Midsummer: Adventures with my sketchbook

Midsummer on North Berwick beach: Pastel sketch of the Bass Rock by Glasgow artist Emerald Dunne.

Midsummer on North Berwick beach: Pastel sketch of the Bass Rock by Glasgow artist Emerald Dunne.
Midsummer and the long summer nights were much missed when I lived in Japan. In Osaka the summer solstice sunset is at 7.15pm. And it would always be pitch black when I left work at 9pm. But on this midsummer evening sundown came much later.

Now that the solstice has passed, I’m very aware how soon the dark mornings come back. But in the meantime I love taking advantage of the long light evenings and warm temperatures.

Summer twilights are at their best on the coast with iridescent skies of white, violet and rose gold. So on the northern hemisphere’s longest day, we took a trip to my favourite place to see and sketch for ourselves.


Sketching at midsummer on North Berwick beach.

Midsummer on North Berwick beach, sketch of the Bass Rock by Glasgow artist Emerald Dunne.

North of the equator the longest day signals the official beginning of summer. These photos are from a visit three years ago actually. But it was such a joyful and productive day, so surely worth a post. I spent the day in North Berwick and came away with a nice range of sketches, some of which I used for paintings.

On my way in the car I promised to limit myself to ONE Bass Rock sketch. I came away with about five! My very favourite is the coloured pastel you see above. It was breezy for a bit, hence the yachts. And I loved that zig-zag of water flowing over water – isn’t it gorgeous when the sea does that?

In the photo I’m sketching the paddling pool but the beach, the Bass looking on. It holds fond memories for me. If not for my mum, who opened the from door one blustery February day to the sight of her four year-old daughter and her mother completely drenched. Yep, I’d forced Granny Pip to walk around the perimeter of the pool then bombed into the water. Knowing full well that she’d jump in after me, which she did.

What an impetuous wee shite I was, IMP being the operative letters. But a big shout to Pip wherever she may be now (I’m not convinced my other granny would’ve done the same!).


Stephen Scott, Glasgow artist, sketching on North Berwick beach at midsummer.

Stephen Scott, Glasgow artist, sketching on North Berwick beach at midsummer.

A funny thing happened this time we were in North Berwick. A friend spotted me – but only because she’d recognised Stephen first having seen him on Facebook. Oh, the far-reaching tentacles of social media!

Speaking of whom, here he is getting to grips with North Berwick’s Seabird Centre. Stephen’s style is a lovely contrast to mine. He makes drawing look so easy, his work is accurate and neat. I think this is a wonderful pen and ink sketch which would work well as a water colour.


Midsummer evening on North Berwick beach. Looking towards the Bass Rock.

To our Pagan ancestors, midsummer represented the triumph of light over darkness, the balancing of energies and enlightenment. Therefore, it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on my road back to good health in addition to my artwork.

Coincidentally, I was convalescing from a broken collarbone on this trip.

During the day I rediscovered a part of the beach I hadn’t seen since childhood. It was an adventure in itself clambering down the cliff in the wrong shoes. And I sure didn’t want to break my other clavicle!

But oh, it was worth every step!

For this part of the day we simply stood and breathed in the atmosphere. Not only is such a view healing on a physical level, it soothes the spirit. Indeed, whenever I visited Scotland when I still lived in London I would drink in the ambience here. If only I could’ve bottled some it for those ever-stressful tube trips or walks along Oxford Street.

But nothing replaces being here. And today I’m very content that this beach – and many other spots – are in such easy reach of home.


Bass Rock from North Berwick beach at midsummer.

Having sketched up and down the beach for most of the day, I couldn’t resist jumping out of the car to take a photo of my childhood playground with the Bass in the background. At this time of year it’s a snowy white, thanks to the colonies of seabirds who drop anchor for the summer and their droppings.

It’s one of my favourite scenes to paint because of the composition. The hard texture of the rock, pink light on the sand and the sea, plus the ever-present Bass Rock with skerries in the foreground. Just looking at this photo relaxes me, as watching a sunset does. This photo, in fact, was taken a good hour off sunset seeing as the sun doesn’t dip until after 10pm in this part of Scotland.

I’m planning to recreate this view as a painting. Although I never paint from a photograph – reference only – I have sketched this view many a time. It’s almost burnt into the grey matter.


Pastel sketch of Fidra island by Glasgow artist Emerald Dunne, midsummer evening in North Berwick.

Keen to squeeze the very last rays out of the day, we raced round to Yellowcraigs beach. From there the island of Fidra looks close enough to paddle out to. What’s more the Fife coast opposite adds interest. As a child I used to love watching the street and house lights come on at twilight. To my mind that said people were close and it was very comforting.

But having lived in a huge city, it’s nice to have a bit of distance too.

This was a fantastic opportunity to capture the skies, by now racing towards sundown in clashing opposite colours. Fidra always interested me as a child as it was on the opposite side of the town.


Fira island at midsummer, around 10pm.

  • Pop into Why Not? on the High Street for lunch. I’m looking forward to seeing their new garden, plus there are lots of interesting stalls at the front of the store.
  • Have another coffee at Steampunk at Kirk Ports just off the High Street.
  • Or check out Drift, a brand new cafe towards Tantallon Castle with stunning views of the Bass Rock and out to sea.
  • Visit the beach huts at the harbour to see a selection of local arts and crafts.
  • Stock up on art materials at Rock and Bird on the High Street.

Midsummer on North Berwick beach | Scotland | Stars and Stems

Are you taking advantage of the long summer evenings? Leave me a comment.










© Emerald Dunne Art 2018