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.
It's that time of year again. Artists and makers will be opening their studios, garages, front rooms, shops, galleries and other miscellaneous spaces this weekend, to show the public what they do.
It's my 6th year taking part - once again I am in The Cabin in my back garden. This year I'm number 227 in the directory. There may well be baking. I have been tidying and sorting through my work from the past year, deciding what to put on show. The Cabin is quite small, as those of you who have visited before will know - I am contemplating having an outside exhibition space, weather permitting (and if I can find where I put the little gazebo...), in order to show a wider range of my work.
There are more artists than ever included in the trail I'm part of - this year called The Lower Deeside Trail (see image below). I have also posted this on my Facebook page, and paper copies will be available at any of the entries listed on it. Time to get planning where to go - I have started making my list already!
I look forward to seeing you and welcoming you to The Cabin!
Delighted to say that this painting, "Letterbox at Mellon Udrigle" is off to a new home after the local art exhibition which I took part in last weekend. Apparently the buyer (I did not meet her) had been to Mellon Udrigle, so there was a link. It's one of my favourite beaches on the west coast - take a turn off the main road at Laide, north of Gairloch, Poolewe and Aultbea, but south of Gruinard, and out along a single track road past a string of houses, over the little bridge across the burn and then up over the hill and back down to the coast again. Watch out for seals along the coastline. And seabirds - gannets diving perhaps. It was on Mellon Udrigle beach a while ago, on an overcast day, that I glimpsed a movement to my left, as I stood taking photographs of the sea. At first I thought it was a dog, but then I noticed the way the animal moved. A sort of lolloping, ungainly gait. It was an otter, headed from the dunes down to the water. They are built for swimming, of course, not running. I was not quick enough with my camera, choosing to enjoy the moment, instead.
Mellon Udrigle beach, photos taken early April, 2016.
Do you recognise this painting? Yes. it's one of mine! The Green Boat, gracing the cover of The Leopard magazine.
A wee while ago, a lovely lady called Annie Woolridge contacted me, asking if I would be happy to be interviewed for an article she was writing on artists based in northeast Scotland. There was to be a series of articles. I happily said yes. Annie came to The Cabin one morning a couple of months ago. We drank coffee and chatted; she admired my paintings hung around the walls. I had tidied the studio a bit. At some point she turned on a very unobtrusive recording machine. It was all very relaxed and pleasant; I felt as if we had known each other a while.
I partly forgot about the process. then realised last week that the article might be in the current edition of the magazine. I popped into our local Co-op (I knew they stocked it) and lo and behold, there was my painting on the front cover! Above it on the magazine stand was the Scottish Field, with Alexander McCall Smith's name writ large upon it. I was thrilled to be in such excellent company, even in print! In fact I was so excited (not a very accustomed state for me, as those who know me well will confirm), I mentioned to the poor young lad at the checkout that it was my painting on the cover of the magazine, when I purchased a copy. He smiled politely.
The older I get, the more I believe in fate. In things happening for a reason. Those apparently coincidental meetings which result in all manner of happenings. Sometimes we have to engineer fate a little, but that's not a bad thing. Everything and everyone needs a little nudge in the right direction every so often. And so it was that I ventured out into Royal Deeside a few weekends ago, to see what opportunities might be there, for exhibiting my paintings. I had in mind a visit to Larks Gallery in Ballater. That is where we went. I got into conversation with the gallery owner, and the next thing I knew, I'd been invited to be "Artist of the Month" for March. I floated home on a little cloud, while feverishly working out if I had enough framed work to fulfill my promise. I didn't, but I had enough time to remedy the situation. I always work better to deadlines, so this helped me get myself organised. Over the past few years, realisation has dawned that no-one will see my work, or have the chance to buy it, if it is sitting in my studio. Simple really, isn't it? Occasionally, of course, someone will see my work here on my website, but that is less common. So, I am delighted to have some of my work currently on show at Larks Gallery (including the three paintings shown above) and hope it will be the start of an ongoing relationship. They are now stocking some of my greetings cards too.
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.
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.
I could put it off no longer. The idea that had been fermenting in the back of my head for a significant period of time had come to fruition. Although if it was fermenting it should surely by now be an alcoholic beverage. Never mind the detail. I had an idea, ages ago. As you already know, I live in northeast Scotland. The referendum about whether or not Scotland should become independent from the rest of the UK is happening this year. On 18th September, to be precise.
Travelling around the country, I've noticed signs in windows, declaring the inhabitants' voting intentions. Personally, I never do this. Declare my intentions. It's an inherited trait; my parents never told each other how they were voting, in anything from local to general elections. Sometimes I haven't decided until I read the ballot paper. Sometimes I have. I don't believe it's anyone else's business. So I have been intrigued to see the signs in house windows. Playing on my own extremely indecisive nature, I thought it would be fun to create a painting incorporating the sense of history, along with the possibility that different members of one household are likely to have different opinions. A recent trip to Perthshire provided me with the source material; a photograph which I took of a quintessentially Scottish house. A large house in the country, true, but a sandstone one and typical of the area. The rest of the task involved putting pencil to paper, brush into water, into watercolour and a fair bit of time. I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours.
Now for the next task; to decide on a title.
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.