Art, Skye and The Outer Hebrides

If you are looking for a place where you can relax in the sun with a glass of chilled white wine in hand then sadly, I cannot recommend you follow in our footsteps.
However, if horizontal wind and rain, interspersed with sun, amazing scenery, some glorious sunsets, and a dram of whisky are your thing, onwards to Skye and the Outer Hebrides. We were touring during September in our campervan.

Initially we were taken aback by the sheer number of tourists on Skye. Minivans were disgorging groups of camera clicking eager beavers. But then, we reflected, we were also tourists and with our own transport could get off the beaten path.

Basing our tour on the Art Skye Creative Trail booklet we met some great creative characters.

Taking as their inspiration the wonderful landscape and life around them, ceramics, traditional painting, multimedia, textiles, photography and sculpture were all used.
We could never truly anticipate what we would find.

Donald Mackenzie at the Blue Studio by the coast, paints his immediate wild surroundings, the sea, the mountains, and populates them with contemporary figures dancing, horse riding, pushing supermarket trolleys, holding onto their hats in the wind. His other love, music, features in many pieces. We talked about life and art off the beaten track.
I asked him was it ok to use the word quirky to describe his art and he said it was just fine

We came away with a woodcut ‘Skye Shopper” trolley pusher.

Sheep on Skye are all over the place -often on the road. At Skye Weavers they could tell us about the individual sheep farms where they source their wool. They have made their own warp mill, weave and sew their own products where colours are inspired by local nature.

All visitors were encouraged to have a go on the amazing pedal powered weaving loom. As you pedal the shuttle shoots back and forth. We pedalled away while hearing about the wool, the history of the loom etc. We had fun while the weaver rested his weary legs.

It was impossible to resist a Hebridean blanket. Fantastic for the chilly nights in the camper, it came indoors and lived on the sofa for the winter evenings.

John Bathgate’s Dunstudio was all homage to Skye and collage. I love multimedia and layered pieces. We talked paper and John’s enthusiasm for different types of paper was infectious. It was so hard not to start picking through his wonderful pile of accumulated offcuts!
Acrylic paintings are another form of expression for John. Like the collages they interpret the landscape in glowing vivid colours. At the time of our visit many were of waterfalls, a current interest.

We came away clutching greetings cards featuring those colourful landscapes..

If you go to any gift shop in Scotland you will probably see some of Cath Waters art. Cath travels around Scotland in her campervan (yay!) photographing the landscape. Back in the studio she uses a computer to blend the landscape photography with sections of additional photographs of anything from paper to natural close ups to add texture, colour and depth. So, she is also using layering and collage, but it is all digital. I was fascinated and since then have expanded my use of the iPad to plan the layers of my resin pieces.

She uses a palette of soft Scottish colours to great effect. It was so interesting to meet her in her studio, making a real commercial success of her business, employing several people in her separate workshop with her art on everything from cushions to jewelry.

We’ve enjoyed using our mugs featuring the Scottish landscape.

We visited other artists along the way with an inspiring array of traditional and contemporary art and felt it had been a good way to direct ourselves around Skye.

Then it was off on the ferry to North Uist where it was so windy, when we hung our towels on the campsite line, they flew horizontally. My hair whipped around and I couldn’t see where I was going.
A hand knitted Hebridean hat was what I needed.

With my hair tucked away I could enjoy the amazing scenery. While Skye had been surprisingly busy with tourists, the Uists and Barra were quieter and wilder.

The beaches were a revelation – miles of soft white sand in curving bays with clear water. When the sun shone and we could tuck ourselves away out of the wind, we could just contemplate the sheer beauty of it all.

If water, mountains, open spaces and the colours of nature inspire you, and the wonderful play of light during changeable weather, then bring your sketchbook and camera.

The grasslands of the Uists is Machair, renowned for the wildflowers and resulting insect and birdlife. It is the subject of conservation efforts to preserve the associated wildlife. The crofters are encouraged to use old traditional methods of harvest, resulting in some great photo opportunities imagining what Monet would have done with the haystacks if he’d had a digital camera. I had fun with the apps.

As we traveled through North and then South Uist and then onto Barra we could observe how people had adapted to this treeless, watery, mountainous land. Although still digging peat for fuel and farming traditionally, the people work alongside internet businesses and supermarkets stocking everything we needed.

I’m not an oil painter but I took some water-soluble oils with me and attempted some landscapes –not with great results but it’s made me want to do some more. I’ve got hundreds of photos, sketches and a host of memories to inspire me –not to forget our woodcut, blanket, mugs, cards and hat! …. Oh, and those wonderful sheepskin slippers which kept my feet cosy all winter.

Michele Summers