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Friday, October 30, 2015

Caledonian Waters

The mountains of Kintail. Water was retrieved
above this point.
High up in the mountain pass crossing Kintail, I paused. Not troubling to take the 40-pound pack off my back, I crouched by the trail. Sunlight glinted off spring water which funneled into the footpath and tumbled along that course down the mountain's flank. I fished out a 4-oz. plastic bottle from my pocket and filled it to the brim, secured its cap tightly, and placed it in the side pouch of my camera bag. It would be identified with a label at the campsite that night.

This action played out again and again all across Scotland as source water was collected along with sketches and many many photographs - Stirling Bridge, the River Affric, a spring on the Isle of Skye, high tide in front of St Columba's in Oban, a lakeshore in the Trossachs - and the ever-present Scottish rain, just to fill in the gaps.

It was an idea that was hatched this Spring, as I worked to improve ability in watercolor and colored
Water was obtained  from the river
under the Old Stirling Bridge.
pencil for sketchbook purposes. What if, when doing these field sketches and paintings in my travels, I find a way to collect water from these
places? What if I could bring that water home and employ it in watercolor in mixed-media creations in depicting the areas where the water came from?  It was one of those ideas that strikes in the early morning before one is fully awake, but it was an idea that stuck.  It was an idea well worth pursuing. While many use the water nearby when painting outdoors, I am not aware of anyone who has gone to the trouble of collecting such source water with great deliberation for purposes of studio work upon returning home again.

The idea immediately delighted.  One would
not know upon looking at a painting, of course, but that's where a certificate will come in. Each will have a certificate in a pocket on the back, explaining the idea and the process.

I've nine bottles in all. I do wish I'd filled more, but there was a factor of ever-growing weight involved, and as my whole world was on my back when going from one place to another, I had to be selective in what I would bottle.  All made it home safely, and now those nine filled bottles are safely tucked away in a studio drawer, awaiting image selection and the winter's work that lies ahead.

"Caledonian Waters" is one name under serious consideration for this body of work.  I look forward
Eight of my nine bottles.
to the creative process to come, and flights of memory that are sure to accompany as each dear bottle of source water is opened and applied to each geographic depiction.

Watch this blog, as these paintings will be presented here as this body of work grows and develops.

Until Monday - all the best!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Scotland - Cannich and preparing for the Affric Kintail Way

The little bus rumbled along rural road, with the driver chatting happily away to me as we made our way through the magnificent countryside.  This region of the highlands that is just west of Loch Ness looks remarkably like the region I live in, in Western Washington State. Two college girls clad in shorts and flipflops were the only other passengers on this van-sized bus. They were heading out from Inverness for a day walk around Loch Affric and were at the back of the vehicle, chatting amongst themselves, while I sat up front to listen to the driver and his wealth of stories.

This is something I've made mental note on many times. When one travels with someone else, one tends to do so in a bit of a bubble. You have a
built-in conversation partner, with no real need to reach outside of that sphere. If you are travelling solo, however, you must reach out,  converse with strangers,  get out of your comfort zone and talk with the folks you meet. This was no exception, and I learned a lot from the driver about this little community-supported bus, about his own travels abroad, and about renewable energy sources in the Highlands, just to name a few topics.

Because passengers were few and the schedule secure, the driver took me right to the office door of the campsite in Cannich.  This is a splendid place, nestled beneath the red-barked Caledonian pines at the gateway to Glen Affric, and the campsite is at a quiet and comfortable distance from the main road.  The campsite is also home to a very pleasing little restaurant, the Bog Cotton Cafe. Light, airy, of rustic construction, and carrying items by local crafters in their gift shop, this place immediately struck me as one that would be right at home in British Columbia, it had that kind of atmosphere.  The food is also good and the service is very friendly.

River views from walks along the main road
As soon as the tent was pitched and lunch was had, I set out walking to familiarize myself with this place and also with the location of the trailhead for the Affric-Kintail Way, as that long walk would be begun upon leaving here.  Walks around this community immediately put you at a slower, more relaxed pace, as that is the rhythm here.  The river tumbles along its stony course through the middle of the valley, forests line lush green meadows, and on this day the sunlight sparkled.   Soft rosy red is a dominant and signature color here - you'll see it in the bark of the Caledonian pines, in the fur of the pine marten and red deer, and in the plumage of crossbills and bullfinches.

I took an extra day here, just to take in the nature and the serenity. It truly is beautiful.  On the night before my long walk though, I hiked out to The Slaters Arms for a large protein-heavy meal and a pint. A spaniel welcoming crew are waiting at the door here to greet you upon your arrival, and the establishment has a wonderful and very traditional atmosphere. This was the first time I ever experienced mutton stew, which was just sublime. I would happily return here again, if given the chance.

Primary school in Cannich
Glen Affric has a wealth of nature and beauty to take in, and is the ancestral home of Clan Chisholm.  Glen Affric and all its splendid walks, is also an easy drive from Cannich.  I would recommend this quiet little community as a base, if one wishes to take day-trips into the glen to explore.  I certainly enjoyed my restful stay here.

I love the letterboxes to be found throughout
the rural highlands!

Our Lady Catholic church in Cannich

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Scotland Snippets - Morvich

White sheep grazing happily on steep green hillsides, purple foxglove with backdrop of dry stone walls, quaint cottages with Gaelic names - Tigh na Mara, Tigh an Alt; fishermen with outboards slowly making their way across the sea loch, wait staff at the little restaurant cheerily waving to them as they pass. The scent of peat fires drifting from older cottages in the evening breeze.  Sunlight dancing across the water before settling behind the Isle of Skye for the night, the towering mountains of Kintail standing sentinel over all.  That - is Morvich and vicinity.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Dextral Case for Spiral Stairs

Even when the journey is over, it isn't really over - for one continues to learn.

It's an enormous stack of photos that must be gone through. I am doing so, methodically, painstakingly. They are being grouped by location, by timeline, and by subject.  In so doing, I paired two photos from two different weeks and two different locations.

Descending the stairs of St Rule's Tower in St Andrews, Fife.
A kind university administrative friend in Saint Andrews showed me Saint Rule's Tower at the ruins of the old Saint Andrews Cathedral. A talented musician friend showed me some of the hidden gems in downtown Glasgow, among which was an architectural center known as The Lighthouse.  In both locations I snapped a photo of the whirling pattern of a descending spiral staircase, but it wasn't until now that I noticed that both sets of stairs spin downward in a counter-clockwise fashion. And I began to wonder why. Do all spiral stairs run in this direction?

Add caption
After some very interesting online dialog on the matter with friends and a bit of Google research, the facts and reasons began to reveal themselves. Once known, it was rather obvious. Most spiral stairs in the UK do this, and the practice has its roots in medieval history.  Castles, towers and other such buildings were defended from the top down. Having a spiral staircase that descends in a counter-clockwise fashion makes it easier for the owner to ward off invaders, as his right hand is not obstructed and he may freely swing his sword.  The invaders who climb these stairs are doing so clockwise, so it is more difficult for them to fight. Most people are right-handed, so this is why this construction is effective.

There are notable exceptions to this, though. There are a few castles whose owners were left-handed, and so theirs were built with left-handed stairs so they may more easily defend their castle.  Ferniehurst, owned by Clan Kerr, and Bolton Castle in Yorkshire are two examples of such. There are stories that Clan Kerr trained their swordsmen to fight left-handed, so that they would have an advantage in attacking castles and ascending the more commonly built right-handed stairs.

So how are such spiral staircases built here in America? Did architecture continue this medieval practice, or does the direction of the staircase rely completely on aesthetics and design?  I don't have the answer to this, but one thing's for certain - next time I find myself in a large building, I'll opt to take the stairs!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sights and Sounds of Saint Giles Cathedral

Although I don't want to be too wordy with today's post, I would like to give acknowledgement to the wonderful array of portable technology and connectivity that we have at our beck and call these days, and all the doors that are open because of it.

Imagine being in Edinburgh, and mentioning on social media that you wish to head out and visit Saint Giles Cathedral as you've not yet seen it, and then hearing back from a talented musician that he just happens to be performing in that cathedral within the hour. That's an opportunity that you would likely have missed otherwise, or an opportunity that would not have existed at all just ten years ago.

Now imagine you're also going to that cathedral with a head full of fresh knowledge, because a mason friend from Canada, who recently visited Edinburgh, mentioned on his social media page the presence of something you'd not heard of before - mason's marks - and he posted a photo of one. Intrigued, you did a fair bit of research into these and determined to find some when you get to the cathedral. You successfully find a few, because the kind volunteer there put you on the right track when you asked about them.

Your visit just became that much richer with this wonderful tapestry of knowledge and experience that you probably would have completely missed otherwise.  I would not have known anything about mason's marks, let alone having looked for them on the cathedral's central pillars. I would not have heard the haunting duet between stone and instrument when Tom Oakes gave such a spellbinding performance inside that grand building.  They were experiences and knowledge that could be readily collected and brought home to be shared with others.  It is an amazing time we live in.

No more words. Let me show you a few snapshots from this magnificent cathedral.

Until Monday -- all the best!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Back from the Show!

Amidst the hustle and chaotic flurry of activity that defines prep and setup at a major art show, that Thursday post proved to be irretrievably elusive.  It's Monday now, and post-show decompression is well underway.

"Luminous" - inspired by
the swans of Edinburgh
The Fred Oldfield "Celebration of Western Art" is always a blast, and always feels like a big happy family reunion. I would not ever want to miss it, no matter how small my inventory.

And my inventory was quite small!  With two summer months away in Scotland and all the months of work and preparation leading up to that, my booth was only left with a handful of art.  For this show, I determined instead to focus on networking and promoting the upcoming book. I wanted to see how the response would be.  Interest was great!  I set up a display table in my space with maps, books, and remnants from the trip. My booth stayed busy, with folks eager to hear how everything went with the trip, and thumbing through the sketchbook I used on the journey. 

I'm more excited than ever to see this book to realization. This winter is going to be very busy indeed!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hello, Scotland! I've Missed You!

It is difficult to convey in words the joy in one's return to a place that has so captivated one's heart.  I first set foot in Scotland six years ago. That was my first trip overseas in a very long time, and done completely solo. Here it was, July 2015 and I was back again, committed to a two-month journey with only my backpack, my tent and camping gear, kind friends throughout the country, and a determination to slow down and completely immerse myself in this magnificent country and its culture. My first stop, as it is for many, was Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is an unusual place, unlike any other in all of Scotland.  The city in its 'Old Town' section was
built up within the confines of Flodden's Wall out of matters of security following a devastating defeat at the hands of the English army centuries ago. The resulting growth within those parameters left  Edinburgh nowhere to go but up, which lead to a fascinating evolution in architecture - towering ornate sandstone edifices standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, and so many quirky little closes and wynds burrowing between them, each with its own unique personality.

Tourists tend to follow the Royal Mile and not give these little offshoots a glance, but in so doing
they miss a fascinating feature of the town.  One can duck into any number of these, escape the humming noise and bustle of modern tourism, and slip into a pocket where time seems to jump back a century or three.  I found the masonry all by itself compelling, and the quiet solitude a welcome relief.  There is so much history to explore here, one is hard pressed to even begin to fathom its depths.

The first two days were spent just adjusting to the time zone and reacquainting myself with this magnificent town.  Shoving jetlag aside, I explored as much as I could in the time I had before I was to head north.  Everywhere you look, there is more to see, and there are museums built around every aspect of this town.  I visited a few of them during my second visit into town, with the guidance of a kind friend who was born, raised, and still lives here.

Bear with me, I am a day late in getting this up as I am simultaneously prepping for an art show, but I'll show you a little bit more of Auld Reekie on Thursday - with some of Edinburgh's trad music too.

Until next post, all the best!