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Non linear recovery

My operation was seven weeks ago today and it’s weird, it simultaneously seems like ages and no time at all.

I’m no longer on opioid medication, so I’m quite proud of that, but I had some quite uncomfortable side effects when I accidently came off them too soon. I’m still taking painkillers though I nolonger have any dressings on my wounds and they’re healing, but still sore at times. I’m able to do so much more than I could just a week ago, but nowhere near as much as I’d like to.

I’m currently sitting in bed in my spare room as there is a good view of the garden, and I’m tired because I cleaned the bathroom after my morning shower (just a quick wipe down, don’t tell my husband!) I’m resting, admiring the snow and being kept company by my cat

I was beginning to do a lot better I think, but then Nick and I went away for the weekend, we didn’t go far and we stayed with lovely friends, one of whom is a nurse and who is wonderful and supportive. I had a comfortable bed and small appropriate meals, but now I’m really tired. I am in no way complaining or regretting the visit. It was a really great weekend, I needed a break and my poor, incredibly supportive husband definitely did, but there will be no painting or drawing this week and I might just manage to get my taxes done by Saturday.

But it is a shock, when you come to realise how fragile and slow recovery is. I can no longer assume good health which is sobering. So I found myself, measuring my small successes and planning for the future and yet, at the same time, not taking anything for granted, because all of this, my entire journey of the last few months, came out of nowhere.

I always thought that I was an empathetic person, but now I hope I understand more deeply how frustrating ill health can be. How much I need to prepare for even a short journey in a way that I never did before. I also came to realise how much the little things come to mean, the messages on Facebook, the loan of a favourite book or the card or scented candle or the gorgeous socks knitted by a very kind friend. I have thanked people individually, but I’ll say again how much these things mean to me. Thank you.

My world has shrunk for the moment and yet I also feel so very, very blessed. Nothing went wrong during my operation, there were no complications and I am apparently recovering comparatively quickly. I have a truly wonderful supportive and caring husband. We spend a lot of time, just holding hands, being together, enjoying our time together.

I’m also so very lucky to have such a wonderful family and really great friends and neighbours.

I’ve not sketched or drawn anything yet, though I do have some ideas rattling round in my somewhat addled brain, so I know I’ll get there, hopefully fairly soon.

There are always good things

I can’ rush anywhere at the moment so I have time to read books, listen to podcasts or watch videos on YouTube (there are some great arty ones) and music to listen to. I’ve been blessed with visits and kindnesses from my wonderful friends.

I’m very lucky that I had such a good year as an artist last year, I was quite prolific, and sold quite a few pieces, and I have some works ready to go out once I’m ready again. But in the meantime I sold a painting, which I had shared and exhibited last summer. It’s of the Quiraing on Skye and a lovely local lady had fallen in love with it. She got married at Christmas and her family bought it as a wedding present, which was wonderful. It was one of my favourite paintings from last year and the new owner is someone who has a special connection to the place I’d painted and I’m so very happy that it’s gone to a lovely new home. (pictured below, thanks JM for letting me share the photo)

Lying here, resting after my exertions(!) I’ve had lots of time to think. One of my friends asked me, over the weekend how I thought this experience might have changed me. I told her that I won’t put things off any more, I’ll do things when I can. But there are more things that have changed about my persepective. I am on the road to recovery and whilst it’s an uphill journey with loads of pot holes, is is a mostly forward progress, hopefully without to many obsticles in the way further along the route. So more than anything I’m grateful. Greatful for my husband, family, friends and neighbours, for the roof over my head and my comfy bed. I am far more blessed than many people I know.

Maybe my next blog will be about my art again? I do hope so

In the meantime, much love to you all.

Cindie xx

My life – an update

I’ve not updated since June and so this is a much longer blog than usual, in fact one of the longest I think I’ve ever written, so apologies for that. But it’s been a very eventful year, so if you do want to know what I’ve been up to, do get yourself a cup of tea and buckle up for a long read!

My last blog post was in June. I’d had a great couple of weeks at An Talla Dearg at Eilean Iarmain Hotel on the Isle of Skye and then, as is so often the case, experienced a few weeks of low creative energy. Then I went and dog sat for my daughter so she and her partner could have a well earned holiday and explored the outskirts of Glasgow, then I enjoyed spending time with both my children this summer when they came to visit us.

In August I painted and made cards and Christmas decorations and started to get ready for an Open Studios event, due to take place at the end of September in my area, with plans to attend some Christmas craft fairs, to submit work to several exhibitions and to reopen my Etsy shop in October. I also continued to be involved in a community garden project and planned to run a 4 week botanical art session at the Howard Doris Centre, a wonderful local community facility. It was great to be so involved with local volunteers, beginning to grow some vegetables and gather feedback to work towards creating community growing spaces.

We worked together to hold a Harvest Festival event, to celebrate a successful six month long pilot project, where we swapped plants, shopped at a pop up with Blythswood, collected for a foodbank and ate home baking.

Then I got a stomach ache

First of all I thought it was an IBS or Diverticular flare-up, but it didn’t go away after five days I was still in pain and then it got worse.

My GP was fantastic and, when the pain became really bad, he and our lovely locum, who used to work at an A&E Department gave me an intrevenous pain killer and arranged for me to be admitted to the surgical ward at my nearest hospital, Raigmore in Inverness. Within an hour of me arriving they discovered that I had very high levels of infection in my liver and had started me on broad spectrum antibiotics in order to reduce the infection and diagnosed me with probable Colitis. They sent me for a CT scan at 8 o’clock that (Saturday) night and then, just after midnight they sent me for another scan and I began to realise that something was really wrong.

By 8.30 am the next morning. I had been futher diagnosed with a very large sarcoma (tumour) and the bottom had fallen out of my world.

I will never forget having to ring my husband and tell him and my mother and sister. Nick had the job of telling our children, his brother and our friends. I will never forget how awful we felt and how scary it all was.

This is the bit when I stop the narrative to give a an explanation of where I live and the special circumstances that are particular to those of us who live in the Highlands.

Our local surgery is excellent, outstanding, I cannot praise them highly enough. They are our first port of call and they have never let us (as a family or as a village) down. Raigmore is also excellent. I had my babies there 30 years ago, I’ve had previous Cancer screenings and been taken there as an emergency with internal bleeding after a car accident 20 years ago, but it is 60 miles away on mostly country roads, some of which are single track. There is an air ambulance service for those who are major emergencies and there is always the possibility, if a diagnosis is a complex one (which mine was), that a patient might be transferred to Aberdeen or Glasgow or Edinburgh.

That weekend, I didn’t know if that would happen to me, certainly, if the antibiotics hadn’t worked I would have probably been transferred. But they did work and I was sent home and travelled back and forth over the next few weeks for tests, scans and a biopsy.

The sort of Sarcoma that I apparently had is very rare, so there is no dedicated team at Raigmore and we knew really early on that I would have to go to Glasgow for an operation.

Then, for the next few months all we could do was wait.

The Sarcoma was confirmed to be pretty large, approximately 20cms, but apparently Sarcomas tend to be very slow growing and mine had probably been there for several years and it had only been found because it had finally become large enough to impact my stomach and colon and started to interfere with digestion. It therefore wasn’t as urgent as it might have been if it had been a more aggressive form of Cancer.

Then came the best news that we’d had for weeks. The tumour was low grade and almost certainly benign. I would still need a major operation, I would still need to go to Glasgow for that, but things did not seem as bleak or as uncertain as they had been.

This time, the time of waiting, was when my husband and I came to realise how blessed we are. My children both live in the central belt, so we had somewhere to stay and my husband would not be alone while I was in hospital. We also found out how lucky we were to have such wonderful family members and friends and neighbours. We were overwhelmed with the kindness and support that we received. We tried hard to live in the moment. I worked to get as fit as possible after the colitis incident with walking and exercise with a lovely local lady who runs classes in fitness and zumba. We tried to take joy in the moment and in each other. My husband spent time with his lovely music group friends and I spent time with the garden group when I was well enough and I went out sketching with the some of my artist pals.

We didn’t have the best summer this year, it was cold and wet, unlike just about everywhere else on the planet! But the autumn was lovely and we managed to get out almost every week. Again, I felt so blessed. I have such wonderful friends and the weather and the beauty of my surroundings helped me keep positive and as fit as possible

Eventually we were given a date for the operation, 30th November 2022 and I decided that I wanted to feel a wee bit of normality before I went away. So I did my Christmas shopping and I decided to open my Etsy shop and remind myself that I am still an artist, and why I do what I do.

So for three weeks I took photos and uploaded some of the paintings that I’d done over the summer months and even made some new work and it was glorious. It was great to talk art, to wrap up wee parcels and send them off to folk and to concentrate on what I love for a week or so.

But all too quickly it was time for the operation.

I was in hospital for 9 days in the end. and away from home for two and a half weeks. We had travelled down prior to the operation and I had pre-op tests before being admitted for the operation and then, after discharge, I rested for several days before travelling home, a journey which usually takes more than five hours.

At every step of the last four months I have been supported and cared for by the NHS. Every single member of staff, without exception has been absolutely wonderful. The technicians who did the tests, the nurses and doctors and auxiliaries who cared for me. The Macmillan nurse who answered my questions. The wonderful surgeon who operated, who discussed every step with me before the operation and who came to visit when it was all over. In what was the scariest and most challenging period of my life I was incredibly blessed to be able to rely on an incredible jewel of an organisation.

I’ve been home now for just over two weeks and, four weeks after the proceedure I’m on the mend. It was indeed a very large operation but it was apparently completely successful and I have an excellent chance of staying Cancer free in the future.

But, you can’t go through an experience like that without being changed. As I have already said. I feel so very blessed to have such wonderful friends and neighbours, I am very grateful for my wonderful husband and family and so very, very grateful that the worst did not happen.

At the moment I’m too sore to make art. I do miss it, but I’m just not well enough yet. I also get very tired. I am still enjoying and finding inspiration in the art of others and if you’d like to get in touch with me please do, either through my website or through my various social media platforms – I would love to hear from you.

I am so very grateful to everyone for the care and support that I received. I am so lucky that I know I will be well again, hopefully by the spring and hopefully able to take part in the things I that I have planned.

Thanks to every one who has bought or shared my art this year. Thanks to my friends and neighbours, to my family and to the wonderful NHS for getting me through this enormous challenge. I do not yet know what will come out of this experience for me. I do know that it has changed me and really made me appreciate how very lucky I am. I look forward to returning to my studio as soon as I am able and I wish you all a good year in 2023.

Playing favourites

Tomorrow is the last day of my joint exhibition with Aileen Grant Art and Steven Proudfoot and it’s not exactly the hardest job in the world to be surrounded by gorgeous art.

It’s very true that both Steven and Aileen are talented, but what has really been brought into focus for me over the last couple of weeks (and indeed at previous exhibitions) is how skilled they are.

Steven has been primarily a watercolour artist, but recently he has started painting in oils and mixed media. His paintings are all about light and how that changes through the seasons and at different times of day.

He has a really delicate touch and with just a few brushstrokes he can seem to make his paintings glow with light and colour.

A selection of work by Steven Proudfoot

Aileen Grant’s work, to my mind at least, is all about atmosphere. She works outside a lot in various sketchbooks and with a variety of different mediums. She then returns to her studio to create paintings which are very evocative of hills, corries and lochans in all kinds of weather conditions. Aileen’s painting seem to shimmer with iridesence. Trees seem to move in the wind, storm clouds scud across the landscape and there is also the light of hope.

Some of Aileen’s work
More of Aileen’s art

Surrounded by all this art as I have been, I have things about all the paintings that appeal to me, but I do have a favourite from both Aileen and Steven.

My favourite of Steven’s paintings,

Whilst Steven’s paintings seem to glow, full of light and colour, something about this small, deceptively simple one above really appealed to me. It’s oil on board, a lovely letterbox shape and I love the rusty rocks against the deep blue of the sea and the pop of colour provided by the buoy. This painting has sold but if you are interested in Steven’s art a lovely selection is at his website here: Steven Proudfoot

My favourite of Aileen’s paintings

I couldn’t get a better photo of this gorgeous painting of Aileen’s it’s near Torridon and I love the dark clouds and the light in the forground and that glimmer of hopeful light on the horizon. This painting is (at time of writing) still for sale, so please contact her at her website: Aileen Grant Art if you are interested in this or any other of her paintings

And what about me and my paintings? It’s been wonderful to be able to share my art and talk to people about it. I can often only see things about my work that I don’t like, but I do have some favourites and the one that I would like to keep from this exhibition is this one. I have a spot for it just over my mantlepiece, as long as it doesn’t sell by tomorrow!

Rainy day at Letterewe

More of my work at the exhibition

An Talla Dearg, a second home

It’s been a funny old year so far and it’s only June! As I write this Aileen Grant, Steven Proudfoot and I are just about half way through our 2 week exhibition at An Talla Dearg at Hotel Eilean Iarmain. It’s a wonderful place to exhibit and we all feel very blessed to be able to show our work here. It’s our 4th time here and it’s such a lovely, friendly place that it really does feel like a second home.

Some of my latest work

I had such a busy year in 2021 with two exhibitions and sales online and locally, that I felt I needed to take a step back for a wee while and make some new art. I’ve been so focussed on sketching and painting that I haven’t blogged for about six months, but the An Talla Dearg exhibition was both a goal and a deadline, so I managed to create a large amount of new work including more than 30 new framed pieces for the exhibition.

images from Eilean Iarmain

Once the exhibition is over, my artwork will go to two great local venues, which I’ll share later and I also plan to hold some open studio sessions in August, so I’m not sure what I’ll be able to get online for sale or when I’ll manage to do it. But I will definitely keep you posted.

I’ve also been sorting out my house and become more involved in community projects and I have some stories and updates to share with you all so I promise to update very soon.

For more information on me or my work please contact me here

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Paintings of The Quiraing, Trotternish Ridge, Isle of Skye

The First post (of 2022)

I can’t believe it’s 2022. Last year seemed to pass so quickly.

It was a year of ups and downs for so many people and I was no different. I spent the first half of the year in lockdown working towards my solo exhibition at Gairloch Museum. It was a fantastic experience. I painted 10 watercolour botanical paintings and seven botanical oil paintings and probably several hundred sketches, drawings and studies.

I then went on to show more work in a joint exhibition at An Talla Dearg at Eilean Iarmain, which was exhausting but great fun.

I loved the exhibitions, they were both a wonderful experience, but I was very tired and a wee bit burnt out afterwards. I spent the summer neglecting my sketchbooks and hanging about in the garden, on the days it wasn’t raining that is.

In September I visited my son in his new home in Linlithgow and caught the sketching bug again and I have been very busy painting and drawing almost every day since then.

And now it’s the time on year when many of the artists I follow on social media share a top nine photo quilt (which is below) I’ve curated this year’s to try and illustrate my artistic year

The botanicals are from my Flora Gadelica exhibition as is the painting on the bottom right. That was a small acrylic study for a larger oil painting, which was a centrepiece of the exhibition.

The top middle painting and left middle painting were new works for the Eilean Iarmain exhibition. The top right is a reworking of an older painting and the last two were painted at the end of the year.

This year has been a bit of an artistic journey for me as well as an emotional one. Botanical art is very different from landscape art, at least it was for me, in terms of technique. Botanic art is much more detailed and very precise in technique and that affected how I painted my landscapes.

I’ve been drawn to realist art for sometime and am very impressed by the work of such artists as Renato Muccillo or Andrew Tischler and, after painting so many botanical pieces, I found myself drawn to that style of painting and several of the pieces that I painted at the earlier part of the year were in a more realist style. However, I’m not sure it’s for me and instead in the second part of the year I found myself reverting to a far looser style, but that perhaps is better observed than some of my older paintings? I’m still not sure where I’m going artistically, but I’ve been sketching almost every day for the last month or so and I’m seeing where that’s going to take me. I have included a small selection of some of the sketches that I have done this year below.

ink and pastel

The studies above were done really rapidly one morning, when the loch was very still and there was a temperature inversion. These have all gone to new homes, but they may still yet be used to make a larger painting.

mixed subject and media

Some of the sketches above were done earlier in the year, preparing for Flora Gadelica and then laterly I have been using ink and pastels to try and loosen up my mark making again.

mixed media

This year I’ve done a lot of sketching outdoors and have been experimenting with various media. I’ve found that when I’m working outside, things change really quickly, the light, the colours even the weather and a looser mark making method helps me record what I’m seeing more quickly

mixed media and subject

The sketches above show the contrast between being in the studio and focussing on the details of, for example, a botanical specimen or being outside and trying capture the vibrancy and ever changing colours while painting en plein air.

I have an exhibition planned for the early summer, but I’m also (covid allowing) planning to hold some open studios this year and hopefully popping some more art on my Etsy shop (link below). But, after such a busy year last year, I’m trying to focus on just making art for no particular goal.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Finally, I will leave you with the last piece of art that I did in 2021, ending the year as I started it with a botanical study that I did as a gift for a friend.

Solomon’s seal

The Unknown Artist project

I know, it’s been far too long since I last updated, but it’s been a strange few months. I was exhausted after my exhibitions and therefore spent much of the summer in the garden, hardly painting at all.

My son moved to a new flat this year in the very picturesque town of Linlithgow, we went to visit him and I finally got back into painting. I often find that a change of place stimulates my creativity and that was certainly the case this time.

Since then I’ve sketched, drawn and painted almost every day. I’ve restocked some local shops which carry my artwork and started to paint towards next season, a planned exhibition and open studios.

Linlithgow sketches
Lochcarron
Achintraid

I’ve really enjoyed painting again and I’ve recently helped start a drop-in art group with some artist friends here in Lochcarron – I’ll be off to that tomorrow morning. which I know will help to keep me motivated.

I also have a craft fair this weekend, and, if I manage to get the time to do some photographing, I’ll try and get a few more new pieces on Etsy. I’ll only be selling within the UK for now though. I

I also got to meet Jean Michel O’Shea a couple of weeks ago. Jean Michel has undertaken a body of work, which he hopes will serve as a legacy called the Artist Unknown Project Jean Michel is visiting artists all over the UK to talk to them, take stunning photos and tell their stories. Jean Michel’s photos are striking and the artist’s stories fascinating. Click on the link Artist Unknown Project if you want to read more about me, Aileen Grant or another local artist Vicky Stonebridge along with other artists and follow Jean Michel’s journey and view his photography.

me by Jean Michel O’shea

Plantscapes

After all the hard work of the last few months I can’t believe that there are just four days left of the exhibition at Eilean Iarmain and a week left at Gairloch Museum.

I’ve had a lot of interest in Flora Gadelica and have decided to have some prints made of my images. I plan to sell online again later in the summer so the prints will be available here, via my website.

Flora Gadelica prints and cards

The prints are from Scotland’s Artists and look absolutely gorgeous on German Etching paper. The details and the colours have come across beautifully.

I still have some details to share about the botanicals that I painted, but I will do that later this week. Today I thought I’d share the three big “plantscapes’ that I painted for the exhibition. The first painting below is of the hazel burn, that’s just a short walk from my house. I spent a lot of time during lockdown walking past this place. It feels quite magical with the moss, ivy and twisted hazel branches. I sketched and painted it several times, starting when the ground was bare and finishing when the celandines and primroses were covering the banks of the wee burn. This painting is in oils and is 100cms x 100cms. This painting represents winter into early spring

The second piece was painted using a selection of sketches and is an attempt to record the crystal clear skies and snow caped peaks of autumn, when the deciduous trees are loosing their leaves and the bracken is turning to red and gold. For me, this painting was about the Scots Pines and their glorious sculptural shapes, emerging from the morning mist.

The final of the three plantscapes is a summer painting. This one has the hawthorn and the sea-thrift in flower. The wee cottage belongs to a friend of mine and I have painted it several times now, very much a favourite destination to sketch and paint.

I’ve four botanical paintings left to share, but more of them later this week.

The Lochcarron Trio exhibition is on until the 23rd of June, Flora Gadelica is on until the 26th June at Gairloch Museum and more news about my online shop is coming soon

Foxgloves and bluebells

As I type this blog I’m sitting in the gorgeous wee gallery An Talla Dearg at Eilean Iarmain on the Isle of Skye. I think it’s meant to rain tomorrow, but I’m just going to enjoy the sunshine and the smiley art loving visitors for now.

We’re currently into the first full week of my joint exhibition with Aileen Grant Art and Steven Proudfoot. This our third time here, but the first Summer exhibition for us, we’re here till the 23rd of this month, so lots of time to pop in if you are in the area

I really loved the experience of getting ready for the Flora Gadelica (or Lusan nan Gaidheal in Gaelic) at Gairloch Heritage Museum, but this exhibition almost came too quickly for me. I did manage to make some new art, a mixture of landscapes and botanicals, but I haven’t had time to do much else over the last couple of weeks and would ideally have liked just a wee longer to prepare.

However, I’m not complaining! It really is a wonderful space to show work and I am very blessed to be sharing the gallery with two such talented and experienced artists as Aileen and Steven.

However, I did promise that I would blog in more detai about the plants that I painted for Gairloch. so for this particular post I’m going to share some more information about Bluebells and Foxgloves.

When I painted the bluebells and foxgloves for Flora Gadelica I had to rely on my sketches and photographs, though I was able to use the leaves, which had already begun to emerge. For the An Talla Dearg exhibition the road verges and hedgerows are full of these gorgeous plants, so, of course I had to paint more!

Foxgloves are very much a part of Scots folklore and there is plenty of information about them in the reference books that I used. Scottish Plant Lore, An Illustrated Flora, by Gregory J Kenicer. and, of course Flora Celtica, Plants and People in Scotland by Willian Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, but for some reason bluebells, were not included in Scottish Plant Lore. However, The Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ has some great information about both plants, just in case you want to read more about them

Hyacinthoides non-scripta bluebell        bròg na cuthaig

The common bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta is everywhere right now. The low lying fields near the gallery are full of them and the air nearby full of their sweet scent. Non-scripta means unmarked, these are the native bluebell and are quite distinct from their Spanish cousins. Non-scripta is smaller and has all its florets on the same side of the stem, which gives it that bent over nodding appearance. Hispanica is taller, it has florets all around the stem and stands straight and tall, but has no scent.

Bluebells, like snowdrops are a protected by section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside act and neither the bulbs or the seeds can be collected.

In Gaelic the bluebell is known as Bròg na cuthaig, which means (in English) cuckoo shoe, which I think is one of my favourite translations.

Luckily I had a lot of sketches and photographs of bluebells as I taught a botanical art course on painting them, with West Highland College last year, so it was fairly easy to paint some for the Gairloch exhibition.

Right now they are abundant and indeed, it seems like a particularly good year for them, so I could resist painting another bluebell, along with ajuga and wild strawberries for the exhibition at An Talla Dearg.

Bluebells

Digitalis Foxglove      Lus nam Ban-sìth

The roadsides and verges will soon be full of foxgloves, (Digitalis purpurea)there are some around right now, but the up to 2m giants will be a familiar sight in a few weeks. They flower in Scotland from June to August. They are biennial herbs and have soft, downy, slightly grey leaves and those oh, so distictive purple-pink thimble like flowers, which have evolved to be particularly attractive to carder bees

There are various theories as to where the English name comes from, one is that the name was corrupted from “folks’ glove’, which has similarities with the ‘fairy flower’ in Gaelic. Another theory is that the name is literal and foxes do secretly where them as gloves to silence their feet when hunting. Wouldn’t that be interesting to see.

They certainly do look magical with their bright pink bell shaped flowers and their distinct markings, which some myths suggest are fairy handprints and stories about them are found throughout folklore. In the Borders, foxglove leaves were placed in a baby’s cradle to keep new-born babies from being bewitched, in England and Wales it was believed to have been a common practice to rub the juice of the leaves on the skin of ‘changeling’ children, though in Scotland one Isobel Haldane confessed to accidently poisoning a changling child, whilst trying to commune with the faery folk and the flowers were used in love charms in many places. But be sure to enjoy them outside and do not bring them indoors as they are thought to be unlucky

Foxgloves are poisonous, all parts of the plants contain compounds called cardiac glycosides, including digitoxin and digoxin. Ingesting even a small amount of these can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and an irregular heartbeat. In small amounts though, digoxin can be used to manage abnormal heart rhythms.

Foxgloves were amongst the Robbie Burns’ favourite flowers as evidenced by a letter he wrote to his friend Mrs Dunlop:

“I have some favourite plants in spring, among which are the mountain daisy, the harebell, the foxglove and the wild briar rose.”

Burns also uses the foxglove in his poem Elegy On Captain Matthew Henderson:

“Mourn, little harebells o’er the lea; Ye stately foxgloves fair to see.”

The foxglove was a bit of a challenge for the Gairloch exhibition as they were not in flower when I was preparing. There were leaves and stalks growing in my garden though. So I was able to use them as the basis for my painting. I had also taken lots of photos and done a number of sketches, so I did manage to paint something, which looked quite realistic I think.

EPSON MFP image

These last few weeks have been frantically busy at times,and even though I wrote the majority of this blog on Monday at the gallery, I’ve only just found time to edit it now, at 9.30 on Wednesday evening. I’ve spent today framing, making cards and getting ready for a workshop I’m running at the Plock in Kyle on Saturday afternoon for Kyle and Lochalsh Community Trust if you want to know more contact heather.beaton@lochalsh.uk / judith.bullivant@lochalsh.uk or phone 01599 534505.

Talking of cards, all of my Gairloch botanicals will soon be available as greetings cards via my Etsy shop and I’m currently investigating having A4 prints (reproductions) made of the more popular ones. I’ll keep you posted on developments. I’m at the gallery again tomorrow, I’ll be doing a mini rehang, now that my frames arrived and I’m taking my paints so that I can make some art.

Ivy, Gorse and Snowdrops

I’ve had a week now to catch up on other things that needed doing, oh yes and I also caught up on some sleep. But I’ve finally managed to sit down and write a blog post as I promised.

The exhibition at Gairloch has dominated my life for the past six months, because I painted 10 botanicals and each painting needed a lot of research. In order to paint botanicals, each plant had to be accurate for size, shape, colour and growth pattern. As part of my research I read a little about the folklore of the plants. I also wanted to use their Gaelic names as part of my compositions and I was very lucky to work with Roddy MacLean, who helped me with the translations. Gairloch Heritage Museum will be holding two events with Roddy, Lusan nan Gàidheal: Plants of bog and hill in Gaelic tradition and Lusan nan Gàidheal: Plants of croft and woodland in Gaelic tradition. Click on the link to the museum and then on “events” if you are interested in learning more about the plants of the West Highlands, from the very knowledgable Roddy.

My botanical collection, fit broadly within the seasons, but in the first selection that I’m going to share, I’ve included Gorse, which is at it’s best during May, but it’s an evergreen and there always seems to be a flower or two, somewhere on the bush (more about that in a while!). So it was easy to collect and paint, when very little else was in leaf or bloom.

some sketches

The plants that follow were the first that I painted for the exhibition, though I later redid the snowdrop painting as I wasn’t that happy with the compostition. Ivy was easy to find, it grows prolifically in my village, as does gorse, whereas snowdrops grow in profusion at the Old Kirk at the east side of the village.

For every plant I painted I did a lot of sketches, drawings and took photos too.

The first plant that I’m going to share is

Ivy, Eidheann (hedera helix)

As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of Ivy locally. It grows in a great deal of profusion in the this village. It is especially noticable in the winter when the trees are otherwise bare. Ivies have two kinds of leaves. The oh, so familiar palmate leaves that grow on winding stems and the unlobed cordate leaves which grow on the flowering stems. The flowers are small and very rich in nectar. The flowers are replaced by berries which are usually a greenish black or dark purple.

The old Gaelic name for Ivy was Gort, which represents the eleventh letter of the Gaelic alphabet and which means sour, as the whole plant is poisonous. But the plant is also used in various remedies and is meant to clean wounds and sores, treat sunbrun and can be used to cure corns.

Ivy can be used to make baskets and was hung as a wreath to protect the household from evil. Ivy can be used as a basis for green garlands which are often used to ‘deck the halls’ at the Solstice.

Mandy Haggith has done some wonderful work collating stories and folklore on a number of trees and plants. Clicking on her name above, will take you to her site. Mandy is a poet and writer and there are some wonderful evocative pieces about the native plants of the Highlands, written by Mandy, on her site.

My next plant, which I focussed on in December and January was

Gorse/Conasg (Ulex)

Gorse was the second plant that I sketched and painted. It looks glorious at the moment, in May, growing in thick hedgerows and lighting up the hillside with bright clouds of yellow. In warmer, drier climates Gorse can be almost uncontrollable but it was always a very valuable plant in the Highlands.

It’s old Gaelic name was Onn, which represented O in the Gaelic alphabet.

The scent of the flowers are gorgeous at this time of year. They smell of vanila and coconut. The flowers are edible and can be used in salads and as a flavouring in gin. Gorse is commonly known as Whin in this part of the world. It was once used as animal fodder, it would have been ground using a ‘whinstone’, which must have been a challenge as its thorns are vicious!

Gorse is a member of the pea family and its bright yellow flowers (along with the rest of the plant) are popular with dyers. In Celtic lore the flowers are said to represent optimism, with the sun, light and fire. Gorse wood, once dried is said to burn at a very high heat and some people still line their windowsills and doorstops with the flowers at Beltane in order to celebrate the return of the sun and welcome the Celtic sun god Lugh.

Gorse is favoured by lovers as it is said that if one finds a flower one can kiss one’s sweetheart and although Grose is currently flowering in such profusion, flowers can be found on the plant at anytime of year.

If you’d like to read more about lore, stories and poems linked with gorse, Mandy Haggith has also written about it at her website (linked at her name)

Finally for this post I want to share some sketches and notes about

Snowdrop/Gealag-làir (Galanthus)

Snowdrops are a favourite plant of mine, whilst not native to the British Isles as the other plants I have painted are, they have quickly become embedded in stories and folklore. Snowdrops flower when nothing else will, even through the snow. In many countries they are symbol of hope as they bloom for candlemas or Imbloc, the name for which comes from an even older word ‘oimelc’ meaning the milk of the ewe, they are therefore associated with the pure colour white.

Galanthus means ‘milk flower’ and gealag-làir means white mare. In Scotland it is often considered unlucky to gift snowdrops or to bring them into the house. There is some speculation that this is because snowdrops are often found in cemetaries, and they were believed to have been brought over by monks. According to VC Sinden, the first reference to flowers that sound like snowdrops in print in Britain appears in 1597. There, they’re called “Timely Flowering Bulbous Violets”. You can read more about that and the folklore of snowdrops at this link.

In the right conditions snowdrops can be prolific and each February they grow as a white carpet amongst the moss at the Old Kirk graveyard at the East of Lochcarron village. I love the delicacy of snowdrops and have drawn and sketched them far more than I probably needed for this project!

In many countries snowdrops are also considered a symbol of hope, legend says that they were gifted to Adam and Eve by an angel after they had left the Garden of Eden.

The Scottish poet George Wilson concludes his poem ‘The Origin of the snowdrop’ with the lines;

“And thus the snowdrop, like the bow

That spans the cloudy sky,

Becomes a symbol whence we know

That brighter days are nigh

Definitely a symbol that warmer days are on their way.

There will be another blog post in a few days, sharing more of my sketches and research. All the posts about Flora Gadelica (lusan nan gaidheal) will be linked at the tags at the bottom of this blog post – just in case you’re interested in reading more. My exhibition will be at Gairloch Heritage Museum until the end of June. All the paintings are for sale and cards and (possibly prints) will be available shortly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my sketches and post. If you have any stories about any of the plants I have shared I would love to hear them. Please do comment below.

More soon

Flora Gadelica

Lusan nan gaidheal

It’s just a short update today as it’s been a long few weeks and I’m very tired. I’ve been working for months on my solo exhibition at Gairloch Heritage Museum and everything is now finished, varnished, framed and hung in a gorgeous space. The exhibition is called Flora Gadelica or Lusan nan Gaidheal in Gaelic and focuses on a small selection of native plants of the North West Highlands

Thanks so much to Fiona, who helped me hang the exhibition (along with my wonderful husband and art roady, Nick) and, in fact, did most of the hard work, I really don’t know what we’d have done without her, I’d probably still be there

Working towards the exhibition as been an amazing experience, by turns challenging, interesting, stimulating and even somewhat overwhelming on occasion. I really enjoyed making the art, even if I did have times when I’d have a quiet panic attack and wonder if it would ever happen at all

I found that (unsurprisingly) organising an exhibition in a pandemic is defititely a challenge, lots of things were harder than they are in more normal times, but I have been so very lucky to have the support and help of some wonderful people. Karen, Eilidh and Fiona at the museum were great, really helpful and supportive. As was Roddy MacLean, who helped me with Gaelic translations for my botanical watercolours and the translation of the exhibition name, and last, but defititely not least, the amazing Emma Noble who did an incredible job with framing the botanicals. Thank you all.

Botanical art is not like most other kinds of art that I have made in the past. It involves a lot more research and a lot more detail. I felt that I really need to understand the plants in order to be able to paint them with sensitivity, so I read extensively and did a great number of drawings for each plant. I completed ten botanical watercolour paintings, but I also wanted to depict some plants in their habitat, so I did four “plant portraits’ of a variety of different plants and three “plantscapes”.

It’s been an absolutely amazing experience and each one of my paintings has been informed by sketches, photos, research and close study of the plants themselves. I have a really big collection of material that I collected in order to create this exhibition, so I thought it would be good to share it. Therefore I’ll be uploading clearer photos of the paintings and some sketches, photos, information and folklore about the paintings and sharing them here on my blog over the next few weeks.

But first, I might take a couple of days off, do some housework and some gardening and maybe read a book or two. I will be back soon though with some clearer images of some of my botanicals