I recently received a Facebook invitation to a weekend artist date. We would setting up our easels on the beach and capturing Millport in glorious spring colour or good old monochrome.
For me it was a perfect pick-me-up after my radiotherapy treatment and months of artist block. And a bit of an adventure seeing as it’s an island! I jumped on the train from Glasgow and found myself in sunny Largs in less than an hour. From there I met fellow artist Marion and drove onto the ferry for the eight minute journey across the sea.
Ah, Millport! I’ve long since wanted to return since breaking my collarbone on my last visit. On our way into the town, Marion and I spotted plenty of places for an artist to drop anchor with their paint pots. But we were making our way to the Cathedral of the Isles where the Studio Gallery nestles in its shady environs.
The event is called Plein Air Weekend. It’s an opportunity for artists, both local and further afield, to paint or sketch in a beautiful place with support at hand. Although it was a two-day session, I only managed one as I had another art event the following day in Glasgow. But next time I fancy popping over to sketch and cycle there’s always a bed for the night at the Cathedral of the Isles itself. It looks ideal for a Saturday night in summer.
For me there’s no better way to hone your skills than actually sketching what you see where you are. Come the warmer months I love to spend the day somewhere beachy with my sketchbook. Even though I draw the same objects such as the rock islands off North Berwick, the light, shade and colours are always changing. This kind of drawing helps me with my biggest challenge, life drawing. After all, what am I sketching but shapes and shadows?
After agreeing to a 4pm rendezvous at the Studio Gallery, we wandered down to the shore. One of today’s organisers Les Wright set up next to me, launching into the delightful oil painting you see at the top of this page. Meanwhile I stuck to my trusty pastels for a gentle reintroduction to the world of art. And I chose a good spot for my composition, the hump of Cumbrae island in the background and the smaller rock much closer.
I often like to spend a good hour or so doing a sketch, by which time the sky has often altered considerably. Today though we were lucky. A blue sky persisted and the only thing I had to capture quickly were the seagulls (will they ever stay still?!).
Like many people I love small islands. The never-ending sky and being cut-off by water is universally appealing. In a way I’ve always lived on islands: the UK, Japan and Paxos. And later this week I’ll be visiting another, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Millport island has a bit of everything for the artist to sink their teeth into. Land and seascapes that would make cracking covers in water colour for the People’s Friend. Seaside shops and houses huddling around a crescent-shaped bay. Boats bobbing between the mainland and smaller islands. Industrial buildings that would make my other half very happy, sprinkles of wind turbines that would make a certain American leader very unhappy. Figures enjoying the sun, splashing in the sea and whizzing past on bicycles.
Speaking of cyclists it’s quite appropriate that I should return to Millport. The scene of my last health crime where I went flying over the handlebars on a cycle ride around the island. This time I’m recovering from radiotherapy and my voice has faded to a painful whisper. It was a shame not to be able to chat fully with the other artists. Plus radiotherapy treatment brings fatigue, something I didn’t believe would happen as I’m fairly active. Not me, surely!
Sketching bright, happy colours in the sunshine was a perfect way to recharge and a good route back to being creative. Today’s artist date was a day made for fun, not whose was the best.
Later on lunch beckoned at the Dancing Midge. Apart from radiotherapy has temporarily left me unable to eat anything except smoothies! But I did get wonderful hot chocolate and a sea view. From where I picked a spot for my next sketch.
This time I looked out towards the other side of the bay which gave me a lovely expanse of shiny water, sky and hills. To which I added the power stations, wind turbines, houses and more of those boats. And, hands up, I did employ a wee bit of artistic license here. I skimped on the rocks at the front as I was getting a bit on comfy sitting on them after an hour and half. And I added that Saltire flag on the boat on the left.
I do enjoy seeing other artists’ work at the end of classes. There was a feast for the eyes today, as well as a literal one which I couldn’t eat a bite of! So much fabulous work produced on day one and in many styles and media. And a great opportunity to meet people who until now may only have been names in Facebook groups.
Meeting back at the Studio Gallery behind the cathedral also gave me a peek at what goes on there. Not only is it hosting today’s event but there are stained glass classes. Seeing as I’m keen to review my painting on glass skill, I’m tempted to come to the next one (which is coming up very soon – I may just have to go back!). The studio is beautifully set up and the sunny weather threw coloured light all over the room.
Next time I take myself on an artist date, whether in a group, with Stephen or alone, I’ll ring the changes and be a bit more ambitious with media. I’ve been encouraged by all the open-air paintings I saw today. And they continued to appear up to Monday on my Facebook feed.
It’s time to see where my art takes me next.
Are you planning an artist date somewhere? Where are you going? Drop me a comment below.