I can't believe how fast this year has gone. Tomorrow is the start of September, which means that North East Open Studios (NEOS) is about to begin again! This year, 229 artists and makers will be opening the doors of their studios, living rooms, sheds, garages and village halls to show the public what they do.
There will be woodworkers, jewellers, painters, sculptors, glassmakers, ceramicists and textile artists taking part. Not to mention a number of photographers, mixed media artists and even some multimedia folk. I'm opening the doors again to the cabin in my back garden. I'm looking forward to meeting new folk and refreshing existing friendships and contacts. Every year, after NEOS, I remind myself how good it is to have contact with people, and promise myself I will get out and about more in the future. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not.
Today has been put to good use, tidying and hoovering and generally trying to make the place a bit more visitor-friendly. I know the place can look "arty", but I don't think that should include cobwebs and bits of dried leaves and the odd dead millipede on the floor. It's a work in progress. It will be tidy by next Saturday. I am convinced of it. There might even be some paintings on the walls. ;)
Instead of posting photographs of an untidy shed, the photos above are of a couple of paintings (the Hydrangea is a work in progress) I did on Friday evening at a wonderful workshop with Sofia Perina-Miller, a Russian artist based in Helensburgh. She paints, among other things, fantastic watercolour paintings of flowers and plants, all beautifully drawn into afterwards to create a very fine finished work of art. It was fascinating to learn a different way of working with watercolour. I ordered some of the paints we used at the workshop this morning - can't wait to have another go. Once the shed has been organised, of course.
This week, I've been helping out with the hanging of an annual exhibition of local artists. Somehow, I volunteered to be on the committee last year and so have been involved in organising some of the publicity for the event. This has included getting posters and postcards printed and setting up a Facebook fan page.
Nothing too onerous or complicated.
And then it came to hanging the exhibition. Everyone on the committee turned up at the hall on Tuesday morning to help out. We were variously armed with lists, hooks, hammers and sticky labels. Some people were wise enough to bring a packed lunch. Suffice to say, it took a while. There really is an art to hanging an entire exhibition. I have only ever had to hang about a dozen paintings before; all my own work and in a reasonably small space. And that has been tricky enough. It never looks right at the first attempt. Often it doesn't look right after the third one. Quite often, it's back to what looks remarkably like the first attempt before it looks right.
I gradually came realise that what looks "right" to one person will not necessarily be how someone else thinks it should look. There are so many factors to take into account; size, shape, subject matter, orientation (portrait or landscape), frame size and colour, boldness of colours of the image, to name the main ones. I'm sure there are many more that I have no clue about. Oh, and spacing between the paintings. And height above the floor. Oh yes, it's a tricky task indeed. And despite the fact that there are these factors to consider, it is, at the end of the day, not a scientific decision, but an artistic one. By the time we left, we were all happy with our efforts. I'm hoping that everyone attending this evening's preview will be suitably impressed!
The MBC festival Art Exhibition is on at The Phoenix Centre, Newton Dee, Bieldside, on Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th August, 10am - 5pm. Teas and coffees and cakes available too.
I should have known better. All the signs were there. The lashing rain and howling wind which had beaten at my bedroom window all night. The fact that I had to wait for a semi-dry five minutes in which to load my luggage into the car. A small rucksack was blown across the ground and into a puddle. And then there were the fire crews pumping water out of the burn next to the butcher's shop, which is opposite the newsagents, in an attempt to stop the burn bursting its banks. The newsagent and the butcher were standing watch over some sandbags at the door to the latter's shop. Another fire crew (all volunteers) was pumping water off a the car park between the Chinese takeaway, the community centre and the local supermarket.
The burn in the left hand picture above had been just a little trickle the day before. Now it was a swollen, raging brown torrent. I was glad that the new bridge was still intact. Luckily it has been built quite high above the stream bed. The sea was frothing and churning; the first half-mile or so of it brown with peat and silt and detritus carried into it by streams and rivers. Such a contrast to the blue seas and skies of the previous days.
I discovered that the road north was blocked by a landslide, so decided to take the road south. Glad that I had checked the road conditions before setting off, I was only a couple of miles on the road when I encountered a pickup reversing along the road ahead of me (in the same direction as I was going). I followed it; not the most sensible move, as it turned out. It reversed to a point beyond the pickup in the right hand photograph above. In the middle of the road was a black minibus. Stuck. In floodwater. Attempts were made to tow it out. It seemed that there was difficulty attaching a tow rope. I waited patiently, in what appeared to be shallow water, neatly in at the side of the road. I put on my hazard warning lights and watched with slight concern as vehicles started to pull up behind me. A police car appeared. Attempts to tow the minibus were aborted. Four men pushed it along the road past my car and out of the water. I was probably about a hundred yards from where the water on the road started.
I took a mental note of where the water level was under the pickup parked in front of me. When I first drew up behind it, the water was about half way across, under the chassis. It was rising. Not that fast, but it was rising. Inexorably. And the water I could see out of my driver's window was flowing. Flowing and quite deep. Six inches, perhaps. It did not seem sensible to try to turn. The other side of the road had effectively become part of the river, which had burst its banks. I asked the policeman, as he passed in his luminous yellow/green suit, if he intended to close the road. "As a last resort" was his reply. And he told me to stay put. He started letting lorries and four wheel drive vehicles pass along the road, in the opposite direction from the way I was facing. By now the cheery chap in the pickup in the photo had headed safely through to the other side. From where I was, I couldn't see round the corner, to where a queue of traffic was building up. The Westerbus came through, a couple of Landrovers, a big lorry which went too fast and caused a great wake to slosh alarmingly at the underbelly of my wee car. It was when that happened that I realised I needed to get out of the situation as soon as I could. I could see how easily a car could end up in water that was too deep for it, and get washed away, or at least become impossible to control.
A fire crew arrived and guided me, reversing, to a place where the water was not too deep and I could turn.
I headed back to the village and waited to hear if the road reopened. It did not; not that day or the next. I took the road north, later on. It was passable with great care, after the landslide had been cleared.
But the whole episode made me think. Quite hard. We make choices all the time, every day. And those choices affect what happens. If I had set out an hour earlier, the minibus might not have been stuck, the water level would almost certainly have been lower, and I might have got through. If I had set out half an hour later, I would have seen the tailback and not been the first car in the line. If I had not followed the pickup into the water, I wouldn't have had a rather worrying hour's wait. If I had taken a stranger's advice and turned my engine off while waiting, would my engine have re-started or would I have had to be rescued? If I had listened to friend's advice, I would not have set out at all, and would not have had this tale to tell.
It's nearly the end of my week's exhibition at the GALE centre in Gairloch. People have come and gone. They visit the centre for different reasons. Some come in search of accommodation - the staff are unfailingly patient and helpful, even when requests are made quite abruptly. I guess it must be stressful to arrive in an area without any accommodation booked and not know where you will be staying that night. Stressful, unsettling, unnerving. And they are supposed to be on holiday. The headline in the local newspaper yesterday was about the lack of accommodation and long queues for ferries out to the islands. I hope this alarmist attitude doesn't put visitors off. There are often still beds available in Bed and Breakfast places which do not advertise on websites, or through official organisations. I have not heard of any tourists sleeping rough in ditches anywhere. The campsites are busy too, with tents, caravans and campervans.
Others come in to obtain information about what to do in the area. Or for directions to the campsites or the harbour or to the nearest cash machine. Or where to get fish and chips.
I've chatted to many of the visitors here this week - from those who return year after year to the area, either simply because they love it, and/or because they have family or family connections, to those who have never been here before. Everyone is positive about their experience. Even on a grey drizzly day, there are comments on the beauty of the scenery and the wildness of the landscape. On a beautiful sunny day, such as today, there are fewer people in to browse the gifts and crafts and souvenirs, or to sample the lovely homemade cakes. They are all out busy enjoying the sunshine, either on a boat trip, or on one of the many unspoilt beaches, or perhaps up a mountain somewhere nearby. And that's as it should be; that's why we come here ourselves, after all.