|In November 2023 I spent a month on the Fall into Focus group residency at Arteles Creative Center in Finland.
I used my time at Arteles for development and resource building, moving forward into more solid practice. My process of going out to draw in the local area was a way of absorbing the felt and visual experience of being at Arteles in snowy November. I had made 3 sketchbooks to work in and used pen, charcoal and chalk pastel, some watercolour. Sauna and snow brought an immediacy to presence in the landscape. Meditation and quiet threw me deeply into instinctive process. I cast a small area of snow with plaster in the Arteles grounds and found myself beginning to make sculpture using resources from the studio cupboards.
The experience of being with other artists and writers was one of an openness to languages of creative depth between us. With discussions of ways of working, a film discussion, a salon to bring inspirations forward and other encounters all of this helped me to reaffirm myself as artist with wide ranging knowledges and curiosities. Important links were built with other practitioners and it was so supporting to be in a space where it was understood that each of us had a practice and expertise. There are ways in which this fall into focus residency softened and healed what was unknown and brought to the surface a deep confidence about my path. I will use these resources in the coming year and further to build into my long term work of making sculptures and drawings.
Sailbritain Wild Island Sailing Residency September 2019
I set foot on Yacht Alcuin for a week of sailing, art and living and working. It was a 34 foot yacht with 8 berths. I chose to apply for this residency as an immersive experience in the natural world with other artists. I did not know how to sail or have much familiarity with boats smaller than a CalMac ferry.
However, my work is underpinned by the study of nature and the opportunity to have a different perspective of the border between land and sea appealed enormously. Also, it was a great chance to work alongside others when I usually work alone.
As I began to write this the residency was barely a week ago. I can close my eyes and almost feel the rocking of the yacht in the waves, the smell of the sea, the power of wind in a scrap of sail. We all took part in taking the helm, furling and unfurling mainsheet and jib, changing the angle of sails, lowering and raising anchor. Overseen by the excellent and thoughtful skipper and entrepreneur behind Sailbritain, Oliver Beardon. He has a great deal of training experience and this helped enormously to feel at home on Alcuin.
Artist Emma Harry (@EmmaHazzaharry) was a gentle expedition leader who had chosen the wild island theme. The rest of the group was of 4 artists, me included, and 2 art historians. Even in this small space with a group of strangers, life ran very well. Connections were forged between us as we moved through this sometimes alien environment.
It was such a direct immersion into the natural world. It felt as if it took a day or so of absorbing where I was before I could begin to sketch and draw. There were also times when the yacht was moving too much for drawing to be possible.
Our journey began on Saturday 7th September in Mallaig, meeting and going for fish and chips. Sunday saw us sailing to the anchorage at Rum, past Eigg in a choppy sea. We went ashore and I found myself in the new but establishing plantings of Scots pine back from the seafront. It was a wet day but as I sat under a tree to draw, I felt the gentleness of the soft greens, the purple of the heather, the scents of pine, heather, bog and myrtle folding around me. If I’d had more time, I would happily have taken myself up that path for as long a walk as I could, but sea called, and I returned.
The next day, i started with a refreshing morning dip with our second Mate. We set off after hearty bowls of porridge, on a 7 hour sail down to the Treshnish Isles in a lively sea that tossed us around quite a bit. Just as our energy and spirits were flagging 3 dolphins came leaping and diving around our prow for a while. Such a beautiful sight. Some of us put on safety lines and went forward to see the creatures from closer.
The skipper took us through a narrow passage to Lunga in the Treshnish isles. In summer you can go on daytrips to there. 3 of us landed for a short while until conditions became too perilous and we had to return to the yacht. A short sail took us to a safe and sheltered anchorage between the islands of Gometra and Ulva beside Mull. I know this area well on the Mull shore having stayed there on many short trips and drawn the views from that side. It was a joy to come into this from the sea, widening my sense of how things are around there. Not far from where we anchored on Mull is an iron age Broch, protecting the people and livestock from raiders from the sea. We were rewarded with a beautiful golden light and incredible sunset as we settled down for a calm night. It was a beautiful place to swim in the morning.
On Tuesday we knew a gale was coming later in the day so after a swing past Staffa we headed up to Tobermory and safe harbour while the storm blew out. The shape of the winds meant that some of the wild islands had to be swapped for wild shores.
Once conditions improved on Wednesday, we sailed the 5 miles to Loch na Droma Buidhe, a beautiful loch with native wooded shores. Ferns, moss, heather, butterwort, Birch, rowan, hazel, meadowsweet, horsetail, clover.
That evening we had mussels provided by the mass growing on an abandoned fish farm. The next morning some went to examine the fish farm and native sea squirts whilst others went ashore. I went up the hill some way before returning to the beach, black sand and pebbles, where I took a plaster cast of an imprint in the sand from water running down the beach. Sort of a miniature river delta with pebbles in.
I used this mould to cast fabric and start the building of a new sculpture which I showed first in the Sailbritain exhibition in London in November 2019. (The Fragile Ocean exhibition took place at the Lumen Gallery and St John’s Church, Bethnal Green.)
From Loch Na Droma Buidhe we sailed down the Sound of Mull to Lochaline, catching 3 mackerel of a size for eating, after a number of too small pollock and mackerel were put back. As we came to anchor a seal swam alongside before diving gracefully under. It was an astonishingly still evening and the glassy loch reflected the trees and beautiful sky. In the morning we all worked side by side drawing mussel shells and seaweed. A quiet and companionable activity. One of the things I most appreciated of being with others were sketching alongside artist Lara Scouller who worked away at many lovely fast impressions of the landscape we travelled through.
A window into the watery world we have been so careless with (hydrophone) gave us direct access into the sounds of tiny shrimps and crab, the soft hrumphing and swishing of a seal. The skipper played us recordings of the sound of a small ferry a mile from the microphone. A huge noise filled the boat giving us a visceral sense of the noise we inflict on sea creatures. Most dispiriting to learn was that the vibration of ocean wind turbines through their bases causes a huge and constant noise.
We had a close sighting of two golden eagles on a small rocky island on the way into Kerrera where we had a stop and shore visit before our final port of Oban. On the way as we slowed to come in a microplastic net was pulled alongside the boat to gather a sample of seawater. Later we saw into this tiny world of plankton through a digital microscope.
The next morning, I boarded the train back to Edinburgh with a bag full of sketches and a fragile plaster cast of a bit of beach. I used these to create new work which I exhibited at the Sail Britain show in London. (November 2019)