The Heather Woman

We never expected to be as busy as we were in Eden. Who knew that boiling a kettle could take over an hour?

Still, amidst the wood chopping, goat milking and porridge stirring I managed to get a little bit of time to be creative.

The Rabbit Hole (my little no-trees-harmed-in-the-making-of Hobbit home) was my proudest ‘artwork’; I put my heart and soul into making it a magical little sanctuary.
(I’ll write more about this once the show is over)
I also created a number of sculptures working with the landscape, my favourite of which was ‘The Heather Woman’.

With one episode still to be shown, I doubt the heather woman will be seen on our screens.
Unfortunately, I also don’t have any photographs of her in her full amethyst glory (I’m hoping to pester the production team for one once the programme is over). However, I do have a picture taken by a lovely local lass, Kate Maclean from April 2017, just after the project had finished.

The heather woman (Kate Maclean)

The Heather Woman in April 2017 as her heather blows away and she begins to return to the earth (photo taken by  @thebirdwentsplat on Instagram)

The Heather Woman was a 7ft sculpture made of old found materials from the beach and heather in full bloom.
She stood at the peak of the tallest sand dune on our beach and looked out to sea towards the Isle of Skye, shielding her eyes with a hand.

She took about a week to make, from digging rusty fencing wire out of the sand to collecting buckets of heather sprigs.
Working in the rain was cold and miserable but, on bright days, the top of that dune was the most beautiful ‘studio’ in the world.

The idea was that she originated from the landscape. She would begin in regal purple, shift to blazing orange and then turn silvery and disintegrate as time and weather took their toll.
The materials would collapse and return to the ground, like the people who have lived on the landscape in the past.

She looked out to sea as we often did during our time in Eden but I wanted her to be timeless. She could have been the wife of a fisherman, waiting for her man to return with the herring, or maybe a strong and sturdy croftess about to be displaced from her home and taking one last look.
Like the people who lived in this area before us, and their memories, she would fade back into the landscape that nourished her.

And why did she face towards the Isle of Skye of all places?
Well, that was part of me, looking home.

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She gazes out to sea… (Photo by timetravelcostumes.com)

We took a lot from the landscape, especially in terms of wood for fires and building. Making beautiful things out of natural materials felt important; leaving lovely things rather than just taking and using.
She was still there after we left and I was told in the local pub that a couple of people would maintain her when they could, if she bent in the wind or suchlike.

When I said goodbye to Eden I visited the Heather Woman one last time. I noticed spiders spinning webs between her limbs and beetles tiptoeing along the sprigs of heather. Tiny things, but perfect.
I hope that, however troubled things were, we left a little beauty behind somewhere.

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What is it that you actually do?

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Me in my Skye studio (Photograph by the insanely talented Anthony Lycett)

For all my posts about my days on Skye and the things I enjoy doing, I realise that I never talk about my day job as an artist.

This evening I was posting some photos of my most recent work to my Facebook page (Katie Tunn Fine Art) and I found myself writing more about the background to the pieces than I usually do, like a kind of mini blog.
Since these new paintings are Skye-inspired I thought I’d share what I wrote…

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Inspired by the ocean and the sky


(From Facebook)
‘Back in 2013 I took a month out to explore Scotland. As an ocean-lover and a geology-enthusiast I have always been entranced by the natural beauty of the country.
I had no planned route but as I roamed from place to place I realised I was in pursuit of something… The colour blue.

From the icy teal of the deepest Fairy Pools to the Caribbean turquoise of Coral Beach -I found glimpses of what I was looking for on Skye. It’s part of why I fell in love with this place and perhaps what led me to move here.

I’ve now been here for over a year. Although I’ve been making art the whole time, it’s been mostly my ‘bread and butter’ work, portrait commissions.
I love this type of work but for a long time I’ve been meaning to make some more intuitive art that reflects what I love about this island. I have no idea why but something always stopped me.

It took an impromptu painting session with fellow Skye artist and friend, Marion Boddy-Evans, to inspire me to loosen up and experiment.
Following her words of encouragement I’ve been rapidly turning every blank surface in my studio blue.

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Catching the light

 

These new pieces are all works in progress as I explore different painting techniques to represent the colours of the ocean and the patterns found in minerals and gemstones.
It’s great fun to go back to using high-gloss surfaces, circular canvases and metallic colours, it’s been a while.
It feels like I’m beginning to really find my blue…’

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All my favourite colours

The circular canvases in the somewhat blurry photos above are my favourite pieces so far but it’s been fun to play around with different surfaces and materials too, especially using stuff that I’ve picked up whilst cleaning beaches.
My studio has gradually become a shrine to cerulean; it’s a delight to walk in and be surrounded by splashes of my favourite colour.

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Experimenting with beachcombed finds

As I mentioned above, this is a departure from my everyday artwork which mainly consists of portrait commissions. I specialise in drawings and paintings of people or horses, often with a military or polo theme. Yes, it’s incredibly niche but it’s a good market and one I enjoy working in.

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One of my favourite finished commissions 

There are pros and cons with working to commission…
Pros: It’s guaranteed work and I really enjoy meeting my new subjects.
Cons: It can be painstaking with little room for error or movement. But worse, you never know whether your client will like it or not so there can sometimes be an agonising internal struggle to work out whether you’re really up to the job.

When working on a big commission I often spend most of my time doubting whether I can really paint at all and whether I’m committing some kind of fraud by pretending to do so. It may sound extreme but it’s not an uncommon train of thought. It’s what makes us try to be better artists.

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The latest drawing commission 

It’s the lack of that internal struggle that makes this intuitive, abstract way of working feel more fun and carefree.
As my friend Marion wrote on her blog recently, you have to experiment and accept that you’ll make mistakes. I really owe her one for inspiring me to find that freedom with paint that I was beginning to lose a bit.
I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio and seeing what comes out next…

To see more of my work please visit my Facebook page: Katie Tunn Fine Art

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A doodle of me and ma hoose! (And a wee bit of Gaelic)

I bought a new set of 50 Crayola colouring pencils a couple of weeks ago to work on some illustrations and I haven’t been able to put them down since. New art materials are a bit like sweeties to me and if fancy art pencils are high-end chocolates then Crayola pencils are Pick n’ Mix.

So here’s a little doodle I drew this week of my new home on Skye (and all it’s current inhabitants!)

My wee cottage and me

My wee cottage and me

Since I’m mentioning sweets…

I’ve been trying to learn a bit of the native language whilst I’m up here.
I’m desperately bad at it, there’s something about Gaelic that seems more tricky to pick up than other European languages. Somehow the words wont stick to my brain cells. The ultimate in linguistic Teflon.
It’s quite a gutteral language, very different from French or Spanish, and apparently German visitors find it easier to pick up than the rest of us. It’s a funny one to hear spoken (I find myself stretching to try and hear familiar words) but it’s hauntingly beautiful when sung.

The signage around Skye is a helpful way to learn a few basic pronunciations as the Gaelic place names are usually written in green above the English ones. I love seeing how some of our everyday Anglo words have been integrated into the Gaelic language with terms such as ospadal (hospital) and oifis a’ phuist (post office).

But there’s one Anglo-Gaelic word that I know particularly well because I think it’s quite charming. First spotted in the Co-op in Portree, the sign for the confectionery aisle…
Suiteas.
Perhaps I’m easily pleased but I love that.

Hello Wall Weasel!

Hello Wall Weasel!

Skyeworks Gallery and a little bit of fate…

The decision to move to Skye happened pretty quickly. The idea to move to The Islands had been building up for some time but all of a sudden I experienced a real ‘flight’ feeling. At the same time a few little things fell together that may or may not have been fate.

A vacancy with a marine conservation organisation on Mull first put the spark amongst the tinder (a dream job for a whale lover!). It wasn’t really suitable and the timing wasn’t right but it started a tiny ember (an ember that was fanned by a few friends, that includes you, Ian Rowlands, if you’re reading this!)
I didn’t need a job to bring me up here, I could survive on my wages from painting, but a little part-time position would help me integrate into the community and meet people. It would be pocket money and a way to make friends.

I spent my evenings thinking of all the stunning islands I’d visited on my travels. I called up property agents on Orkney, I dreamt of white beaches on Harris and purple hills on Skye. One night I was wasting time on the internet and I looked down at one of the rings on my right hand. Beside my grandmother’s sparkly ring I wear a little silver band cast from a Scottish heather stem by jeweller Nick Shone. I bought it at the Skyeworks Gallery in Portree and I’ve never taken it off; I’ve worn it to remind me to return to Scotland one day.

Remembering how much I liked the bright little gallery (above an absolutely incredible bakery, The Skye Baking Co) I looked them up online. The first thing that appeared on my screen was an ad asking for help in the gallery. I could do that, it’s something I’m good at.
My ember turned into a flame and that was that, I’d go to Skye.

Liza and Barry, owners of the Skye Baking Co and Skyeworks Gallery

Liza and Barry, owners of the Skyeworks Gallery and The Skye Baking Co.

I remembered the owners of the gallery and bakery from my previous visit. Liza and Barry were incredibly kind when I told them I was interested in food and food writing and had shown me all around their lovely converted woollen mill premises.

Liza was understandably hesitant when I emailed to say I wanted to join them; many people arrive on Skye with unrealistic expectations and dreams of easy living. I imagine a lot of them go straight back when they realise that work and property aren’t as easy to come by here as it is at home.
Somehow I managed to allay her worries and I started on the 1st, the day after I arrived in Portree.

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The Skyeworks natural light gallery

It was quite strange being the New Girl again on my first day, you get quite used to being your own boss when you work from home, but I really enjoyed helping out and learning.
It’s a very different gallery to some of the ones I’ve worked at or managed in the past, the ones with just four £12,000 paintings that never sell. No pretentiousness or snobbery, just lovely stuff made by interesting, local people. I shadowed a lovely lady called Nat (also an artist) and enjoyed spending time with Marion, the gallery’s best selling artist who was holding a painting workshop at the back of the space.
Lunch was provided by the bakery downstairs and I was introduced to a genius invention known as a lunchbread, a bread roll with a filling baked inside. It sounds simple but there must be some kind of magic involved to make them as delicious at they are. Bread sorcery!

By the end of the day I’d met a whole host of new people, gained a ticket to a charity ball, made a shopping list of things I wanted to buy in the gallery and, amazingly, found my next place to live. Not bad for day one.