I graduated with a MA Honours degree in Fine Art in 1992 from Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art. Within a few years, my visual arts practice became submerged for long periods of time while working in the public arts sector and then immersed in early family life.
After several attempts to resume my practice around 2010-2011, it was a family bereavement that was the catalyst for renewed focus and determination to find a new direction in my work.
My online search led me to the work of AccessArt and the artist @andreajbutler, who inspired me to commit to a daily sketchbook practice in 2012. I rarely kept sketchbooks at art college so this was a massive change for me!
I now have a long established dedicated daily practice that has evolved over the years through constant experimentation in daily visual diaries and sketchbooks, enabling me to find my voice and my preferred palette, and influencing the way I work today.
I initially focused on quick daily figure sketches in mixed media, based on imagination, memories and emotional responses to the events of the day, generating narrative threads throughout my visual diaries and sketchbooks. Quite often these figures were melancholic, fragile, reflective.
Later, towards the end of 2019, I found myself exploring landscapes in my sketchbooks that were initially sketches done in situ, but then evolved to become layered, textured landscape memories filling the pages of my 2020 Lockdown Sketchbook.
In 2021, I started experimenting with individual pieces on paper, small in size and similarly layered and textured. As with my sketchbook landscapes, these pieces are influenced by remembered landscapes and memories of treasured childhood walks with my late Geographer father who taught me so much about the landscape, and who produced beautiful ink illustrations of geological cross-sections for school textbooks that he co-authored.
Dad’s influence can therefore be seen in my work in my exploration of the physical layers and traces in the landscape through texture and colour. I also look for shapes such as valley bogs or the wide curving arcs of lochs and seascapes, and never cease to be awed by the sense of space and infinity when present in wide open landscapes with clear views to the horizon.
The remembered landscapes that I carry around with me, past and present, continue to be endless sources of inspiration and strength.
See also “Sketchbook journey, collaborator and resource contributor” and “The Serial Participant” to find out more about what else I’ve been up to over the years.
Sketchbook journey, collaborator & resource contributor
It was a chance discovery in 2012 that steered me in a new direction in my work. My online research for a new approach to drawing had led me to AccessArt. Their inspirational online resources for teachers, artist educators and creative practitioners were exactly what I needed and greatly revolutionised my approach to mark-making and set in motion a new desire to explore and experiment.
Also crucially, this led me to the work of artist and fellow AccessArt member Andrea Butler who had committed to a daily visual diary and this inspired me to start my own. A new challenge that would enable me to build on and further experiment with my newfound approach to mark-making.
Since that pivotal moment in 2012, I have maintained a daily mark-making practice, and have accumulated a great number of completed visual diaries and sketchbooks, mostly in mixed media.
Though I have now largely moved onto working on individual pieces, the experimental work held within these visual diaries and sketchbooks continues to inspire, a journey on paper of the real and the imagined, the exciting and the mundane, the concrete and the fleeting, the good and the bad.
There is a strong autobiographical thread running through them – I have numerous pages full of sketches that express my memories, reflections, thoughts and emotions. To have such a treasure trove is an incredible feeling. What is also immensely satisfying is seeing how much my work has evolved over the years, even with the limited time I’ve had with looking after my young children.
Andrea and I have become very good friends. Despite originally living at opposite ends of the UK, together we have collaborated on several stimulating exchange projects which led to numerous wonderful discussions and sparked further new developments in our respective practices. We have together and separately written a number of resources for AccessArt, including our joint one about keeping a visual diary www.accessart.org.uk/the-visual-diary-journey-join-us.
I was delighted to have my sketchbook practice referenced at an international InSEA webinar for art educators, in March 2022, on the subject of visual journals/diaries as a core method to develop visual thinking (I had been invited to do a presentation of my work but had to decline due to family/work commitments). As my practice continues to evolve, I hope to be able to write further resources for AccessArt to help inspire others to find new directions too.
Visual Diaries & Sketchbooks
The Serial Participant
“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.”
Tove Jansson, Fair Play.
I don’t tire of a challenge. I’ve committed myself to a daily mark-making practice since 2012, but I also like to shake things up to maintain that spirit of experimentation and keep my work fresh. I’ve taken part in a number of challenges and workshops over the years to inject new ideas and concepts into my work, and I also contributed to several wonderful community projects. Here’s a selection below:
- The AccessArt Village Project for which participants were invited to send in a sewn drawing of their home on a 20cm square piece of fabric. All kinds of stitched mark-making were encouraged, and it was lovely to see such an amazing response to the project. Around 700 sewn squares, from all kinds of audiences all over the world, were submitted. For AccessArt, the project “…celebrated diversity and reminded us of the universal sanctity of ‘home’”. These squared pieces were mounted and toured as a ‘village’ to venues within the UK in 2017 and 2018, with school workshops also held. www.accessart.org.uk/accessartvillage
- The AccessArt August Creative Challenge where the concept was to create something new each day throughout August. My friend and fellow artist Andrea Butler and I shared and discussed our resulting work on a daily basis on the AccessArt website. I used a self-made concertina sketchbook to explore this challenge through illustration and narration, and experimented with a different approach each day. It was quite an intense process but I really enjoyed pushing myself daily to come up with new ideas and explore different mediums, and a bonus was discovering accidental narrative threads throughout my concertina sketchbook.
- American artist Hilary Lorenz’s multi-sensory installation “The Moth Migration Project” which is currently touring world-wide, features thousands of hand-printed paper moths crowd-sourced from around the world, including my own lino print latticed heath moths. Hilary’s work focuses on her relationship with the natural world and building communities through art, hence the choice of moths “as the vehicle for cross-pollination and international exchange”. She put out a call on social media, inviting people from around the world to create paper moths native to their geographic location, and I just about managed to meet the submission deadline for the inaugural exhibition at Gallery 516, Albuquerque, NM, in 2017. Since then, the MMP has toured to various venues in the US, Canada and Australia, and very recently back in Denver, Colorado. Other touring venues are being planned, as well as a permanent display home. www.mothmigrationproject.net
- As a spin off from the MMP, I took part in three international print exchanges in 2017, 2018 and 2022, the theme continuing to be on cross-pollination. I enjoy relief printmaking as a contrast to my usual daily practice, and have used both wood and lino. I prefer relief work as I enjoy the meditative process of physically carving into a surface.
- Inktober Challenge October 2017. This proved to be an intense but rewarding challenge to take on, as you had to illustrate a prompt each day, and it was interesting to see the almost immediate impact on my work in my daily visual diary that I was maintaining alongside the challenge. This is precisely the reason why I wanted to take on a number of different challenges as I knew it wouId shake up my work and prevent it from becoming stale. I wrote about my Inktober experience for AccessArt which you can see here www.accessart.org.uk/taking-on-inktober-challenge/ .
- Surface Print workshop, Hidden Door Arts Festival, Edinburgh, May 2018. The focus was on monoprinting using textured objects and surfaces, and it enabled me to work more abstractly. I really enjoyed working impulsively on achieving harmony in the composition and layering of colours and textures, which in turn generated interesting new colours, patterns and depth. This again revolutionised my daily practice, and has led to a love of layering, textured surfaces, and depth of colour in my work.
- House of Illustration One Inch Square Drawing a Day Challenge, September 2018. Again, a pretty intense challenge, more so due to the size constraints. I chose to focus on faces, switching from ink in the early days of the challenge to working with colour, and I shared my work on a daily basis on my Instagram page. I also chose to show alongside each completed square the choice of mediums and colours used. An added bonus was discovering the practicality and speed of working small-scale as my studio practice has to fit around the needs of my family.
- I chose to challenge myself to continue with further experimentation with colour, scale, texture and mixed media, which resulted in exploring a significant shift from figure sketches in daily visual diaries to landscapes in my sketchbooks. The aim was not to produce fully resolved landscape sketches but to generate experiments where I could explore my thoughts and feelings about what I was seeing and experiencing. Some were straightforward sketches done in situ, others that were further developed or altered from memory.
- A pivotal year where my A6 lockdown sketchbook challenge enabled me to keep pushing with my mixed media landscape memory experiments, resulting in thickly layered textured surfaces and manipulation of the sketchbook itself. This process strengthened my voice and consolidated my preferred approach. I have written more about this challenge on here.
2021 – present
- Inspired by my lockdown sketchbook journey, I set myself a new challenge to create a new body of work, focusing on mixed media mini landscape memory pieces on watercolour paper. My work is continuing to evolve and I am very much looking forward to seeing where this takes me.
See the relevant gallery pages to see some examples of my work, past and present.
Read my piece “The Intentional Miniaturist” on my Journal page.