It’s been a busy year so far both in the studio and with the other elements of my practice such as the Building a Body of Work programme.  I adore what I do and time just speeds by! I am sure many of us experience the same feelings of ‘what should I be thinking about this week, or for next week or what do I need to be planning for next year even?’

One of the many views in St Abbs that I love

One of the very best things I did last year for myself, my creativity and my art – was to take off on a couple of solo sketching trips which I wrote about here. They were unintentionally very close together but I realised how important it was for me to take some time away. Some time to focus on nothing more than creating in the moment and in a place that felt small and inspiring and not too far away from home.

So as soon as I could, I took the opportunity to book another trip back to St Abbs this year for more of the same. I stay in a tiny cottage right on the harbour and it is the perfect base from which to work from. I only need to walk out the door and I am ready to begin.

My studio away from home! (A blog post on what I pack will be on its way)

Usually, when going away sketching – whether it is for the day or more, I move around from place to place. Sketching a view here and another one there. Capturing as many various perspectives of a place as possible.

Loose and expressively painted sketches created very quickly

With four days I fully intended to do more of the same. But this time, I arrived and parked up at the perfect height wall, looking out to sea and pretty much returned to this same spot for the whole three and a bit days. It was not planned, but it was just what I needed. It ended up being an unexpected lesson and a hugely profound experience in so many ways.

This one spot – looking out to the same rocks hour after hour and day after day taught me so much that I can’t even begin to capture it here in words in a blog post. It wasn’t planned and truly I only realised the significance of it all on my last day there.

The pile-up of quick studies at the end of my second day

I am always thinking ahead. In my art, my business and in so many other aspects of my life. Trying to do more. Experience more. Give more. Be more …..

It can at times feel overwhelming. I think so many of us feel the same way – in all the many compartments that make up our existence. We don’t often stand still. We are told to keep moving. Do more. Be more.

Of course the positive of all this moving is that we grow. We see and experience wonderful things. We connect, we give and we receive in return. But somehow I have found myself thinking that the only way to do this is to keep moving.

But here, stood day after day in this one spot I got to experience something that I so often miss when out sketching. This one view changed hour by hour and minute by minute with the rise and fall of the tide. One view and a thousand changes over the course of a day. Things shifting in ways that I would not have noticed had I been moving from one place to another.

Painting in the rain – the biggest challenge being painting in the rain with glasses!

On my second day there, I stood and painted for around 3 hours in the rain. Not a soul to be seen. Just me in my element looking like a drowned rat. Sodden woolly hat constantly falling over my eyes. Glasses misting up. Paper wet and tearing under my brushstrokes. Hands freezing, paint all over my fingers and face. Painting what was before me in study after study – but these rapid paintings are more of a physical and emotional response rather than a picture of a view. And I could not have been more happy or calm or immersed in the moment.

You can see how much this one view changed over the course of the time I was there

If I had stood there for half an hour and then moved to another spot I would have missed gloomy, misty greys and softer edges of the rocks behind the veil of rain. I would not have seen the gorgeous colours of the rocks that are hidden by the sea for most of the day. Then the bright ochre and rust and deep olive green that is revealed with the sun shining. I would have missed the changing colours, the darker contrasts and the deepening of both sea and sky as the day draws to a close before dark.

The final sketch of the few days – I wish I could have stayed longer

Those same rocks captivated me and I found myself returning for each following day of my trip. Even if I had stayed for another week I don’t think I could begin to grasp the possibility of all that could be explored in this place. So I will return again.

Charcoal and carbon pencil in my large Moleskine sketchbook

Whilst it was a lesson for me in terms of what can be discovered in a few days away sketching, I have a feeling it also translates in deeper ways for me in other areas of my life. Over the past few years I have worked hard to narrow my focus both in my creative practice and in my art business and I still have a long way to go. It is a work in progress indeed. I think there is much I can take forward from these few days and I will be seeking to unpack it all in the coming weeks and months. We shall see!

One of my favourite mixed media sketches from the trip

I worked on so many different pieces in different ways whilst I was there – most of the same view but a few images from different places that I think I will put it all together in a next blog post. I have also had a few questions about what materials I pack for a sketching trip so I am going to write a little about that too! Stay tuned!

In only a couple of weeks, I am heading over to the US to teach an urban landscape based workshop in Seattle. We are going to be sketching down at the harbour and the docks and then working on expressive interpretations of our sketches back in the studio. There is still room if you would like to join us! You can find out more here – Bellissima Art Escapes. 

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