I visited the RSPB nature reserve at Troup Head the other day. I had not planned to visit, but was in Portsoy and spied the cliffs to the east, from my vantage point above the harbour. I recalled a friend telling me it was the place to go to see the gannets. I saw many gannets on the Bass Rock while in North Berwick a couple of months ago, and more recently a few solitary ones, diving for fish off the coast at Gairloch in Wester Ross.
Following my trusty Google maps, I drove along the tiny road to the headland, hesitating slightly when it came to driving through a farmyard (by that time there were reassuring RSPB signs) and finally reached the tiny car park. Avoiding puddles, I had a look at the map indicating the path(s) to the cliffs. I regretted not putting my walking shoes or boots in the car. Luckily I was wearing reasonably sensible footwear, but would advise on non-slip soles at a minimum.
After a false start (my memory of the map was not great), I followed the straight path through a goldening field of barley towards the headland. It is a while since I walked that distance in a straight line. Two parallel tracks through the crop. I met one couple and a woman; they traversed to the other furrow. Coming to the edge of the field, the path turned to the left, leading upwards across grassland. Ahead lay a gorse covered mound, through which another path (the red one) travelled. I chose the blue (shorter) path, mindful of my less than ideal footwear.
Through the barley field, the sound had been the swishing of heads and beards. As I approached the crest of the slope, the sounds of bird cries began to reach me in the wind. On the ground, on the trodden grass, were occasional wisps of downy white. Some small, some larger. As I started going downhill, the frequency of downy wisps became greater. There were occasional small white feathers. And the unmistakeable smell of fish. The bird calls became louder. Through the kissing gate, I passed a couple of photographers with tripods and huge lenses, eyeing my small bridge camera with what seemed like amusement. Turning left, past the sign which indicated the way back to the car park (should my nerve fail me) or onward to the viewpoint.
I walked along the path. Slowly, not wanting to miss anything. A few birds could be seen on the grassy cliff tops. Further on, I could see down to the turquoise depths below; the waves crashing on the rocks. Birds perched on the cliffs; on turf beds with their babies. I did not see the young ones at the time; my eyes were glued to the swooping and soaring display taking place in the sky right in front of me. I have always thought that gannets were graceful birds. My mind has been changed. Laughter spilled out of me - their movements were comical, ungainly, yet amazing. A gannet would storm up from the left of me (with the wind) - up - up - up and then turn to fly back, swooping down with great speed. Or come in to land on the cliff, big black webbed feet akimbo and wobbling like a novice on a high wire. I watched and watched; tried to take some photographs which captured their fantastic flying feats. And then I watched some more. It really was an thrilling and enchanting experience. Magical.
I started writing this poem seven years ago. Today I finished it. This was prompted by a conversation last night about "mental load" and being directed to a cartoon illustrating this concept. It is an interesting concept and I realised its close connection with my thoughts while writing this poem. The pie chart above was constructed in 1999; that was not just about "mental load", but "physical load" as well. I am half-hoping that the legend is illegible!
NB: The poem was written at a time when we had a dog, a guinea pig and probably a budgie as well.
This is the path
That leads to the shed
That Jennifer wants to write in.
This is the poo
That lies on the lawn
That blocks the path
That leads to the shed
That Jennifer wants to write in
This is the guinea pig
Nice and warm
Out in his hutch,
ignoring the storm
that needed fed
and straw for his bed
on the path to the shed
that Jennifer wants to write in
these are the garments
washed and wet
that need some drying
and ironing yet
here is the post
on the mat
There is the telephone
Waiting to ring
Daring to call
To see if she’s in
Here are the dishes
In the sink
Here is the dog
Who needs a drink
Here is the clock
As it slips away
There is the rain
Falling out of the sky
Rescue the washing
-It’s nearly dry!
These were the obstacles
All in her head
Things to be done
And some to be said
Now she sees clearly
What she must do
-leave all the small stuff
And find a way through
To go on the path
That leads to the shed
That Jennifer's going to write in.
I often make soup. At the organic veg farm where I work part-time, we take it in turns to bring a pot of soup to the veg shed on the day we pack veg bags for customers. One of the things I love about soup is that it is very forgiving. You can throw just about anything into it and it is usually pretty tasty and good. (The only exception seems to be kiwi fruit, which a friend reminded me of today - that did not turn out well. I do quite often put apple or pear in soup though, lends a lovely sweetness). Most of us who takes turns with the soup pot admit to making "bottom of the fridge" soup, with whatever is left and is maybe looking a little tired. Some celery, onion, a courgette, a bit of broccoli, the odd kale leaf and some carrots - add ham stock, a tin of chopped tomatoes and hey presto, it's minestrone! Minestrone is one of my favourites and yet I don't recall having it at home when I was a child. We had broth (not a favourite; I disliked the gloopy texture of the barley), and homemade tomato soup with lots of carrots and was it sago, perhaps, to thicken it? My favourite was cucumber soup, creamy and buttery and delicious. My dad loved consomme, hot or cold (brown meaty jelly with chopped chives on top). We had chicken soup too, made using a boiling fowl, with rice and leeks and chopped parsley from the garden to garnish it. We used to laugh at Mum, who would make soup from the peapods after the sweet garden peas had been shelled from them. "Is that grass soup?" we would ask. I quite often produce "green soup" of slightly dubious origins myself, these days, so I can now appreciate the greenness of her ways.
It's a real comfort food. And not just the eating of it, or supping of it, but the act of making it. I remember retreating to the kitchen of my mother-in-law's house the day after my father-in-law died very suddenly, over 25 years ago now. We went to stay with her, with our six month old son. To try to help; to organise the funeral, make endless cups of tea for people who came in to offer condolences; to try and make sense of it all. All I could do was make soup. I chopped and stirred and added stock. I left it to simmer, tasted it, ladled it into bowls for whoever wanted some. It seemed to help. It helped me, to feel I was providing comfort, of sorts. I think I maybe even baked. There was comfort in it for me too. Just the rhythm of washing and peeling and chopping, stirring and tasting and serving. Life going on, in some small way.
A friend asked me the other day what I'd been up to recently. I answered very unsatisfactorily, I suspect. "Oh, this and that," I said. I managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently to mention a couple of reasonably concrete things - a new outlet for my work, plans for the open studios event later in the year. I feel as if I have been pretty busy recently, but it's all fairly disparate, with not a lot of tangible results for my efforts. Perhaps it is time to take stock, see where I am with various projects, and start prioritising what to do next. North East Open Studios seems a long way off (it's not really, it's in 4 months' time!).
This is the problem I find with working creatively, on my own. The lack of a sounding board, someone to say "that's not one of your best ideas, what about that other one you mentioned the other day?" - the less brutal version of "that idea is rubbish.... next!" I find I am often full of ideas, but whether it is worth pursuing them can be a difficult decision. Recently, I have done a bit more drawing, as well as some sketching out and about (sitting on the harbour at Portsoy was so lovely, especially in the sunshine). It made me recall how much I enjoy this; absorption is total, concentration absolute, focus intense. Time just disappears. I had hoped to do a pile of sketches, and managed three or four. I tried doing a few in the city centre the other day, but found that I needed to find a quiet spot, somewhere I could sit, as I felt too conspicuous otherwise. The practicalities of balancing sketchbook, water pot and tiny box of watercolours also have to be taken into account. Of course I took photographs as well, many of Portsoy harbour. I very much admire the work of John Glynn, who I believe is now based in Moray. When I got back to my shed/studio I had a go at doing a simplified drawing of Findochty harbour, inspired by his style. It was an interesting exercise, which made me focus even more clearly on the shapes I was seeing, and avoid making "sketchy" marks. Plans are afoot to do some drawings like this, using some of the reference photos I've taken recently of northeast harbours. There we go, a plan has been crystallised before my very eyes! Thank you for listening/reading :)
I've just sent out an April Newsletter, with all my recent updates. Enjoy!
It's nearly Easter. Things have been very busy recently. I'm heading off to the west coast for a break. Just a very short post to say I'll be back in a bit. Some photos from a recent visit to Castle Fraser.
I will be taking a painting to the Torridon Community Centre for their upcoming "Wild about Colour" exhibition, and stocking up my cards there and at the GALE centre in Gairloch. Hoping for some relaxing walks on the beaches, some battery recharging and no doubt some new image gathering (either photos or sketches, or both). Maybe some to time to review and reflect on what comes next, creatively speaking. Hope you have a lovely Easter, when it comes!
Quite often, I find that I do not end up doing what I set out to do. That doesn't mean that I don't achieve my goal, I just do it a different way. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
It's a bit like going to the shops to buy bread and milk. Yes, just bread and milk, that's all I need. But do I come home with only bread and milk? Of course not. I'll pick up cheese and avocadoes (if they are on offer), maybe a mango (ditto). And then of course we might be out of oatcakes and pasta and rice. Better pop some in the trolley. And plenty of other unhealthy options which I won't mention here, for fear of giving the wrong impression (moi?).
Or, if I go for a walk in the woods, I won't intend to take photos, but something will catch my eye. Some bright green moss, yellow lichen on a rock, feathery lichen hanging from a branch. So I come home with more than I intended. More images to save and look at again and take pleasure from. I might even pick something up along the way - an interesting twig, some larch cones or a fern frond. A feather.
So it was when I went to art class over on south Deeside the other week. I was planning to paint some landscapes; had printed out photos in my bag to use for inspiration. As I went to load my art kit into the car, I noticed the dead head of a hydrangea (from my neighbour's garden) lying on our drive. Of course I picked it up. It was one of those lacewing ones, with a few lifeless petals clinging on at the edges. It sat on the passenger seat as I drove to my class. When I got there, I could see the remnants of rosebay willowherb beside the track where I park each week. I picked some. I couldn't not pick some. I had always wanted to paint this transitory plant, with its bright pink flowers which turn to bean-like seed pods and then fluffy floatingness. Today was the day. I'd missed the flowers, of course - I'll have to wait a while for those to appear again. What a joy it was to paint these - of course I did a few sketches of the serendipitous Hydrangea head as well.
I was on the west coast over New Year. The weather was mainly wet, wild and windy. And pretty cold. We strode out on the beaches and through the woods during the dry spells of daylight. We visited the garden at Inverewe, marvelling at the rhododendrons in bloom, both there and in the lovely arboretum at Flowerdale. The fire was lit, as were candles on the table with nearly every meal. I didn't do any drawing or painting, but I did take photographs when we were out and about. And I knitted a hat. In a day. Sometimes it's good to move away from one creative stream and into another. I needed a break, and I had one. I am still not feeling very creative, but there are ideas bubbling away gently, which I hope will surface sometime soon. I keep thinking of that beautiful beach on Harris last summer and how I would like to capture it in a painting, or a series of paintings. I just need to make it happen. Find a canvas, or a board, and look out the paints, assemble some brushes or palette knives, or both, and get on with it. That is my tiny and only, resolution for the New Year.
I've been thinking a bit about the creative process recently. It's a funny thing. Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha. The longer I am involved in this creative world, the more I realise just how long things take.
I had an idea. Just a small idea, about Christmas card designs (this was after a friend asked "so, are you doing Christmas cards again this year?" i.e. designing and selling them). I sketched the idea, or several possibilities, with a pen in a sketchbook. Or maybe with a pencil, but definitely in a sketchbook. This year I showed these possibilities to a small group of friends (including the one who asked the orginal question) who are very supportive of my creative endeavours. They told me which ideas they liked best. I cast aside the ones they did not choose. This was a helpful process, as I am not great at choosing. I pursued the ideas, both at art class and at home. My art tutor gave suggestions about design, as did my classmates. Again, all very helpful. The shapes should be better defined, the design clear and distinct. I prepared several sheets of watercolour paper by painting shades of various colours on them. I got my scissors out. I'm not very good at cutting out. Too impatient to do it neatly and well. I got out my craft knife instead (mini Stanley blade). And a ruler. Cut triangles of painted paper freestyle. I enjoyed that bit. The "trees" turned out fairly random, with different coloured patterns on each one. More cutting out produced a hill and a moon. It all just evolved. I had tried drawing or painting the designs prior to this, but somehow the cutting out and placing of the pieces produced something quite different. I don't quite understand how it worked, but it did. So I am not going to worry about understanding it, but am just going to be happy and satisfied that it did. My friends loved the end results. And so did some other people. That is good.
I've been updating my profile on the Redbubble website. I have a wide range of work uploaded on the site and have my own portfolio page. Images are available to purchase in a wide range of forms - from greetings cards to framed prints, mugs and travel mugs to tote bags and tee-shirts. The range has just been expanded to include clocks, and there are phone and tablet covers too... something for everyone! Feel free to have a browse and let me know what you think. A few of my clock designs are shown here...