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.
Just a quick note to tell you that this lovely exhibition is on this weekend. Opening times listed in the poster. Teas, coffees and homebakes are available at the weekend, courtesy of Milltimber Playgroup mums. I will be on duty at the exhibition on Saturday and Sunday afternoons - hope to see you there! Also a wide range of artists' cards available, and some beautiful textiles and woodturned work.
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.
I was "on duty" at Monymusk Arts Centre the other day. There was quite a lot going on - exhibitions were being changed over, artists came and went with their work. I managed to fit in some work of my own. It still doesn't really feel like work. I sketched what was to hand, much as many people do. Crayons from the tub provided for visiting small people, a blue pen from my handbag, my reading glasses. All good practice and good to switch off and focus completely on the task in hand.
Of course I should have been painting some landscapes (my plan for this summer) and finishing a garden commission which for some reason keeps slipping off my "to do" list. I recall an artist friend saying she was really struggling with a commission (a portrait) and simply told her client that she was very sorry, but she could not do it after all. She said that almost immediately, she felt freer and lighter and was able to paint the portrait in a loose, free style that would not come to her while she struggled with the "c" word. The brain is an amazing thing, but it can also be a bit of a handicap at times. With artistic endeavours, it seems to me that I am best not to "try too hard". I have to switch off most of my brain and "just do it". I've played a little golf in the past and that maxim has served me well - don't try too hard, relax and just do it. Without caring about the result. That's the plan for now. I'll keep you posted about how it pans out!
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.
I have been writing tunes. This has been spurred on by going along to a class run by the wonderful organisation that is Scottish Culture and Traditions. On Wednesday evenings, I join a group of people who love playing music together (loosely described as traditional music) and we play. Not just our instruments, but with the tunes. All the tunes have been written by someone in the room. It's great. Tunes are heard for the first time. They dance off the page, or out of someone's head, via their instrument or voice, out into the shared space. The start is often tentative. We feel our way through the notes, finding how they string together. Over and over we play, dropping in and out, listening, adding in harmonies. And then something will often gel. The tune gathers momentum (not the same thing as speeding up, which does sometimes happen, it must be said) and it comes together. It can take a while, some tunes sit easier than others. Some go off in unexpected directions. There is something magical about the space of time in which it all comes together. It is transient, untouchable, but nonetheless there. A moment in time, filled with music.
Quite a number of years ago, I wrote a few tunes, which I had almost completely forgotten about. Until, that is, I received an email to say that one of my tunes (or maybe even two) are to be included in a SC&T tunebook, which is being launched at the May Festival hosted by the University of Aberdeen this weekend!
I'm looking forward to attending the launch of the book and also the event at which some of the tunes will be played. I find writing tunes fantastic fun and extremely satisfying. For me, it is a quick and productive process. As with my watercolour painting, I am a very impatient creative, so it suits me really well to work in this way. I'm finding inspiration in all sorts of things - from an unfortunate incident concerning a classmate's dog, to sounds heard on an evening stroll (The Blackbird and the Bumblebee, small extract shown above).
The tulips are simply shown for decorative effect. They were seen at Drum Castle the other weekend (in the walled garden).
I spent last week on my beloved west coast. Last year, I did not take enough holiday; this year I am determined to do better. We were lucky with the weather, as often happens at this time of year. It is too cold for the midges and it was dry, bright and sunny with the occasional April shower. Cold, too - there were wild hail-storms in the night at the end of the week and a few in the daytime too.
Time was spent outside, as far as possible. Walking the beaches, scouring the high tide line for driftwood and shells; looking out to sea at the distant Cuillins of Skye and then back at the near things - the textures of the ancient rocks and lichens, seaweed patterns, fishing nets lying on the harbour. I absorbed the images like a sponge; my camera is a very useful tool. My well was refilled.
All the time I was there, my focus kept shifting. From a big seascape, with a tiny boat on the horizon, to the shapes of the cracks in the tops of the huge wooden posts which hold up the harbour. From gulls wheeling above us in the bitter breeze, to the shadow shapes formed by a rope lying across a beached dinghy.
It's all there.
Home baking. There is nothing quite like it. Things have been a bit grey round here recently, but a small act of kindness lifted my spirits no end last week. I was doing my usual veg deliveries when a customer appeared at her back door, holding a small, clear poly bag containing two little squares of millionaire's shortbread. "I've been baking," she said, handing them to me. I spluttered a thank you and promised to save them till after my lunch. Goodness knows why, I just felt the need to say more than just "thank you". But maybe that would have been enough. The picture on the left is of a surprise birthday cake made by a workmate last August; again, an act of kindness, by which I was really touched.
And later, while I drove through the countryside, doing the rest of my deliveries, I thought back to the kitchen at home, and my mum baking in the afternoons. I'm sure she didn't bake every afternoon, and I certainly can't have been there for many of them, as I would have been at school. But the memory is clear. Radio 4 on the radio; the afternoon play which no doubt she was trying to listen to. Only now do I understand of the lure of the afternoon play on Radio 4. Then, I would have been asking questions, or wondering if I could have more paper to paint on, or asking what was for tea. "Wait and see" was the answer. Always. So much so that I began to believe that "Wait and see" was actually a meal of some sort.
But, back to the baking. There were tray bakes, mainly. Broken biscuit cake, Sydney specials, Millionaire's shortbread (although we did not call it that way back then - I think we called it chocolate fudge cake, but am not sure.). Then there were buns. What we now call cupcakes, but to us they were buns - made in individual paper cases. Plain, or with sultanas or cherries. I don't recall them ever being iced. There were some things which my sister made - "date stodge" or date slice, and tablet. In those days we would have a "high tea" quite often, during the week - a main course of macaroni cheese or bacon and egg or ham salad, with bread and butter or toast and followed by home baking.
I have carried on the baking tradition, but do so less often and never tray bakes. It is mostly something to share with workmates or take to a gathering of some sort. Now there are fewer of us in the house, it doesn't seem worth the effort. Plus, it's probably better for us not to be eating too much cake! I tend to make banana loaf, or pear and apple cake - recipes gathered along the way, from a book I couldn't afford at the time, in a bookshop, and a friend made at antenatal group, respectively. Tomorrow it'll be a banana loaf to share with music-playing friends.
I took delivery of my second slim volume of short stories yesterday. Here it is. I was going to say that it's always great to have something to show for one's hard work, but I can't really claim to have worked hard to put these stories together. It was a joy and delight. Really. It didn't feel like work at all. The stories were written over a couple of years or so - mainly as "homework" for the lovely Deeside Writers' Group which I go to every month.
I'm now in the habit of editing my tales before they reach anyone else's eyes or ears, so I did not have too much to do on that front. I simply put them together as a collection. Of course, it helped that I had been through this process before, two years ago, for my first volume. There may well be a few typos, a few punctuation errors, a few layout glitches (I have already noticed a couple from a quick look through today). If you spot any, please do let me know and I will make corrections/amendments before the next edition is printed. Thank you!
I hope that these small stories bring enjoyment; a fair few are quite dark, which is not necessarily a bad thing. They are meant to be quirky, different, perhaps a bit unusual. Enjoy!