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.
It's that time of year again. I am preparing for an exhibition of my paintings, to be held in the GALE centre in Gairloch, Wester Ross. The same place where I held my Local Letterboxes exhibition last year. It is a lovely place; specially designed to be energy efficient - lots of wood and glass and light. There are huge floor to ceiling windows along the front which look out over the sea towards Skye. Not just towards Skye, you can see the north end of the island. I took some photographs of the building last year, which you can see above. I'm not quite sure that whoever put the sign together in the top middle photograph had fully thought through what the finished article would look like. Perhaps I am just being childish. Not that that is such a bad thing.
I am busy framing paintings, deciding which paintings to reproduce as prints, mounting work, putting together new sets of greetings cards and generally gathering my work together. It has given me a good chance to review what I have done in the past year. I realise I have probably not been as focused as I might have been. I start out with good intentions - to paint a series of boats, or buildings, or birds. And I end up with a smattering of each, a few birds, a few sheds and houses, some more boats. Perhaps that doesn't matter. This year's exhibition is entitled "Inspired by Scotland", so all of these subjects can happily be included. It's an eclectic mix. It will be interesting to see what people think.
"So, is there anything to do round here, then?" I was asked by someone I met on the beach the other day. They had never been to the area before.
My answer at the time was a bit glib -
"Well, there are no shops or cinemas, if that's what you mean."
I meant clothes shops, department stores and multiplex cinemas, of course. There are grocery stores, a very good butcher and a rather well-stocked book shop. Since then I have been thinking.
It's all a matter of what you want to do. This is your kind of place if -
- a stroll on the beach, gathering cockle and limpet shells, empty sea urchins and the occasional starfish appeals to you
- you can stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore, without being impatient to move on
- you see the rapidly changing weather as a source of fascination and varying light conditions
- carrying a camera is a way of life
- carrying a sketch book and pencil and maybe a small box of watercolours is a way of life
- you like mucking about in boats and fishing, both fresh and salt water
- you enjoy any kind of walking - hill-walking, mountain climbing or a brisk march along a sandy beach
- you play golf
- you like horse riding
- you don't get phased by single track roads and know the appropriate polite gestures to use when driving on them.
I don't think I'm finished with this theme. To be continued.
Last weekend I discovered that it's not easy to take photographs with gloves on. The air was chilly, as one would expect at the start of February in the Scottish Highlands. The pale turquoise soft wool gloves I received as a Christmas present nearly worked, though I struggled to take the lens cap on and off. Still, some photographs were taken; more "source material", as I have come to call it, for my boat paintings. And also some photos which I think work well just as they are - like the ones above. They are bits of a boat which has been lying on top of the harbour in Gairloch in Wester Ross for quite a while now. It's a great subject - I've taken pictures of it before. I love the peeling paint, where layers have come off to show what lies underneath; the corroded metal, like verdigris - perhaps it is.
Before Christmas, at a little fair where I was showing some of my recent work, an American lady asked me why I was painting boats. I hadn't really thought about this; I like them, the shape of the them, the colours. But it is more than that. I only started to discover the answer when I told them that I used to sail. And now I have thought about it some more and these memories have come to me.
I used to sail a lot when I was young. I sailed at school, in the sailing club; in a dinghy, on Linlithgow Loch, on summer evenings. And then we sailed as a family, a wee blue wooden dinghy to start with, then a slightly bigger boat, a cruiser with an inboard engine and bunk beds, a gas stove for making toast and tea and heating soup. We sailed on the Firth of Forth during term time and then on the west coast of Scotland during the summer holidays The boats were towed north and then south. Long days were spent trekking the trailer down the shore, waiting for the tide to come in, floating the boat off and then mooring her safely in the bay. I was never so keen on sailing in the cruiser. There wasn't the immediacy, the closeness to the water, that one felt in a dinghy. The sound of the water lapping at the bow, the feel of the rudder in my hand, the tautness of the sheets, held against the wind. Watching the luff of the sail for any flapping, indicating that you were sailing too close to the wind. Or the homemade woolen telltales tied to the stays, showing exactly where the wind was coming from. All these memories, there in the back of my head; there whenever I paint another boat. There is more about this in there - more for another day.
I'm heading west this weekend, laden with some of my creations. Some original paintings (including those pictured above), mounted prints and a selection of greetings cards. The paintings are going to be brightening the walls of the lovely Steading Bistro in Gairloch (in behind the Gairloch Heritage Museum). The plain white walls will be a great backdrop for my boat paintings. There are a couple more which are now complete, but didn't quite make it to the framers in time - photos soon. I'm really enjoying painting boats, although getting all the curves and angles and proportions right can be quite a challenge!
I'm hoping there will some gaps in the rain over the weekend, to get out and about. Feeling in need of some brisk walks on the beach, to blow away my January cobwebs. If I'm lucky, there will be enough light for a few photos too.