My Heart’s In The Highlands

Reflections on my Art

December 2020 

If you are fortunate enough to be away from cities and COVID clusters, the very nature of lockdown can provide a portal to the creative flow. I look after a parent with a heart condition, so my enforced stasis this March was not difficult to accept. It was necessary and still is in many ways. I bought some new walking boots, made sure the mail would be slung in the car outside the gate and tried to be more ordered with food. (Didn’t entirely get that one right…for some reason I bought a shed load of tinned sardines which I don’t like, thinking if this is an apocalyptic scenario, then they are good food, easy to consume etc…the cats and Donald the dog are getting those now…) 

Winter Afternoon, Dec 2020. Preparatory canvas for a larger painting.

I found more mental space to dwell on the  pursuit of  my work as an artist. It wasn’t easy, and initially, l lost work like so many people, and was then caught up with the worry of the relentless situation, and how to be practical. At least with art, the process is not always confined or controlled by employment. Although the bleak news can undermine my painting. I became more frugal with materials, and worked with what was in the studio, using up things like cardboard for paintings. I’ve enjoyed painting with my fingers too, and it had positive results. When the news was or is still grim, I try to ‘see’ what I’m looking for as my subject matter. I always turn to the countryside.

My style and methods have changed through the years. I’m now actively chasing light, space, and air. I believe there’s a freedom come with age and practice. I want that glimmer of sun bouncing off the water, backlighting the islands, and catching the iridescent showers falling from great clouds. In the past I lived in the tamer surroundings of lovely Perthshire. For thirteen years now, my home has been just outside Gairloch. Having the wilderness of Wester Ross to wander in was a privilege when so many were in lockdown with little or no exercise. It’s an inspiring place with stunning views and wildlife.

When I look out of my studio window, the one that faces The Minch, that is battered by salty gales (currently duck taped up to keep draughts out – the other one facing south does open!) I can watch the elements gathering across the islands. We can see Skye and Harris. Light and dark crossing those indigo waters, sometimes slate grey waves with piercing lines of white in the far off distance. The atmosphere changes and shifts, like the tides. It can focus your mood in clarity, you know what to paint, and it begins to take form. At other times, the noise of the wind droning on and catching at the roof makes a gloominess, and it lays a certain pall over being productive. 

Incoming, May 2020

In The Apollo International Art Magazine from this month, December 2020, Caroline Campbell writes, “ The consolation of the visual arts lies in the fact that although words and music can be enjoyed in isolation, the act of enjoyment connects us to a wider world.” To be isolated you are physically and mentally cut off, often on the edge looking in, but this pushed me to try harder with my art. Some of my recent works became more abstracted, attempting to show the force and movement of the weather. One acrylic painting on an old bit of board called, ‘Incoming’,  shows the weather piling in from the Minch and  hitting the sea and landscape. Another, Untitled, on a large bit of cardboard, in acrylic and oil is a statement about light. It shows the setting sun on a colourful turquoise, green sea, a lull after a storm. The fact it’s colourful was new for me too… my go to place in colour tends to be using black inks, oil or acrylic with small touches of colour such as burnt sienna. But colour has seeped into my palette across the months and into December. My most recent endeavour in oils and acrylic, on canvas, is – Winter Afternoon, depicting skies above Ben Eighe. A number of my images have been imbued with reds, some quite bloody, possibly reflecting inner responses to the global situation? They have been accompanied by dark blues too. I am also fond of drawing, and like to practice most days. It is wonderful when it goes well, from quick sketching to intense detail. Birds like crows and the ravens I see daily are in my sketchbooks.

Crow, October 2020

Art theory can sound pretentious, but I hope I’m giving some idea of what I aim for. I imagine I will chase my art for as long as I can. I found myself recently rereading pieces of some of my favourite novels such as Jane Eyre and Frankenstein. ( “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me’’ from Jane Eyre.) Both novels cast isolated characters in desolate landscapes. When I’m out walking I stare in the ditch, I sit for a long time looking up at the clouds. Donald and I try to stay quiet for the chance of deer, fragile snipe, and  a multitude of wild things. We have robin in the flower beds, sheep in the garden, (they’re clever at getting in), and whatever wild thing I get the chance to see. I’ve usually forgotten my phone to take photographs. Sometimes l scribble things on location or at home. Bits of wood washed up at North Erradale are gathered too for drawing. John Ruskin recommended drawing small pieces of wood and earth, observations of tiny worlds. Homewards on the trail, up the boggy incline, I’ve bumped into the otter washing it’s coat in the wee burn that runs under old, stone slabs placed there long ago by the crofters. I cross that old bridge and climb over the fence. 

One thing is true; I love this wild place.

Ben Eighe, Ruadh-stac Mè Sail Mhòr, November 2020

4 thoughts on “My Heart’s In The Highlands

  1. “ The consolation of the visual arts lies in the fact that although words and music can be enjoyed in isolation, the act of enjoyment connects us to a wider world.” Caroline Campbell’s words pinpoint the enjoyment and connection I have felt reading your words and looking at your beautiful work – also that of others on this website. I do hope it won’t be long before you can exhibit again. Best wishes for the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really enjoyed reading your article Fiona! I love your art, you’re also are such an amazing writer. Best wishes and Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

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