My elder son is now old enough that I can take him out on a boat and share one of my favourite pastimes: fishing. He’s fascinated by the idea of fish below the water even though his attempts at casting a line are still developing.
We’ve managed a few of these days this year and I’m delighted to see his enthusiasm and it reminds me of my own childhood, being outdoors and fishing with my own father and younger brother. We would fish on lots of different lochs in the area, especially Lochindorb, and it was a great way to explore and get to know our surroundings better. The trips were always an adventure and the excitement and anticipation that we might catch a fish kept us interested and made us want to go back for more.
One of my fondest memories is the first time we fished with one of my father’s trainee GP colleagues, Dr Peters. When we got to the loch, we discovered two fishing flies sitting close to the water, one for me, one for my brother. They were green, orange and white and one was on a line, with a fish on the hook. I don’t know how he set it up but he managed to convince us that they were magical flies that had been left there by leprechauns. And they did prove to be magical and successful that evening.
Return to the Cairngorms
My own interest in the outdoors was rekindled when I moved back to the Cairngorms following years at art school, work in London and then teacher training. When I started work as a teacher, I returned to fish at Lochindorb, and mostly ended up thrashing the water with little finesse. But even though I did not always get a fish on the line, it was great to be on the calm waters with wonderful big skies. Maybe I would catch a fish for dinner, maybe I wouldn’t; it didn’t matter because I was enjoying a peaceful time. I find there is something mindful about being outdoors and doing a repetitive task like casting a line. And when I didn’t return home with a fish, I did always have a sense of fulfilment. For as often as I go fishing, I return with ideas and images for paintings. The least productive day of fishing can be the most productive artistically. At least, that’s what I tell my family.
My fishing trips have developed into an important source of inspiration for my work over the past few years. Our local landscape is amazing and, because the best fishing is towards evening, I am often treated to beautiful sunsets while I drift on the water. Late afternoon is a productive time to be out on any loch and the changing colours are a wonderful basis for a painting.
But these days I also find my mind wandering onto what goes underneath the surface. What were the fish seeing when they saw my fishing flies? I am fascinated by the way that the light shines through the water and the range of different colours that can be seen: gold, green, even black. And then there’s the way that light plays across the surface of the water. This transparency is something I have found tricky to paint but there is also great joy in learning and mastering different techniques in order to fully represent what I see. Working in translucent layers seems to work best, whether by using glazes of oil paint or, more recently, using an airbrush with acrylic inks. This latter technique has proved successful in showing the transparency of water and reflections on the surface. I think that nature provides a wealth of inspiration and challenges to keep us learning as craftspeople and artists.
One painting that emerged from my musings on the kayak is The Dilemma. I tried to imagine what the fish are thinking about while I am above them, plotting how to catch them. For the painting, I created a scene where a beautiful brown trout is perplexed and dithering between taking a well-presented fly and a similar looking grub swimming through the water.
It’s more conceptual than many of my other works. The trout has reached a crossroads in its life. It’s making a big choice: one path could lead to a delicious meal, the other is becoming a delicious meal. I enjoyed painting it and imagining how the story would end for this fish. And it was also fun to spend time painting midge larvae. The nymph stage of this species is definitely their most beautiful and least annoying.
Those midges are still out there, even with the days turning colder. And I know that days on the loch with my boy are probably now over for this year. Recently we all visited Lochindorb for a walk along the lochside. We spotted the tiniest fish and the three-year-old was keen to watch them swimming around. Now we are looking forward to next spring and new adventures, maybe adding his wee brother to the boat as well. I am excited to help them make memories of the lochs and landscape in the coming years and even more excited to see where it takes them.