I have wanted to attend Feis Rois for a long time. When I first took up my fiddle again, about twenty years ago, my two children were quite small and I didn't feel I could escape for a whole long weekend to myself. Goodness knows why - I must have been a bit mad. The years passed, I wondered about going but never got organised. Then, around New Year time this year, an old school friend got in touch. She picked up her fiddle again last year; hers had collected more dust than mine, although perhaps that has made her even more determined to play again. "Let's go to the Feis!" she said. I didn't need to be asked twice. We were best friends right through school, from Primary 6 to sixth year. Competing in class, spurring each other on to study hard and, oh yes, sitting beside each other in the second violins in the school orchestra.
So, on Friday 4th May we travelled to Ullapool (by road, not ferry, contrary to appearances from the photo above), booked into our lovely B&B with views out over the sea towards the Summer Isles, and headed to the High School to register for the Feis. To describe the Feis, I am borrowing some words from their website - "a weekend bursting with music, song and dance and a stellar team of tutors to inspire participants of all levels". And that is exactly what it was, and more. Although I've been playing fiddle and, more recently, mandolin on and off for twenty years, I chose to attend a beginners' harp class. I went to this every morning. It was wonderful. There were only six of us in the class; all keen to learn and loving every minute of the new experience. Rachel Newton was our tutor - she was so patient, kind and full of laughter. And a great teacher! "Thumbs up, fingers down" became our mantra. The time flew by; we learnt a tune by ear, and the beginnings of a second one. Several of the class asked where they might acquire a clarsach so they could carry on....
Afternoons were spent doing group work under the expert tutoring of Lauren MacColl, along with Mairearad Green and Signy Jakobsdottir. I played my fiddle. We had a chance to play some of the music from The Seer, a new composition by Lauren, commissioned by Feis Rois. I learnt a lot, including the fact that a tenor horn sounds great in traditional music, 3 x 4 = 12 (I did know that, but this involved drumsticks and chair backs) and that an accordion can make a sound like waves on the shore.
It wasn't all about the music. Mostly it was, to be fair. But sustenance was required. Coffee breaks in the morning were a highlight, with volunteers serving endless cheerful mugs of tea and coffee, and fabulous, substantial homebakes seeing us through until lunchtime. The whole weekend was marvellous; there was a concert with The Shee and The Seer on the Saturday evening and a tutors' concert the following one. There were sessions in the pubs all through the town, which went on into the small hours. Tunes were shared, songs sung and I left feeling replenished, refreshed and inspired. The icing on the cake for me, however, was succeeding in encouraging (not single-handedly, I admit) a reluctant joiner-in to do so. The look of glee on his face after just one workshop was a joy to behold. That, for me, is what playing music together should be all about. A fun and enjoyable experience, shared with others.
I'm looking forward to next year already!
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 :)
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.
Two whole weeks away on the west coast. Wonderful. The weather was "mixed" - the polite Scottish way of saying that there was no blazing sunshine or sunbathing on the beautiful beaches. No, it was more a case of rushing out for a walk between the showers, watching the sky for a darkening, making the most of the patches of blue. The wind kept the midges away; no-one got sunburnt, we had a lovely time. This time the time away included an adventure involving crossing the Minch (it would be fun to play the tune on the ferry) to the island of Lewis to visit my daughter, who is there for the summer.
We were treated to a family fishing trip and caught lots of lively, silvery blue/green mackerel and even some haddock. It took me back to fishing with a handline in Lochcarron as a child - the thrill of feeling that bite on your line, the guessing (to start with) what would be on it, and learning the feel of the way the fish moved. Maybe it was no coincidence that I went on to spend many years doing mackerel research work. This time we used sea rods - good sturdy, simple contraptions. No casting involved, which makes very good sense in a small boat with four rods deployed. Unlock the reel, finger over the line, let it out till it hits the bottom, reel it in a bit, then jiggle up and down (gently), and wait. Of course the folk who took us out knew exactly where to go, which helped!
Lewis. What a place - vast expanses of sky and moor and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Oodles of abandoned houses and sheds, many with half their roofs torn off. Rusting corrugated iron galore. Since I was with family, there was less time to take photographs; some day soon I hope to go back. We made a visit to Luskentyre beach on Harris (I still haven't worked out exactly how the division between Harris and Lewis works, but we did pass signs indicating the end of one and the start of the other). The sun came out and the sea was that magical turquoise that comes from sea over sand. A fortuitously washed up log on the beach made a perfect place to perch and sketch. The family were thoughtful enough to leave me to it. I only moved when I realised the tide was about to reach my feet. Bliss. One day I will capture that colour. One day.
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.
Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you peace, health and happiness. I was fortunate to spend both Christmas and New Year on the west coast of Scotland with my nearest and dearest this festive season. The weather was mixed, as is to be expected at this time of year. The days seem to take turns; a day of solid rain and howling winds would be followed by mild, balmy air breezing in from the south. We know from long years of experience to head out as soon as it is fair. Fair mainly means not raining. So, we had some good walks on the glorious beaches; Big Sand, Gairloch Beach and Red Point on Boxing Day. The latter was a very windy day and we were sand-blasted as soon as we reached the beach. I love to stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore. The way they roll and break, the foamy whiteness moving along the crest as they approach. It was too cold to stand for long, however. Only long enough to take a few photographs.
We retreated to the south end of the bay and found shelter below the turf line where the sheep had formed hollows to lie in. We perched on the rounded sandstone rocks and drank tea, ate goose sandwiches (we had the good fortune to eat goose on Christmas day) and slabs of Christmas cake with marzipan and sweet, sweet icing. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it in the coming year.
Once again, the year has flown by and it's time again for North East Open Studios, when artists and makers across northeast Scotland open their doors to the public. There will be potters, glassmakers, jewellers, painters, photographers, weavers, embroiderers and woodworkers, to name but a few. There will be exhibitions in village halls, garages, living rooms and sheds, studios and workshops.
This will be my fifth year taking part. As usual, I am not as organised as I would like to be. I will be collecting some last minute orders of greetings cards later on this afternoon. And stocking up on real coffee and raspberries for making muffins in the morning. I have not finished hanging my work. The Cabin is clean and tidy, however, so that is a good start. I'm looking forward to meeting new folk, welcoming back friends and people who have visited before.
To help people plan a day out visiting venues which are close together, I am delighted to be part of the North Deeside Road Trail - 13 artists within 15 minutes drive of each other. I'm venue number 214 this year. I look forward to seeing you in the next ten days! Open daily 10am - 5pm, except Tuesday and Thursday (closed). Open late till 8pm on Friday 18th September.
Here's the map - you can click on it to download a copy.
It was time for a break. A week off on the west coast. We looked at the weather forecast, but didn't pay much attention to it. We had decided to go, whatever the weather. The trick is just to get out in it. If it's fine in the morning, don't delay a walk on the beach until the afternoon. It could well be raining by then. It could be raining in an hour, or in half an hour. That's the beauty of the west coast, in many ways. The constantly changing light, the endless shades of the sea and sky and how they sometimes seem to merge into one. Skye disappears behind thick banks of raincloud, only to reappear with bright shafts of sunlight illuminating its eastern slopes and shores.
One day we had a wonderful trip to Applecross. The day started grey and damp, but we headed there, undaunted, stopping at Torridon on the way. The General Stores there have lovely home baking and good coffee, so a stop there was a must. The Gallery is worth a visit too - it's in the community centre there and has a wide range of work by local artists (including yours truly). I dropped off some cards there too. Delighted to have another outlet.
Applecross was looking picture-postcard perfect. Blue sky, blue sea and throngs of holidaymakers enjoying what the Inn had to offer. We availed ourselves of the food and drink and very good it was too. The return journey was made via the Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle), which I was more familiar with approaching from the other direction. We spent many family holidays in Lochcarron, including New Year and Easter. If the weather was cold enough, we would make the trip to the top of the Bealach and skate on one of the little lochans there. After my father had tested the ice, of course. A hard frost for 3 nights or so was all that was required - and no snow to spoil the ice, of course!
The view down to Kishorn from the Bealach brought back memories too. There was no sandy beach in Lochcarron, so in the summer if the weather was fine and warm, we would drive over the hill to swim at the sandy beach at Kishorn. One memorable summer, the mackerel came in to the shore, after sprats, which they drove boiling to the surface. I have vague recollections of my brother and father running along the shore with buckets, scooping fish out of the water. Or maybe that was the story that was told. Somewhere, there is a set of family diaries which were kept during those holidays. This year, history moved on and it was my son who brought back a great catch of mackerel from a successful fishing trip.