Since October 2019, artist and Wild at Art tutor Steve Bretel is the Artist in Residence for an exciting initiative at the unique Rahoy Hills National Nature Reserve in Morven, Scotland. Wild and remote, it is the most biodiverse area owned and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Ardtornish. The initiative aims to bring this unique area back into balance for the benefits of the plants and animals that use it as their home, and for the future generations of people who will increasingly come to understand its value and may wish to visit.
Steve’s role as artist in residence is to support this work and to add a creative dimension to developments. Find out more in the first instalment of his Rahoy Blog below.
By Steve Bretel
JOURNEY & ARRIVAL: Delighted at having been selected for this residency, I set to work developing the ideas set out in my proposal. This is an ideal opportunity where I’ll be able to combine my artistic work with a passion for wild natural environments developed through long experience in the mountains and wilderness.
In mid October 2019, after a trip through the magnificent mountains of Glencoe, I arrived at the Corran Ferry (one of the last such crossings existing in Scotland), where I was greeted with a blast on the horn from the skipper – which was either to say hi, or telling me to get a move on (no doubt, the latter!).
After the calm 5 minute crossing at the Corran Narrows, I drove up the slipway at Ardgour, and on to Ard Daraich for a meeting with artist Anna Raven to discuss an outline of my residency where I also met with her husband Norrie Maclaren. I then made my way to Ferry Cottage, which they operate, set on a promontory on the eastern shore of Loch Aline.
After an evening walk along the farm track to get to know the area, I returned for tea and toast. Settling in the glow of the wood stove, I went through some notes and sketched ideas for the planned exploratory walks for my first day on site. Wild and remote, the Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve on the Morvern peninsula is the most biodiverse area owned and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Ardtornish. Today’s visual appearance, whilst being stunningly engaging artistically with endless opportunities for creative expression, has been influenced by a history of modification and management by people, at times in balance with the rest of nature, but at other times this has led to exploitation, where resources have been overused nearly to the point of exhaustion, depleting the land of vital nutrients, limiting the range of species that can live there. The dedicated people who now work at the reserve are bringing this unique area back into balance for the benefits of the plants and animals that use it as their home, and for the future generations of people who will increasingly come to understand its value and may wish to visit.
My role will be to support this work and to add a creative dimension to developments.
More information about the Scottish Wildlife Trust at the Rahoy Hills reserve.
My intention on this occasion was to get an overview of the site, develop ideas for future work and visits, and to meet with key people involved in the work of the reserve.
DAY 1: The first day of my residency began with some morning sketching at the cottage, after which I packed up my outdoor gear and art materials into the van. During research beforehand, I’d discovered there was a memorial on the reserve dedicated to naturalist Brian Brookes. I managed to buy a copy of his book, and this came with me (the memorial being one of the first things I sketched on site). I drove to Acharn, to meet with reserve ranger Steve Hardy. During a walk through the mature oak woods overlooking Loch Arienas, it soon became evident that Steve has a wealth of information gleaned from his many years spent working on the reserve, and I was only just scratching the surface of his experience. His role involves species monitoring, keeping invasive species in check, engaging with the public – even path maintenance.
The reserve has several distinct areas, and internationally important sites for plants that exist both at altitude and low down in the gorges. He told me about some of the wildlife that live in the woods and also the migrant birds – redwings – that had recently arrived that flocked over our heads appearing like leaves in a stormy wind. He spoke about issues affecting the woods such as when trees topple and fall on to fencing, which, if several deer then managed to gain access, would eat the succulent ground vegetation and strip saplings, preventing new growth and inhibiting regeneration, and for this reason there are many control measures in place such as extensive fence enclosures which also keep out nearby cattle, and these are largely successful.
With so much to see, I decided to start getting a feel for the area through taking photographs, rather than continually stopping to sketch which would have interrupted the flow of Steve’s informative tour.
The morning was mostly overcast, but this added to the dramatic Tolkienesque atmosphere, interrupted only by shafts of strong sunlight that shone through when breaks appeared in the clouds above.
In this exceptional Scottish example of atlantic rain forest, dense moss matting covers most of the oak trees here, indicating the present cleanliness and humidity of the air, contrasting with times centuries ago when these trees were coppiced for use in the numerous charcoal burning sites, over ninety of which have been discovered through work largely carried out by archaeologist Jennie Robertson. Pioneering birches, share the area with holly and rowan, and the whole area is home to a vast array of species, both plant and animal – even, as I was told – the elusive badger and pine marten. This was in marked contrast to the change in ground cover with the lack of significant trees, encountered on our walk back over the hillside above the enclosures. Although, as Steve explained, this is in marked contrast to the summer months where the area displays an abundance of plants with the associated insect life, that provide food for the birds and mammals further up the food chain.
Later in the day, I walked out again through the woods, but this time from the east and to Arienas point, sketching and making colour references for future work with charcoal, ink, a few watercolours and oil pastels on cartridge paper size 14cm X 13cm.
On the shore, I was greeted with a cluster of empty drinks bottles. It’s disheartening to see that even in a place such as this, human detritus still manages to find a way in.
I then spent time drawing with oil pastels and ink in the dramatic gorge above the enclosure at Arienas Burn.
In the dimming light, I made my way back, on the way startling a large stag I’d interrupted while eating with head down behind a boulder only a couple of metres away, which fled as soon as it saw me. I then continued on to the van watched by a pair of curious cows. My first day of the residency came to a close at the cottage where I went through my photographs, did some painting and planned the next day from the cosy comfort of my sleeping bag with a large mug of tea.
DAY 2: The following day began in glorious sunshine, and while getting things together for a trip, I decided to start work at the cottage on some painting ideas of fallen ‘phoenix’ trees, common in many places I’d seen on the reserve, but which still grew vigorously from a horizontal position. Watercolour and oil pastel on Arches paper 75cm X 35cm.
However, while facing the window overlooking the loch by the side of the easel, I was increasingly aware of movement in the mirror-calm water. Through binoculars I could see this to be an otter repeatedly diving and coming up with an eel it supported in its paws to chew. This went on for some time and was a complete – but welcome – distraction from my work. After a while, it purposefully swam to shore and I crept outside to be fortunate enough to see it come up onto the steps only three metres away from me, where it appeared to scent mark a mooring ring, before calmly slipping once more into the water. What a lucky close encounter – unfortunately though, I didn’t get a photo. It wasn’t easy to get back to painting indoors again, so I went out sketching in the afternoon to the woods instead.
DAY 3: In the third day of October sunshine, I walked the access track north, where I was joined for lunch at the ruined steading by a palmate newt that allowed me to hold it in my hand to photograph, before it crept back into the undergrowth. I then continued on to the bothy owned by Ardtornish estate. Although the building itself – once a farm steading – needs to be kept locked, this is a superb vantage point from which to view the surrounding hills outside the reserve itself. After more sketching and photos, I made my way through rough terrain, awkward underfoot, needing to be alert for numerous deep potholes which were concealed by the long grass and bracken, managing to miss stepping on several fox moth caterpillars.
I continued up to the high point of Monadh Meadhoin where I had excellent views of the two main hills of Beinn na h-Uamha and Beinn Ladain, which will be the focus of further trips, then carried on further west down to the lochan.
I went back to rejoin the track and walked down to the car park at Acharn for a meet up with Alasdair Firth, now employed by the Woodland Trust. As with Steve, he has a depth of knowledge that results from his passion for the natural world and concern for the issues that affect it. On the way down to the gorge at Black Water, he showed me small stumps of oak which are some of the last remnants of coppicing for charcoal which ended 150 years ago. He pointed out examples of internationally significant mosses and liverworts – bryophytes – which exist in the damp micro climate contained between the rock walls which bound the burn, and spoke about some of the factors that contribute to depletion of natural resources such as carbon. These were less of an issue when people lived out their lives on the land in one area. Alasdair’s informative tour gave me more themes to explore in my ongoing work. I later collected some deer trampled bracken, the ends of which looked like brushes dipped in ink, which I may decide to be incorporated into an artwork.
DAY 4: I was able to stay in Morvern for another day where I was able to visit the gorge again, this time sketching and painting the boulders using the naturally occurring pigments in the mud from the burn.
I also produced a long concertina fold piece in the oak woods. By placing leaves on the pages I was able to make a close match of the vibrant autumn colours. Both a bee and a grasshopper came and settled on the work as I painted. I was careful to brush them off before I closed the book to prevent them being immortalised within the pages – even though I may have received comments about how realistically I’d painted the insects!
This was a fantastic start to my residency. There will be regular posts covering my next visits, and dates of displays and gallery exhibitions as they come up. Welcome back soon!
For more information on the Scottish Wildlife Trust at the Rahoy Hills reserve visit their website.
In Scotland, 2020 will be all about putting the focus on our stunning coastlines, lochs and waterways as it’s officially the Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters (#YCW2020). We’ll be joining into these celebrations big time with a fantastic programme of creative breaks in different locations across Scotland.
Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters- so what does that mean? – The initiative promotes responsible engagement and participation around and in our waters and coastal environments by the people of Scotland and its visitors. Responsible travel, respect for the natural environment and working with local communities is at the heart of everything we do at Wild at Art.
And what better way could there be to connect and engage with a location than through art? Being creative gets you to REALLY see and feel a place. Join a small group holiday with like-minded spirits, book a short break on dates that suit your travel plans, or let us create a tailor-made art experience just for you and your travel companions – the choice is yours. And there’s lots to choose from!
What makes it even more special – a small share (£10) of each booking under the #YCW2020 programme goes to Linlithgow Union Canal Society (LUCS), our chosen charity for 2020. LUCS is a small local charity and 100% run by volunteers. Their mission is to promote and encourage the restoration and use of the Union Canal, particularly in and around Linlithgow.
So here’s what we’ve planned for you to celebrate the Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters 2020 – just click on the title to find out more about a trip.
3-10 April 2020 Hidden Treasures Art Retreat – painting, creative writing, yoga
Tutors: Kate Cunningham (painting) & guest tutors Sarah-Alexandra Teodorescu (creative writing), Sarah Blackaller (yoga)
Location: Arbroath, Angus
This week-long art retreat is the perfect opportunity to immerse in all things creative and explore the grandeur of nature.
10-17 May 2020 Drawing from the Land – drawing and painting
Tutor: Ellis O’Connor
Locations: Lewis and Harris, North Uist, Berneray (Outer Hebrides)
Join us for an inspirational and dynamic week of drawing and painting in an extraordinary setting. Each day will involve going to iconic spots in the Outer Hebrides to work and gather inspiration from the vibrant landscapes, big skies and wild waters.
22-24 May 2020 Peregrinatio Wilderness Retreat – time out from too much activity; poetry; hiking; meditation; you may want to bring your sketchbook and paints
Tutor: Chris Goan and co-host
Location: a Hebridean island (exact location tbc)
This retreat to an uninhabited Scottish island, which includes poetry writing, offers real time out for recharging and refreshing artistic focus.
23-30 August 2020 Sense of Place – drawing and painting
Tutor: Nicky Sanderson
Location: Lewis and Harris, Outer Hebrides
Be inspired by the most ancient landscapes in Europe, the magical stones of Calanais, the colours of the moorland and rocks, the dark hills and bright beaches of Harris.
9-14 September 2020 Gongoozler Canal Art Experience – drawing and painting, herbalism
Tutors: Lesley Banks(drawing, painting) & guest tutor Anna Canning (herbalism)
Location: Union Canal, Linlithgow, West Lothian
An artistic celebration of one of the most beautiful waterways right in the heart of Scotland. You tutor will be no other than Scottish artist Lesley Banks, who as artist-in-residence at Scottish Canals spent a year walking and painting along the entire 137 miles of the canal network. Includes a herbalist workshop.
12-18 September 2020 Landscape Photography Retreat
Tutors: Margaret Soraya, Paul Sanders
Location: Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Find your connection with the landscape and be inspired to develop your own style in this photographic retreat in one of the most historic and wild corners of Scotland.
Also coming soon: Art & Photography retreat in Orkney
Dates: 3-10 November 2020
Hosts: Margaret Soraya & Ute Amann-Seidel
Location: Stromness, Orkney Islands
You can view our other small group offers – i.e. those that are not directly part of the #YCW2020 programme – here.
Short breaks consist of a 2-day art workshop and 3 overnight stays in high quality accommodation (check out descriptions for details). They can be arranged for your preferred dates, subject to availability.
Watercolour painting in North-East Scotland – watercolour with mixed media
Tutor: Gemma Petrie
Location: Portmahomack, Easter Ross (close to North Coast 500), Scottish Highlands
Portmahomack and its surrounding area offer beaches, an iconic lighthouse surrounded by heathlands, and a castle. You may also want to capture some wildlife with your brushes and paints.
Tapestry weaving in Kilmartin Glen – hand loom weaving
Tutor: Louise Oppenheimer
Location: Kilmartin Glen and Lochgilphead, Argyll
An introduction to weaving on wooden frames with renowned Scottish weaver Louise Oppenheimer. Paint the shapes and colours using wool!
Pottery & Poetry in Argyll – pottery/ ceramics, poetry/ creative writing
Tutors: Michaela & Chris Goan
Location: Dunoon and Innellan, Argyll
Create your own beautiful clay pieces, inspired by the sea and landscapes of the Cowal peninsula in Argyll.
We love curating bespoke art experiences – there are so many amazing artists, places and activities to choose from! We can arrange a tailor-made art experience with any artist in our team, depending on availability, to explore our coasts and waters – meet our artists here.
Below are a few examples of who could lead your bespoke workshop, and what they could teach you (among other things). Click on a tutor’s profile to read about them and see examples of their work:
Steve Bretel – Watercolour, inks and acrylic painting
Katherine Cowtan – Oil painting, watercolour with mixed media
Leo du Feu – Watercolour and acrylics painting
William Brian Miller – Oil, acrylics, watercolour and mixed media painting
Jackie Philip – Oil and acrylics painting
Karen Strang – Drawing and oil painting
Dave Hunt – Photography
Avesha DeWolfe – Pottery inspired by the shapes and colours of the sea
Hephzibah Kilbride – Printmaking
Simon-Burns-Cox – Stonecarving
Sarah-Alexandra Teodorescu – Creative writing
In Spring, Summer and Autumn 2020 we will also run a small number of 1-day canal-based painting workshops in Linlithgow for local residents – dates will be announced in January.
So, we look forward to take you on a creative adventure!
In 2020, Scotland celebrates its Coasts and
Waters with a year-long programme of events and
activities which will shine a spotlight on these vital
elements of our landscape.
Join the conversation #YCW2020
Scotland’s places inspire – not just guests’ visual art but sometimes also poetry. We’ve just received this poem written by one of our guests on the Sense of Place Lewis & Harris Art Experience 2019, Lilian from Stockholm:
Are these not the rain blessed Hebrides?
Where stones rein and trees struggle in vein?
Where the weather forecast is always the same?
The simple everyday pleasure is wandering on the machair,
hugging stones, absorbing colors, searching purple linings in the horizon
whilst sipping raindrops from our lips.
Art has neither end nor beginning.
Brush strokes neither start nor finish.
And the universe remains there waiting….
for our brains to meet it’s infinity in color.
I shall never forget the shared desire
to paint and explore together.
In this place where we created a world in a world,
where we helped each other to see.
We came with the plane
and went with the rain,
trusting that the stones, peat, gneiss and rain
will always remain.
Personally, I don’t quite agree with the weather forecast always being the same ;)…but the poem is wonderful. The weather may have been wet and grey some of the time while we were on tour, but the spirit in the group was always sunny. Thank you, Lilian!
From Spring 2020 we are offering a new type of retreat. Imagine spending a weekend on an uninhabited Scottish island in the Inner Hebrides…with your tent as the only shelter and no sockets in sight. Scary thought? Maybe, but to me also intriguing. What happens when we’re far away from the comforts and distractions of wifi, a full fridge and hot shower? You can find out on the wilderness retreat weekend with writer Chris Goan 22-24 May 2020.
The ancient Celtic tradition of Peregrinatio is described as “a journey that involves the elements of seeking, quest, adventure, wandering, exile…”. The word comes from the time of the Celtic missionary monks, who would set themselves adrift in a small boat, trusting to wind and tide to take them to the place of their becoming. A chartered boat will take us to our island, exactly which island will depend slightly on the weather. We will seek to divide our time into purposeful silence (when we spend time on our own) and community (when we enjoy each other’s company and share stories).
Although we follow in an ancient Christian tradition, this retreat is for anyone, of any faith, or none. We will neither presume, nor impose. What we can promise is to make space for your own encounters with the natural world and the beautiful beyond.
So what has this got to do with an art holiday? Wild at Art caters for creative travellers, for those visitors to Scotland who are curious and seeking to connect with our stunning locations in an authentic way. There’s always an element of learning involved. The wilderness retreats include poetry writing sessions and you may also want to bring your sketchbook and paints. This weekend offers an opportunity to recharge and refresh your artistic focus. A truly enriching experience.
A few weeks ago we said goodbye to the seven wonderful guests who came on our first ever Outlander-inspired Art Experience. What can I say- we had such a great time! Travelling with our sketchbooks signed by no other than Jamie (AKA Sam Heughan) himself, we visited many of the Outlander filming locations and got artistic guidance and lots of fascinating stories from our fantastic artist guide Nicky Sanderson.
At Culross Palace Garden we enjoyed a private herbalist workshop with herbalist Anna Canning, who also taught us how to make our own herbal balms and potions, and at Highland Print Studio in Inverness we learned the ancient drypoint printmaking technique with guidance from artist Jan Baxandall. All this and the shared love of learning and spirit of camaraderie made made it a truly amazing trip!
We held back on opening next year’s tour for bookings until we had the feedback from our “guinea pigs” (as they called themselves ;)). The 2020 Outlander Art Experience will run from 28 June to 9 July 2020 (12-days). You can find the details here . The itinerary is very similar to this year’s, but listening to guest feedback we’ve built in a free full day in the middle and one studio day at the end of the tour. Click here to see the itinerary and visit our Feedback & Pics page to see photos and feedback from the 2019 tour.
We are delighted to offer you a new way of discovering Scotland’s stunning sea- and landscapes and do art – on board a small cruise ship! The first of these all-inclusive tours will cruise the Caledonian Canal from Oban to Inverness 8 to 14 September 2019. In a small group of up to 11 guests, and an art tutor, a professional skipper, an on board chef and another crew member looking after you, this will be a very special creative journey. And since this is the first art cruise we’re offering places at introductory prices.