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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Coral Beach

Skye is a walkers paradise and when I decided to move here I promised myself to try to get out exploring at least every other day. I hadn’t got much of a chance in my first couple of days, then when I found myself with a little more time the wind and the rain had set in.
However, I’ve quickly learned that the weather here is unpredictable (if I waited for sunshine I might be waiting all day/week/month) so I put on my wellies and set off to a place that I like so much I probably wouldn’t even notice the drizzle.

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Woolworths

On my way out of Portree I stumbled upon some kind of sheep sale. I pulled up to investigate.
Turns out that someone with blonde Heidi plaits and a sparkly turqoise jumper stands out a bit at a livestock sale. I thrust my hands in my pockets and sauntered around trying to look casual but I doubt I was fooling anyone. Inconspicuous I was not.
So I didn’t stay for too long, which was good because there was a pen of really small, cute little sheep that I’d happily have taken home. Ten more minutes and I may have gone home with thirty-odd new pets.

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Sheepless, I was on my way to Coral Beach in Claigan, North of Dunvegan. I’d visited here on my first trip to Skye last year and had been entranced by the white sand studded with black rocks.

The sand is actually made from something called maerl which is a coralline red algae (basically a seaweed which has a hard body like a coral). It’s a creamy white colour like Carribean sand but it’s much coarser and it’s full of shells because maerl beds are fantastically nurturing little ecosystems.

Sand at Coral Beach

Sand at Coral Beach

As you can imagine, it’s a treasure trove for someone who loves shells and other natural artefacts. On this trip it wasn’t long before my pockets were rattling with lots of tiny mother-of-pearl snail shells.

I was talking to friends recently about bad habits in people who are passionate about conservation. One of my friends, a vegan, admitted he uses too many plastic bags. One of my bad habits is shell collecting, something which seems harmless enough but the removal of shells by hundreds of people collectively can make a substantial impact on wildlife habitats (homeless hermit crabs, for instance).

My other bad habit, in case you were wondering, is using glitter with abandon. It’s well recognised as a troublesome microplastic within the marine conservation community but I hope that I do enough other good deeds to offset a little sparkle now and again…

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

I’m not sure what to do with my haul yet. When I lived in Spain over the summer I made a shell crown with the ones I found there (many of you will recognise it from my Facebook/Twitter avatars). Maybe I’ll make a British or a Skye version. The lustre of the white shells against the indigo of a mussel shell could look quite striking…

Colourful sands and seaweeds

Colourful sands and seaweeds

One of the more remarkable things about Skye is that the colours here seem to be pumped up. It’s like everything has been slightly over-saturated by a real-life photo editor. I don’t know whether it’s the light, if it’s just that I’m looking harder, or even if I’m just high on the extra oxygen in the air up here!
The photo above is just some sand and seaweed but the colours struck me as I picked my way through the rocks. Not just the varied shades and colour but also the textures too. I can see why it’s an artist’s paradise up here.

Swirling sea grass

Swirling sea grass, mesmerising in the lapping of the waves

One of the most beautiful things about coral beach is that there’s so much to look at here. There are birds to listen to, rockpools to peer into, seaweed to pick through…
So many tiny things that you only notice if you take the time to look.

NOTE: I hope that no-one will mind me going a bit soppy with some tinpot philosophising here… The thing is that our experiences are so intertwined with our feelings at the time that it doesn’t make sense to just write factual points and leave out everything else.

I realised as I was picking my way through the debris of the high tide line that I was smiling to myself (I naturally settle into a frown so this isn’t a common thing). I couldn’t be happier. Just wandering about, finding things, having time to breathe in the fresh air.
This isn’t exactly an unconscious thing. Over the last few years I’ve taught myself to start noticing little things and to find joy from them. I think it started after the break-up of a long-term relationship where I had the chance to find my own character and interests again.
I’ve learnt to find joy especially in things that occur naturally (which is probably tied in to why I’m so ferociously protective over the environment). It’s almost like trying to go back to a childlike state where you find awe and wonder in all these new things. It might be natural like an iridescent beetle landing on your hand or it might be people-related, like sharing a hello with the old lady in the post office, that kind of stuff.
But it’s an incredible thing because when you start getting enjoyment from the small things in life it increases the amount of happiness you experience every day. That’s pretty incredible. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Water above and below

Water above and below. Rubbish weather in beautiful colours

Unfortunately all the internal sunshine in the world can’t affect the real weather and all of a sudden the wind picked up and the skies got dark. Time to head home.

A faceful of wind and rain!

A wind and rain selfie!

Again with the colours!
As I passed the pebble beach I couldn’t help but take a snap of the stripes made by the red seaweed against the black rock and the blue sea against the tweedy-coloured shoreline.

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

It wasn’t a long walk back to the car, maybe about 20 mins, but by the time I got there I might have well been swimming. I’d forgotten that when Skye does rain it REALLY does rain, like one of those rainforest showers.

When I reached the car park I had to literally squeeze the water off my legs and empty my wellies. A Chinese family in the people carrier next to me gave me apologetic smiles as they watched me flailing around ineffectively. Eventually I gave up trying to get drier and slopped into the car. I made the sound that wet washing does if you drop it when getting it out to dry. I didn’t care, I was still smiling.

You had one job, wellies!

You had one job, wellies!