Retreat To Recover

It’s been a few months since my last “proper” post and it makes me chuckle to think its subject was Resistance. One may imagine that not having blogged since then may have been caused by said Resistance!

But that’s not true.

The reason I haven’t been blogging is because my auntie passed away not long after that post.

Since then it didn’t feel right to be blogging like nothing had happened. Even posting about her passing didn’t feel like the right thing to do.

Instead I accepted that I wasn’t to do any “public” writing. It was all private, sacred, just for me.

What I needed was to retreat. Retreat to recover.

In the months after my auntie’s passing I continued writing. I wrote a lot of draft poems. I journaled. I wrote some more. Two new drawings emerged; my creativity soared. It was gushing out of me like someone had opened a tap within me and forgot to close it.

With the words pouring out, the tears followed…and when the tears came the words splashed out onto the page. They were inextricably linked.

For a little while I felt bad for not posting on my blog. I’d got into a bit of a rhythm and I’d had lovely feedback from people enjoying my posts. I wondered if they’d noticed I’d not posted anything. Then a little gremlin voice would say, “Of course not, everyone is too busy to notice.”.

“You need to look after yourself,” a loving voice would counter.

A little tennis match between those voices would ensue until I’d had enough and I surrendered.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing (2000) made me feel better about not having posted anything publicly. He states that it’s important to write with the door closed until everything has been put down on paper. I needed that “cave time” to reflect on what had happened, process the shock and grief surrounding my auntie’s passing.

It had hit me hard.

Funnily enough and seemingly out of nowhere an invitation to be featured in a group art exhibition found its way to me and without really thinking about it too much – I was still immersed in grief – I accepted it.

It was what I’d been wanting for a long time: a chance to exhibit most of my wildlife drawings. I chose 15 of them to showcase. 10 of them still needed to be framed! I had about three or four weeks to get ready and I was going on holiday with my boyfriend in the meantime.

What was I thinking accepting the invitation to exhibit?!

In hindsight I am glad I went for it because it gave me a focus, a direction, something to do so that I wouldn’t retreat too far and get lost in the grief.

I also gave myself enough space to feel my feelings and experience the loss. That to me is an important part of the healing process.

But it felt good to have a positive distraction, a temporary relief from those emotions. The holiday with my boyfriend was perfectly timed, too. To not think about work, disconnect from social media and the Internet, spending time in nature, as well as doing fun stuff like going to the cinema, the rugby and a music concert.

It all helped me to recharge and recover so that I could arise a little stronger.

I felt a little more like myself again.

The absence of my auntie still saddens me, though my emotions aren’t as intense as in the beginning. It feels surreal at times. I catch myself thinking she’ll show up at any minute, as if she’s just popped out to the shops. And when she comes back she’ll ask if I want a cup of tea, or can she make me a sandwich? She was always looking after her family.

One of my drawings in the exhibition, Puffin Power, was inspired by one of her puffin photos taken at Bempton Cliffs, a nature reserve in Yorkshire run by the RSPB. She had loved that I’d done that. I’ve now dedicated that drawing to her.

I know she would have loved that, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Exhibition 2017

I am happy to announce 15 of my pen and ink Wildlife Drawings will be featured in a Christmas Exhibition alongside the work of three other talented artists!

All my work on display will be for sale.

Never before have so many of my original drawings been featured in an exhibition. It’s not to be missed!

Come along and please share this event with your family, friends, colleagues, etc!

Launch Party on Friday 1st December 2017 from 7pm till 9pm!

 

 

 

Exhibition Details:
1st December 2017 – 28th December 2017 NOW EXTENDED until end of January 2018!
At The Image Collective, 2nd Floor Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh
Opening times when Ocean Terminal is open
PLEASE NOTE: Times may vary over Christmas – check website for info: https://www.oceanterminal.com/openingtimes/

Artists:
Sarah Hunter – https://www.facebook.com/sarahhunterart/
Danny McMahon – https://www.facebook.com/danielmcmahonart/
Amy Hooton – https://www.facebook.com/amyhootonart/
Carrie Sanderson – https://www.facebook.com/CarrieSandersonArtist/

 

Dealing With Resistance To Creativity

When I started exploring and opening up to my creativity again, it was hard.

I felt so much Resistance.

I was living in The Netherlands once more, and every time the day came around for my weekly painting class I didn’t want to go. I felt dread. I wanted to call in sick even though I wasn’t sick.

Although I’d been enthusiastic about signing up to the class beforehand, I couldn’t shake off my unease.

Yet something tugged at me, something kept leading me there. It took my hand and gently guided me. I was trembling and my pulse was racing. I felt a bit nauseated. Anxiety would sweep over me, and seep into my whole body causing me to feel light-headed and un-grounded.

But I kept on going. I kept trusting what I was doing despite the fear and the strong emotions I was feeling. From the outside you probably couldn’t tell that all of this was going on inside of me.

The funny thing was that every time I returned home from class I was buzzing. I felt more alive than I’d felt in a long time. My mum would notice. She’d try and remind me whenever I felt the Resistance before going to the art class how it’d make me feel afterwards.

It reminded me of times when I didn’t feel like going for a run, but knowing that once I’d done it, I’d feel amazing afterwards.

I can smile at all of that now. I feel such compassion for my younger self. All I want to do is embrace her and whisper in her ear that everything is okay. That she’s doing great even though it must not feel that way. This is going to help her, to heal her. I want to remind her to trust herself. She does know what is right. One day she’ll wake up and finally feel good about herself. Even her “dark” side, what she thinks of as her flaws. She’ll love it all.

Remembering and re-connecting with my creativity was like holding up a mirror and looking myself in the eye, facing some truths I’d not wanted to see. Some of it was breath-taking; some of it downright ugly. And I wonder whether this was why I’d abandoned my creativity for so long – why I’d abandoned my love for writing and drawing for example – because I was afraid of what I would discover in the process. The ugliness. The changes I’d have to make. The person I’d have to become.

It wasn’t just fear of failure, it was fear of success.

Resistance had flared up like an unwelcome rash causing me to stay put and not show up anywhere in case anyone would see this embarrassing skin problem. I’d imagine they’d point and laugh at it, laugh at me, just like a couple of girls at school had done about my hair. Painful memories, Creativity Scars as my writing mentor Julia calls them, triggered, and yet in their own twisted way just trying to protect me from danger, the danger of being an outcast, different, weird. Protecting me from being ridiculed.

But step by step, every time I showed up at this painting class was a little victory. I’d gone full of fear into the unknown where Resistance didn’t want me to go. I could be proud of that. Because little did I know what these little victories would mean in the long run.

What I found in the unknown was treasure.

What I found was a snippet of my true being, the person I’d forgotten I was.

It was enough for me to continue reaching into the depths of my being, uncovering her and bringing her forth again and again over time. Messily, sometimes with trepidation, often with fear. With glimmers of grace and quiet strength, too. There are moments that make it all worthwhile though: the pure joy and sheer delight beating in my heart, pumping through my body, infusing my cells when I am doing my creative work. It’s a reward in itself.

These days I know Resistance well, and I’ve made it my friend. I’ve stopped fighting it, trying to overcome it, ignoring it. It would only make Resistance stronger.

Instead, I acknowledge its presence whenever I sit down to write, draw or do any other creative act such as building and running a business. I say hello. I breathe deeply and I listen to what it wants me to know.

“What if no one likes it? What if it doesn’t work? What if you make mistakes, mess up and look like a fool? What if it never sells?” are some of the usual culprits Resistance throws at me to see what will stick and stop me from going any further.

Then I tenderly soothe Resistance that I hear its concerns, and that everything is okay, I’m not in danger. I remind it why I am doing what I am doing. That it’s about the work, the joy I get from doing it and mastering it. It’s not about the fame or fortune. Would I want to be doing my work if I knew I only had a week left to live?

Yes. I would.

So, let’s get to it.

I also give myself permission to do it “badly”. To make mistakes. To create “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them in her book Bird By Bird: Some Instructions On Writing And Life (1995).

And Resistance calms down. Most of the time, anyway. I allow it to be with me, sitting in a chair next to me or behind me – where it is right now as I am writing – but that’s it. It’s not allowed to run the show. Strangely, sometimes it fuels me. It’s showing me that what I am about to do is something I care deeply about and is worth doing for its own sake.

I am therefore thankful for my Resistance, because it’s pointing me to my inner voice, my heart and soul.

It’s pointing to what really matters to me.

How do you deal with Resistance? Does it come up for you when you embark on a creative project?

 

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Huskies, Birdies And Queenie

I met one of my writing friends, Cecilia, at a series of workshops run by Jo Parfitt in The Netherlands a few years ago. Titled The Naked Writer, it consisted of six workshops where we delved deeply into our being to write from that space. I learnt a bit about crafting stories as well as allowing myself to write more freely and with more vulnerability. I really enjoyed those workshops.

Cecilia and I have tried a few times to meet up in the last few months to a year, but often I run out of time when I visit my family in The Netherlands – too many things to do or people to see, and of course I am there for a break as well.

So when Cecilia said she was coming over to Scotland to teach workshops I knew this would be a good chance to finally meet up. Plus she was only going to be “over the bridge” in Fife and was planning a visit to Edinburgh.

We met in front of Holyrood Palace after lunch on a bright Wednesday afternoon in July and it was lovely. Like time had not passed. I met her beautiful “husky ladies” as she calls them, Elsa and Akasha, as well as her husband, Wouter, and friend, David, who lives in Fife.

The four of us and the two husky ladies headed to Holyrood Park and St Margaret’s Loch for a wander, all the while showing them the beauty of Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and Holyrood Palace, one of the Queen’s properties. I didn’t realise there was a garden party at the Palace that day. I thought it had been the day before as someone I knew had been invited to it and I’d seen her photos on Instagram.

We did a little bird-watching at St Margaret’s Loch, a place where I’ve often visited to study the herring gulls and pigeons for my art projects. It’s also a lovely spot for some moments of serenity and tranquility amidst the buzz of the city. My little sanctuary. I had a feeling my friends would love this spot as they are fellow nature lovers.

At one end of the loch, a couple and their child were feeding the birds and it quickly became a frenzy, pigeons and gulls darting to the scene to grab whatever they could from them. The man was holding out his arms, and first two pigeons came and sat on them, pecking at the bread, then later I spotted he had at least five pigeons balancing on his arms!

It was pretty intimidating standing nearby and watching it unfold as the gulls would swoop in close over the top of us and almost dive beak-first in to the quagmire. I didn’t want to get in the way of that!

Meanwhile, I’d spotted a young heron along the shoreline further around from where we were standing, soon joined by a second one who slowly crept along the water’s edge to get closer to the action and perhaps seeking some food, too. It looked as if the heron was tip-toeing like I did when I was a child coming down the stairs at night when I was supposed to be tucked up in bed. It was amusing to watch.

After observing the antics and taking multiple action shots, we continued our meander up the side of the hill by the loch where we had a 180 degree view of the city, stopping by the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel to breathe it all in.

Then we walked back down and across the green field, part of which was being used as a car park for the Queen’s garden party, when suddenly we first heard, and then saw, a helicopter. We thought it was security but then I spotted a guy on the ground waving his hands and I thought, “Hang on a minute, it’s going to land…maybe it’s the Queen…?”.

And it was Queenie!

It was such a coincidence and the timing couldn’t have been better. We got closer to the perimeter the police had set up so the helicopter could land. We watched the whole thing unfold, the Queen stepping out of the helicopter once it’d landed and then she got into one of the two black Landrovers that were parked a few metres away. They would take her through the front gate of the Palace, no doubt to go and greet the party goers inside the walls of the Palace grounds. Prince Philip was by her side as were a couple of other people I didn’t recognise and a few smartly dressed security people.

My friends were ecstatic! An unexpected gift that added so much delight to their visit to the city.

What’s more, we had been joking moments beforehand about going for a cup of tea somewhere and we thought we’d ask Lizzy – aka Queen Elizabeth – if we could join her. It was as if she’d heard our proposition! As if I’d organised this so my friends could see her; we couldn’t stop laughing about it. I jokingly added I’d secretly sent a WhatsApp message to Lizzy to tell her we were T minus 5 minutes away and she had heeded my request to land as we approached, a special surprise for my guests.

After the two Landrovers had taken the royalty away, we walked along the perimeter to get closer to the rather luxurious-looking helicopter and we still couldn’t stop laughing. We were like a bunch of giddy, school kids.

A man who was drawn to the husky ladies came up to us and we had a chat, showing each other photos of the helicopter landing, pointing in the photos to who the Queen was (he’d thought it was the lady in blue, we said it had been the lady in pink/burgundy. By the way, she’s tiny!).

We headed up the Royal Mile, a famous mile-long stretch of road between Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle, to find somewhere for a cup of tea – since Lizzy was too busy with her garden party – and found Café Truva where we could sit outside and enjoy a hot drink.

Not only was the Queen the star of the show that day, so were Cecilia’s husky ladies – everywhere we went people’s faces would light up upon seeing them and I heard lots of them say how beautiful or lovely they were. Elsa and Akasha were certainly sprinkling joy into people’s hearts wherever we went.

After we paid for our drinks we hugged goodbye and the gang took the train back to Fife and I walked home. It had been a wonderful afternoon full of synchronicities, coincidences and laughter.

Life unfolds in truly magical ways when you let it.

It’s times like these, these simple pleasures, delights and encounters that spark my soul to shine, that make life beautiful and amazing for me.

And I choose to seek and create these more and more, every single day.

Because beauty is everywhere, and it feeds my spirit, my well-being, my life.

 

What feeds your spirit, well-being and life?

Seeking Answers In Nature

Walking around the woods opposite my parents’ house, I am delighted to see the seasonal changes in the flora since my last visit in Spring…the wild flowers, the reeds that have grown tall around the small lake, the luscious foliage everywhere. There is an abundance of green. Even the canals are green, a blanket of algae covering them completely, disturbed only when a mallard swims through it and leaves a trail.

One summer evening I go for a 40-minute walk and I was struck by how silent it was. I could hear the distant murmur of traffic from the N44; a handful of people walking their dogs and laughing; but other than that it was silent.

And yet in that silence I heard so much.

The rustle of the undergrowth where I guessed a blackbird was seeking its treasure by tossing the leaves aside. A female blackbird, brown, suddenly flying off out of nowhere. My own thoughts and feelings finally coming to the fore.

Walking along a treelined cycle path, I could hear the faint sound of baby birds chirping. I wondered if they were young woodpeckers nestled in one of the holes their parents have made in the tall trees.

I smile and my heart feels light at the sound of this sweet “music”.

I purposely avoid the people who are walking their dogs as I want to be with myself, and explore my own thoughts and feelings, uninterrupted. Though it’s not a time of ruminating, I am letting the thoughts go, releasing my grip on them and observing instead. I am curious about what’s going on inside of me.

Being in nature like this is a chance for me to seek and find answers. I ask myself a question about something that’s been challenging and frustrating the last few weeks. No matter what I’d done I kept encountering obstacles. It got to the point where it was becoming ridiculous. Why had this situation become so hard?

I queried within what to do, what is my next step. I wondered whether in this silence I might be able to sense it, hear it, know it. Without external distractions, other people’s opinions, noise…what was it I needed to know about this situation?

Paying attention to my surroundings and taking them all in, I am hopeful of spotting a buzzard or a fox, too. Or perhaps a heron, which I often see in these woods.

In the end, I only encounter some mallards, coots and blackbirds, but I don’t mind. I know another time, another day I will see other wildlife. Any wildlife makes me happy. Or just walking in the woods makes me happy.

The answers I am searching for slowly emerge but it’s not till the following day that I have some major insights and I finally know what to do.

This is my creative process and I trust it…knowing that the answers don’t always come up when I ask for them. Sometimes I am not ready to hear them straightaway. Or perhaps they do come through another person.

Nature teaches me the process of emergence and growth. This process of trust and inner knowing.

In any case, as I walk back home I relax into the knowledge that my answers will come clearly and effortlessly. And when they do, I know exactly what to do. My feelings will confirm what feels right and true to me.

Where do you seek answers to your questions? Does Nature help you to discover them, too?

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Puffins Galore

Finally, after wanting to go for over a year I was on the May Princess heading to the biggest puffin colony in the UK:

The Isle of May.

After hearing about this little island from various people who’d been, I was itching to go. I wanted to see the puffins in their natural habitat. I wanted to see for myself the abundance of birds that I’d been told were there.

It was my July mini-adventure with my friend Heather – if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know we go on monthly mini-adventures together – and this time we were joined by her husband, Bob.

I’d driven from Edinburgh to Halbeath Park and Ride near Dunfermline where I left my car for the day. Heather and Bob picked me up so we could travel in one car to Anstruther, a little fishing village about 45 minutes east from the Park and Ride. In Anstruther we’d catch the boat to the Isle of May.

We arrived around noon and had our packed lunch sat on a wall surrounding the pretty little harbour. We could not have asked for a better day: the sun was shining, it was warm with a pleasant cool breeze and once we were on the water the boat ride was pretty smooth.

Once a day the May Princess goes out to the island but at different times depending on the tide. We departed at 1pm that day and it took about 45 minutes to get close to the island, and then the captain slowly took us round the northern part so we could get a good look before docking.

It was an incredible sight.

I’d never seen so many birds. They were everywhere: in the sky, in the water, on the rocks together with some seals. Seals’ heads were bobbing up and down in the waves as we passed, too. An astonishing amount of birds were flocking around us. On the way to the island we’d also been blessed by the gannets swooping past and overhead – something I’d not expected to see and was thoroughly delighted by. The birds in the sky almost looked like a swarm of insects, or like a flock of starlings, though not moving as rhythmic and in harmony as starlings.

I was in awe.

Time stood still. This was my kind of heaven. I could feel the excitement rise up from my tummy and it filled my whole body, permeating every single cell of my being. And it was only the beginning, we hadn’t yet set foot on the island.

The captain was telling us about the various birds, what we would encounter on the island, as well as information about the buildings there, including the oldest lighthouse in the UK, the Beacon, from the 17th century. He told us that about a dozen people stay on the island from April till September conducting research, monitoring (wild)life and looking after it since it’s a Scottish National Nature Reserve.

Coincidentally, two days before our trip I’d been watching Countryfile, a programme about the British countryside on BBC1, and the Isle of May was featured in a few segments during the programme! I loved that synchronicity.

We docked and as we walked up the concrete jetty we were greeted by one of the volunteers, Sarah, who told us some rules whilst we were on the island and when the boat would be leaving. We would have about 3 hours to spend here!

After the short introduction we were off and we walked to some cliffs where again the sight was breath-taking. There were puffins everywhere.

Puffins galore.

Never ever have I seen so many birds in one place…I was speechless.

I remained rather speechless during our visit. I wanted to take it all in and words just didn’t seem appropriate. I couldn’t even find the words. My thoughts disappeared. I wanted to be in the moment, allowing the beauty to infuse me, to transport me to this other world.

The silence also meant I could hear so much. Sounds like a paradox, but it was amazing. I could hear the flutter of the wings as birds flew over me, and the vibration of that passed through me like an electrical current. It sounded, and felt, powerful; I don’t know how else to describe it.

The arctic terns were loud and protective so we were advised to walk quickly past their colony. Heather and I remembered from our trip to Inchcolm Island how the female gulls had been protective of their chicks and we were almost attacked by them as we tried to walk along the paths to different parts of the island. We had to turn back after 100 metres or so as it was intimidating and not enjoyable at all! You can read about that mini-adventure in my post Attack Of The Gulls.

I certainly understood why the gulls were behaving like that on Inchcolm Island as the chicks were milling around on the ground, not yet able to fly as they were still fluffy and without their flight feathers.

The same seemed true for the arctic tern chicks, though they looked like they were almost fully fledged. However, watching them from a safe distance in the small visitors’ centre, I could see that the parents were returning with food for their young, making it seem like the chicks could not fly and find food for themselves yet.

We walked along the clearly marked paths round a fair portion of the island, and everywhere puffins seemed to be popping up or lounging around. Some with a few eels dangling in their beaks!

The cliffs were magnificent and the guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes were perched on any kind of ledge of any shape or size. Amazing to see how they were able to do that. Some looked like they could fall off at any minute. Puffins nest in burrows and burrows were dotted all around the island, however, I must confess I was a little disappointed we didn’t see any of their black fluffy chicks.

Every now and then we spotted a rabbit munching on the grass, seemingly oblivious to us passing them.

It was great to hear there were over 45,000 pairs of puffins on the island, but it saddened me to learn the amount of nesting pairs has dropped from around 69,000 pairs (in 2003). It is thought that climate change and polluted parts of the sea have had an impact. It reminded me to keep doing my bit to care for the environment, to be conscious about the choices I make and what impact they might have. It would break my heart if puffins (or any animals for that matter) were to go extinct and future generations would not be able to experience and delight in them, like I could that day.

As we boarded the May Princess to return to Anstruther, a few more volunteers turned up and were saying goodbye to us (as well as two of their volunteers who were finishing up for the season and coming on the boat with us). I smiled as I recognised one or two faces from the Countryfile programme.

Our trip was rounded off with a delicious fish supper (that’s fish and chips in Scotland!) from Anstruther Fish Bar, a local award-winning restaurant that was so popular the queue continued outside and around the corner of the building down an alleyway. It meant it took a while to get our fish supper, but it was worth the wait.

Heather and Bob dropped me off at the Park and Ride around 8pm and I drove back to Edinburgh. When I arrived home and downloaded my pictures from my iPhone and Panasonic Lumix, I saw I’d taken just over 600 photos! Plenty of photos to choose from for inspiration for my next drawing(s).

All in all it had been an incredible day, an incredible trip.

One I will cherish forever.

 

Eagle-Eye And Wise Wolfy

I am thrilled to announce I have created two new wildlife drawings to add to my collection.

Please welcome Eagle-Eye and Wise Wolfy!

One of my lovely customers and friends had asked me if I would do these two animals as they are special and meaningful to her. I was happy to do them as they are two magnificent species of the animal kingdom.

I find it fascinating how cultures and traditions view animals as sacred beings and it resonates with me as I, too, sense there is something special about wildlife.

Animals have often been used (in art) as symbols, to tell a story and to make meaning of the world.

Personally, I love how in Native American animal medicine the Eagle represents (the Great) Spirit, the connection to the Divine in harmony with being here on Earth; and the Wolf is considered the Teacher, a pathfinder, one who leads the way (for more info about this I recommend the Native American animal medicine cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson).

The Eagle has also been used as a symbol for Power. The Bald Eagle is the National Emblem for the United States, and it’s not really surprising the US chose their native bird as its emblem in 1782, considering all that the eagle has come to stand for.

It is not the only country to have the Eagle as its national bird. Doing some quick research online it seems to be important to Poland and the Philippines, too, for example. Though theirs is a different type of eagle. My drawing is of a Golden Eagle, which you can spot in Scotland, and my first sighting of one in the wild was only the other week! (Blog post about this will be coming soon, make sure you stay tuned!)

The Wolf is also important to some countries, and often are associated with them. Something I found really interesting and incredible is the re-introduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the States and what it has done. The landscape has changed, and seemingly improved, because the wolves have an impact on the elk populations, and in turn the elk had been eating too much bark off the trees and the whole eco system had changed. There is an interesting article and video about this if you’d like to check it out: Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem.

I always endeavour to capture the spirit of an animal in my drawings, as well as how it makes me feel, hoping that comes across in my work. I am in awe of animals, I find them so beautiful, and also such characters! I can happily sit in nature and observe them all day long.

The names I’ve chosen are a bit of fun and also to say something about the animal, and of course you can find your own meaning within the names.

For me Eagle-Eye is having that higher perspective on life and situations, and acting from that vantage point. Wise Wolfy to me is the wise teacher within and tapping into that innate wisdom.

But, like I said, you can create your own meaning.

That’s the beauty of it.

The original drawings of Eagle-Eye and Wise Wolfy will soon be available to buy from my online shop; greeting cards are now available here .

You can get in touch if you’d like more information on the drawings!

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Attack Of The Gulls

This is intimidating, I thought to myself as I inched forwards along the grass path amongst the abundance of gulls on this tiny island. My heart was racing. Keeping my head low and putting my hands over the crown of my head trying to protect myself from being attacked I had an inkling we were not supposed to be here.

My friend Heather and I go on monthly mini-adventures and in June we had hoped to go to the Isle of May to see the puffins nesting there. Unfortunately, the boat was fully booked on the day we’d planned to meet up, but luckily Heather found us a couple of tickets on the Maid of the Forth instead. The Maid would take us to another island in the Firth of Forth where we thought we might spot puffins.

That was where we were, standing amongst hundreds of gulls (I kid you not) on Inchcolm Island, trying to walk to the cliffs where we thought we’d see the puffins. But these gulls were having none of it. They were protecting their young and rather fiercely and noisily.

We’d not heard the warning on the boat when we docked to stay away from these paths because of the gulls. I think we must have been chatting and pointing at interesting things on the island as we got closer to it. I did hear something about the gulls being very protective of their chicks, but that was about it.

Heather and I managed to walk up the small hill to the west of the Inchcolm Abbey ruins, and when we got to the top and saw more gulls milling around ahead of us we decided not to risk it. But we had to return on the path we’d just come up on which had been a little terrifying! The gulls were swooping in above us and at one point I felt one had passed just inches above my head. Later we would find out from a girl working in the little visitor’s centre that people had been attacked before.

Step by step walking back down the hill, we kept coming across the chicks and stopping to let them pass or get out of the way, and hopefully showing the gulls we were not a threat. I suddenly had an image from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie “The Birds”. Hmm. That did not reassure me at all!

After what felt like half an hour rather than a few minutes we got back to the “safety” of the ruins and I breathed a sigh of relief; we agreed to stick around that area for the rest of our 2 hour visit to the island.

It had taken about 30 minutes to get from South Queensferry to Inchcolm Island. It was a gorgeous day, sunny with blue skies and a few fluffy white clouds dotted around.

Since I didn’t have a car at the time, I’d got the bus to Waverley train station where I embarked on a train to Dalmeny and Heather picked me up there and we drove down the hill to South Queensferry to park up near the pier.

The boat was leaving at 10:30am but we could climb aboard at 10:15. We sat on the top deck facing the back of the boat. When we got going we had a great view of the three Forth bridges that connect the Lothians with Fife.

On the boat there was a big group of kids – probably around 20-30 of them – dressed in pirate costumes, accompanied by a few parents. It was so cute to see. Not sure how old they all were, maybe 5 or 6 years old. When we were on the island they were on a treasure hunt and it looked like a lot of fun. I was amused and then slightly concerned when a handful of children rushed off down the beach in front of the Abbey towards the gulls and their chicks, the kids completely oblivious to possible attacks but the gulls seemed more scared of the kids and flew off!

When the boat had got closer to the island I saw a couple of small birds flying over the water, and at first I didn’t recognise them, but when I looked through my binoculars I realised they were puffins! I almost couldn’t believe it, they were much smaller than I’d imagined. This was my first time seeing them in the wild. It made my heart jump with joy!

I had taken my usual little travel sketchbook with me as well as my new camera (see my post Photography Feeds My Creative Practice), and a pair of binoculars. After we’d explored the ruins, we sat down on the little beach facing south. South-east of us was Edinburgh. I took out my sketchbook and sketched the gulls, mainly in flight. Observing them through my binoculars, their behaviour and beauty. Noticing my own feelings as I was watching them – the joy and delight especially when discovering new patterns of movement and behaviour. I could have stayed there all day.

On the way back on the boat we passed around the east and south of the island and there I saw more puffins, a group of 5, paddling in the water and as we got closer they took off, feet skimming the water as they gradually launched into the sky. It was magnificent.

There were also oystercatchers, different types of gulls, fulmars, kittiwakes, female eider ducks….and seals! We saw quite a few, bobbing in the water with just their heads sticking out. Earlier, Heather and I had spotted a cheeky seal who was slowly getting closer to the shore where the gulls and their chicks were hanging out. The gulls’ screams got louder as the seal’s head kept popping up, getting closer by the minute. A couple of gulls then took flight and swooped down on the seal to try and chase it off.

We’d wondered whether the seal was after the gulls’ chicks, some of which were milling around the water’s edge, and like the little pirate kids, seemingly oblivious to the fact they were possibly in danger. The gulls were doing a good job protecting their young! Their maternal instinct was kicking in and it made me feel for the gulls. They were mothers wanting to see their children survive.

It took about an hour to get back and as we passed some of the buoys we saw seals lazily lounging on them. The Captain of the Maid took us past South Queensferry and under the three Forth bridges and then turned around to head back to the pier. The commentary on the boat was great and really interesting, and I felt it added value to the whole experience. I would definitely recommend the trip to Inchcolm Island and I’d do it again…but maybe not when there is a possible “attack of the gulls”!

 

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Photography Feeds My Creative Practice

I’d been wanting a new camera for a while as my old compact camera, my second hand DSLR and smartphone camera haven’t been able to take the sort of photos of birds I’d envisioned. Not quite capturing the finer details for me. Not like the photos that my dad takes.

A strong impulse from within was calling me to start taking my own photos of birds, also because there are different kinds of birds in Scotland compared to The Netherlands where my dad lives and usually takes his photos.

I still love seeing my dad’s photos and sharing our love of birds with him, yet I felt it was time to explore my creative expression through the art of photography. Since I was also going on more bird-watching adventures, I wanted to document my own experiences and I needed to upgrade the quality of my equipment to do so.

After doing some research and receiving recommendations from others I got the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ80EB with 30 x Optical Zoom. I couldn’t wait to use it.

I’d only just got the camera when I was going to meet a friend for lunch in Stockbridge one day, so I thought I would test the camera on the Dippers along the Water of Leith around Stockbridge and Dean Village beforehand.

When I arrived at the stretch of the river just near the main bridge through Stockbridge, I noticed some pigeons going in and out of a hole in the wall along the water. That was curious. I stopped and observed the scene, and then decided to get my camera out and capture the pigeons. My first shots with my new camera! I was so excited and ready to jump in and use it that I hadn’t really looked at the accompanying manual to figure out how to work the camera properly. There were a few buttons and settings I needed to acquaint myself with, so for starters I just used the default settings instead; in other words, pointing and shooting!

As I walked back to the main bridge through Stockbridge I spotted a Dipper on the other side of the water. I took some photos, which was a little challenging as the Dipper wouldn’t keep still (of course) and I had to get used to using the camera to follow its path. It was different to using a DSLR.

All in all the shots weren’t too bad. The lighting wasn’t great, another thing I needed to learn. But I told myself to play that day, that it didn’t matter if the photos were rubbish! It was more about the process and the joy of it. Making mistakes was part of that. And I had to remind myself I hadn’t yet read the manual…

After the Dipper disappeared I crossed the bridge to the other side and followed the path along the river towards St Bernard’s Well. I found a male mallard on a nest in the middle of the river and used him as my next “test subject”. As I zoomed in I could see his eye, blinking, the eyelid a white colour. It looked like velvet. I’d never seen that before.

I took my time, sauntering along the path and keeping an eye out for anything fascinating or unusual. I managed to capture a blue tit, a blackbird and a robin. My photos were slowly getting better the more I was practicing and willing to do it “badly”.

It was a warm sunny day that was getting hotter by the minute. I decided to sit in the sun for a bit whilst I waited for my friend Heather to finish a meeting she was in, and then met her in Stockbridge where we grabbed a drink and a takeaway sandwich from Peter’s Yard. We headed to the nearby Botanical Gardens and found a bench in the shade, sat down and chatted and had our delicious lunch. Afterwards we wandered around the gardens and I experimented with my camera using flowers as my subject.

Since it was hot we decided it was ice cream weather and desperately needed one! We ended up wandering back to Peter’s Yard and getting a scoop of white chocolate and passion fruit ice cream on a cone. It was yummy.

Heather then headed home and with my ice cream in my hand I wandered back along the water towards St Bernard’s Well and on to Dean Village to try and find more Dippers. Instead I encountered a couple of mallards to practice on, at the top of the small waterfall there. Then as I headed back towards the main bridge in Dean Village I spotted a heron in full glory. A few people had stopped and gathered on the bridge or stood by the water’s edge photographing the beauty. I joined in and was able to capture some beautiful shots because the heron moved slowly or was standing still for periods of time. Then it would suddenly catch a fish. This was good practicing!

I eventually returned home from my mini, photography adventure around 5pm, having caught the sun a bit! I downloaded my photos and some of them were quite good. I was happy with the camera and I knew I could learn more to take even better photos.

In fact, I would the following week when I met up with my photographer, Claire Watson, who’d previously done studio shots of my art work. At Christmas Claire had run a competition and happily I’d won a couple of hours of Photography for Business with her, meaning I got to practice with my new camera and she was able to help out with some of the general settings for bird photography (e.g. shutter speed, aperture, etc). We also discovered a “burst” button that allows me to keep my finger pressed on the shutter to take a succession of shots. It means I can capture action shots of herring gulls coming into land on the water, for example. That has made a world of difference to my photos!

What my photography practice has contributed to for me is a renewed enthusiasm for/in my work, reinvigorating it for me, and it has fed into my general creative practice. It serves as inspiration for my work as an artist and writer. It is part of my work now.

Sometimes I love taking photos and sometimes I love “live” sketching the birds, or I do both. It all depends on the situation and what I happen to have with me.

I love the details in birds, their different stances, behaviours, movements, interactions with others and so forth, and to capture them on camera helps me with my observation and drawing skills. Particularly when I have a succession of shots to see frame by frame how a bird moves. It thrills me to bits.

I can also shoot 4K video with the camera, a function I have yet to explore, but which I am enthusiastic about.

Most of all, though, it brings me much joy and inner pleasure to go on these bird-watching adventures, documenting them visually and verbally…I now can’t imagine not doing them. It has become a part of me.

My work and my life are interwoven, inextricably linked in a way that I’d long imagined it to be, felt it to be and wanted it to be.

Stay tuned for more of my bird-watching adventures!

What kind of adventures do you like to go on? Please share in the comments below!

 

 

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Birds Help Me To Get Unstuck

Ironically I’ve been a bit stuck with publishing my blog posts since I was on a writing retreat at the end of June. I’d been so inspired there that I was raring to go when I got home, only to find myself right back in the middle of “life” and things happening. A stark contrast between the sanctuary of the retreat I’d been on and the busy-ness of a city lifestyle.

I was still able to write when I returned but for some reason I just couldn’t finish a piece to post on my blog. I had set myself the intention to post weekly, but found myself not being able to do it.

It could have been procrastination.

It could have been fear.

It could have been that I needed time to integrate what I’d done at the retreat.

I’d been on such a high at the retreat when I’d shared one of my posts and received such great feedback, that when I was home and back in my “normal” environment, some of the old triggers were there and my mind kept telling me “That’s it, I can’t top that piece! I have peaked so I can’t possibly go on with this writing and write something that will be anywhere near as good as that”.

Hmm. Sound familiar?

Yeah, it was to me.

Almost three weeks passed, and I had a session with my writing mentor in between and after that I was inspired to post again, but then the same thing happened….I couldn’t finish something. I thought I was stuck in fear again.

So on Friday enough was enough! I knew something had to change.

Over the weeks, months and years I have got to know myself pretty well, especially through creativity. I know my patterns. I know my flaws. I know my strengths, too.

I took a moment and checked in with myself. I got honest and realised there was something I needed to do. I needed to take a break. A proper break. Get away from my desk, from my writing, from my other current priorities and switch off. Or at least dial down the noise, the distractions, the voice in my head nagging that I hadn’t done a blog post.

I knew I needed my birds.

I needed nature.

I needed time to be.

Grabbing my bag packed with my camera, travel sketchbook, notebook and pencils, I hopped on the bus to kickstart my mini mission to find one of my favourite birds that always brings me joy, the Dipper. I knew its hotspot along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, a river that snakes through the city from the port of Leith at the north end to Balerno just south west of the city at the other end.

Wandering around Dean Village I had no luck finding any, however, it was such a beautiful day I suddenly didn’t care. I was just pleased I was out in nature. I surrendered and with that, I felt fear melt away and all was well again. I felt relieved of the stuff that had been whirling around my head.

I walked along the water towards Stockbridge, and at St Bernard’s Well found a bench half in the shade, half in the sun, to sit and watch people and dogs walk by, or any birds that would fly past. I was there for a while, continuing to surrender and being okay with perhaps not seeing a Dipper.

After a while something fluttered by and I got up to get closer to the water’s edge and saw a green finch on the other side. I then decided to meander towards Stockbridge and do a detour through the Botanical Gardens before re-joining the Water of Leith walkway.

I’d only gone a few metres to where an older gentleman was stood watching the water and I saw what he’d seen…a Dipper! My heart jumped with joy. My patience and surrendering had been rewarded.

I spent time watching the beauty; I think it was young as its colouring wasn’t as vibrant as an adult’s plumage. I took lots of photos with my camera too, though it was a little tricky since it was stood on a little rock in a very dark spot and I was in full sunlight. Playing around with my camera’s settings was quite fun and a learning curve.

Fifteen minutes later I was ready to go and so was the Dipper. We parted and I continued on my walk, spotting a heron hiding between the leaves and trees, delighting me even further.

I may not have written immediately after this little adventure but two days later I started writing the first draft of this post. My mini break in the afternoon had done the trick as well as taking time out over the weekend to properly relax. It showed me yet again how important well-being is for my creative flow and my creative work.

Watching one of my favourite birds had soothed me and relieved me.

Being in nature had helped me to come back home to myself again.

What helps you when you feel stuck? Does nature have the same affect on you as it does on me?

 

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