Skye Journal

Bit out of date and a bit incomplete! But here it is

Skye Journal August 2011

Flight was a bit iffy in places but, on the whole was OK. There were a few moments when I wasn’t keen, but managed to avoid grabbing the knee of the person next to me. Just as well, as she had a bad knee it turns out!

Getting into the hire car and driving off was so liberating. I had made it on a plane on my own, had hired a car, got in it and was driving to my beloved Skye. Fabulous.

Obviously the scenery was fantastic – as ever and as always with Scotland. There was rain in places and scalding sunshine in others. The drive was fine – if slow because of the roads (a lot of single track ones – particularly as you get further from the cities) and I stopped on route to take several pictures.

I stopped just as I got onto the Isle of Skye and was passed by Claire just as I was getting into the car. 500+ miles apart and we get there at the same time!

Not much doing in the evening apart from unpacking and the weather turned proper and rained. A lot. I then proceeded to have a migraine and that wrote me off for some of Sunday too.

Mind you, Sunday was a rather dingy day anyway: lots of rain and wind. So we went into Broadford and got food in for the week, had a mooch around (well, we would have done if anything was still open) and came back to the cottage. Claire and Jo went out for a walk down to the local beach and I got my head down to feel better. They came back having seen seals and dolphins!! But all I had seen was zzzzz’s.

Monday was a better day for me personally, but the weather was terrible. We had planned to go to Elgol, but it was so windy that we thought the better of it. Elgol is not really too far away, but the problem is not the distance but the fact that many of the roads are very narrow single track and often on the edge of the loch sides and headlands. We didn’t want to chance being blown off, so decided to go back into Broadford. Here we bought loads of fleece and went back to the cottage to start felting.

On the way back we stopped to take more pictures of the reedy loch. Walking back to the car, we picked up lots of bits of ‘found’ wool that Jo has cleaned and is trying to dye with natural substances. We were unable to get a yellow at the ‘Hand spinner having fun’ so she has made her own with turmeric – and boy, it’s a fabulous yellow. Might have to have a go at that myself when I get back – not sure how it fixes – or even if it would need fixing for a felted piece, but the colour is vibrant without having to be luminous.

I also had a go at HDR photography. Still not sure what I should be doing and it is hard to see that you are adjusting pictures correctly when you are on a laptop, but I am getting happier with the results. What I do know is that I should be taking bracketed images – at the correct exposure and one up and down (at least) to ensure you capture the complete histogram of the viewfinder, which most cameras can’t do. I am doing that and will have a bank of images when I get home of triples which Photoshop can stitch together. The odd one I have done, I have played about with in the way I would normally and am quite liking the results. But in reality I probably need to look at the software I am using and use a better screen – so I am not tinkering with it all too much here.

Last night I had a go at doing some sketching and drawing on fabric – with some results I am really pleased with. I did a small felted piece – but I am not at all keen on it (apart from a textural point of view) – of seaweed. I have called it my murkin!

Tuesday Claire and Jo started their otter course and went off for the day. I decided to go to Elgol, because whether the weather was good or not, I knew that there were photographic studies of rocks and lichen that I wanted to get regardless of the weather. As it turns out it didn’t rain on me and was sunny at times. I walked to the honeycomb cliffs, taking photos on the way, and sat under them to sketch.

I got quite into the sketching. I started off doing a vista before I got a hook on something. Then I did a markmaking piece before moving onto a proper study of the honey combs – which I have to darken and finish properly tonight.

I stopped off at a photography exhibition on the way back to the cottage. Donnie Mackay ( obviously does HDR photography as it impossible to get the range he does in each pic from the one exposure. I bought some of his cards and went away with a new vigour about it. Stopping off for a latte at the Cullins View, at little side roads to see where they went and taking photos and looking with my bins as I went. Got back just before 4 (having left at 10) and zonked out.

Wednesday was a hideous day weather-wise so I decided not to go out. I spent the day watching crap telly (a guilty pleasure) and decided to make all day. I haven’t exactly made a lot… but I did spend a lot of time carding the fleece I bought from the ‘Handspinner having fun’ in Broadford. I bought a load of fleece as it is long curls in lots of lovely natural colours (lacking in yellow) that is slightly variegated in colour that is so much more interesting than flat colour when it is carded. I’m not at all keen on felting with it when it is still in its curly state. Although my friends all love it in this state –I don’t somehow.

I then decided to have a little go at felting some small squares. I chose to do a standard beach, surf, sea scenario because I had some of those colours and on that day I had seen the sea in that state. I didn’t want to do something representational on this occasion so I did blocks and strips of colours. This meant that I really needed to have sharp crisp edges to the sides of the piece rather than the standard natural state I would usually do. I also wanted to have really crisp(ish) edges to the colours – rather than the blending I would usually do. I did do a bit of blending in the large sky area. When I showed my friends they turned it on its side and said it looked really good that way. I would tend to agree – it takes it away from its literal representation and turns it on its head (well side really). I would probably send this out as one of the pieces of my Breaking the Boundaries. I then tried to make another that (after reading my colour books) was the complementary version of the colours I had used in the original one. This means it was red and black and purple. Not colours that turn me on – but maybe that is another boundary broken!

I find the whole colour thing a bit difficult – Emma wants me to pick some colours that become known as ‘my colour’, but Angela thinks that my work is very predictable and has no ‘edge’ to it – that I pick colours that are traditional landscape colours that they would expect me to do. I don’t know how to progress. My colours would be blue with browns and ochres – but then there is no edge to this… I dunno. Angela said that an edge might come through full exploration of my materials, so I am hoping that adding more texture etc. would be really good.

I have found some lovely lichen and the way that rock structures form with cracks etc. that I think might work really well with ruched fabric and felted items that are raw and puffy in one part and very tightly bedded down in cracks and crevices. These might be quite interesting and something a bit more interesting.

Think I might be really interested in dyeing my own natural fleece with natural dyes when I get home. Or even fabric or painting with them. I would like to try painting with turmeric and then ruching the fabric to make sculptural pieces of lichen. Or taking thinly pieces of felt and ruching those.

As for the breaking the boundaries project – I was telling Shelly about my plans in the car on the way back from collecting her from the airport. She was wondering about photographing the pieces and emailing them to everyone I know and getting them to pass them on. This means I would have a much larger audience as well as it being much more instant. We also thought it would be a good idea to send the actual pieces too and see what difference there was in the responses I would get from people seeing the actual pieces as well as them in virtual reality. This also meant that I could still canvas opinion from people even if the first recipients decided to keep the pieces.

(Bra cup or sieve for a moulded form)

So far the questions I have been thinking of run along the line of what memory the piece might evoke for the audience.

  • Does this remind you of anything?
  • What does this make you think of?
  • If you had to name this piece, what would you call it?
  • Where would you hang this piece?
  • What else could/would you do with it?

Thursday was a much better day weather wise and so I decided that I would at least drive up to Portree and if the weather stayed reasonable (this year that means just not raining – whereas last year we had fabulous sunshine all the 2 weeks bar a couple of days) I would go up to the Quiraing.

The Quiraingis a marvellous geological feast of rocks. It is a crazy drive to get up there and very windswept once you do – but well worth the effort. The grass covered cliffs have bizarre shapes and ridges carved into them as well as there being all the resistant rocks that have remained to give the ‘otherworld-ly’ feel.

I had a great day just stopping off and taking photos of the scenery along the way. I bought a neutral density filter in Portree before I set off and this has actually proved to be quite successful at keeping the highlights from blowing all my shots and keeping the histogram within the physical range of my camera. This was certainly very advantageous for taking photos of skies as well as the mountains at the bottom. I have also taken a fair few with an HDR range – which despite not having read the book fully and having a poorer screen here to work with – I am getting some results (just by experimenting) that I am reasonably happy with. They certainly capture the colours much, much better than I could with just the one shot.

I went to Portree and took some photos there and once I started going up the coast it was near impossible not to take photos every mile or so. Stopping at Kilt Rock the new filter gave me a really excellent result. The rock colours looked great. I then went up further on the coast and stopping where a piece of scenery caught my eye and then on up to the Quirang. There were lots of crazy European drivers around that have not been polite or understood the etiquette of passing places and narrow roads and the car in front of me basically barged the car coming in the other direction off the road and into a ditch. All in a very slow creeping fashion rather than at a fast pace. However, the instigator then drove off and left the other car beached on the verge and me trying to help them out. We couldn’t push it out of the ditch, but luckily a local came along and said they would drive on to get help for them and by the time I came back down, they were gone. So all must have been well!

I found Staffin beach in the end too. Finally. It was at least well sign posted this year. No sign of fossils, but quite a nice dramatic view of the coast from a little river that flows into the sea that I could wade into. Very nice. I drove back to Broadford via the road labelled ‘scenic route’. Not to be recommended. It had very pretty views, but unfortunately the road was really rough with few passing places (i.e. none). I took a few photos of Rasaay though.

Friday was the day to collect Shelly from the airport. I carded quite a lot in the morning and went off at lunchtime to head towards Inverness, allowing extra time to be able to stop off to take photos on the way. I stopped off at Eilean Donan castle to take the odd photo. But generally there wasn’t too much to take photos of as Loch Ness has not much going on along it – nor many places to see any of these things from. I tried to stop off at Urquhart castle, but there were loads people in the car park there (weather rubbish this year and people everywhere, great last year and no people…) so I couldn’t even stop as there were no parking places left. So in the end I drove straight out of the car park and went on to Inverness.

The city itself was hideously chocka and I was a bit late for Shelly – but not too bad. We stopped off for a coffee and cake before setting back off to Torrin. It started raining as we were leaving Inverness and it was then that we passed a young couple of hitch-hikers who wanted to go to Loch Ness. So I fulfilled Shelly’s long held desire of picking them up. Once they found out we were going to Skye, they decided to come all the way to the island with us as they were going to go there the next day anyway. And it was raining and there isn’t too much to see of Loch Ness except from a car! Which was fine. They were lovely – Florian and Christine, from Aachen near Cologne in Germany. She was a Theatre and art student and he was a theatre technician. They spoke much better English than we did german, but sadly smelt of wet dog. Mostly because they were wild camping and were wet… Still we took them all the way to Broadford – stopping off at Eileen Donan to take photos in the twilight and because the scenery was lovely despite the heavy rain. Of course it was heaving it down once they had got to Broadford and when we got up this morning, it was all misty. But hopefully that is clearing away and they will get to see some of the beauty of the island now.

This week for me is a bit more of a holiday week than a ‘work’ week. Though it feels like I haven’t done enough work, maybe it is because I have done a lot of preparation and I am able to get on and make next week? Let’s hope so!

Saturday was a really, really yukky day. It rained and rained all day and there was a rather strong wind about.

This meant that we didn’t really want to do anything much and were spending our time felting (well the others were – I was trying to be disciplined and not do any or much while I was here in order to force me to do the other things I have. However, going out, processing photos and writing this has meant I have had little time to do so). So we did a bit of making and then went out to the local junk shop where we had found some interesting items the year before.

When there I found a couple of tiny Japanese bowls that I really liked, a photo of the Quirang – a modern one by a local photographer – and then I found the materials section. There wasn’t any material that you wouldn’t want to sell on – nothing faded or knackered as Angela suggested I look for. But I did find some nicely stitched appliqué (teeny tiny stitches) and some wisteria decorated placemats. I tried taking extreme close ups of these, but my camera wasn’t really too up to the job. On the whole it has been really good at close-ups, but this was a step too far. Even my zoom lens was having none of it. I might have to invest in a macro lens or something if I want to continue to close-up abstracts of things – which I would be really interested in doing.

The lady also said that she sold blankets (holy grail…) that a local artist buys to cut up, dye and make rugs from. Hurrah! At last! I said I would love one – a cream one – and that I would cut it up myself. Her lovely husband then came back with one he was using to cover furniture and said I could have it – it is burned in places, but since I am going to cut this up, I really don’t see that this is an issue. I gave it a wash when we got back to the cottage in preparation for when I get home! What I would really like to do is cut it up and dye it with turmeric and create small sculptural pieces of the lichen that I saw on the rocks in Elgol. I have subsequently seen some different lichen which would also be great to make items from in this way. The lady in the shop also said that a lot of local people like to make their own dyes and that she used to have an electronic book about dyeing with natural items from Skye. But didn’t know where it was – so I will have to look this up when I get home! I would quite like to be able to paint with natural dyes perhaps. Claire said that she can buy cream blankets at the Army Surplus store in Nottingham for £2-3 each – so I must see if the one in Cambridge does the same or if I can get them online. I can then put them on a hot wash and they will felt themselves and be a great base for working off.

Sunday was a much nicer day and was sunshine for the whole day. It was also Jo’s last day – so we allowed her to choose the day’s activities. She is about to start an MA in Museum Studies. So we went to the Museum of the Isles in the Clan MacDonald estate to see the exhibition there and a temporary one about the History of Skye in 50 objects. This interested all of us more than the permanent exhib.

The permanent exhibition is really professionally done and really informative – but some of the additional things were quite poor! There was a great slice of a tree that sits in front of the entrance that gives you a timeline of British and Isle history and how they slotted into each other. This was presented in small pieces of laminated text – but these were poorly presented: both in terms of a comprehensible timeline and the wording on the tags. For example, the Titanic one said there was the loss of 1, and then on the next one 500 lives – so it read in a comical way – which was rather inappropriate!

The 50 objects was a great little exhibition – but had low production values. It didn’t really matter as it was a free add-on, and the Island is pretty low-key, but in comparison with the slick one we had just left it looked a poor relative. However, the quality of the descriptions and history of the items was long, excellent and very interesting. I was itching to get my hands on their display panels (laserjet pages mounted on coloured paper/card) to make them look better. It is amazing how good you can make things look, even if they are printed locally – lamination would have really helped too!

Back out in the grounds we had a lovely walk around the gardens and saw some great lichen on trees, different bark varieties and lovely water lilies. I took lots of photos and brought back some object trouve of lichen and degenerated wood for later studies.

We then drove round to Armadale pier and did a bit of geocaching (Shelly’s new thing) and found a couple of those. I looked at the water and rocks and took some studies of them. We also then walked up a farm track to the otter/seal hide to get another cache and to do a bit of watching. The light was gorgeous on the rock colours. Sadly some of my photos were blurred (it was so windy it was really hard to hold the camera still) but I got enough of the rock colours and the cloud formations were so varied and extensive I have got loads and loads of source material from them. I have really enjoyed getting these images back and tweaking the colours in them – they will be great source material.

Rain only started at about 8.30 that night then – so we thought we would retire to a pub for some grub. Sadly, pubs on Skye are lacking and those that exist stop serving food at 9! Boo.

Monday was the day Jo was leaving, so we had a fairly low-key morning – making or sitting on my laptop downloading MORE photos for me – keeping out of the way while she packed and sorted herself out. It was a very mixed bag of weather, with torrential rain followed by short spells of sun. In the end we walked to the beach at around 3 and took some photos there before heading back for some nice coffee and sandwiches and cakes at the Blue Shed Cafe. Some of the photos I have of the beach remind me so much of Paul Nash’s post-war paintings. He could have used this beach as source material! After processing the images (again – this has been a good thing for taking the pressure off when I get home, but at the same time quite a pressure up here. This doesn’t feel like a holiday, but more like a field trip. I don’t feel rested, I feel exhausted – but at least feel I can justify the time and money spent to be here) I only had the creative energy to card more fluff.

Today is another mixed bag of weather. It is now very still outside (whereas it was extremely windy the last few days) but is again raining. I think my object trouve will serve to make excellent indoor drawing models!


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