Moniaive and Glencairn 2017

SpringFling 30-9-16 007

New work generated in Moniaive and Glencairn will be on show at Spring Fling 2017  between 26th – 29th May 2017

Moniaive and Glencairn Work 2017



Time to go ………

gulls over dutch mans cap

My last week went by in a frenzy of glue and varnish as I made a series of collograph blocks (printing blocks made by collaging onto card. The blocks are varnished to make them watertight before being inked and wiped like an etching plates).  An idea or response to all the boats on the gravestones at the abbey here on Iona and some of the found items in the museum (marble stone beads and a little norse silver bell) had been growing in my mind and finally at about midnight one night I set to with glue and scissors and by morning there were collage blocks dry and ready for varnishing then printing.  I spent the day mixing inks and planning the print.  Its got 14 separate printing blocks so its a lot of inking and wiping before you can print anything.   John told me the boat is a “Birlinn” which is a Hebridean war ship and differs from a Viking long ship in that it has a hinged rudder whereas the long ship uses a gigantic oar for steering.   I was thinking a lot about the idea of a boat as a vessel particularly in the journey from life to death, and the use of bells in ceremony and ritual.  The beads went from green marble to orange.  It was a tense decision as introducing  a very radical colour like that sometimes makes a print but often reduces a print to a write-off but I just had an urge for orange beads and I am a risk taker at heart.  It was mixed from Indian yellow, primrose yellow and warm red and half of the smaller bears were inked just in warm red then blended into the orange.   Here is “Birlinn, Beads, Birds and Bell”.

Birlinn, Beads, Birds and Bell

The boat collograph block worked well – so next day I made a semi abstract whale and a swan to pick up on some earlier thinking I had been doing about “The Sea Roads” – the way that sea places become connected by marine roads and the old English or anglo saxon “Kennings” – riddles or descriptive sentances . So a series of prints is now underway based on old sea words like Svan-rad – the swan road, Hwael –weg, the whale way, Seolbaeth, the seal-bath, Fiscesethel, the fishes’ realm, Windgeard, the winds’ home ……..

hwael-weg svan-rad 1

So this is a whole new body of work which has jumped out from the last week of the residency.    I also leave Iona with better connection to myself.  There was a clarity for me here – I connected to myself from BC (before children),able to roam the hills on my own and look after myself,  and also to myself now in 2015.  I had this absolutely clear focus on the island – when I put pen to paper things happened. I walked every day and I drew every day and I spent time doing good work in my sketch book. I leave Iona with my creativity very much refreshed and stimulated and a lot of work to do to make the ideas that have come up into a body of work.

I took final few longer walks  – not actually far from the north end of Iona but very “wandery”, heading over the rocky face of Dun I looking in detail at the remnants of juniper wood growing there and across the orange machair in the afternoon sun and exploring the woods planted by Marc for John.  The wood is very exciting – there are all sorts of birds there – snipe and smaller birds especially wrens.  Its still very small but its growing and by fencing out the sheep over such an extensive area they have created a chance for a natural recovery of the biodiversity of the Island. It will be really special in a few years time.   It would be good to take cuttings from the old stock of juniper and other trees hanging onto the cliffs and to re-introduce them to the woodland – they are probably very old genetically.

remnant  of ancient juniper wood on iona orange yellow machair john and marc's wood

Remnant Juniper wood, the machair in afternoon sunshine and John and Marc’s woodland shaping up well

Finally my time has come to an end. John organised a little show of my work for anyone on the island who wanted to see and lots of people came!  I provide cakes and John some wine and by then Roddy and my daughters and friend Theresa have come and harp and whistles provide a musical backdrop to a lovely afternoon.

table top exhibition for residents of Iona at end of my stay demo of printing press at exhibition

A splendid feast follows for all of us staying at the hostel and I say goodbye to my little hut and sleep the final night in the hostel ready for an early start next morning.   I immediately miss the sound of the wind, birds and sea – at times it was very noisy in the hut – horizontal hailstones on the outside of a tin hut would wake up the deepest sleeper! And at times its been cold but as the month has gone on I found I adapted to feeling colder and needed the heater less and less.  Back indoors I feel slightly deadened – as if less connected to the wind and weather and nature around me. Although its been tough at times being in the hut in February has been a very special part of the experience.  I found a poem by Scottish poet Norman Bissell (who lives near Luing I think) which neatly captures my feeling of sleeping in the hut.

Sounds afternoon sky sound of iona

Sometimes here

its hard to tell

the sound of the wind

from the sound of the waves.

Or the sound of the waves

from the sound of the rain.

Or the sound of the wind,

and the waves and the rain

from the sound of my breath.

Norman Bissell 

barnacles flying

I am back in Dumfries and Galloway now and inland again – I miss the salty-ness but its good to see everyone again.  I am home and its good but I feel I am not quite fully here yet. ROddy's photo of my studio in the autumn sun The speed of traffic came as a shock after a month of travelling only on foot on Iona and of course not having many cars on the island.  I still have a lot of catching up to do but I have brought a couple of wooden oars back with me and one is going back to Iona for John when its painted so I will get to go back again…..maybe in slightly less extreme weather?  In the meantime I have my own hut to sort out here – my studio is a hut in the garden and needs a serious clean to let me get to work on the response to this residency, so I am heading out to catch up on hut dwelling and fondly remember my month on Iona.  My work from the Iona residency will be on show at Spring Fling from 23-25th May 2015





Storms, super tides and salty starlings

black and while storm beach

So this is my last week.  I feel very lucky to have been here for the highest tide for 18 and a half years, caused by a cycle of the moon ( a so -called super tide).  It also coincided with a proper force 10 + storm hitting the west of Scotland so the waves have been phenomenal.  The risks are not to be underestimated – I have kept well back from the edge of the sea.  I have not tried to work on the waves in art form yet but that might come after I leave here.  The white stuff on the dunes are piles of hailstones.  Its not been weather for the faint heated but I am pleased to discover that I have not got  too soft in my middle age and have been quite resilient. I have walked out every day and continued to sleep in the hut although it has been a bit interrupted by the hailstones and  a couple of times by thunder and lighting.


hail on sand dunesstorm beach 3 storm beaCH 5

The power has been off today but we kept the stove lit in the hostel.  This is a picture of the sound of Iona looking to Fionnphort.  The waves were entering the sound at the south of the island and running up the length of the Sound .  No chance for the ferry – it has gone away to its sheltered harbour on the other side and tied up, but a good surfer could probably travel the length of the sound on the right wave.

IMG_3408  seal ink painting lino blocks

I have spent three days developing a lino cut from drawings I made of a dead seal pup washed up along the coast.  I started with a drawing and went back to her on the beach to make an ink wash painting then gradually cutting a lino block. This page of my sketchbook shows a proof print at the start of cutting to help me work out if the marks I am making look right before I cut any more.   Finally I printed some in black and white and some with additional colour in the background.  One was printed with browns and creams – close to the colour of the seal pup and one was printed in grey tones with a black final layer.  Finally I made one print only with a coloured background and monoprinting of seaweeds before printing the sea – imagining her swimming underwater again.  I went back to the beach and the huge seas have taken her away.

black seal large brown seal large seal and background large

The skies today have been amazing.  Here is the beach from my morning walk.  I see the sky like this and the sensible part of me says leave the beach now and run for home before that hits you, and another part says, “no stay and get the shot….”.  Everything has its price!  Purple sky like that  means very soon I will be on the receiving end of a big hail and sleet storm.

IMG_3510 sea and beach 24 february

Drawing outside has been really tough due to the strong wind and cold hands so I did some work in my sketchbook inside.  These studies of “mermaids purses”  are preparation for a body of which I will complete once I am away from here.

sketch book page

The wildlife is still rich even in the storm – the starlings are ever present. Here they are flying on the storm beach.  By the time I made it back to the hostel they have joined me and I catch them taking a bath in the fresh water on the field and wash the salt off their feathers.

storm beach starlings starlings bathing

Gulls seem to genuinely love the wind and waves and are coasting along just above the splashes.

storm beach 2

Johns sheep are less enamoured by the hailstones – they have taken to sheltering under the slopes of Dun I.  They emerge at feeding time  – here is John’s Ram, who is actually a bit timid, giving me one if his very hard stares because I am standing too near the hay for him to come forwards and eat.


Has Iona been “special”?Yes it has,but I was speaking with John and Mark here about Iona and they both separately said that you don’t really know how Iona has affected you until you leave. John was talking about pilgrimages here – something I have read and thought a lot about during my stay.  He argues that its not only the coming to the place that matters but the leaving. So I suppose rather sadly I need to allow myself to think about returning to my real world soon. Looking forward to seeing the family and dogs but this month is going to take a lot of processing I think.  A part of me belongs beside the sea and it nurtures my soul to be here.  By choosing to live inland I am going against part of my nature, but I believe in the last lines of “His Dark Materials” by Phillip Pullman: “We must build the kingdom of heaven in the place where we are”.  I will be writing another  post about this residency and have a number of works I want to develop as screen prints so will put those up once they emerge.




The road less travelled

The second week of my residency  has been a mix of printing furiously to make a new edition and a big wander to the south end of the Island to visit St Columba’s bay – definitely the road less travelled!

4-9 small  1-9 small

My art work has been intensive at times over the last week.  Here is my first attempt to capture the ever changing light of the North End of Iona – a variable edition print – each one uniquely printed, using a combination of mono-printing and linocut.  To do this I needed a large inking table – John provided me with the perfect inking slab – a 1930’s thick glass panel, opaque white so I can see the colour really well.   There are 9 prints in total.  Its been hard to capture them well photographically in the low light here.

inking table

I found myself in a quiet and almost meditative state making these. Then discovered three days had gone by.  A second edition of 4 prints are on larger sheets of paper and these will have something else added to them but that work is not complete yet.


3-9 small   7-9 small

A fine clear day last Saturday – strong cold wind but sunshine so I set off for St Columba’s bay.  Overconfidently I took no map or compass – after all Iona is only 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide – surely it’s not possible to get lost here…….ah – how wrong I was!  I set off down the wild and cliffy east side of the island and found something that occasionally could be described as a path, before it petered out into sheep tracks leading nowhere, and rocky outcrops and boggy hollows (the kind I am too short to see out of) abounded.  Not so much the “road less travelled” as no footpath at all.  Apparently there is a better path if you come into the south of the island from the machair on the west coast.  However I quite enjoyed my wild wandering and was rewarded with the wonders of the most beautiful cove with a hoody crow and two cormorants for company in the almost warm sun, bitey wind and fierce kind of “scary suck you into the sea” sort of waves…….

scary waves at St Columba's bay  St Columbas bay

Walking back my rucksack was considerable heavier than walking in due to the lovely stones down at that end of the island.  Irresistible to collect some but I had to stop myself from picking up too many.  I made these prints based on the colours of the Iona beach stones.  Work still in progress on this idea.

green and black stones small green red and black stone small green stone beads small

One of the things that’s strange here is my identity.  At home I am someone’s mum, someone’s partner, someone’s daughter.   I run my business so sometimes I am the trainer or facilitator, I am part of various community groups and I work as an artist.  Here my only identity is “the artist”. I think I have never been alone with that part of my identity before.  I think I feel more confident about being fully present as “the artist” from staying here.  Hope I can retain “the artist” a larger space to take the lead, when I get home to resume my many other roles as well.   Missed Roddy on his birthday but discovered hearts cut out of each wheel on my little hut.  Struck by the effort someone would go to, making these little cut out features.  I am half way through the residency now.

shepherds hut wheel


Lost in the light on Iona


The weather has been gentle so far – no big storm but I am finding it very hard to draw here.  I look at the landscape, look down to make some marks on my paper and then look up again and the light has completely changed and everything looks different.  Not only that but my fingers get freezing really fast.   I think the island is laughing at my efforts to capture it.    It is constantly shifting, producing one beautiful scene after another.   I am keeping a good sketchbook / diary and enjoying taking the time to work in that.



There is a huge hype about Iona being a special place, a thin place where people are closer to “God” or “heaven” or a “spiritual place”.  It certainly has a feeling of being on the edge of the ocean and the quality of the light here is quite extraordinary.   The land here feels benign, almost kind to me.   People have been making pilgrimage here for at 1400 years which is amazing to think about.   I didn’t come here especially because it was Iona, more because of the residency opportunity seemed to meet my need and because it faces out to the Atlantic Ocean and is properly maritime.  I have to acknowledge that my time here does feel very special.


Life in my little hut is becoming settled.   I listen to the sea and the geese at night.  The bed is very cosy but once the heater is off the room temperature falls away.  Mornings involve a quick dive out of bed to put the heater on followed by a retreat back under the covers until some warmth has built up in the room.   Company (in the form of the volunteers running the hostel and my host, John, is close at hand) so I am not lonely but have plenty space to get on with my work.  I miss Roddy and the girls and my wider family but I phoned home today.

Losing things

The first thing I lost track of was the days. I very quickly found I had absolutely no idea of the day of the week.  Then I lost my phone so had no way to tell the time of day except by the light (I am getting better at that).   I got a little bit lost on one of my wanders in part of the island called Sliabh Meadhonach,  “The Great Loneliness”,  although, once you find the sea again you can work out which way is up  (it would be quicker to find the sea if one was just a little bit taller….there are lots of dips I kind of disappear into and a taller person would be able to see over the top).  Now I seem to have lost my routine and find myself following my urge to work whatever the time of day. I am working for long unbroken stints then realise I missed lunch by several hours and am starving, or suddenly getting the urge to work late into the night and instead of feeling sleepy I am energised and focussed.  This doesn’t seem to happen at home.  I wonder if I am just not noticing these bursts of creative energy at home or if they are because I am here.   I also wonder what I might be going to lose next ….

seaweed 1 small seaweed 2 smalldrypoint 1 - 6 proofs

I have managed some initial prints.  The first were using sea weeds with relief inks.  They are just a bit of fun.  A bit squishy (and smelly) to make.  I had to protect the press with lots of newspaper.  I may develop these images using screen printing once I am home.  They might get incorporated into another work as well.   My somerset papers from St Cuthbert Mill stood up to this treatment  very well, even taking some fronds of Laminaria digitalis without tearing (it was the most squishy).

Next I decided do some dry point on copper plate and have been working on this little print using various grinding thingys and a rotary power tool then hand working it with engraving  and burnishing tools, again its printed on Somerset paper.  I want to do a bit more work on this to get to a final image but here is my work in progress. You cna see the six trial proofs above varying the depth of line and the ammount of ink left on the plate each time.  Its my first go at a dry point and is a small image, 15 cm x 5 cm. I will need to get some tuition from Edinburgh Printmakers when I get home I think………


version 5 drypoint