil lines, I was "free" to paint directly, loosely, using vibrant colours, which resulted in more lively work. Sofia usually adds meticulous pen and ink details to her work. I left mine as they were; as I may have mentioned before I have rather limited patience!
There is always a certain amount of fear involved in painting this way. I had to learn to be brave, to trust that the colours I was choosing and the marks I was making were strong and true and confident. This was no time for fiddling around with details and tentative marks. Before I started, I would look carefully at the veg, get a feel for the overall shape and size and proportions, the main colours, the shadows on the paper. Really look, and get a feel for it. It helped to stand up, to have everything I needed to hand and to just do it, quickly. I love this way of working; writing this makes me want to do some more of this kind of work.
Some of my veg paintings are available as digital downloads from my Etsy shop.
Various items (prints, mugs, phone covers, tote bags etc.) sporting my veg paintings can also be found on Redbubble.
All the paintings can be viewed in my gallery (most originals are available)
I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my paintings. The simple answer is that I go out for a wander. I always go armed with my camera. Sometimes, I am caught unawares and will take photos on my phone, if something catches my eye when out and about. I love the response I heard once to the query "what's the best camera to use for taking photos?" - "the one you have with you!" Makes perfect sense to me.
I mainly paint from my own photographs; when I get home I transfer all the photos I've taken onto my laptop, and then print out ones that appeal to me onto A4 paper. I then use those as a reference. I never set out to produce an exact replica of the photo; there will always be omissions or additions, depending on the subject matter, my mood or level of patience on the day! A favourite haunt is Footdee, or Fittie, in Aberdeen; I love the buildings and sheds, and their brightly coloured doors. It's a great source of inspiration. The shed above appealed to me - the photo was taken just a few days ago, with the painting done several years ago. It's had a lick of paint recently!
I based "Fittie Deckchair" on the photo above; missing out the people and using a certain amount of "artistic licence" with colours, composition and construction. Sometimes, I will take photos which I feel work best staying as photos; I'll write about this another time.
Wishing everyone a joyous and peaceful Christmas and health and happiness in 2018! Thank you very much for all your interest and support over the past year.
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Many thanks to everyone who came to visit us at Newton Dee during North East Open Studios in September. It was lovely to meet all who visited and I really enjoyed the company of my fellow artists. One of these artists was Lucy Brydon, who was showing visitors the delights of gelli printing. Last year I had a go at this and recently I acquired some gelli printing equipment (basically just a small gelli plate and a roller for rolling out paint or ink onto it. I already had acrylic paint in the studio). Over recent days I've been having a go at printing some designs for this year's Christmas cards. It has been an interesting experience; I am learning as I go along. I am finding it harder than I expected to figure out what order to do the different steps in. Doing things in reverse does not seem to come naturally to me. It's fun, though, laying down layers of different colours, using stencils and found objects (leaves, ferns, fabric, wool, paper doilies) to make patterns. the whole process will be easier once I have another roller or two for inking up the gelli plate! (they have been ordered, hope they come soon!). I am realising it would almost certainly be better and easier to using printing inks for this method, as the acrylic paint I am using dries very quickly. This can also be seen as an advantage, not having to wait for prints to dry before adding another layer. Using up materials I already have, however, is what needs to be done for now, so I will persevere with the acrylic paint.
The next step is to take photographs of the prints, maybe tweak the colours a little, or crop the images, and decide which ones to use for my cards this year! Onwards and upwards.
Once again, it's time for North East Open Studios. This will be my seventh year taking part! For a change, I will not be exhibiting in the cabin in my back garden (apologies to fans!), instead joining forces with five lovely creatives at the Phoenix Community Centre at Newton Dee in Bieldside in Aberdeen. We are calling ourselves "Art at the Phoenix" and have our own Facebook page. I will have more space to show my work and it will be great to have company during the event. Four of us are artists, with a fused glass maker and a potter adding to the mix. The venue will be open daily from 9th - 17th September, 10am - 4pm. Look forward to seeing you there! I am number 263 in the book; directions to the venue are in my listing.
Art at the Phoenix is part of the Lower Deeside Trail (which I was part of in past years). It lays out 11 venues, featuring 19 artists and makers, within 6 miles of each other. See map below (also available from my Pebbles on the Beach FB page, and the NEOS website).
I finally broke into the 5' wide roll of Fabriano watercolour paper which I bought in a flurry of enthusiasm nearly two years ago. Yes, sometimes it takes a while to get around to doing things. This was verging on the ridiculous, so when I knew we were to be painting landscapes at art class yesterday morning, it was time. The paper is deliciously thick (300g for those of you who are interested), more like card than paper. I did have to cut it, sadly, as I don't have a board large enough to put it on to paint. It stayed rolled after cutting, so I wet it, stretched it and taped it onto the widest board I own (a great £2 offcut from a well known DIY store). There is something very satisfying about this process of preparing the paper. Almost like a meditation.
And then, finally, to painting. My favourite brush was nowhere to be found (a 1 1/2 inch wide woodwork brush), so I picked up a wide brush with a long wooden handle. It has a proper name, which I can't recall now. It may come to me. I love using a big brush and lots of water. I may even see if I can acquire something bigger. The only limitation is the size of the watercolour pans of paint. There is always a way. Some of the day's efforts are shown above; they will be on show from next weekend at my North East Open Studios event with Art at the Phoenix at the Phoenix Centre at Newton Dee (I am number 263 in the book this year).