“whatever you put down on paper you can always improve on and sometimes it’s knowing when to stop”
Watercolour artist living in the Scotish Borders
Interview by Clara Godwin-Suttie
Who is your muse?
The three main artists who set my blood racing are John Blockley, because of the way he pushed out the boundaries of watercolour, Michael Morgan, for the same reason but a different style and Norman Ackroyd because he makes the gloomy look acceptable. I admire a lot of artists, but because watercolour is my passion that kind of narrows me down a bit. I like a lot of mixed media art,
but for me to actually want to come out and produce work it’s got to be water colour or water-based media.
What do you find most challenging about being an artist?
Never achieving your own expectations. Most artists that I’m aware of are quite self-critical: whatever you put down on paper you can always improve on and sometimes it’s knowing when to stop. I suspect with watercolour that’s easier because it’s a finite medium unlike oil or acrylics, but I think it just is one of those things where you don’t stand back and look at your work and think, wow, that’s fabulous.
Other people might do that for you but it somehow doesn’t happen for me. Would you like me to give you a famous quote from an artist whose name I can’t remember? It was a French artist and he did massive paintings and one was called The Raft of Medusa. Anyway, on his deathbed he was quoted as saying “If only I could have painted one good painting” that, to me, strikes a chord. Don’t attribute that to me! Any maker, I imagine, would struggle a little bit and some of it is about putting yourself out there to the public, because the public can be excellent or they can be quite critical.
Where do you go to feel inspired
The north of Scotland, the outer Hebrides, the Orkneys, north-west Sutherland, Cape Wrath, any-where wild and open and massive. I love the Flow Country, people drive past it and think it’s just a flat expanse of land but it’s so interesting it’s unbelievable. In my view, that is. It’s one of the biggest peat bogs there is and they’re doing a lot of research on it at the moment because of carbon emissions and the environment.
‘When did you last feel proud of your work?
(Laughs) Um, I’m not sure that’s a feeling – sometimes I feel pleased with it, and then someone comes along and this isn’t meant to sound shallow, and says “oh, i’d like to buy that!, then I think, oh, my word, must be alright then! So it’s not actually about the money for the sale or the production line, it’s the fact that somebody likes it enough to have it on their wall at home. I like some of my work, don’t get me wrong. I come out here to the studio and I play around with watercolours and I have a great time and sometimes I think “that’s not bad!. I think ‘proud’ is a fairly big word, isn’t it?
“What I do when I come out here is I give myself permission to play.”
‘Why do you paint so many puffins?
I don’t know! I!ve done some puffins recently because where I live had its first pair of puffins nesting here a year or so ago, so it became of interest. When I lived down the coast at Seahouses in Northumberland the Farne Islands are covered in puffins. I wouldn’t say they are my most favourite bird but they are very colourful and people love them. I’d say – that I’m more um attracted to birds like shags and cormorants they’re similar looking but different birds, sea birds. I like corvids, like ravens and rooks and magpies too. But I don’t know that puffins are my particular favourite, but, ah, they’re a lovely bird, certainly. People love them, don’t they?
I went for a walk on the Isle of Staffa when I visited Fingal’s Cave. It inspired Mendelssohn? He wrote a piece of work called “Fingal’s Cave! because he was so inspired by those rocks. They’re called basalt columns and they’re the same as the ones on Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The walk I had out there the puffins will actually came out of their burrows at my feet, they see that because you’re there they know that you’re friendly, and you’re also keeping one of their predators away.
Do you have any advice for other artists?
What I do when I come out here is I give myself permission to play. I’m not after the end result, I just enjoy what I’m doing. And I think a lot of people are focused on whether they think the work’s good or bad and they will always be their worst critic, but if you give yourself permission to play, even if you say “oh, I can’t draw” everybody can draw, everybody can make marks on paper, it’s how you see it and how critical you are and giving yourself permission for it to be ok. Enjoy it. Does that make sense?
I think the first time on retirement that I saw I had a style – and I don’t remember where I got the confidence to do it – I hired a stall at the Borders Art Fair and I hung my work up and I put it up there and thought oh, it does sort of hang together, like i’ve got a sort of style and until that point I didn’t realise I had. I just do individual bits and bobs and enjoy myself, really.