Vessel of Light

It’s been a while since I last entered anything on the blog. During this time I’ve been working on a series of paintings concerned with the properties of Light and Dark and the contrasting symbolism of these concepts. Given our chaotic political landscape, it would be difficult and probably neglectful to avoid reflecting something of this in the work created.

However all is not doom and gloom. There is great potential for light in the darkness. Below is a new work called Luminessence which is full of light despite the backdrop of a dark night. 


Copyright Silvana McLean.

The use of landscape as a vehicle for personal discovery is not new. This interraction of self and environment is one I’ve noticed for a long time. The wind, weather and temperature contribute as much to my work as the visual surroundings.

In his book, The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane writes ” I have long been fascinated by how people understand themselves using landscape, by the topographies of self we carry within us and by the maps we make with which to navigate these interior terrains.” 
He also quotes an American Historian and Geographer, John Brinckerhoff Jackson who says ” For untold thousands of years we travelled on foot over rough paths not simply as peddlers or commuters or tourists but as men and women for whom the road stood for some intense experience: freedom, new human relationships, a new awareness of the landscape. The road offered a journey into the unknown that could end up allowing us to discover who we were.”

In the ‘lamp lit’ darkness of the Herring Museum in Siglufjordur, North Iceland, I came across a bottle lying on its side which I picked up. The contents floated upwards and I could see that they had been living creatures once upon a time. Their transparent forms caught the light creating a flickering within. In Icelandic they are called Ljosata, ljos in that language meaning light or bright.

 It was a bottle of Krill, an organism so important to the food chain in the oceans that it forms the diet of large creatures like Baleen Whales to small fish like sand eels. It’s almost like the essence of life. A visiting party of kindergarten children who were also brimming with life provided a background of lively chatter.

Here’s to a new toast ‘ Life and Light!’

The Return of the Light

At this time of year, especially this year for obvious reasons, the dark days can seem darker than usual. As an antidote to this and suddenly irrelevant notions of colour co-ordinated tree decoration, our Christmas tree this year is a riot of every colour, every bauble we own including odd Play-do creations our children made at nursery; tinsel, the gaudier the better and anything else relevant to our family. This year everything is included.

The village Christmas tree in its new set of simple white lights is a calm contrast shining in the darkness. It sits in our front garden, as it always has – a welcome sight to children on their way to school and people going about their daily life in the dark mornings and evenings.


Now that its the time of the Solstice I’m waiting for the tide to turn and the almost imperceptible, but definite, lightening of the air each subsequent morning.

snow-archaeology-2Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and very best wishes for 2017.


Designs Gallery in Castle Douglas will be exhibiting work from the residency in Diary of a Cold Spell, a mix of paintings, etchings and some other relevant works from previous stays in Iceland. Full details below. I hope if you’re in the area you can visit the gallery which also hosts a very good cafe with great coffee and food on lower ground floor.


Equinox and First Snow

Today is the beginning of the Autumn Equinox when the light and night are of equal lengths. Excitingly, for those of us who like colder weather and yes, we do exist, the fresher winds feel like an invitation to celebrate the year’s turning.

In Iceland the first snows have fallen on Mount Esja, not far from Reykjavik and clearly visible from it. Birds will be leaving for the South and many will have already left.


One of the most moving sights I’ve seen was one early October on the south coast of Iceland. One hundred or so swans were flying over the mountains on their way to Caerlaverock and other sites in Dumfriesshire – as it turned out.  Their arrival was important enough to feature on the news, serendipitously and oddly timed with my own arrival home five days later to watch that news and find out I’d seen them leaving.

The sound of all those wings is unforgettable. Brave, beautiful birds.

Resident at Carlingwark Loch, Castle Douglas.



The Line Between

Looking through my drawings, sketchbooks and painting studies from Iceland and having put some objectivity and creative distance between then and now, it was noticeable that a linear theme was emerging. Well, wouldn’t you expect lines from a drawing?



This was a different kind of line though – the one between the mountain and the sea, the snow line, the sea and the shore, water and the air above it, sometimes bright and sometimes very, very dark, sometimes obscured by lines of mist.

The edges of the real world have a poetic vocabulary which suits the otherworldliness of trying to describe something so ephemeral and which on close inspection isn’t quite so defined as it appears. Words like liminal, meniscus, periphery, marginal.

imageSnowmelt 2

Do the work. This phrase has become like a personal mantra and this initial direct response to the environment is essential for me allowing more ‘heart’ and connection to enter the picture. This approach allows ideas to develop in an organic way and there is a sense of rightness to this which seems apt when dealing with the natural world.

Taking a concept as a starting point and then exploring it seems too coldly clinical in comparison and somehow back to front. The important issue though is finding out what works for you personally, drawing your own boundary lines and resisting too much influence from passing fashions and transient trends unless you and they really connect.

( all works shown on this blog are copyright)



Tectonic Times

Given the recent referendum result voted for by parts of the U.K. and the ensuing anxiety of the population at large which includes participants from both sides, it struck me that there are similarities with the aftermath of earthquakes and other landscape upheavals.

I connect with the landscape and its changes as part of my work. Can any solace be found by looking at the after effects of the earth ripping itself apart? Obviously time plays a healing part and like the body’s skin, new magma fills the gaps of the wound if it’s that kind of earthquake. If not, huge gaps remain dividing communities and families.

This metaphor is at the forefront of my thoughts having recently spent 5 weeks in the north of Iceland being surrounded by these potential forces.

Maybe it’s too soon for reassurances and we have to confront the set of changes were living in. Anyone familiar with history though might feel a growing sense of disquiet.

I’d be interested to hear what you think.


Image Landslip (watercolour)

Spring Flurry Studio 80

This weekend will be the first public showing of the work generated during the Residency in Siglufjordur.

Open Studios at Spring Fling are quite a momentous time anyway and this year more than most as the need to complete work was concentrated by the time scale available since my return from Iceland in April.

I thought it would be interesting to show the studio in full work mode and also in a semi-cleared state. Ask any artist – no studio is ever big enough and in its working state no one else would be able to enter! Every surface is piled with work in various levels of completion and tools are everywhere to hand.


Hanging almost completed and lots of cluttered corners exposed and cleared. ( yes this goes on right up to the last minute)


The floor tells its own story and is a history of different series of paintings.



Hope you can come and see what I’ve been doing.

Time Lapse

Initially, this blog was set up to document the residency in Siglufjordur. Writing it has helped to crystallise and clarify my thoughts about the whole Cold Spell period and many people have urged me to continue….and so I will.

A question I’m often asked is ‘how do you know when a painting is finished?’ Thinking about this I’d have to say ‘when it most closely resembles what you have in your mind’ or ‘ when the visual problems are resolved’. Just as often though it’s more of a feeling and yes, that’s something you can’t quite put your finger on.

Instead of trying to dissect it further here is the journey of a painting called ‘Fold’ from beginnings to end. Each stage of its timeline had something to recommend it but somehow it wasn’t ‘finished’. Now it is.

1. More colour depth needed.

2. More snow needed. Water needs definition of some sort.

3. Water line too harsh.

4. Rising cold mist and icy greens added to water. Mountain lines defined.


5. Fold ( 100cm x 100cm) oil on canvas








Hame, Heima, Home.

The first definition of ‘home’ in the dictionary says ‘The place where one lives’ which though accurate doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

Landing at Glasgow ten days ago with a big grin on my face at the idea of being home started me thinking about what ‘home’ means to us. Do we have to leave to appreciate it fully? I love travelling especially to Iceland. It plays a large contributing role in my work as a visual artist but after five weeks away the pull of my homeland became almost painful. My homing elastic had reached its full extent of stretch. The strength of these feelings came as a complete surprise.


Shadow of plane landing at Glasgow

The other surprise was seeing lambs in the fields, greening grass and other evidence of Spring in full flow. It seemed too warm for my cranked up sub-Arctic circulation. My personal thermostat has been turned down now as part of re-acclimatising.

Days are being spent in the studio working on the large paintings stored in my imagination while the memories of the residency are fresh. It’s not just about the visuals but about remembering temperature, smells, the wind speed. All of these facets find their way into the paintings and all of the days spent ‘learning mountain’ are proving their worth now.


Mountain painting in progress

City Life

Snow was forecast for Easter weekend and as the quantity of snowfall in the mountains is always unpredictable, it made sense to head south to Reykjavik before returning to Scotland at the beginning of April. The eight hour bus journey provided a slow and gentle release from the mountainous world I’d been inhabiting. The land was slowly waking up from frozen winter. Ice on the rivers was melting or stacking up in haphazard blocks and sheets. Overnight snow dusted the rocks.

I was reacclimatising yet the mountains are in my dreams.


Reykjavik is a small but to me perfectly formed city. There are many good exhibitions to be seen and good coffees to be drunk. Colours are different too, nature is more manicured here yet untamed landscapes are very visible from the city. Interesting sights are around every corner. The two photos below are tonally similar but worlds apart materially. Both have their own beauty.