My journey into the world of Art has been both an exciting and rapid one. It began in January 2019, not that long ago, when I went along to the Mareel to a Wellbeing Craft class. I hadn’t done anything other than look at other people’s art and make stuff with my three daughters when they were young, so doing any form of Art or Craft just for myself was a whole new experience.
After being at Wellbeing Classes for about six months I started going weekly to Gaada, a print workshop in Burra. Since then, I have done a range of different forms of printing, but I mostly enjoy Monoprinting. I love my weekly afternoons at Gaada and have learnt a great deal. My confidence has continued to grow over the last two years.
I went down to Aberdeen on the ferry, and the night before going into Peacocks I felt somewhat unsettled. Gaada has been a safe place to explore printing and Peacocks felt like a whole new world to be entering into. It’s a big studio with eight full-time members of staff. It has been running in central Aberdeen since 1974 and is one of five large print studios on mainland Scotland.
I woke on the first morning and told myself it would be fine. I could cope. But a little voice inside of me was saying “you’re a fraud”, they will spot that you are not a real artist! I wondered if I could work the printing equipment if I would be able to find my way around and work independently. I wanted the challenge to be in a studio south but in the same moment it felt scary.
With encouragement from my family off I went. I got to the studio early. My mum used to say, “better early than late” so I have been early for everything my whole life. Arriving at the door I immediately met the Director of Peacocks. I had met him just before Christmas when I had visited the Peacocks Gallery, The Worm, we had got chatting about screenprinting and I had told him about my work. He had looked at my art on my Instagram and invited me to come and spend some time working at Peacocks. At that moment I wondered if it would ever happen but here I was, just over six months later and I was back.
We went to the kitchen, and he made tea for us both and we chatted. It immediately felt friendly. Staff members popped in and out of the kitchen and got hot drinks. Everyone said hello. He introduced me to the Print Technician who was going to be working with me. Having an Artist in Residence is something that hadn’t happened for a while at Peacocks, and it felt like they were really pleased to see me. There are eight members of staff , all who have different roles, but all make up a cohesive team.
I had a bit of a tour around the workshop and was shown to the print bed where I was going to work. There on the table beside it was two very large packets of print paper. Not yet open. Just waiting for me to apply ink onto. I had a chat with the technician about how I work, and he told me about how things generally work in the workshop. We were simply getting to know each other. The inks were made up and stored on a super organised set of shelves on the wall. The colours lit up the wall and I stood looking at them wondering what to choose. I have always loved colour and it is important in my work. It is something that people often comment on when they look at my Art.
I chose some pots of ink and filled a trolley with them. Got myself some buckets of water and brushes and with the help of the technician set everything up. So, it was time to go, it felt like a whole new world and with so many staff who were clearly interested in who I was and what kind of Art I did I felt a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl.
I have always found since I started at Gaada in August 2019 that when I pick up a paint brush that I somehow enter a different space in my mind. It feels a happy place. I suffer from Chronic Illness, and it is often very difficult, but art takes me somewhere where I can just be me and can enjoy living in the moment. I lost any sense of time or place and so even at Peacocks it felt safe and comfortable once I had a paint brush in my hand. Artists talk about “being in the zone” and it’s a good description. What is important is the enjoyment of the moment, what is actually produced is less important, its just a bonus if other people like what you make. It’s good if you like it too!
Monoprinting is a fairly old technique, but it is not the most common kind of screen-printing done, and it is something that the staff at Peacocks were curious about. People would come and watch sometimes whist I painted or look at work that started appearing on the racks to dry. I paint directly onto the screen and then the ink is squeezed through the screen onto the paper below. Its quite a fast form of Art, its not like Oil Painting when it has to be left to dry for a long period of time. So, you have to paint fairly quickly as if you don’t it will dry on the screen. The challenge for me in this new space was how long to paint for, the inks were different, the screens much bigger so it was a case of trying things out and just see what happened.
I found myself being more and more experimental over the new few days. I painted portraits which is something I often do but I also painted landscapes and some abstract art too. I played with the inks and the brushes and began to see some different things happen on the screen. It was a lot of fun taking risks and seeing what appeared as, along with the help of the technician, we lifted the screen to see the image below. Pushing the ink through the screen when you are working on such big works is a pretty physical task and I really appreciated the help I got in doing this and in washing the huge screens which were heavy enough to be beyond my physical strength to even lift.
It hadn’t taken long for the technician and I to get into the swing of producing prints together. He always just seemed to be around when I needed him but left me alone to go into my own space to paint. He was really interested in my work and asked a lot of questions, but I asked him a lot of questions too about the technical side of printing and what was going on in the various other parts of Peacocks. Its a big place and people were working in different areas. I had thought that during my time there I might have tried to do some other forms of printing, but I was so loving the opportunity of producing large monoprints that I just didn’t want to stop.
I had five days working at Peacocks and on day three I started to do monoprints on the largest paper I have ever used. “Double Imperial” is not something commonly used, and it was a challenge for me. Not in terms of ideas, but in real practicalities as I had to stretch so much to reach the far side. I found ways around it by painting on three of the four sides of the frame and it really did work out well.
When I did the first print on this paper the technician took it and hung it on the rail on the wall. I could not believe how huge it looked. We took some photos and had a laugh together. It was a lovely moment. It was also lovely when the technician went off and produced his own monoprint to try out my technique. He is an artist himself and normally producing prints using different techniques. He was really pleased with his result.
As I continued to work in this new way with huge paper and a sense of belonging in the studio my work continued to be hung on the walls. Members of staff took photographs and joked as they walked past that I had turned the place into a Gallery.
On day five I did some final monoprints. We looked at what I had done and the realization that I had produced thirty-six monoprints hit me. It was a lot of work. Apparently I had set a bit of record of how much any artist had produced . Lots of folk had lovely things to say about how much they had enjoyed having me there. That meant a lot. Being accepted into such an established team of talented folk is a lovely experience.
Peacocks have offered me membership of the workshop; this means that I can go there whenever I am in Aberdeen and book a day in the studio to make more art. I feel very blessed that I have this opportunity and that I now have a connection with a mainland print studio. I will continue to attend Gaada to make monoprints here on Shetland and really appreciate how much they have taught me. This VACMA experience took me from a small island-based print workshop to a different world and I feel my time at well-being classes at Shetland Arts and time at Gaada prepared me for it. I am very grateful to all opportunities offered to me and to the many amazing artists that I have met and who have inspired me.
I met with the Exhibition Manager of Shetland Arts at the weekend and we are in discussion about exhibiting the Monoprints that I made at Peacocks. This is another exciting opportunity and I look forward to sharing my work with fellow Shetlanders. I hope that as I have been inspired by others that what I am doing will inspire folk to try something new and start being creative if they haven’t done so yet. Creativity helps us all. I believe there are many routes into Art and that there is an artist inside all of us. I am glad I found the artist inside of me and look forward to new challenges and new experiences.
I am very grateful to Creative Scotland, Shetland Arts, Peacocks Visual Arts and Gaada. Also, to my family and friends who are an endless source of support and encouragement.