This Week: Life Line Exhibition and Workshop Planning

A mixture of moments from my week.

The Life Lines online group exhibition curated by Fife Contemporary is now live. Thank you to friends and family who attended the online opening, and to all involved. Take a look at my work here… All my paintings are for sale, including the concertina sketchbooks; email me and I will let you know the details. Some are on my website with prices, but not all (yet).

I wrote out a plan for my “Expressive Scotland” workshop at Higham Hall next week, mixing things up to keep it fresh for myself and participants who’ve done workshops with me before. My next issue was deciphering it as I typed it up into a daily plan, but it’s done now and I have test-driven the new activities to try to ensure the instructions work for what I have in mind.

Studio cat Juanita waiting for the rain from Storm Babet to stop, and demonstrating how powerful backlighting can be. Fortunately we were on the edges of the storm, though it was still very wet and windy.

I became a curtain-twitcher when a neighbour had fancy new “tractor” delivered. But not that curious that I went out in the rain for a closer look.

The mail-order bouquet a very special friend in Australia sent has had me colour mixing in my head, both the red-oranges of the big roses and the white versus not-quite-white carnations. Or is that cool white vs warm white? Thank you again, you-know-who-you-are!

My First Painting in My New Studio Space

Well that’s the studio cats, in-house art critic, and myself moved from Skye to the rolling wheat fields of Aberdeenshire near Turriff. To a village established in the 18th century with a name that is one letter off a favourite (printed) book typeface that has been used since the 17th century. It’s about nine miles from the sea at Gardentown, where I have painted several times in the past, which has rocks, white sand, red cliffs, big waves, quirky buildings, and a harbour.

Low tide at Gardenstown

When I get it all set up, my new studio will have space for painting with friends and doing workshops. Right now most of my stuff is still in storage, but my fingers couldn’t resist having a go at painting the flowers that unexpectedly arrived in the post, sent by a friend in Australia. (Thanks again, you-know-who-you-are, and to all my other fab friends who sent cards, books, messages, for very much helping with this big change.)

I pulled out the crate of art supplies I’ve got and set up on the floor in the sun in what is theoretically the dining room part of the kitchen but will be the afternoon-sun section of my studio. Studio cats Little Em, Freyja, and Misty participated. We all had fun.

Mixed media (watercolour, coloured pencil, oil pastel) on watercolour paper

Smudge Cat

Smudge, the friendliest, purriest, tickle-my-tummyest, yellow-roses-are-the-tastiest of cats, has gone to chase butterflies with her brother Graphite.

Graphite Studio Cat

Graphite came to live with us with Smudge, his sister, as kittens from cat rescue. His favourite activity was sleeping on one of his chairs and he didn’t hesitate to tell you to get off when he decided it was nap time. Graphite loved having his tummy brushed, and the fur never grew over his ‘landing lights’. Graphite never wanted you to stop brushing him, reminding us so much of Bob cat. And he loved to cuddle up to sleep next to you on the bed.

We don’t know what had happened in their first few weeks, but Graphite was hesitant to be outside by himself for years (Smudge still is). He’d stare anxiously up in the sky, like a dwarf believing he could fall into that space. He also had desperate anxiety about food, or rather the lack of it. He’d be extremely vocal if I was slow with putting out breakfast, gulping his down and then finishing everyone else’s. When I began putting Ghost’s on the kitchen windowsill, Graphite started to meeow below it tell me he knew Ghost wouldn’t have eaten it all and I was to get the bowl off the window ledge for him now and just hurry up already.

Check a Composition by the Painting’s Title

Sunday morning, studio cat Ghost and I are sitting in the chair listening to Beethoven’s ninth and the birdsong, reading a ‘new’ book that arrived from a secondhand bookshop in the States.

I like these older books because they tend to have more in them, more thoughts and less how-to broken down to the nth. While the photos may be black and white, they’re full of gems that require “reading with a pencil”. Like this:

What Santa Left Under the Tree (aka the Joys of Books at Christmas)

Christmas Art Books 2017

The joy of printed books, with paper pages to feel, hold, turn. The quality of the printing, the weight of the paper, the style of the binding. The typography, page layout. Joys before reading starts.

Fiction books filled with imagination. Non-fiction books filled with things to be learned and discovered. Art books opening with a creak to release that new-book-ink smell. Books to read from cover to cover, others to dip in randomly. Joys of deciding which book next.

For me, Christmas is synonymous with books, a pile of treasure. Some I’ve mentioned to the in-house-art-critic, others are a surprise. They’re bought across the year and saved in the Christmas box. This is what I’ll be reading into next year:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Stack

Top to bottom:

  • Artemis — science fiction set on the Moon, by the author of a book I’ve read multiple times, The Martian, which was made into a film I’ve watched several times. I stayed up reading it, and will read it again to enjoy the writing more slowly now I know the plot.
  • Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations — a long-time favourite artist of the in-house art critic and an artist whose geometric abstracts have increasingly grown on me. We visited her studio in St Ives once.? No doubt it’ll be a source of some Monday Motivators.
  • Perennial Seller : The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday — a book for the business side of life.
  • Paintings by Peder Balke — a relatively unknown Norwegian artist.
  • Australia’s Impressionists — catalogue from an exhibition at the National Gallery in London.
  • What Color is the Wind? — an inspiring illustrated children’s book; not only the answer to the question, but the tactile elements on the pages.
  • Turner’s Sketchbooks — guess the in-house-art critic has been listening when I’ve enthused about looking at Turner’s sketchbooks in Tate Britain. Becoming more Turner-esque in my painting of skies is on my current artistic wishlist.
  • The Artist’s Model — a book figurative painter Alan McGowan showed us during the life-painting workshop I went on in October.
  • Mondrian and his Studios: Colour in Space — explores how Mondrian developed his iconic geometric abstracts.
  • A River of Words — illustrated children’s book on William Carlos Williams, a poet I’ve loved since I first encountered the poem “This Is Just To Say“.
  • Donald Teskey — exhibition catalogue of a contemporary Irish landscape painter.
  • Paul Klee: Painting Music — “One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colours: the row of watercolours in my paintbox”.
  • The Anatomy of Colour: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments — for heavy-duty colour enthusiasts, a look at the use of colour and paint in interior decoration history (or the answer to “would my painting have matched the walls” through the ages).
  • Drawing and Painting by Kate Wilson, who as an evening-class art tutor at City Lit in London taught me so much, not least about the art of constructive critique.
  • Monet The Collector — a book on the artwork that Monet collected rather than his own paintings.
  • Norman Ackroyd: A Shetland Notebook –?watercolours from a journey to Shetland islands by an artist known primarily as a printmaker.
  • Missing from photo: The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century — a tome for bedtime reading. First random opening I was at a piece about the impact of artists fleeing war-torn Nazi Europe and arriving in New York.

For studio cats, it’s a simpler joy:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Cat
Studio Cat Graphite testing the theory that you can absorb what’s in a book by putting it under your pillow and sleeping on it.


Studio Cat Help

Studio cat Ghost has been helping me with the ‘admin’ side of getting ready for my exhibition at Skyeworks, all the things that need to be done besides the ‘fun’ bit (creating the paintings vs painting edges, varnishing, adding d-rings and wire, photos, price list etc). His favourite role is photography assistant, providing the white for checking contrast.

Studio Cat and Roses Painting

Studio Cat Realities

Know all those photos of artists in their studios with serene studio cats sleeping on a chair or cushion that get shared around the web? Well, I’ve tried telling Studio Cat Ghost, but he prefers a more active, investigative role. and clambering over canvas.


Sorrow and Creative Block

Stealth Studio Cat

Thus Nature sorrows, and forgets her sorrow ;
And Reason soberly approves her way :
Why should we shut oor een against to-morrow
Because our sky was clouded yesterday ?

Non Semper Imbres by J. Logie Robertson

Feeling blueThe thought of starting a new painting becomes a munro to cling my way up, scree to negotiate, rather than a path to skip along past the buttercups and foxgloves. Colours seem murkier, brushes harder to clean, compositions falter, tones become darker and darker. Guilt at not creating, not being sufficiently productive, enters the room, stirring up the sediment of doubts and uncertainties. The b-word — block — raises its unsettling head. Sorrow saps enjoyment from the things I know I thrive on doing, drains energy and motivation, seeps into thoughts in unexpected and untimely ways, digs up things that were put behind and clouds the view.

This is not the first time, nor shall it be the last, because that’s how life goes. I know to expect to not feel like creating, to get frustrated by the results far too quickly when I do start. I know it shall pass, not to beat myself up about it. Time rounds off the edges like a river rounds stones in its path, water rushing determinedly and unstoppably towards the sea. Self Portrait from early 2000s

Behind every silver lining there’s a cloud. Behind every cloud there’s another silver lining. Behind the clouds and silver linings are thoughts of iridescent titanium white, interesting greys for clouds, blues for seascapes, that perhaps it’s time to finally try painting that little fishing trawler on the wide open Minch because I’m messing things up anyway.

There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance paint.

Stealth Studio Cat

Stealth Studio Cat

Stealth Studio Cat

Footnote for anyone who’s in the “it’s just a cat” category: It is and it isn’t. It’s also about all the events from all the years this particular cat lived with us, all the family members, both feline and human.