More Night Painting.

Having made a decision not to edit my palette monochromatically, I am selecting the materials by tone. The hue of the material is part of the decision, made differently.

I divide an assortment of oil pastels into three tins, Dark, Mid and Light tones, all marked on the lid for identification in the gloaming. The Hue will not be visible whilst I’m working so you may wonder what I’m doing? After a few experiments I have discovered that the sensory deprivation of not being able to use my eyes to gather the usual information about the subject, has unexpectly led me to a more spontaneous way of working. It is literally as if I have tricked myself into being less self conscious and more intuitive. A resetting of creativity embracing chance perhaps?

So far I have enjoyed the unexpected and am now playing to it when I make my selection and pack my bag. Red mountains or an orange sea carry a potent symbolism and lead me to the much loved painting of Emile Nolde, someone whose work I have admired for forty five years.

8.10.17

 

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After a day of walking no further than the outside latrine (these days known as a composting loo) yesterday I decided to walk to the pier which has a cafe, shop and Wi-Fi hot spot. There was no point waiting for the weather to improve and so, although I didn’t put on my waterproof trousers, I carefully packed them, along with the Wi-Fi technology, into a small backpack. Usually it’s full of painting materials, with brushes tied to sticks emerging from the top, so on this occasion I felt rather different, like the well-equipped guests we host at home with all the latest textiles and boots made from modern materials which I presume derive from the petrochemical industries. No wool, little if any cotton, just varying degrees of breathable waterproof plastics.

I set off at a brisk pace, having gathered that it took an hour, but if I stuck my thumb out I might get a lift. I was lucky and did, just before the steep assent to get to the middle of the island. It’s funny how you can build things up and an hour each way had felt too much out of my day, despite the fact that actually I have nothing to do! It was also because when here in the past I had a sore hip which got worse as I walked. With two yoga classes a week it is much improved and not a reason to hold me back. When you drop the fear or resentment and accept a thing, it becomes easier to do. I know that but I don’t often remember! My mood lifted as I set off on a little island outing to be amongst people and contact the outside world.

My main encouragement was to try to speak to my son. As it was Saturday there was a chance of speaking to him without risk of him being at work, even if he hadn’t taken my advice and asked for compassionate leave. Although I was getting over the shock, I am still haunted by such an untimely death of one so young and I grieve for the loss for my son of his closest friend. My son knew the password to his friend’s phone and laptop and his parents said he knew more than anyone about their son’s life. The last call on his phone was to my son, they often shared a flat, went on holiday together, shared the same interests and spoke several times a day. ‘Brothers’ is how they described themselves. Every night I am troubled by the thoughts of loss and was relieved to discover the radio here has rechargeable batteries so I can follow the vagaries of the BBC broadcasting schedules although I am now catching up with their repeats. I am aware that it is distraction. The soothing sound of the voice of another, telling me a story.

As my time here moves into the second week, my thoughts are also preoccupied by other concerns. One aspect of working in tourism is that our lives are determined by seasonality. Coming here at the end of the season and after a big change in our lifestyle as we give up cooking breakfast and changing beds every day, I have been very surprised by how much work it still is to divide the house in half and have strangers just through a door. It surprises me that, having given up the daily personal involvement, it has still turned out to be intrusive. Unfortunately, with this new project, we have attracted a different sort of guest and a number have proved too demanding and critical. On two occasions I have been sent a twenty point list of criticisms and it makes one wonder why these people decide to travel? Over the whole season we have had masses of appreciation, so why do I find the few dissatisfied people so troubling?

By October, we are usually exhausted. In other years, we have closed and gone away together, leaving a house-sitter in charge. Because it is the first year of a new project, we were uncertain about its success so decided instead to have a less ambitious break in November. The reason for this long-winded preamble – too much information as Norrie says – is that the question I find myself troubled by, is where has my creativity gone? Empty, depleted, uninspired are all words that describe how I feel.

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Living here in this perfect wooden hut feels like being cradled in a wooden womb. There is everything you need but no extras. Lucy has thought out every concern and still kept it simple and minimal. This is deliberate as she has discovered what gives her visitors the time and space to engage with their creativity and the Bothy Project works with her to provide subsidised residencies. I know all this and last time was on one of them, so why now am I empty of ideas?

Instead, I have decided to engage with the task of simple living; something I yearn for in my everyday. Reading Outrun has helped, as it is a gripping tale of just the same desire. There is an outdoor shower here which frightened me in the past, preferring instead to boil the kettle and strip off. This time I have used the shower and, with the careful management of the wood-burner and rationing of hot water, I have managed to have a great wash in what must be the most spectacular of locations, outside, looking up at the cliffs, with the caw of the ravens overhead, everything swathed in mist.

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You bring your food with you when you come here and I have enjoyed the simple eating and having small meals when I choose. I am even keeping a food diary to try and lose eight pounds. I brought a bottle of white wine which remains unfinished outside, deciding instead that it doesn’t interest me. I have read a lot and listened to the radio, but there is something missing and it is my desire to make work. Perhaps that is why I am writing so much, it feels easier than drawing, I don’t know why.

On the way home from the pier yesterday, I met a man who told there was a whole whale skeleton on the north shore. I long to walk there to see it, but the weather is misty, I am unfit and don’t know the territory. I decide on a less ambitious plan and forgo my yearning to see a whale skeleton outside a museum. Instead I go to the Singing Sands, a famous beach that squeaks as you walk, but not today! Huge forests of kelp lie, ripped out at the roots, looking like extruded car parts or specialised components for a car wash. I pick one up and feel what looks like the root, ripped away from its anchor and am surprised to find how hard it is. I expected it to be soft like a sponge.

9.10.17

Something changed today apart from the weather and I found some enthusiasm to go out and draw. I remembered some work I did on Harris which I found when packing to come here and thought there might be a thread to pick up.

The geology is the thing that moves me most about being here on Eigg. There are basalt cliffs as on the Sound of Mull, but more dramatic with chimneys and gorges to create a fascinating cliff just above my bed. There is a window next to me and so I am able to lie here watching the cliffs with the moon coming up behind them. Or watch them move in and out of mist reminding me of Faroe.

The beach is made of basalt sand just like at Old Ardtornish, but here it has a white overlay, perhaps of shell. The two layers remain apart, perhaps their weight is different but the result is a surface of intricate patterns like marbled paper, especially where the final length of a burn crosses the sand. I find a discarded plastic bucket amongst the flotsam and jetsam and, knocking out its weight of sand, take it upturned and sit in the middle of the flow, drawing the patterns with pen and ink. It’s very soothing to sit in the middle of such splendour simply making marks as a response. No plans, no destiny just enjoying the engagement of joining the process of intricate pattern making.

 

A View from Eigg.

The view of the mainland fades in and out. The hills merge and emerge. Sadness washes in and out like the tide; like the waves as with the mist. Showers of fat rain soaking me to the skin in minutes as I struggle to find a signal to the outside world.

 As darkness falls, a waxing moon reflects on water, seawater, water between islands, lochs and closer to home, even puddles. Like burnished silver, a trail of light leads across the land and sea. With the rumble of the gathering wind, I am here two days early to escape the anticipated storm. As with every out-of-season visit, I remember that the ferry service is not a tourist attraction for which I spend the summer months assisting guests to navigate the pitfalls of the Calmac timetable, but its real purpose is as an essential service to serve the island populations who rely on boats to bring food, fuel and parcels.

There is another light pulsing in the dark. A stronger, man made light that marks a headland of the smaller island, off this island, that makes the harbour here on Eigg. After the shock of hearing of an untimely death yesterday, I have pulled my bed to the window and am looking out over the panoramic view, back towards the mainland and find the strength and reliable intervals as the light turns round, enormously reassuring. There is a gentle creak of the metal chimney of the Hobbit wood burner and the occasional flex of the French doors as the wind gusts. I am cosy and warm in bed looking out through a crack in the curtains that I have swathed around the head of the camp bed to create a vista and lie on my stomach watching the night.

Over the last few years, I have used these outings to learn about our Hebridean and northern islands and have experienced an uplifting intensity as if the scale of a small place concentrates their essence. Each island is very different and distilled into a strong sense of place, but islands also have a reputation as suitable for people who wish to own their own small kingdom. Connected to that reputation is the fact that they also change hands frequently. The Isle of Eigg is no exception and in fact leads the way in this debate. As those of you who read The Guardian will know, there was an interesting article about Eigg last week. Amongst all the islands, Eigg is famous for its community land buyout. (In contrast, the iconic St Kilda is largely known for the evacuation in 1930). Eigg has a growing population which now stands at 105.

There is another aspect to being on an island. It can make you feel trapped. On my first morning here I received some devastating news about the untimely death of someone extremely close to my eldest son, his best friend and, in his words, more of a brother than a friend. I have spent the few days since then, preoccupied with an inner struggle, part of me longing to rush to my sons side and support the small child I gave birth to, who is now thirty-two. In fact, his mother is likely to be last person he would turn to or indeed, want, as he moves further and further into adult life and his parents become an irrelevance if not an embarrassment. That brings up more feelings of the emptiness a mother feels after the endless years of offering protection and support as one’s child learns to navigate the world and to accept that the world they choose is not the one you know or live in.

 It is now a challenge to be remote, cut off by a slice of sea, high winds and the constraints of the ferry timetable with no phone or email, intensifying the sense that there is nothing I can do which can easily flip into frustration and the sadness into depression. It is good for me to work through these internal conflicts. I haven’t gone so far as to decide to leave early but instead to observe the emotions as they pour through me. 

 

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Muckle Roe

Whist I have been on Shetland the weather has been good. I am told it is not always like this but nearly every day has had some sunshine and so it seems mistaken to spend all day inside, working. Working removed from my subject is something I am never comfortable with and so what better reason than dry weather, to be outside. There is something deep inside that relaxes, feels at home and instantly curious; in some sense it feels like going home when I go out. But I have come here to work and being in this creative space has given me a sense of guilt that I am not justifying my visit with important output! Going for walks, exploring the map and looking at digital images whilst planning where to go next is not the same as making work. However, Shetland is new to me and quite strangely different and I have decided to let it seep into my blood, sit with it and let it take me where it will while I search for the resonance required to make authentic work.

Yesterday I awoke with this dilemma sharply in focus and decided the best way to resolve the conflict was to trust my instinct and draw on the ways I know best and once again, go outside. During the previous day I had been to Lerwick and to their first-rate bookshop “The Shetland Times” to buy another map. In planning my time here I had bought some maps with me but it shows how large Shetland is, that it takes five maps to cover the whole archipelago. Scalloway is in the middle of Shetland Mainland and so I had only expected to explore South Mainland and West Mainland and thought the The North would be too far. But after recommendations, I decided to extend my range to North Mainland and later, next week, with friend C, to go to the North islands of Yell and Unst.

So equipped with picnic, (which I didn’t eat) my new map which is so modern it has an app you can download onto your phone and enough diesel, I went out yet again, this time following the signs to North Islands, heading for Muckle Roe, an island just off the west coast and attached by a short causeway.

As with almost everywhere I have been, to see the best of the landscape involves being prepared for a walk. Little I have seen is easily accessible without being prepared to leave the car which of course, just like on the isle of Eigg, restricts the size of work as everything has to be carried and secured from the wind.

Part of the internal conflict has been about wanting to scale up my work and I have spent a lot of the time trying to devise a work practice that can capture the essence of place with enough information on site to continue when back in the warmth and dry of the studio. This has led me along a tunnel of uncertainty and has produced a pile of rejected work.

To reconnect with my instinct and knowledge of what works best for me (something it is all to easy to lose connection with when swept up in the ways of the world and convention) I had packed a number of small pieces of paper and a minimal set of drawing tools and went exploring. The map had a large blue footprint at the end of the road which had a polite sign saying this is the end of the public road and a rather ad hoc car park. I parked and started to walk and quickly found another sign with map telling me this was a Core Path and I had a choice of a two or four kilometer walk. The shorter route led to a lighthouse along the coast and the other along a track inland passing a series of freshwater lochs. As always, I chose the coastal route and within ten minutes was so struck by the view I was drawing already.

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When working on the structure of a drawing, it is hard not to be seduced by the breadth of the landscape here. Except when looking at detail, there are few verticals. I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed the panoramic app in my phone camera and have enjoyed the images it has taken. By the end of the walk I had decided to revert to the folded books I often make or perhaps work on a scroll format. I had come to the conclusion that internal conflict was a waste of energy and that if I enjoy working small and portable, I should stop minding, relax and enjoy the things I have seen. The coast here really is breathtaking and is my usual subject but here it is harsh and severe, unrelenting and ferocious. On just a short walk I had crept along the top of a cliff where even the pathbuilders had supplied a hand rail, struggled with my vertigo which was unpleasant and been grateful for my fantastic coat. With the hood up, I was able to turn my back on a severe hailstorm and stand it out, occasionally looking over my shoulder to see how close the blue sky had blown and by keeping my hood up was able to negotiate the more frightening places on my return where I just kept looking at my feet with the hood obscuring the view.

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Before returning to the car I sat in the sun above a sandy bay watching the rabbits and noticing the bonsai heather they have created with the combination of grazing and burrowing. A lunar landscape.

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Words

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Bridge of Walls
Muckle Ward
Mouldy Hill
Johnny Sinclairs Nose
Swabwall
Fitful Head
Blackholes
Cannygates
The Rump
Noup of Noss
Headless Banks
Cauldhame
Trouda
Burra
Whale Wick
Papil
Houss
Toogs
Papa
Hoggs of Hoy
Nesting

Just a few of the names seen on signposts or found on the map as I continue to explore.

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I love this. A hollow dug out to shelter a boat from the howling winds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On being Alone.

Today is Sunday and for me, someone who doesn’t go to church or in fact go out much at all, it makes little difference. The only thing I have to consider is that I can’t buy any milk until tomorrow. However I feel as if Sunday represents something significant today. I have been following the progress of the Pope in America and Jeremy Corbin at the Labour party conference with half an ear and am delighted and relieved that a more reasonable and liberal way of looking at the world seems to be on the increase but it is not that which has affected me, at least not directly.
As the struggle continues and I still have to find a way of describing the landscape of Tiree that works for me, I have had a novel thought!
Why not relax and treat the rest of my time here as a holiday!
It speaks reams about my work ethic and level of anxiety and seriousness that this had not occurred to me until today. When I woke, the sun was shining and being the conventional day of rest I made a decision that I was not going to be so serious about the rest of my time here and now plan to relax and enjoy the island and the time away from other commitments. Knowing me, I will revert to wondering how to find the right language to describe this place but I will also walk, read and sit by the fire.

Tuesday 29th September.
The process of having a daily practice is a good discipline even if that is all you do but in fact I have been working on some drawings too. I remembered, rather late in the day, the exercise of drawing with your marker tied to the end of a stick. I have also decided that as the emphasis here is in the horizontal plane, I would divide a sheet of paper equally into strips, either with a view to reassembling them to their original proportion or into a long, long drawing.
So, equipped with two pieces of twig charcoal tied to two pieces of bamboo, one thicker than the other so it enables a firmer mark, I ventured out.

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By way of an interlude, I want to tell you a little about what it is like being here alone. I am quite self sufficient and so except for my husband, I haven’t really missed being in company. I have had four conversations with four very different women during the time I have been here. But there are things you have to consider when alone. Two moments come to mind which brought into sharp focus my personal safty. The first, on returning from the magnificent beach of Balephuil and walking to Patricks Chapel, I found myself driving behind another pickup (the chosen vehicle it appears on Tiree) and the farmer got out to open a gate in front of both vehicles. Obviously as he drove through, it was my job to shut it behind me and so he drove off. I got out of the car and shut the gate only to fall through, with both feet, a cattle grid, landing just below the knees, legs between different bars and with the gate violently swinging in the not insubstantial breeze, flapping around my head! Luckily nothing was hurt but I realised how easy it would be to sustain an injury and knowing no one would have no one to contact. It has made me slightly more cautious than usual. This was reinforced by an extended visit to another beach where I parked the car and made three expeditions taking different materials each time. On the third excursion I decided to take another route and instead of walking along the shore as I had done before, I saw a sheep track through the sand dunes and took a short cut. All went well and I was even not displeased with some of the results, until I returned. My car was surrounded by a large herd of cattle, a very large bull and an extremely frisky black heifer amongst their number. On seeing me, the heifer made towards me with great curiosity and I realised that I wasn’t really sure what to do. I stood my ground, flapped by drawing board a bit and talked to her, suggesting that I was not really the interesting individual she thought I was. She was not to be discouraged and having taken a few strides I decided I had to stop and rethink the solution. The black heifer was making such a fuss that I noticed cows moving from miles around across the dunes all converging on the apparent interest. There were calves amongst the throng and I knew you must not get between a mother and her calf. What to do? I was terrified! There were more cows on the beach cutting off a detour to the car but I noticed they were drinking seawater and were not very interested in me. I struck out, cutting the herd in half, round the dunes and made it to the other side of my car where there was a frisky bullock calf. I thought I might end up on the roof but with car keys in hand, managed to take a flying leap at the door and throwing it open, jumped in. The drawing had become of very insignificant importance and needless to say was not longer very clean but I was at least inside a metal box. I think the cattle must have thought I was the farmer as the bull emerged from the feed pens dug in between the dunes and I had obviously given the wrong impression that I had come bearing silage and that the cattle too thought I was their keeper being in the statutory pickup truck. The beaches here all look so innocent and perfect but I now realise that every one with no fencing in fact has a free range herd of semi wild cows and it has completely un nerved me. I have stayed very close to the house since then!

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Wednesday.

Equipped with my stick and long strips of paper I have been out every day but now am including a reasonable walk between the work times. The weather has been spectacular; everything blue and this morning with mist rising in every hollow made the island look like a vision. I missed the red super moon despite getting up at 3.29am. I ventured out and was aware that the moon was shining brightly but there was an obscurity preventing the light showing. Perhaps that was the eclipse? By 4.30am it had cleared and the bright moonlight was back. But there has been a red moon every night at moonrise, which closely follows the most spectacular sunsets. Last night was the best of all.

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Last year, when on Iona, I remember meeting a man who runs a gallery there who said of my work that it was not specifically Ionian. We discussed this and it emerged that what he meant was that there was no specific landmark to define the work as being located there. This is the audience who walk the beaches of Iona, working out the exact rock that was or was not included in one of the Scottish Colourists descriptions of the island. As I am sure you are aware, I am not specifically interested in geographical accuracy although I realise from that conversation that perhaps it would make my work more saleable. As you know, we eventually curated the exhibition under the title The Beaufort Scale making the theme more about the weather than the geography. I am now having the same internal debate about Tiree. To counter the continual horizontal emphasis, I have now started introducing small vertical accents and looking at the articulation of the marks across the page as something of a musical score. There is a drawing board in the van whenever I venture out and so when the moment arrives I am equipped to make a response. How important is it that these reactions are located within an accurate map? I don’t believe they it is…it is the body of work that should describe the experience of a month on Tiree, not which rock is where.
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I have now been on the isle of Tiree for a week.

It has taken this long to find a place, outside, where I feel comfortable and able to paint. With the rhythm of the surf as a pulse to work to, somewhere to leave the car within easy reach if I need to replenish my materials and most importantly, few people about, I set out my equipment and worked for several hours undisturbed.
Unlike my first excursion into the immediate locality, this place appears to be managed by a farmer more in sympathy with the environmental concerns of the western seaboard. There is a map with natural history notes and an endorsement from several national environmental initiatives including SNH and RSPB, no doubt contributing financially to this low impact husbandry. There are few or no fences, cattle roaming in a herd through the dunes and information explaining the land management to enlist your sympathy.
As the light fell, I packed up and went for a walk. Rounding a rocky promontory I discovered an enormous white beach echoing with the eerie call of the Curlew punctuated by the occasional Oystercatcher. I paid little attention until I got too close to a flock of birds on the beach; I assumed they were starlings (if you had asked me) until they flew off. I was amazed to realise that I was watching a flock of curlews, seventy or a hundred, which wheeled away over my head and into the dunes.
At home, as I go to bed, I open the bedroom window next to my side of the bed. I do this to let in the sounds of the shore close to our house and more noticeable after the last ferry crossing. It is always with a thrill that I recognise the voice of the occasional solitary curlew. I assumed they were solitary birds but it appears that I was wrong. On our more inland waterway they must be rare, no doubt in decline and probably on the red list (I must look them up) Tiree may be one of the protected places where they can still thrive without the inevitable intervention that our modern world likes to describe as Progress. Progress to where? is my usual thought; Oblivion seems likely! Extinction of many, many species, a certainty.
Since I arrived on Tiree it has been hard to find a subject and find my groove. Lucky I started a daily practice at home during July and August and so this is the obvious place to start. Although I had been packing for weeks, grabbing the odd moment, I find myself here with very few brushes and those I brought are rather short of bristles! Recently, someone looked at my brushes and said they were well used. I was rather taken aback thinking she meant worn out and when I thought about it, I guess I haven’t bought many for at least twenty years, so yes, I suppose those I have are rather bristle free! Never mind, a feather, a piece of kelp stalk or some plastic detritus from the beach will suffice. However, it is rather irritating to think of two pots full of lovely brushes in my studio at home.

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But the SUBJECT is a different matter. It would be churlish to say that when I planned this visit I hadn’t given serious consideration to fine weather. We have had the wettest summer, almost in living memory, in Lochaber. Now, just as people had given up in dismal despair, we have had the most wonderful September. And so here I am with a suitcase of jerseys and waterproofs expecting torrential rain and wind only to be challenged with positively Greek colours, Blue blue sea and a sky to match. Jolomo is not my favourite artist despite his popularity in Scotland and his consequent commercial success (apparently a sign of good painting to some) and I am not going to succumb to painting glistening white croft cottages with indian red tin roofs and turquoise sea. But it is not the pallet I was expecting and how many blue pictures of the seaside does the world need?

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None the less, a daily practice has emerged. Equipped with some strips of heavy watercolour paper and having met Jonathan Shearer, a vastly reduced pallet in my first watercolour tin which I have had since my teens, I go out every day and make several wet on wet drawings. Colours of Tiree they are becoming. And eventually I will have over 100 and so 100 Colours of Tiree might be their name.

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As I have described before, I was pulled by the sea when on Iona and worked on the beach looking out at the surf. So back to the beach I have gone here too but on Tiree there are about 25 beaches to choose from and with a car they are all within easy reach. I started by exploring those closest to me here and have gradually expanded my reach until today I revisited somewhere we were shown when we came here in February. It couldn’t have looked more different, with almost iridescent green waves with just the right amount of spray being blown back as they broke, reminding me of the depiction of waves as white horses that may be the territory of children’s book illustration. There were two or three surfers there but the beach is huge and anyway I was on a mission to go and explore a ruined chapel further round the rocky coast. In February Norrie and I didn’t make it that far as we were so hypnotised by the rocks and every detail, we got distracted by taking photos and even a little film. Our friends went on and mentioned the chapel on their return so I decided I would go and explore. As I approached, a lone Raven, standing on a rock made his presence known and standing his ground continued to caw until he got a reply. Whenever I see a Raven I think it is my father keeping an eye on me. You can tell with my name that I am rather keen on birds although I know little about them. Ravens pair for life (I am an exception to this habit) and when they established where each other were, they slowly flew off, in no hurry but not wanting my intrusion to come too close.

 

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Today I woke to a dull, drizzly day and so decided to catch up on some admin, photograph the work made so far and spend some time painting as the sun came out. I am scaling up my strips and moving from watercolour to pigment.

There is no internet at Machair Cottage and although I have a smart phone the connection is not reliable enough to send anything more than a short message. Instead, I have been using a wifi hotspot at the rural centre. Today, when I arrived, I was rather surprised to discover the car park full and half a field outside, covered in heavy-duty agricultural vehicles, many with trailers. There were small fields full of sheep and so I soon realised there must be a serious local event, the Mart. Buyers come from the mainland five times a year to bid for cattle and sheep and the final section is reserved for breeding ewes that don’t leave the island so the ferry can work to its timetable without leaving any new acquisitions behind. As I set up my workstation, there was a strong smell of cow dung and lots of rugged men and some women in waterproofs. Every chair had mud on it and so I gave up looking for a clean place to sit and settled down to the background of rapid fire bidding and bacon rolls. The bidding for cattle was so rapid that it got to over a thousand pounds in a few seconds. I didn’t stay long enough to hear the sheep prices which I believe are down on last year. With a new vegan shadow minister of agriculture at Westminster, I wondered what she would make of this economy? There is no doubt that the livestock look well fed and totally free range, so if we are to eat less meat, what would replace livestock for the people of Tiree? It seems extremely unlikely that they will go back to grain. Silage is all I have seen by way of a crop. But I think the new responsibility about land use and animal welfare will not choose Tiree as a place to start. Perhaps that could be factory farming, with chickens as a beginning?

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The next project.

Hello MA,

Here, after various musings are my thoughts after our last conversation.

Perhaps we need another to see where we go with this?

Ax

After a successful month on the Isle of Iona at the end of 2014 and then having had an interesting exhibition of the work made, I am now preparing to go away again but this time to the Ilse of Tiree.

For the last few years my work has focused on the western seaboard where the land meets the sea and in particular, the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides.

With the title Close to the Edge I have embarked on a series of residencies and intensive painting journeys to explore and examine the area of Britain and Europe in which I live but of which I still know so little.

This is a process of submersion and submission. Submersion in the subject and submission into the landscape and all it can tell me with my limited understanding of reading history, geography and geology of this magnificent and varied part of the world.

Like with an onion, as you peel one layer away, another is revealed and new discoveries are made along with an acute awareness of how much more there is to know.

It is the exploration and subsequent discovery that is the subject of the residencies as much as the expression of subject matter and the investigation into the revelation of new things and places.

So far, in no systematic way, my exploration has taken me to various places on the West Coast from the Summer Isles in the north to Treshnish on the Isle of Mull and Lochmaddy on North Uist. Taking opportunity as it has arisen I have followed my nose and tried to open my mind and my heart to what I have seen and experienced.

Gradually some themes have emerged which inform the next decision.

Last year, 2014, I had an opportunity to go to Iona for a month, live in a caravan in all the weather could throw at me during November and December, to make new work.

I arrived in sunshine and could happily work outside with no real challenge from the elements. With several layers of clothing and my drawing bag I was able to head out and look for subjects.

Quickly I realised that the logistics of working outside with no car to retreat into or take me far, I was bound to a small area within which it was realistic to remain.

The north end of Iona is blessed with several stunning beaches and one in particular was a short walk away.

During the first few days I wandered about allowing the place and its atmosphere to soak in.

Each time I was drawn to the beach.

I live by the sea, with a beach within five hundred yards of our front door.

But it isn’t the same sort of sea.

Our sea, or Loch Linnhe to be precise, is more of a loch or inland waterway.

Surrounded by hills, the largest hills in Britain, our home territory has quiet a different feel.

The beach at Lagandorain is altogether different.

And so I began to make a series of pieces, created in sequences and allowing the rhythm, colour and taste of the surf that arrives on the first landmass for three thousand miles to inform the work. To record the experience I began this blog and so most of you will have read about it here.  It was transformative and on my return I was offered an exhibition and as part of the installation, I started a collaboration with Watercolour Music entitled Ardgour Artists.

It is this association that has led to my next residency and it is with them that I hope to forge a new collaboration.

Dear Anna,

Following our various meetings and discussions, I am writing to extend an official invitation from Watercolour Music, to use our property on the Isle of Tiree as the locus for the latest of your self-directed residencies. Having read of your residency on Iona, and having seen your resulting work, I am confident that Tiree will offer you the inspiration and seclusion you require to build on this island experience.

Watercolour Music regards this as a first step in exploring the potential for a network of mutual support (WT Ardgour Artists), and to that end, we look forward very much to seeing and hearing more about your time in Tiree.

Is mise le meas

Mary Ann

Mary Ann Kennedy

Watercolour Music Limited

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Coming Home.

My return from Iona was interesting. After a few days of domestic tasks to catch up with the backlog, I began to think about my work. I even found I dreamt about the making of paintings on Iona and it was a real struggle to adjust to the ordinary demands of daily life. I had a clear awareness that for the life of an artist to be authentic, you have to give it everything. An all or nothing process. Especially for women who are used to the demands of a domestic life, that is very hard. Being on Iona had shone light into my creative process and helped me to understand the level of committment I needed. In a crab like manner, possibly sideways, I am crawling towards a solution but there are not many of us who can throw everything away and just live the passion of a singular life. After remembering how attached Norrie is to his home and a quick appraisal of Scottish property prices, the dream of living in one room with a paintbrush soon appeared improbable but how to hold on to the single-minded committment and focus remains a challenge.

Since then we have had Christmas, New Year and some extraordinary weather, with gales, power cuts, hail storms and snow along with close to three inches of rain in one twenty-four hours. Throughout it all, I have reminded myself that the joy of the waves on Iona was the power of nature and the awareness of the smallness of man. So it is all part of the same subject and now the task is to find a new vehicle to express it.

Live on the west coast of Scotland I may, but such a different sort of landscape than the subject I had found on Iona. Yes, we live by the sea but the waves bear no comparison and without the white sand, the sea is not quite so green. We have hills, lochs, rivers and trees here. Beaches but not the same, with the remains of salmon traps and rocks and pebbles and seaweed. Altogether a different sort of place.

I use my small compact camera to inch towards the research necessary to seek out a new subject. I go for little walks between the squalls and have made a vow to take photographs every day. A scrap book is emerging and along with some internet shopping for new materials and phone conversations with helpful art shops, I am preparing to make new work.

And lastly, I have made a pact with myself to go away, alone, to an isolated place and with a box of paint, cut myself off from daily demands and just work. How many times a year I am not sure but with Norries support I will try for three but it is more likely to be two.