Taynish Mill is now the most obvious evidence of historic human habitation in this area, at times you can pick up a fleeting feeling of the lives lived in this area. Of the human essence still caught up in the trees and set in the stones.
My proposal was to illustrate the catching and trapping of the memories, words, feelings and the domestic history of the area, so that it is no longer lost to the wind. A collaborative piece with Artmap Associate member Alexander Hamilton, combining art and literature.
To link the land to the sea, the natural environment to the built environment, I wanted to create a large net-like banner with words, poems and imagined quotes & memories printed and stitched on to fabric entwining it through the ‘net’.
The piece would be situated in the trees at the far side of the picnic area between the mill and the sea, capturing those fleeting moments, preventing them from being swept out to sea.
Quite a lot of research was done about the area and I spent some time looking up images of adverts and newspaper articles of the era to help add to the sense of time and history, to highlight the transience of time.
We had a few difficulties with fixing the fabric banners to the net. I had envisaged, stitching then on but it wasn't a feasible option when it came down to it. there were several trials and errors, and many a method discussed, in the end simple saftey pins were the most effective - lots of them!!
Half way through constructing this piece I lost focus and couldn't work out how it was going to work, what it was I was aiming to achieve, how was it going to look. However, after a bit of brainstorming and dummy layouts, on a very rainy day so we had to suspend the net from the roof of the barn, it started to come together again.
It was exciting to see it in situ, and we were able to finish fastening things in place and adding some of the smaller items.
It's generated a lot of discussion and I am fascinated to hear about the various reactions to it. Incomprehension until the explanation is read and then the understanding that follows and the sharpening of interest as the banners are read.
This has been a very interesting project to do. I haven't done anything as large as this before nor have I done 'concept art' before.
I'm really pleased that I stayed up beyond dawn to get the submissions written and entered in time. I would be being cross with myself now if I hadn't.
The last Bank Holiday in May saw me heading to Fife and South Queensferry again for another wee workshop at the Harbour Lane Studio. This time it was Lino Printing. Last year for my birthday mum and dad gave me a lino printing kit, which sat in its box, all pristine and clean, until shortly before Christmas when I decided that I would lino print my Christmas cards. However, although I produced a creditable design/card, I wasn't entirely happy with it and really needed a bit of guidence.
In the Harbour Lane gallery you are surrounded by inspiration, boats, fish, prints, jewellery, lampshades and pictures abound. Almost too much when you have to think of one image. I had thought that I wanted to carve an artichoke image, however after drawing one out I realised that for a 3hour class it was going to be too complicated to carve out in the time. So it was a quick sketch of what I later described as essence of heron!
Getting inky and printy
With a little extra time to spare I very quickly sketched and carved out this rather lopsided wonky headed puffin!
Inspite of my heron being at bit bosomy, and my puffin being a little wonky, I had a great afternoon doing this workshop and can really recommend it. I picked up lots of hints and tips and my creative m ind went 'wheeeeeee' with excitement and into overdrive at the possibilities, so I am really looking forward to getting into my studio to do a bit more soon.
Fresh from the excitement of the Cambridgeshire weekend, I was off again the following weekend to another workshop. I went to tinker, or perhaps that should be tinkle, with glass.
This time though, it was local so I was able to travel from home. It was a beautifully sunny, cold and frosty morning as I crossed the Moss.
Kirsty Brady of 'A Touch of Glass Studio' started her Beginners Stained Glass panel making weekends, and I was fortunate enough to take part in the first one. I’m rather enjoying this weekend workshop malarkey & am wondering what I can do next weekend! Starting with a cup of tea in Kirsty’s comfortable home we were introduced to glass cutting tools and techniques. After looking through books for some ideas, we sketched them out, then drew them up full size, creating the ‘cartoons’ we would use as patterns for cutting glass pieces.
Then we were allowed to dive (carefully) into treasure chests of glass. It was so difficult to choose, Kirsty has such a wide variety of colours with swirls and sparkles. When eventually we had whittled down our colour choices the cutting (& swearing!) began! After a final chat and cup of tea, we left our layouts and workstsations neat and tidy, ready to begin cutting lead the following day.
After the sunny day there was a fabulous sky on the drive home.
Sunday morning began with the ubiquitous cup of tea then Kirsty showed us how to stretch lead and cut it to size.
Shiny new horse shoe nails help to hold our pieces in place, there is something terribly satisfying about a shiny, new, elegantly tapered, nail!
Eventually our panels were pieced together with lead, and now the real fun begins (actually it was all fun, but I do love a gadget!) – soldering all the joins, then cementing, cleaning off the excess cement, and polishing. It’s dirty work but someone has to do it ….. if they want a colourful leaded panel at the end of the day!
It was a great weekend of cake, chat, cutting glass & cups of tea!
The day before my exhibition preview evening I went to a local beautician to have my nails done. My hands were in a bit of a state, skin stained blue black from all the sea and sky I had been painting, nails a bit chipped and out of shape. I had won a raffle prize at Christmas, a £20 voucher to use at Lush Thirty Three and this was the perfect time to use it. I had a lovely couple of hours as we chatted and came away with beautiful deep red nails. One of the things we chatted about was how hard it can be trying to run a business on your own. A mutual friend (Kirsty from A Touch of Glass Studio) had relaunched her business at the start of the year and was also finding it hard going. Bells started jangling in my head. and how lonely that can feel, however much we love it sometimes you need another eye to look something over, someone else to bounce an idea past. We felt that a social/networking group would be useful, to share stresses, strains, & successes, contacts, general support and advice with like-minded women. It can be isolating working for yourself, especially if you also live in an rural area. One's partner isn't always the best person to run things past, however supportive they may be!
This isn't my first foray into women's networking groups. Once upon another lifetime When I lived on the other side of the country I went to Fife Women in Business, then moving over to Argyll 15 years ago I wanted to go to something similar, I was put in touch with the WEA, the Workers Education Association in Inverness and I started running their group called Women @ Work here in Lochgilphead, they paid me to organise the group, paid for the hire of the meeting venue, and for speakers & travel costs. After five years or so, mostly due to family health issues, I wasn't able to continue to run it and the organisation side passed on to someone else. I also ran for a couple of years a group we called MAGI Mid Argyll Green Initiative, we met monthly at Kilmartin museum and had volunteer speakers on a range of eco issues. I had to stop running that at about the same time as W@W. I have found networking groups helpful, useful, supportive, informative, and inspiring.
So, maybe, it was time to start something along those lines again. I sounded a couple of ladies out to see what they thought, got the thumbs up, dreamt up the name in the shower, created a Facebook page, decided on the day, booked the room anad bang! WRENS was in business. Women's Rural Enterprise Network Scotland.
WRENS is going to be slightly different to W@W, in that there isn't any funding or monthly subscription at the moment, it is simply an opportunity to meet other women in Argyll running their own businesses, whatever they may be. Who is doing what, where, and how. There’s an opportunity to take it in turns to do short presentations about our businesses, perhaps we can invite speakers or demonstrators, maybe it will just be an opportunity to have a cup of tea and talk shop & make contacts.
With Facebook groups & pages, it is easier than ever to belong to a group 'virtually', but sometimes it's a face to face, real people thing that's needed, especially if they are in the same locality and thereby have the same trials and tribulations as each other even though each business is unique.
I came up with the name whilst in the shower a couple of weeks ago! Usually these things float in to my head whilst walking the dog, but this time it was the shower. I wanted to create a name that would describe what the group was - ie female lead, business orientated, rural-ly located - but that also became a useful acronym that could be easily remembered. I know the 'Scotland' on the end sounds a bit grand and nationwide but I couldn't think of another useful 'S' word! Whilst rolling it around in my head I realised that Wrens (as in the bird!) might be little, but they are very noisy and punch above their weight, which I felt was entirely appropriate for the group I envisaged.
So, I have set up two Facebook pages, one is a page which everyone can see and you just need to 'like' to see the information, https://www.facebook.com/WRENscotland and the other is a secret group which you can join and only members of the group will be able to see posts https://www.facebook.com/groups/WRENscotland . This page is for asking/giving advice or recommendations etc. and will be confidential. On the main page I have been sharing useful info and inspirational quote, so do follow it if you don't already.
I also created a board on my Pinterest account
https://uk.pinterest.com/Needlesmiths/wrenscotland/ of interesting business info, inspirational quotes or TED videos.
We meet at the MS Centre in Lochgilphead at 7pm on the first Monday of the month. There will be coffee, tea, biscuits/cake. There isn't a charge but a small (as in £1 or £2) donation to cover coffee and as a donation to the MS Centre who aren't charging us an actual hourly rate rental.
There were eight ladies on that first evening.
Cunningly I was behind the camera for our first group photo!
But then everyone insisted I should be in front of it too, so here's our first group selfie!
The lovely evening was rounded off nicely with this beautiful sunset photographed from loch 13 on the Crinan Canal on my drive home.
Having enjoyed the workshops at the start of the year, when a friend said she was going to a couple being run in South Queensferry I said sign me up too! They were being held at the Harbour Lane Studio in South Queensferry. It is a really lovely little gallery that is a rather like the tardis, it is stuffed full of lovely art and crafts all handmade/painted/produced by Scottish artists, but then stretches to include enough space for half a dozen students. Owned and run by Tori Grey and enthusiastic illustrator, artist, and tutor, there is a fabulous liveliness about the place and a great vibe.
I arrived an hour early for the workshop - excitement getting the better of me - but it meant I had time for a cup of tea and wee wonder about South Queensferry, stretching my legs after the long drive from Argyll. I have crossed the rail bridge many times over the years, it's such an iconic bridge.
And I took the chance to put my feet up and enjoy the breeze and study the new Forth Road bridge.
The screen printing workshop was taken by Ellie from East End Press, (who also brought along little Frida, her five-month-old fluffy puppy, who had a taste for licking my bare toes and ran off with my fitflop!)
She explained that we were to do a simple drawing of something we would like to print. There was a lot of inspiration about, and we quickly decided on our images. Then we drew our designs out on to the paper back of sticky backed plastic/fablon. Using a scalpel, we cut out our patterns then stuck them to the center of a silk screen, covering over the excess screen with parcel tape.
Then we got printing … a tea towel, cotton bag, a cushion cover and a couple of feet of calico. I was really pleased with the way mine came out, and hope to use this technique for future projects. Especially as completely coincidentally the lovely mum of one of my Junior Needlesmiths gave me a couple of screens and a squeegee that had belonged to her late mother-in-law and wondered if I could make use of them! I think that Tori could have heard my squeaks back in South Queensferry!
Once my exhibition work was completed, the show was open, and I was back from having been whisked away to Edinburgh for a surprise birthday weekend. I could get started with a few more of the commissions that I had had to put on hold for a while.
One of them was to include Alpacas. This was from a friend in my knitting group, following a general chat and 'joke' about making furry alpacas for her lampshade, she provided me with a couple of wee bags of fluff. I can take a hint!
These are the photographs she supplied for me to work from, and the only other thing she asked was if they could be looking over a wall.
So this is what I came up with: Alpacas, chickens and a wee black cat. Painted, needlefelted, with hand and machine embroidered details. I'm pleased (& rather relived) to report that she was delighted with it.
My submission for this piece said that I wanted to create a collaborative piece working with my father, combining art and literature, the stitched and the printed, the written and the spoken word.
Already identified as a wonderful spot for sitting & looking, standing and staring, it inspires the writing and sharing of poetry and stories, with someone’s ingenious idea of the poetry book box and notepad, I am drawn to tie all this together. Although there isn’t a lot of boat traffic on the loch I would like to reference ‘man’ in ‘nature’ and to create a sail shaped windbreak with an original poem, or perhaps the legend of the Loch Sween monster, stitched and printed on to it, so that adults and children can sit, sheltered from the wind and read the words aloud.
I used to live in the village of Tayvallich and as a dog owner I would regularly walk them down to the mill and on to the loch as all three dogs loved playing in the water. I would sit on the bench over-looking the loch or walk along the shoreline throwing sticks for the dogs, picking up driftwood, pebbles or shells, looking at the view, wondering who else had walked before me. What lives had they lead. I would watch the occasional boat sail or motor down the loch, becoming an insignificant speck on the horizon, dwarfed by the vastness of sky and sea.
Revisiting this area recently I was conscious of those same thoughts and feelings, but this time sitting on the Poetry seat. My father and I, with the dogs snuffling around, sat for a while contemplating the history and the landscape. Then he started to tell me a story, as he did when I was a child, leaning against his shoulder listening to his voice, feeling it rumble through his chest, this one was about the Loch Sween monster the tale began to unfold…
Another time, another place, another child, another father, another story…
I don’t want to be defined as being solely a Carer, I have finally, in the last year or so, allowed myself to admit to being, and, also allow myself to be, an artist. However, as I am both, combining the two it felt very appropriate to have my first solo art exhibition at the Dochas Centre in Lochgilphead.
I seem to have a history of not admitting, or allowing, myself to be things, as it was some time, years after my husband became ill, before I considered myself to be a ‘Carer’. My husband, Brian, has end stage renal failure and heart failure and needs haemodialysis, which we carry out at home, six days a week. As with all chronic health conditions there are associated related, & unrelated, illnesses & operations, and there have been times in the past eleven years when he has needed more ‘care’ than at others. Last year was a difficult one and I hit a rocky patch when B was ill, my father, who had bowel cancer, was in hospital in Glasgow, and I was trying to support my mum who was staying over there on her own, who is very deaf and has Parkinson’s disease. There were times when things got a ‘bit much’, I was able to go to the Dochas Centre, and they allowed me to talk, and to cry, in safety. Tea and sympathy, sometimes, is all one needs to carry on, more able to negotiate the bumps in life’s road. The Dochas Centre provide invaluable support to Carers in the Mid Argyll area.
Artmap Argyll is our local ‘Open Studios’ association, of which I am a member, they planned to hold a series of month long exhibitions at the Dochas Centre, which would promote the Centre, Artmap and the individual artist. I signed up to have an exhibition in April, way back last year, in a moment of bravery (or madness!).
In January and February, I was in a bit of a quandary, I knew that the exhibition was coming up, I knew I had decisions to make, but I felt totally unable to make a decision about anything, what to have for dinner never mind what to create for the exhibition or where to go with my business, or if I should even try to have a business. With anxiety levels going through the roof, I went on the Cambridgeshire weekend (which, incidentally, was funded by the Dochas Centre from the Creative Breaks scheme which is funded by the Scottish Government ‘as part of its commitment to the development of short breaks for the benefit of Carers and those they care for’). Followed by the stained glass panel making and these moments of creativity alongside inspiring and supportive women, really helped me to regain my mojo. So, after an increased dose of HRT, and an ego boost of a flurry of lampshade commissions, I gathered my wits, paints and fabrics about me, looked through my piles of picture references – both paper and electronic – and go ton with it. It became easier once I made the decision to have a sea theme to my show and that I would make lampshades as well as ‘flat stuff’. Once that decision was made, I had a peg to hang my hat on, I was off. I put the contents of the exhibition together in six weeks, 21 assorted sizes of flat work, 15 assorted sized lampshades and 12 small lanterns. Two weeks before the opening I thought up the name ‘Light up the Landscape’ which referenced all aspects of the work so then I could work up the poster, invitation and promote the exhibition. Nothing like cutting things fine!
A short tour of the exhibition ...
The Dochas Centre support me, and therefore my family, so I was thrilled to be able to donate over £300 as a portion of my sales. I also donated a painted and embroidered table lamp (worth £95) to the Centre to do with as they would, raffle for fundraising or whatever. I was delighted to learn that they have decided to keep it for the new Counselling room when the new extension has been built.
The exhibition was well received by everyone who visited. The preview night was far busier than I had hoped for. So busy in fact I forgot to take any photographs! The Centre said that the daily drop-in visitor levels were definitely up with people coming in to see what was there.
I was touched to learn that, as a result of visiting my exhibition, two or three new Carers have now made contact with the Dochas Centre, and therefore will now benefit from the amazing care that they can provide.
Just recently I went on a ‘Making Winter Creative Retreat’ https://silverpebble.net/product/making-winter-retreat-february-2017 in a tiny little village in Cambridgeshire fens called Reach.
I was headed to a creative weekend retreat in a small medieval village at the edge of the Fens
to quote Emma’s blog: The aim is to use seasonal creativity, good food, good company and cosiness as an antidote to the grey days of Winter. It will be a two-day dose of British hygge based in a beautifully converted 19th Century barn’ , ‘As well as a wood burning stove to nestle near to in the beautifully converted barn, hearty, delicious food and gin’ .. there would be four creative workshops, a country walk and lots of sitting around, relaxing, and chatting.
My mood doesn’t really drop during winter, I enjoy wearing big jumpers, sitting in front of fires, and lighting nightlights and candles. I usually feel quite miserable in the summer as I am allergic to it! However this weekend was in February not July, so, after a wee bit of organisation, I was able to go, so I did!
My weekend away started on Thursday leaving home and going to Glasgow, I was staying in a hotel overnight (the lovely ‘Z Hotel’ off George Square – highly recommend! - to avoid a panicky drive across country at silly o’clock in the morning. However, there were a few panicky hours after I discovered I’d managed to leave my train tickets at home. Long story but they were finally delivered just after 11pm. After that inauspicious start, I went to the correct station, found the right platform, and caught the correct train PhEw! I was on my way south. Next stop Ely, (via Edinburgh and Peterborough).
I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting my B&B landlady I wanted to go to the Cathedral.
Ely Cathedral is vast and very stately. It’s quite breath-taking in places, especially when you stop to consider that it was all built by hand. The Stained-glass museum is also very interesting with some ancient pieces of glass work.
Then to my B&B Norfolk House in Cheveley, which was lovely and very comfortable. Early to bed! Tomorrow the Barn.
Despite major anxiety attacks all morning, there wasn’t a single monster in the Barn, everyone was lovely. It was a delight to meet Emma aka Silverpebble at last. We worked it out that we started following each other’s blogs nearly nine years ago. After swiftly dividing us in to groups we were off to our first workshops. Mine was silver clay work with Silverpebble herself. After making moulds of natural finds; seashells, seed pods, leaves, etc. we cast them with silver clay, dried our shapes in the oven, and then fired them in a kiln. Then brushed and polished, oxidised and buffed our pendants before hanging on a chain, and wearing with pride for the rest of the weekend! I’m keen to have another go sometime soon. Watch this space!
After a delicious lunch in the pub, we went for a walk in the wintery sunshine around a small woodland created 20 years ago by the villagers. Emma, took time to point out the early signs of spring, snowdrops and …. listening to a Robin singing … watching the mating dance of a pair of bluetits … enjoying the acid yellow bright of lichen covered branches … spotting last year’s bird’s nests in the leafless, still life-less, trees.
When we returned, it was time for willow weaving with the superb ‘Dotty Cookie’. Val took us through the craft of weaving, and in the space of a seemingly short couple of hours we had produced some very handsome lanterns & birdfeeders.
A few gin cocktails were made before a dinner of hot and hearty and (w)holesome stews made by Emma and her husband Andy, followed by perfect puds of Chocolate olive oil cake & Apple Streusel cake, the recipe for which will be in the book Emma’s writing which will be published in October (you can pre-order it here)
After much chat and laughter, it was time to return to our various residences and thence to bed.
Sunday dawned with a lot of mist and the paddocks at the bottom of the garden, viewed out of my bedroom window the day before, had all but disappeared. I took a short walk around the outside the little flint built village church which was built in 1260 and has very pretty windows.
On arriving at the Barn it felt absolutely right to head upstairs, to the rooms tucked in under the roof rafters of the barn. We curled up on sofas and chairs and learned how to crochet, with the warmest, softest, wool from Loop London, a cashmere, silk, merino blend. Jemima was an incredibly patient teacher with four absolute beginners. Casting on with Chains then Double and Treble Crochet stitches. I am so pleased to be able to do this at last. First stop, long straight bookmarks, then maybe the pattern for wrist warmers Emma has written, by the end of the year, or maybe next!
Lunch was incredible Middle Eastern Mezze delivered and cooked by the ‘Wandering Yak’ in their van parked up outside the Barn. Pudding, and amazingly indulgent dessert of warm chocolate, orange and almond cake with a hot coconut and vanilla sauce. It looked almost too pretty to eat! http://www.wanderingyak.co.uk/privatehire/
Then the afternoon workshop lead by Emma and Lu summers, who describes herself as a ‘Designer, Printer, Stitcher, Maker’ and has designed fabric ranges for Moda among others. As with all the tutors on this weekend Lu was warm, and friendly, generous with her advice, and inspirational. I knew I was going to find this workshop difficult. I find drawing from ‘real’ things problematic and in ‘class’, uncomfortable. I would rather use the sewing machine to draw with! Although I ended up laughing there were also tears of stress, which were dried up when Emma provided me with a stiff gin cocktail!
Then suddenly it was all over and there were goodbyes and promises to keep in touch.
What an incredibly inspiring, fun and uplifting weekend it was. You can read more about the weekend and some more lovely photos on Janis Issitt’s blog here and Jeska Hearne, aka Lobster & Swan also blogged here.
I'm already cooking up plans to go again next January, although this feel like a veerrrry looong way away it's good to have something to look forward to!