5 Days of Creative Retreating with Kate Downie (Part 1)

web-KATE DOWNIE RETREAT (213)I’ve had a relaxing, creative-battery recharging week on a workshop at Creative Retreat led by Kate Downie in the intriguing fishing village of Gardenstown (Gamrie) on the east coast (of Scotland). It was a week of trying new things, getting out of comfort zone, rather than being focused on the end product, but for those curious to see what I created are some photos.

The warmup was to do a charcoal drawing of either the sea up to the horizon or the clouds down to the horizon, a subject right in my comfort zone. Then the morning’s project was revealed: a charcoal drawing of a dead rosebush and a weird, ancient electrical box with wires echoing the branches of the rosebush, with the brief “nature vs humanmade”. Let’s stick to saying the still life got me out the comfort zone in no time at all and I give myself credit for not running out the studio screaming.

web-KATE DOWNIE RETREAT (217)We did monoprinting, working in layers over a charcoal drawing of some other “nature vs human made” subject we’d found during a sketchabout in the village after lunch, which got 10/10 from me for enjoyment. I’d found a small piece of barbed wire on the beach, along with features, and was hooked (!) on barbs connection, though on feathers the barbs are to keep things together and on the wire their job is to keep things off.

I printed the feathers directly, and could happily have done variations on this all day:


I printed white ink using feathers as masks and then the feathers direct over an earlier printing of sea which didn’t work well. This is definitely something I want to explore again.


This was my “real project”, with multiple layers: charcoal feather drawing, blue layer with feathers as masks leaving gaps through which you see the charcoal, black printed feathers and barbed wire, then same again with the white. I find it a bit hectic, but the layering is something I want to pursue.


This was my warmup charcoal drawing of the sea overprinted with blue experimenting with dropping water onto the ink. It’s, urm, got a sense of rain…


I printed what was left after I’d done the “actual project” and lifted the feathers. I like the moodiness of this, and it’s a reminder not to work on newsprint but on “proper paper” because it’s going to yellow in no time at all.


Kate made rabbit-skin gesso which got applied to various found objects and some paper. Add a layer of PVA glue, leave to dry, then scratch into the surface. Cover with oil paint, which goes into lines, then rub off. I liked the result on paper, but on driftwood and tile I struggled with memories of seaside souvenirs involving glue, seashells and wobbly eyes.



We explored ink painting with soft Chinese brushes, and went out into the sunshine to do some large-scale brush painting for the smaller gesso project. I sat up the hill a bit at the church. Magnificent view, but I was inhibited by worries of spilling the ink on the cement (and couldn’t move to the grassy bit because a tree obscured the view). Ink is perhaps a good medium when perspective doesn’t come naturally because you put a line and you’re committed and simply have to move on no matter how wobbly things get.


On location ink painting with landscapes is far more my thing, and far more forgiving a subject. The village in the distance here is Pennan.


The last day was spent with large scale watercolour, working from our information gathering on location the previous day. This still has a long way to go, but I like the long format and the composition challenges this presents.


And finally, a little textured acrylic piece I created before class on Friday morning using fluid acrylics and texture paste, inspired by the view from the studio window.


I pressed some feathers into the wet paint and lifted them later, leaving shapes in the paint that are visible if angled against the light.


This photo of me was taken by Celia Smith.

What I Found Walking Along the Seashore at Gardenstown in 2014
Wirework: Memories of a Walk on Gardenstown Beach
Lost Your Marbles?
Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)
Five Days in Gardenstown: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

2 Replies to “5 Days of Creative Retreating with Kate Downie (Part 1)”

  1. What a wonderful time you must have had. I especially loved the your work with the feathers. A week away at a workshop is so inspiring. I spent a week in Ullapool with Jan Kilpatrick in June – amazing. Have booked to go again in April and June.

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