Looking back to go forwards

The review of research is an important part of the creative process (speaking personally) and now that moment is here. Given the right conditions ideas start to ferment, distill and other brewing metaphors and like brewing this needs space, quiet, warmth and plenty of pure water. Siglufjordur has given me all this. Takk fyrir.


As Spring arrives the changing patterns on the mountains are  like great beasts shedding their winter coats as the two mountain photos show, one taken on 4th March and the other on 21st, the time of the Equinox. All the while the light is increasing each day.


Like Scotland however I’m sure the northern winter will have a few final words before settling down for a good sleep.


Snow shapes which change daily. Drawing from sketchbook.


Snow Archaeology

Spring has arrived in the north with the first arrival of Oystercatchers and now of the Swans, always a good sight against the icy mountains.

Snow has been disappearing off the slopes and roads near the town and the sound of running water is everywhere like a soundtrack. One of the advantages of all this melting is the uncovering of objects long since buried, natural and unnatural.

Everything found so far reminds me of the patterns on the surrounding mountains from the markings on a piece of building material to  a discarded police label, it’s cobalt blue ink seeping and catching my eye.



Work is responding to this idea of macrocosm/microcosm and has focussed in on close-ups of scree and rocky outcrops. Several large pieces of work are waiting to be born………..


Learning Mountain


Usually I’d say my interests lie in the more watery elements of visual arts and it has come as a surprise to feel my attention focussing on the mountains as opposed to the fjord itself. As the imagination baulks at trying to comprehend the tonnage and mass involved I concentrate on their icy whiteness instead! This calls for a new visual vocabulary so I have been Learning Mountain by drawing them at all times of the day and in different weather conditions.

Who knows where this will lead…and in a nutshell that is why residencies are important. They offer the time and space to explore different directions with different materials – to dig a bit deeper or in a different place.

At the moment I’ve been using plain watercolour which I’ve not used for years and that too is a learning process. Here are some pages from my mini-sketchbook, the one I take out to play.



Essentially my colour palette is similar- just lots more white.

A breath between storms

There was a weather warning issued yesterday for severe gales in the North-west. It was very accurate to say the least and people were warned not to travel.

In Iceland the wind speed is given in metres per second.

The designation for this storm was 20-28 m/s coming from the south west. According to the Icelandic Met Office there was a vigorous 968 mb low WSW of the Westfjords, moving north. I love the understatement of ‘vigorous’. The gusts could be felt battering the house and the sound was of the express train variety. Strangely I slept very well doubtless helped by Gudny (one of the residency committee) telling me the house had been there since 1913.

There is another storm due this afternoon/evening with violent gales in north west parts this evening. 25-30 m/s, 970mb low. Is there a difference between vigorous and violent when it comes to storms?

Its all a world away from calling storms ridiculous names like Abigail and Barney as if we were children being told a fairy story. It’s disrespectful to storms and patronising for humans- please, just give me the facts every time.


The Light and the Herring (part 2)

Lighthouses in Iceland tend to be painted an orangey/ochre shade of paint probably to be distinct against the whiteness of snow and there’s something cheering about this sight whether they are lit or not. Like lighthouses in Britain most are now automatic but if I was a sailor or fisherman, I’d psychologically prefer there to be a human being in residence keeping a weather eye on everything.

The lenses are objects of great beauty and the photo shows the light from Siglunes just across the fjord from where I’m living.


The Icelandic word for light is Ljosid and the connection with our word Lucid is clear in pronunciation.( The Icelandic language uses a different kind of ‘d’ which I don’t have on my keyboard.)

The wife of the lighthouse keeper was renowned for her strength  and owned her own rowing boat for bringing milk from her cows across the water to trade for sacks of meal which she would then heft into the boat before rowing back. This is a seriously impressive show of strength.

The following photo shows an image which could be called a drawing as it’s the printout from an Asdic device which detected shoals of herring and pinpointed their whereabouts, indicated by the black marks on the paper. This was of enormous benefit to fishermen as they could be directed exactly to where the fish were. Prior to this the water had been scanned for signs of fish oil, conglomerations of birds attracted by the shoal or by lowering a weighted line into the water and detecting vibrations from the fish underneath.

A giant leap for man but who’d want to be a herring……




The residency building offers artists a spacious and uncluttered studio space which is so different from my studio at home. However after unpacking, although still spacious, it has become a bit more like every other artists studio I’ve been in. Work is becoming more fluent, quite literally, as I grapple with watercolour experiments with no paper seeming quite big enough to tackle the environment around me.


The afternoon light is particularly good to work in with snow light reflecting indoors from the massive mountain ranges outside. There is a school across the road and these lucky children live with this sublime backdrop everyday.


During a visit to the Herring Museum we were shown the herring girls living areas complete with fancy dresses for weekend socialising. Hanging up too were pairs of drying stockings like any student flat but a few yards away some dried fish were also hanging and the similarity was striking. You would want to take great care if you fancied a midnight snack……




The Light and the Herring

When friends became aware that I was spending March in the north of Iceland one of the first responses usually was ‘But won’t it be really dark there?’ In reality when the light returns it returns with great speed even here in Siglufjordur which is surrounded by mountains. The snow-reflected light does add to the luminosity of the environment but sunrise is around 8am and sunset around 7.30pm.


One of the stand-out features of the town is the brightly painted Herring Era Museum which has three buildings dedicated to the story of the boom years in Siglufjordur. At its peak the town exported 200,000 barrels of herring all gutted and packed by hand and it is thought the resulting economic benefits played a role in enabling the country to achieve independence in 1944……


This fascinating collection of artefacts including several full size boats has won many awards including the European Micheletti Museum Award 2004. I could spend months in there and still find new items. Below is a trademark stamp which says Nord Licht ( any printmakers will be able to read this easily as we are all back to front anyway!) notice ‘licht’ as in ‘a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht the nicht’ fame.






First Steps

Arriving for a residency is like the first day at school. Everything is new and has to be learned, absorbed and sifted. The two bus journeys north take 8 hours door to door through some of the most awesome (in the true sense) mountainous landscapes I’ve ever seen. Sculpted thickly with snow, some tops were shining in the sunlight and some on the passes were obscured with current falls.


At the gas station ( I haven’t become American- it’s what people call them) we were kindly picked up by Kristjan and after a helpful tour of the town driven to the residency house. It’s a welcoming and benign place and we slept for 9 hours that night. Siglufjordur has experienced a LOT of snow since before Christmas as the photo from the studio window shows but everyone just deals with it, the roads stay open with a lot of hard work and life is lived.


Next day we set off to test out our stamina and winter wear and to see the town in daylight, explore a bit. The colours of the fjord water and snow change from moment to moment reflecting what is happening in the sky and this will be a challenge to record. This photo is from a walk to the end of the town where the road leaves to lead around the headland.



Snowlines – Icelines

Leaving Scotland on Sunday brought new views of the landscape over Argyll highlighted by the snow topped hills versus the dun colour of the winter grass. This region seems uninhabited to the eye with houses congregating near the shore instead. Sea roads were the preferred choice of transport then and the absence of ‘real’roads is very obvious. There is so much history contained within a landscape….image

The second image shown is the view approaching landing in Iceland showing a similar colour palette but alternatively showing a thick glazing of ice. Interestingly there are many roads cut through this lava landscape leading to coastal settlements although only one is shown here. The quantity of backbreaking hard work involved in making these tracks is almost unimaginable whatever country you are in.image

To bring….or not to bring.

One week before leaving for Iceland and the decisions of what materials to take with me are still unresolved. Some of the delay is caused by not wanting to limit my possibilities by deciding in advance what I should be using there before I arrive but equally I want to be well prepared for many eventualities….then there’s the baggage allowance.

In this ‘chaos’ a back to basics kit is appealing – sketchbooks, pencils, pigments, drawing to understand the environment in a deeper way which is by-passed by the quick capture of the camera lens. This decision feels right so a-packing I will go.image