Mountains of Inspiration!
Scotland has always inspired artists, poets, historians and writers. The monumental mountains, glens and vast lochs, all with an abundance of wildlife and changeable weather are awe inspiring. I have always wanted to make a trip, to experience this magnificent country for myself and it was only this year I had the opportunity.
We were based in the village of Taynuilt in Argyll and Bute for the majority of our trip and spent lots of our time walking. Our first visit was to Kerrera which is an island in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, close to the town of Oban. The island is known for the ruined Gylen Castle, a small tower house built in 1582, which I photographed below. Crossing the blue water, to the island on the ferry really felt like an adventure.
May you have - Walls for the wind And a roof for the rain, And drinks bedside the fire,
Laughter to cheer you, And those you love near you, And all that your heart may desire.
The Sacred Isle.
The Island of Iona was definitely one the highlights of our visit to Scotland. It is such a beautiful place, with deep blue water, pink granite rocks on the beaches and fantastic views. The little island is also steeped in history and is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, who visit the abbey to worship or take a retreat. (see below)
The Abbey was founded by Saint Columba after he arrived on Iona, with 12 followers from Ireland in a wicker currach, covered with leather. Of all the Dark Age Scottish saints, Columba is the most spectacular: in 563 AD Columba left Ireland and settled with the Gaels of Dál Riata, where he was granted the Island of Iona to found his monastery.
The Irish monk converted most of pagan Scotland and northern England to the Christian faith. Iona, became a centre of outstanding learning and a sacred isle where the kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway were buried.
Celtic Cross Designs
Whilst staying on Iona, we had the chance to visit the abbey. Outside the building in the grounds is St Martins stone cross which dates to about 800AD. It displays intricate Celtic snake and boss designs on one side and on the west side Biblical scenes carved into the granite.
The highly dense, interlaced designs, also known as 'Insular' or Island art in Latin, were taken from several earlier styles and was produced in the post-Roman period. Celtic designs have always held a mysterious fascination to me as they connect us to a rich cultural past. I decided to make my own design using the words from the Celtic blessing at the top of this article.
Our Top Ten Scottish Experiences.
1. The Island of Kerrera and the Gylen Castle. This was a fantastic walk that has got everything. The sea, the views, the history and my favourite an old wrecked fishing boat.
2. Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge. The sign when you start the walk suggests adventure - 'danger of death', and the landscape was dark and brooding in April. You feel the mountains closing in around you and can see snow on the peaks. Amazing!
3. Ganavan Sands and Dunstaffnage Castle. Ganavan beach is beautiful and blue and on the day we went sunny and invigorating. The castle is full of great history and there is a shop too.
4. Cruachan, The Hollow Mountain. This is a power station, that is 1km under a mountain. You get a short tour inside, but will marvel at the astonishing engineering of this cavern that is big enough to hold the tower of London.
5. Inverawe Smokhouse. We walked here from our accommodation at Bonawe House and brought some kippers for our breakfast. They were absolutely yummy -give it a go if you have the chance.
6. The Bridge Over the Atlantic. There is beautiful arched stone bridge here that joins Scotland with the Island of Seil. We had the best pint ever in the pub here -'Tigh an Truish' translated from Gaelic ' House of the Trousers'.
7. Angus Gardens. Rhododendrons and azaleas galore! We were a bit early for this, but go at the right time and it will be stunning.
8. The Falls of Lora. The falls are generated when the tide level in the Firth of Lorn drops below the level of the water in Loch Etive.
9. Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe. A fantastic ruin and one not to miss. It was a wet a rainy day when we visited, but that added to the atmosphere. Built in the mid-1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy.
10. Island of Mull. We took the ferry to Mull and drove across to get to Iona. The views are breathtaking, and I loved taking photographs and spotting wrecked fishing boats. You can also see seals and lots of birds of prey, including eagles.
The Life of the Artist Woven into his Work.At the end of May, I managed to get myself a ticket to visit David Hockney's exhibition at the Tate Britain art gallery. These days, art shows seem to have a super cult following and often tickets are hard to come by. So I was excited to visit this show, which is a major retrospective of his life's work.
"I Like To Live in the Now" David Hockney
Hockney's art and life go hand in hand. When you see his work you are seeing a snapshot of his life and at the exhibition you can really get a sense of the journey that he has taken over the last 60 years.
When you hear the name Hockney you might think about his polaroid montages, vivid landscapes or portraits. But you might also think about his blond hair, stylish hat and jacket, round glasses and artistic lifestyle. Both his art and lifestyle are beautifully woven together like the brushstrokes in his paintings. All these things have continuously drawn me back to his work over the years.
"Its All About Looking" - David Hockney
At the start of my own art career whilst at University, Hockney was one of my strongest influences. I loved the series of work he did called 'Very New Paintings', which show curved shapes and patterns looping around each other like surrealist landscapes. This work came out of his involvement with the theatre, and it inspired me to make make printed fabrics that I upholstered onto two sofa's.
Way back to my school days David Hockney has been there, and he has kept inspiring me since, with his new ideas, optimistic and vibrant colour pallets and innovations. For me he is the kind of inspiration that makes you want more and makes me want to paint. Pictured below is - Pear Blossom Hwy, 11 - 18th April 1986, #2, which I remember being on the wall at our school.
'Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer and clearer still, until your eyes ache.' David Hockney
Hockney's enduring message is that art is about looking at the world around you. Recently, I went on trip down the river Nene in Northamptonshire in a canal boat, and along the way made photographs and produced drawings. As soon as I picked up the pencil and started to look, make marks on paper, I was in the moment and happy.
Stopping to look, really look, puts you in the present and helps you to appreciate everything around you. So, I am totally in agreement with David Hockney - looking is a great way to connect with yourself and your surroundings.
The Yorkshire Wolds - A Bigger Picture.
In one of the rooms at the exhibition, on each of the four walls is one of the most innovative ideas to come out of Hockney's work in recent years. Nine cameras, mounted on a frame are synchronised, to film the changing seasons in the Yorkshire Wolds.
Each camera captures a different part of the landscape and when combined encourage you to look in a different way at the scene before you. On each wall in the gallery, the screens show a different season of the same place. The beauty of nature beams out the movies and the detail, combined with movement is like gentle music for your eyes.
Looking at the World through Hockney's Eyes.Visiting this show was a wonderful experience, because David Hockney encapsulates for me, everything an artist should be. An artist views the world with awe and delight and wants everybody else to see what he or she is experiencing. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Right! I am off to make my next series of work based on the Nene River in Northamptonshire!
“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.”
― David Brower
Northamptonshire is beautiful, green and abundant with life. It has many villages and towns and a rich diversity of wildlife. However the scenery we usually see as we drive along the roads is often one that involves traffic, and the busy rush of the rat race. The charm of places that we live in, can be completely missed or forgotten about as we are channelled along the highways.
This summer, I rediscovered the river which is right at the heart of this county. It has a different, slower and more gentle existence that passes right beneath and besides our manic roads. The Nene river in May this year was hot and serenely tranquil, it was like being in a completely different place - another world.
A New Project based on the River...
I choose to listen to the river for a while, thinking river thoughts, before joining the night and the stars. — (Edward Abbey)
Last year, I decided that it was time to really experience the river which has always been a presence in my life growing up in Northamptonshire. The river has special kind of immutability, much like the sea because it is always there and it constantly flows to the ocean. Its meandering course is a reminder of the natural world;but it also reminds me of fishing with my father or feeding the ducks as a child.
Boarding a narrow boat at Gayton, we peacefully travelled through the Nene valley visiting Northampton, Wellingborough, Irthlingborough, Thrapston and then Oundle. Then, I rented a canoe and paddled as far as Warmington. Drawing and taking photographs was a great way to record what I saw as it allows you truly to soak up the atmosphere.
Below are some of drawings I made whilst cruising along the river...
Canoe Through Fotheringhay
One the highlights of my trip along the river was seeing the Church at Fotheringhay as I paddled past in a canoe. The building sits majestically near the river bank and makes a great subject for the first in a series of paintings based on this trip.
In the foreground of the painting is a swan drifting downstream, whilst the words from the poem ,'Summer Evening' by John Clare are weave through the picture, enhancing the sense of abundance in the environment.
The frog half fearful jumps across the path,
And little mouse that leaves its hole at eve
Nimbles with timid dread beneath the swath;
My rustling steps awhile their joys deceive,
Till past, and then the cricket sings more strong,
And grasshoppers in merry moods still wear
The short night weary with their fretting song.
Up from behind the molehill jumps the hare,
Cheat of his chosen bed, and from the bank
The yellowhammer flutters in short fears
From off its nest hid in the grasses rank,
And drops again when no more noise it hears.
Thus nature's human link and endless thrall,
Proud man, still seems the enemy of all.
This is the first in a series of paintings based on this inspiring cruise down the River Nene.
Ten facts you may not know about the Nene River and Northamptonshire.