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.
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
It’s been several months since I updated my blog and I’m not really selling anything online at the moment, but I have still been painting and I thought it was about time that I did an update
Anyone who follows my social media feed will have noticed that I have been sharing a lot of botanical drawings and paintings lately and I have been trying to paint in a more realistic style too. This is because of something that I have been reluctant to share until now. About 18 months ago, after I had completed the certificate in botanical illustration with Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and my solo exhibition at Inverewe Gardens, I was invited to exhibit as a solo artist at the gorgeous new Gairloch Heritage Museum in May 2021. The museum asked me to focus my paintings on indiginous plants of the area, so I started to sketch and research and prepare for the show.
Then the pandemic happened, everywhere went into lockdown and I wasn’t sure what to do. However, the date had been set, so I kept working towards it.
Then, at the end of last year, the museum contacted me to let me know that they were hoping to go ahead with the exhibition, which was planned for May and June. Currently Scotland is in lockdown, so places like Gairloch Museum are not open, but the plan is, as long as infection rates stay low, to open up more widely at the end of April. However, the fact that the exhibition will almost certainly go ahead has given me a goal and a deadline to work towards and I am now using the sketches that I’ve been doing and the photos I have taken to do 10 botanical paintings and a number of paintings in oil or acrylic that will depict indiginous plants in the landscape.
Botanical art is very detailed intricate work, and takes longer than most painting and drawing that I’m used to doing, so progress has been much slower than usual, but I’m over half way there now. I want to have finished the botanical plant portraits by the end of March in order to get them framed and then I’ll move on to the larger detailled paintings
I’ve already started painting studies, like the one below, trying to be more detailed and realistic than I have before and these will used as a basis for five botanics in the landscape paintings for the exhibition, which will be in acrylic and/or oils
Meanwhile I have four more botanicals to complete, starting tomorrow with primroses, which have just come in to flower here in Northern Scotland, and I went out today to photograph and sketch some.
The title of the exhibition will be Flora Gadelica or Lùsan na Gàidheal in Gaelic, which means the plants/flowers of the Gaels. Most of the plants in the exhibition have been a key part of Gaelic life, so I am also researching stories and botanical information to go along with the paintings
I’m a bit torn right now, between being really excited for the exhibition and hoping that it will go ahead and slightly terrified at the same time!
I’ll post more details about it nearer the time and share details of a joint exhibition, which will be for the 3rd year running at the gorgeous wee gallery at An Talla Dearg with my friends Aileen (Aileen Grant Art) and Steven Proudfoot, and is planned for June.