I find the alphabet a helpful structure in my writing, so when I came to write a list of what I feel grateful for over the past twelve months, I turned to it again to help me.
It didn't let me down.
A is for Art and creativity – admittedly, this has come in waves, but at times has been very helpful in keeping me moving forward.
B is for Black Isle Correspondent, daily videos from; a little bit of madness, kindness and real life every day, especially during the first lockdown. Grateful thanks to Anna Massie.
C is for Camomile tea. And cake – the making and partaking of it, the sharing of it with friends, when possible.
D is for Dog. My dog for making me smile every day, and often laugh too
E is for Empty beaches for walking on, I'm so lucky to live where I do.
F is for Friends and family, for staying in touch
G is for Growing things and gardening.
H is for Hugs - the ones we had before it all started, which we didn't know were so precious, and the illicit ones which were all the more precious for being so.
I is for Isolation – that may sound strange, but living at a distance from densely populated areas gave me a feeling of safety. Also, conversely - I is for Internet, for keeping us connected.
J is for Just being – some days, that was all that was required, or indeed possible.
K is for Kindness – to myself and from others
L is for Love from old friends and new
M is for Mindfulness, learning a new way of being and practicing it.
N is for Noticing nature in so many ways. The tides, the seasons, the light.
O is for Oranges and occasionally olives.
P is for Playing music on my mandolin. Also Photography - taking photos feels like a form of meditation to me.
Q is for Quiz shows on TV, especially Only Connect and Mastermind. Monday evenings’ entertainment.
R is for Refreshing my knowledge and love of languages and learning a new one or two, on Duolingo. Also, reading. Novels, poetry, familiar and new.
S is for Slowing down, social media, staying in touch. Also Soup, the making and supping of it.
T is for Tunes – playing old ones and writing new ones
U is for Unforgotten – a cold case series on TV; totally hooked. Also old murder mysteries, the familiarity of them, the satisfying resolution.
V is for Very funny radio programmes, especially some of those on at 6.30pm on Radio 4, providing lots of laughter while I make my tea.
W is for Walking. Every day. Walking and the peace of it. Sometimes walking with a friend. Also for Writing; the joy of putting words together, in a poem, a story, a post.
X is for Acceptance – I will cheat a little here perhaps – taking the X to mean being not being allowed to do things. Accepting the situation, the imposed restrictions, the fact that I could not travel anywhere and no-one could come here – all that. Accepting it all made it a whole lot easier to make the most of what I could still do – many of these things are listed here.
Y is for Yes – saying yes to new things, to taking part in online workshops and courses and exhibitions.
Z is for Zoom, which I hadn't heard of this time last year, but now value highly, for staying in touch and keeping things going.
Distant Isles I. Original watercolour on paper. 45cm x 25cm approx. Unframed.
Hello. I hope this finds you safe and well and managing to find a way through what is hopefully the last part of this very trying time.
Living where I do, I’m very fortunate to have beautiful beaches nearby to walk on. I do this most days, with my dog. Sometimes, if the weather is wild or wet, we venture inland a bit, walking in a sheltered glen with large trees and a burn flowing through it. I’ve taken a lot of photos over the past year of walking. Mainly on my phone, sometimes with my camera. I've posted some of these nearly every day on Instagram and less frequently on Facebook. There's a spot where I always go and stand, at the far end of one of the beaches. I now have a whole series of photos from that spot – I'm working out what to do with them.
I've been doing some more writing recently, spurred on by attending (online) a wonderful week-long Arvon at Home course, called Exploring Creativity. I've posted a few poems on Instagram and also on my blog. Watch this space for further developments.
I've also been updating my photography portfolio on the Photo4me website.
New work and Poolewe Market
I've recently spent some time in the studio, painting a few more seascapes. The first of these is shown at the top of this newsletter. I plan to add some more coastal works to the collection – these proved popular at Poolewe Tuesday Market last year. Speaking of which, we're keeping our fingers very firmly crossed that the market will be able to start for the season in early May. Of course, this will depend on the regulations in place at that time. I'll keep you posted.
I'm so looking forward to getting out and about and meeting people again; I’m sure you are too!
See the Seascapes
For now, my online shop is very much open. There are still some limited edition prints available, calendars are now reduced in price, and there are some new small works to choose from. There's also a wide range of greetings cards, some sketchbooks and notebooks and even keyrings. Happy browsing!
Limited edition prints
There are some of these still available, at sale prices. The Thistle image below is an example. To be discontinued.
Shop the sale »
A variety of customised notebooks are available in my website shop (see image below)
I just received some new stock, so new designs, of both notebooks and sketchbooks, will be available soon!
See the notebooks »
Thank you for your continued interest in my work, it's greatly appreciated.
Hope to see you soon - until then, stay safe and well.
all the best
I don't need to to tell you we are facing difficult times just now. I hope this finds you and your loved ones well and adapting to whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
In my last newsletter, I was sharing news of being part of Poolewe Tuesday Market, stocking some of my products in Cabinet at the lovely An Talla Solais Gallery in Ullapool and an exhibition of my paintings at Inverewe Garden. You can see the paintings I planned to exhibit (and more), in the gallery pages of my website. More recently, I had provided cards and sketchbooks to the shop at Gairloch Museum. None of these things is happening now, for obvious reasons.
Sketchbooks and linoprinting
One of the upsides of being creative is that I never seem to find it hard to find something to do. Recently, I've been doing more linoprinting. I like the fact that I can get quite quick results. I keep things simple, which helps. Most of the printing has been of marine themed designs onto sketchbooks - gorgeous colours from Pink Pig - resulting in customised items, all with a unique, hand printed design on them. There are two sizes - little 4x4 inch ones, with good quality cartridge paper, and A5 size ones, with heavy duty watercolour paper. Yes, they're available to purchase on my website.
I'm planning to share some more of my short stories here on my blog in the coming weeks; there's no point them sitting in a drawer for ever! I'll be posting the ones from my two self-published short story collections; some of them have been broadcast on the fabulous Two Lochs Radio station already, and some more will hopefully be shared on air there in the future.
In the meantime, as always, my artwork, photography and a wide range of products are available via :
I highly recommend doing something creative during these trying times - draw, paint, write, play music. Plant seeds, and look forward to watching them grow. That's what I was doing yesterday. Or learn a language - I discovered the wonderful App, Duolingo and have been learning a bit of Gaelic, as well as brushing up on my French and German and getting going with Spanish. It's a great way to learn, very encouraging and good fun. Or make soup. Making soup is one of my go-to things when it all gets a bit too much. It feels like a time for recalibration, in so many ways.
Wishing you all the very best - thank you for your interest in my work, it is greatly appreciated.
See my Pebbles on the Beach Facebook page for regular posts and updates.
Photo credit : Ailsa Watson
For National Poetry Day
I wrote this free-form poem (with minor alterations) at the start of this year. It was a contribution to the Sustaining Life as a Creative Programme, run by the wonderful Creative Learning team in Aberdeen, which I was very fortunate to take part in.
The brief was to describe our creative journey.
I am the small pigtailed girl
Perched on the window seat, with
sugar paper and poster paints,
brush and water pot,
the wooden trolley
I am that girl in shorts and tee-shirt
on the west coast shore
searching for crabs every summer
before rockpooling was a thing
collecting shells and pebbles,
sticks and stones
I am the girl playing in the
corrugated iron shed behind
my granny’s house
wildflowers in a jam jar on the rickety table -
the hedgehog visiting -
imagination my best friend
I’m the schoolgirl sailing on the loch
with my first love
I'm the teenager climbing hills with friends
gazing over Scotland -
hills and heather
burns and boulders,
I am the student, drawing in my lab book,
Learning the nature of science
I am the scientist, fishing for facts about
Trout and mackerel and herring,
I am the translator, editor, creator,
putter-together of research volumes,
organiser of conferences and treasurer of troves
I am the mum with no clue -
doing, not making,
(except soup and cakes and occasionally marmalade)
with a head crammed full, jammed full
a scarcity of time to call mine
I am the thirty-something friend,
persuaded to trade
My violin for a fiddle,
To play tunes with people
Who would become pals
To add another dimension
I am the mandolin-playing ceilidh band member,
calling out dance steps
- Oh, the feeling of power!
I am the teacher of students,
The organiser of labs and lectures,
Marker of essays,
Developer of screen-based things
With no song to sing
Or dance to bring
I am the escapee,
Fleeing to evening classes -
Some shaky pots, a few pale paintings,
My sketchbook brought along
On family holidays
For rare moments of
I am the e-learning adviser,
Brain addled by screens,
Quitting the squeaky lino floors
Before it was too late
I am the pupil once more, online
And for real,
(because I respond well to being
I am the walker,
Walking with purpose -
In three years.
And Ben Nevis
No hesitation –
I am the delivery driver,
Dropping off veg
I am the spinner of stories
Weaver of yarns
I am the open studios partaker
Opening the door to my shed,
Pretending it is a studio,
letting people in to my life
To ask me questions
Which I find hard to answer –
When, What, Why, How?
It seems that some
Wish they had my life, whatever they
May think that is – living the dream –
An endless stream of ideas, most of which
Get washed away in the shower -
Down the drain, never to be
I am the artist, maker,
Creator of things
Which bring joy
I am the West coast
Still walking the tideline
In search of shells and pebbles,
Bleached bones of wood
Filling my pockets
Again and again
Still looking out to sea
This will be my eighth year taking part in NEOS (North East Open Studios). I'm number 269 in the book this year and will be at the Phoenix Centre at Newton Dee in Bieldside in Aberdeen again. Eleven artists and makers will show their work there; we call ourselves "Art at the Phoenix". There will be a lovely mix of paintings, mixed media work, textiles, ceramics, fused glass, wooden furniture and more. Delighted to be part of it again - also thrilled that my daughter, Ailsa (number 268 in the book) is showing her textiles and illustration work at the same venue. Looking forward to welcoming visitors!
We will be open daily 10am - 4pm, from Saturday 8th - Sunday 16th September.
I will have some new work on show - a series of paintings with titles such as "Rising Slowly" and "Backing Southwesterly", based on The Shipping Forecast - the weather programme on Radio 4. They are mostly sea and skyscapes, inspired by the coast and ever changing light on the west coast of Scotland.
I've also been experimenting with lino printing and collage this year, and will have some of this work on display as well.
I have continued to do watercolour sketches throughout the year, so will have some new card designs available. Look forward to seeing you soon!
I recently took part in the Art Fair which was part of the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival in Portsoy. The weather was fantastic all weekend, hot and sunny, which made for a great time down at the harbour for all the boat-related events. Inspired by the boating theme, I developed some new pieces of work, using mixed media for a change from my usual watercolours. This year I have been keen to recycle old work; repurposing, upcycling, whatever you like to call it. Not using new materials, wherever possible. So I gathered some paintings which I felt hadn't "worked" - or did not stand alone - bright acrylics and some small watercolour studies. Added to the materials pile were an old book of sheet music (classical music, as it happens), sheets torn from magazines and also the coloured nets which I've bought fruit in (mainly oranges). Last but not least, I cut out some of my little lino-print boats, some of which had been printed on watercolour studies. I simply gathered what I had to hand.
And then the fun began; it took longer than I thought to find pleasing compositions. Perhaps they are not even that. Patterns, shapes, colours which complement each other. Little pictures. I am calling the series "Songs from the Sea" as they reflect my love of the sea and all things marine, including boats, and also my love of music, both listening to it and playing it. Each composition has a little fragment of sheet music within it. The first six works will be on show during North East Open Studios (NEOS) in September (8th - 16th) - I am exhibiting at the Phoenix Centre at Newton Dee again this year. In the meantime, they are also available for sale here on my website.
A friend asked me the other day what I'd been up to recently. I answered very unsatisfactorily, I suspect. "Oh, this and that," I said. I managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently to mention a couple of reasonably concrete things - a new outlet for my work, plans for the open studios event later in the year. I feel as if I have been pretty busy recently, but it's all fairly disparate, with not a lot of tangible results for my efforts. Perhaps it is time to take stock, see where I am with various projects, and start prioritising what to do next. North East Open Studios seems a long way off (it's not really, it's in 4 months' time!).
This is the problem I find with working creatively, on my own. The lack of a sounding board, someone to say "that's not one of your best ideas, what about that other one you mentioned the other day?" - the less brutal version of "that idea is rubbish.... next!" I find I am often full of ideas, but whether it is worth pursuing them can be a difficult decision. Recently, I have done a bit more drawing, as well as some sketching out and about (sitting on the harbour at Portsoy was so lovely, especially in the sunshine). It made me recall how much I enjoy this; absorption is total, concentration absolute, focus intense. Time just disappears. I had hoped to do a pile of sketches, and managed three or four. I tried doing a few in the city centre the other day, but found that I needed to find a quiet spot, somewhere I could sit, as I felt too conspicuous otherwise. The practicalities of balancing sketchbook, water pot and tiny box of watercolours also have to be taken into account. Of course I took photographs as well, many of Portsoy harbour. I very much admire the work of John Glynn, who I believe is now based in Moray. When I got back to my shed/studio I had a go at doing a simplified drawing of Findochty harbour, inspired by his style. It was an interesting exercise, which made me focus even more clearly on the shapes I was seeing, and avoid making "sketchy" marks. Plans are afoot to do some drawings like this, using some of the reference photos I've taken recently of northeast harbours. There we go, a plan has been crystallised before my very eyes! Thank you for listening/reading :)
It's nearly Easter. Things have been very busy recently. I'm heading off to the west coast for a break. Just a very short post to say I'll be back in a bit. Some photos from a recent visit to Castle Fraser.
I will be taking a painting to the Torridon Community Centre for their upcoming "Wild about Colour" exhibition, and stocking up my cards there and at the GALE centre in Gairloch. Hoping for some relaxing walks on the beaches, some battery recharging and no doubt some new image gathering (either photos or sketches, or both). Maybe some to time to review and reflect on what comes next, creatively speaking. Hope you have a lovely Easter, when it comes!
It's that time of year again, when my thoughts turn to putting together a calendar for next year. This year seems to have flown by. My age is creeping up on me, I suppose, and while it feels like it must only be about March-time, it's nearly the end of October and the clocks change tonight.
I had a sift through the photographs I've taken over the past year (and a few from the tail end of last year) and have been pleasantly surprised by what I have found. I tend to take a lot of photographs if I'm out and about somewhere - at the beach (any beach), out in the woods for a walk, down at Stonehaven for an afternoon, over on the west coast for a long weekend. It's easier to take pictures when you're on your own, I find. It takes more concentration than I used to imagine, to capture images that are worth looking at again later. And one tends to walk very slowly, looking at things along the way. Up through the trees, down at the shells in the sand at your feet, over at the rock formations of the cliffs or the rocky shore. The bit of the whole process I love most is the looking through the images afterwards. It's like opening presents - free ones, ones from myself to me. Gifts of memories, instants in time. The slope of a roof, the brilliant colour of flowers or leaves against an azure sky, the patterns made by lichens on old wood. With the help of friends and followers on Facebook, I've whittled the images down to twelve, for inclusion in next year's calendar. It was tempting to put two together, one of abstract images and one of purely flora, but I managed to resist. Time to get on and finalise the order - I'll let you know when they arrive! There is already a watercolour paintings calendar available for 2015, on the Store page.
Last September, I very quickly put together a collection of ten short and very short stories and self-published them via Blurb.com. I had previously used this method for putting books of photos together, but had never tried my hand at a book containing only text. I should know by now that doing something too hastily is not a great idea. But there is a balance between being a perfectionist and getting things done. Sometimes it is necessary just to get on and make things even if they are imperfect. Often we learn more by making mistakes than by doing something exactly right. And to be honest, how often does the latter happen? Not very often, in my experience.
What I am trying to say, in rather a roundabout way, is that there were mistakes in the first edition of my short story book. As someone who has edited scientific journals and biological text books with razor-sharp precision (or so I like to think) in the past, I should be ashamed of myself. But funnily enough, I am not. For once, I just got on and put the book together. Yes, there were a few places where words got chopped in half at the ends of lines. Yes, horror of horrors, the font size changed from one story to the next, at one point (but not within a story, now that would be unforgivable). Yes, there was a slight inconsistency in the use of "'cause" and "'cos". But no-one complained. At least not to me. I don't think the tiny wandering apostrophes spoiled anyone's reading enjoyment - I do hope not.
Since there is still a perfectionist lying dormant, mostly, within me, I have recently edited the book, taking on board the very useful notes and comments from a very helpful friend at my art class. Thank you, May. So, the second edition is now available, either via Blurb, or directly here, from my website, or, coming soon, from Amazon (for Kindle).
And if you spot any errors - please do let me know and I'll keep notes for the third edition.