Friday, 26 February 2010


Having been determined to do some outdoor painting while here, the weather always seems to be against this. However a couple of days ago I braved the freezing conditions and went out with a rucksack full of oil paints, boards and palette knives, and sitting in the snow, made a few small paintings before retreating from failing light to the warmth of the studio. Working crouched on the ground with my palette in the snow, snow became mixed in with the oil paint, which altered the consistency of the paint so that it became granular - it was a bit like painting with ice-cream. But it was good to have worked with paint and with colour – white snow against black/brown rocks under a darkening pink-streaked sky reflected in the dark voe. 

Whilst the research I am doing - the artifacts relating to Haaf Fishing, the written, narrated, and embellished accounts of storms, disasters, rescues, the contemporary stories of recent huge waves that people I meet recount with relish - all play a key role in the development of imagery, yet observation is, and always has been, critical to making work.

How much does drawing and painting transcend observation of the landscape I have walked in? Having drawn/painted in a place, is my memory and my interpretation affected by this act? Do I then understand and ‘see’ the place differently? Or is what I draw and paint based less on what I see and more on what I know or believe, or have read? When I look at the paintings and drawings I have made, I think that I have a deeper (or is it just another?) understanding of the places I have been walking.

Working in the studio with the research alongside drawings and paintings made on site, the connection with the actual places - some with traces of the past embedded into the landscape - the historical significance of events is more evident, or perhaps more keenly felt. However, when translated into an artwork, the images may mutate into more fictitious form; it is inevitable that I will project my own experiences and memories and imagination onto them.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Bad Day

'I gied da halyards back ta Robbie an I jimpit eft inta da owsing room an I took da shivel an I balled him ta Tammy Laurenson an I says "Tammy, now..if ever du did wirk i dy lefe..try dy best..ta empty her" '. Extract from first-hand account of 'The Bad Day' (Delting  Disaster, 1900) by Willie Nicolson,Shetland Archive tapes.

Lots more snow and no wind for the last few days, so it's been difficult to get about and I've been in the studio working. Have been continuing to make more experimental pieces (see above); making the work in response to accounts of the 18th and 19thC fishing disasters (thank you for your comments - both on blog and on my email). I have also been painting from drawings I made of large turquoise waves crashing onto black rocks near Sumburgh.  Not sure how I'm going to get all this work home as it's pretty wet...

Monday, 22 February 2010


Definition - extreme (adj):
1.  highest in intensity or degree
2.  going far beyond what is reasonable or normal
3.  farthest out, especially from the centre
4.  very strict or severe
5.  denoting an activity in which participants actively seek out dangerous or even life-threatening experiences

1.  the furthest limit or highest degree of something
2.  something or somebody that represents either of the two ends of a scale or range, for example, the highest or lowest degree of something, or a quality and its polar opposite
3.  the first or last term in a mathematical proportion or series

Having come to Shetland looking for the extreme, whilst I may not have seen any extreme waves, it is a place of extremes, although I realize that this is a relative term. What may appear extreme to me may well be simply taken for granted by the indigenous population of Shetland, and is probably nothing to someone living in the Antartic. Nevertheless here on Shetland the weather dominates and changes rapidly.

Sunday morning in Scalloway was almost tshirt weather, bright warm sun, the harbour water as still as a mill pond, and although there was still some snow on the ground, I worked in the studio with the doors wide open. Setting off early afternoon with an artist from the Veer North group to travel across to the islands of Yell and then Unst on a quest for a beach and blue plastic, I remarked on the amazing dark cloud hanging in the air as we drove north. As we arrived at the ferry crossing, there were flecks of snow descending. By the time we had crossed over to Yell and driven its length to catch the next ferry over to Unst, it was snowing fairly steadily, but we ventured on. Having arrived at Unst this had become a blizzard. We drove a short way up the road before reason set in – we couldn’t actually see much of the road - and we turned back (with some difficulty) and drove slowly to the ferry. It was all very beautiful though.

This morning in Scalloway there has been no power, and now snow is sweeping across the harbour… obliterating my view of the hills on the other side.