I have an amateur’s interest in textiles, and do a bit of weaving and handspinning, so I thought I would make contact with the Shetland Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers while I’m here.  Not only did they invite me to their monthly meeting, and ask me to talk about the Sumburgh Head residency, but offered me a lift most of the way there and a fair way back in order to catch the Sumburgh-Lerwick-Sumburgh buses.  Very, very kind; especially as the northward bus disgorged me at 8.15 in the morning.

Giving a talk at such an early stage of the project was a challenge, and made me think hard about what I’ve done or not done (yet).  There isn’t any finished work, and that may not appear until I get into my own studio, but on gathering things together the night before the talk I was pleased to see that there is definitely a beginning.  There are now four “walking” sketchbooks, and a written diary (I don’t normally keep a diary, but it’s invaluable as a record of a residency). The sketchbooks are assembled and dis-assembled as required and held together with paper clips “in the field”.  I am adding to the pages as required, and eventually they should form a coherent record of  activity.  Cobbled together with thread, and given a mini dust jacket, they do look like evidence that Work has been Done.

The ladies of the Shetland Guild gave me a very friendly welcome, listened  with interest, and asked some perceptive questions – and presented me with a copy of their extremely covetable book of Fair Isle patterns.  Trust me – knitting patterns can be really, really interesting.   And their own work?  exquisite traditional and contemporary textiles, and real dedication to the fostering and promotion of traditional skills.  Their Facebook page is at https://en-gb.facebook.com/SGSWD/ , and I am very grateful for their hospitality on a nasty wet day.

Sorry, I wasn’t going to mention the weather, but while we’re on the subject:  today it is….



Although Sumburgh Head might be considered remote, in the sense that it takes a long time to get here from mainland Britain, it most definitely is not isolated.  I see more people here during the day than I see in a week at home, and that doesn’t include the people who work here in the RSPB and Amenity Trust offices.  This morning over a dozen people walked up in groups of two or three, and another couple have just appeared (at 4 o’clock).  Most are carrying binoculars and cameras, and are well wrapped up against the W.  Most spend a good time here, walking round the site, and peering over the walls at the seabirds on the cliffs.  No-one has yet asked me what I’m doing, wandering around clutching tiny folded sheets of paper, looking intently at the ground and taking photographs of odd things in odd corners.

In order to keep the visitors in order, there is a nice scattering of information boards and warning signs.  Here’s a useful one, when you consider what’s on the other side of the wall.



Likewise (oops)

and the sign on my front door creates a cosy glow of exclusivity:

But the winner, on sheer (sorry) ambiguity:


I thought about posting at length about the weather – again – but I see that it is easy to become obsessed about it:  last night the house was vibrating in the wind.  Solid stone walls.  Vibrating.  Enough.

Today was just as predicted by the Met. Office:  sunshine with squally showers in the late afternoon.  I walked to the ancient village of Old (obviously) Scatness via a detour to Grutness Pier, whence sails the Fair Isle boat once a week in the winter.  I would like to go to Fair Isle, but three and a half hours on a boat at this time of year?  There is a flight every day, but I’m not sure I fancy that, either.

The old buildings around on the road to the pier are full of useful rubbish, stored against a rainy day.  Or not, as the case may be. Some stuff is piled up in an optimistic fashion; other stuff has probably just been put down and forgotten.

I keep having to remind myself that I have the luxury of being able to return to interesting locations nearby;  normally I have one attempt only – walk, draw while walking, return to the studio and do a bigger drawing or a splashy map-cum-painting.  Here, I really cannot do big and splashy, unless I work outside on the ground – which hasn’t been possible yet because of the W. word.  But I can go back and have a “proper” go at drawing something that has caught my eye.  Tomorrow.  If it’s fine…


Yesterday was generally bleak and blustery, and I had to make a definite effort to leave my front door.  Trying to impose a bit of self-discipline, I decided to make  drawing every 20 steps, walking widdershins around the lighthouse.  I don’t think this will have had any adverse effects on the weather. In any case, I think avoiding anticlockwise ambulation only applies to churches.

Anyway … 20 paces, stop and draw until the page is full.  And repeat.  The results are more or less what you might expect:  firstly I lasted for four drawings-worth before my fingers got too cold to hold the pen. Secondly, the attention to detail falls off exponentially with exposure to the wind.  Fortunately a lot of the lighthouse buildings resemble concrete blockhouses (left over from world war II) so a couple of straightish lines gives a general idea of what is in front of you.  The final 20 paces brought me face to face with a rainwater downpipe, after which I had to give up.  As a topographical record of a lighthouse it’s almost useless – as a record of the experience of walking 40 paces in a towering gale it’s spot on.


As expected, any time spent in the far north at the end of winter involves a fair amount of staying inside.  I think the weather could best be described as exhilarating, although to be fair, I did come back from my first walk on Friday with a new crop of freckles and a pink nose.  The pink nose might have been due to the wind rather than the sun, I suppose.

The wind continues to whistle in the wires, and Things Rattle in the night, but all in all the 3-foot-thick walls are keeping the disorder at bay.  The accommodation in the Assistant Keepers’ Cottage is fully modernised, apart from the front door.  This is a massive structure with the original Northern Light Board door catch – probably hand forged, and certainly hand stamped with the Board initials.  The door fits snugly, and most definitely does not rattle.

Yesterday morning was fine, for a while, and I walked down the hill to the carpark.  Doesn’t sound very exciting.  It was actually amazing:  sunshine, high wind, waves crashing on the cliffs.  The air was full of balls of sea foam, floating on the wind, looking from a distance like flocks of white birds or giant snowflakes – “plu eira” in Welsh.  Snow feathers.

One of the most obvious, and challenging, things about a residency is the impact the accommodation itself has on working methods.  Here, everything is very clean, and the opportunities for making my usual large, splashy paintings will be limited to the days when I can work outside.  Inside, I am being unnaturally tidy (for me).  What can I do that doesn’t make too much mess?  Lots of sketchbook work.  Make books/a book.  A book per walk.  Collect stuff (as usual). Photograph stuff.  Look, record, think.