In November I had the great fortune to travel to the magical Orkneys to take a workshop led by India Flint and Alison Mountain. This was largely due to the generosity of my amazing and long suffering hubby (who gave me the trip as a birthday present), but also because two local organizations had faith in my work, and helped defray part of the costs with some grant funding, so a huge thank you to the United Arts Appeal and the Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua Fund for Women for their support. It’s really hard to find the words for my experience there on the island, but I’m going to give it a try.
We stayed in the charming Woodwick House, that’s the sea right at the end of the garden!
As an introvert I always approach these kinds of workshops with equal parts excitement and dread. I don’t lack confidence in my work or my ability to learn new skills, and I am not shy, but I find interacting with people I don’t know exhausting and a tiny bit terrifying. I needn’t have worried. Talk about finding your tribe. It was one of the easiest group of “strangers” I have ever had the privilege of spending time with. From the first meal together it was clear that an unusual chemistry was at play, and I was able to relax into the work without trepidation. I really want to thank ALL the amazing artists for being so open and grounded, but I especially want to thank Jo, who took my awkward self under her wing and smoothed the way. She has a truly unique gift for seeing people and facilitating communication – so big hugs Jo!
I don’t want to bore you with a blow by blow description of everyday – so I am just going to share a few highlights. The first day we headed out after breakfast to “shake hands with a place” as Andy Goldsworthy has so eloquently put it. We spent a blustery few hours outside wandering, collecting impressions, sketching, I’m sure like me many people took some photos. Alison provided us with these adorable little vintage country dance books to use as a sketchbook, it had never occurred to me to draw in a printed book before, but it was an interesting challenge to marry an impression with an existing page!
In the afternoon Alison led us in a workshop to try and capture those impressions. We worked with a variety of materials including some incredible natural inks. We began by working on a large sheet of paper which was then folded to make a simple book form. Then we worked back into the pages the folding created. I was amazed to find myself working comfortably in a pretty crowded room without “walling myself in” with my stuff.
My final result looks to me like my work, but I can clearly see the influence of the place and the process. I was envious of the artists who could really work freely – I struggle to just make marks and be loose – and this was a feeling that came back to me again and again during this workshop and is something I am really hoping to carry into the new year. The first marks were pretty loose, but the end result seems a little tight and maybe overworked?
The first day was so rewarding, and the experience would only keep getting better! Stayed tuned for more!