I have been asked a few times recently, what I paint. I have happily told the questioners that boats feature a lot in my paintings at the moment; ones from both the east and west coasts of Scotland. And then I mention the sheds, and they look slightly bemused and I feel rather apologetic. I'm not sure why this is, so I have spent some time thinking about it, as I suppose there really should be some underlying reason as to why I feel drawn to sheds, particularly ones with corrugated iron roofs.
This is the conclusion I have drawn. It all goes back to summer holidays spent in Lochcarron, in Wester Ross, in what had been my paternal granny's house. Not just summer holidays, when we would spend hours on the shore turning over rocks looking for butterfish and crabs, or digging very fast to try and outwit clams which scooted down into the sand, or for lugworms, beneath their telltale casts, to use as bait on fishing expeditions. No, we were often there at Easter too, and in the winter as well. There are diaries of those holidays somewhere. One day I'll look them out.
At the back of my granny's house were a couple of wooden sheds, where the garden tools and coal (I think) were kept. They were quite well-maintained, these sheds; wooden slats with sloping corrugated iron roofs. They were of no particular interest to me. It was my job in the summertime to clip the long grass away from the outer walls of the shed, so the wood would not become damp and rot. This job was done with an old pair of sheep-shearing shears. I loved using them. I learned to scythe in those summers too, when the grass was thigh-high when we arrived, and had to be cut down before it got trampled flat. There is a rhythm required for scything - enough speed is required to cut the tough grass stalks, but go too fast and you get tired very quickly and the grass is not be properly cut.
But the shed I liked best was the one away up at the back of the plot or land (part of a croft at some time, I suppose). It had no door, but the doorway faced away from the prevailing wind, so it was always sheltered and warm. I think it even had a little window, grimy and cobwebbed. I set up a wooden table and a stool, made from logs and planks of wood that I found. It was my den. I swept it, tidied it, put a jam jar filled with wild flowers on the table. And then I had a visitor. I think he lived in the shed next door, or under a nearby pile of branches. A hedgehog. I provided a saucer of milk, sat in the corner, barely breathing, watching, listening, drinking him in. I was in love. In my shed.
One of the many things I love about the west coast is the light. More specifically, the way the light changes. One minute you can be walking along the beach with blue skies all around and the next, the sky is slate grey and so is the sea. And more often than not, there are wet spots on the stones and pebbles on the beach, or pock marks in the sand, if there is a significant amount of precipitation. There may be a gleaming patch of sunlight on the sea, in the distance. Not so much a patch, perhaps, as a sliver, a sliver of silver. And then there are the beams of light which come down through the clouds, a reminder that the sun is in fact still up there, waiting to put in another appearance. This rapidly changing light is great for photography, but much trickier for painting in situ (or plein air, as they say). It's a good incentive to work quickly so as to capture the moment. Soon it will be warm enough again to do some outdoor sketching and painting again - I'm looking forward to it.
We used to have a Basset hound called Lizzie. This is a picture of her in her very comfortable bean bag, which belonged to a human until she took ownership of it.
I have been thinking about dogs recently, especially the matter of dog breeds. I walk our beagle every day in the woods and we often meet other dogs. Mostly, I am pretty well acquainted with dog breeds and can recognise many of them. I can tell a labrador from a retriever, a miniature schnauzer from a Border terrier; I can even name a Weimaraner or a Newfoundland.
But in the past few years, things have become blurred at the edges, when it comes to dog breed recognition. A naturally curious person, I often ask owners encountered in the woods what breed their dog is, if it is not instantly recognisable; most owners are delighted to talk about their dogs (I am no exception). The other day, my dog and I met a little white fluffy barking canine. I asked what make it was. "A cavapoo", was the reply. Cross between a Cavalier Kings Charles spaniel and a poodle. A few weeks ago, we met a "jug" in a walk round the edge of a local golf course. It took me a minute or two to work out the combination there (pug x Jack Russell). My mind has started to boggle slightly at what extraordinary names will appear. There are already "labradoodles" and "cockapoos". Now, if there's a cross between a Shih tzu and a poodle.... see what I mean? It'll end in tears.