I spent the weekend in Edinburgh recently. The main feature was to take part in a sponsored walk to raise funds for the wonderful Maggie's Centre in the city. It provides support for people who have encountered cancer and also for their families. It has helped one of my oldest and dearest friends and her family, so that was reason enough for me to take part. The "Culture Crawl" started at the magnificent edifice that is Fettes College and from there it all went downhill. Not literally, of course; Edinburgh is quite a hilly city, which I had conveniently forgotten when I signed up for the event more than six months ago. There were cultural events along the route (which we only found out when we turned up to take part) - including Gilbert & Sullivan at Parliament Hall, an organ recital at St Stephen's church in Stockbridge, storytelling at the... yes, you guessed it, the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the High Street and singing in a hidden-away chapel at the back of George Square. Added to that lovely mix were some light refreshments, including paella (perfect walking fuel), homebakes and tea and even a few alcoholic beverages to spur us on. A good time was had by all. And I raised over £200 for Maggie's. Many thanks to all who donated.
It was good to be back in Edinburgh, where I grew up. I travelled by bus or walked, while there, which made a pleasant change from driving all the time. Nowadays, there are CCTV screens on the buses, so the driver can keep an eye on what the passengers are up to. It means the passengers can keep an eye on each other too. Quite disconcerting, really. I remember when the buses had platforms at the back. There were conductors who took your fare, then furiously wound their ticket machine, slung round their neck, to produce your ticket. They were printed on proper paper, those tickets, not the flimsy stuff you get now. Now, as I discovered from my friend, you can have an app on your mobile phone, so your ticket appears on the screen and you show it to the bus driver. I remember the days when you could smoke upstairs on the bus. I liked sitting upstairs, but didn't like the smoke (I still don't). My Mum could tell if I'd been upstairs on the bus by the smell of my blazer when I got home. I spent a lot of my childhood on the bus in Edinburgh. I had to take two buses to primary school; my big sister valiantly waited with me at the bus stop on George IV Bridge to make sure I got on the right one. By then she was at senior school and that was the end of her bus journey. There was a lollipop man at the end of my bus journey, to assist my crossing of a busy road. Then there was a walk along a leafy street with big sandstone houses on either side before reaching the sanctuary of school. Once I reached primary 6, I too only took one bus to school. The two-bus journey involved an overlapping stretch where I had the choice of where to change buses. I don't recall how I decided where to do this, but I do remember leaving my violin behind on more than one occasion and my poor mother having to go somewhere to collect it. I'm ashamed to say I don't actually know where she had to go; the bus depot, I assume. I still have that violin, and still play it, so thank you Mum, for mopping up my mess!
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.
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.