Thursday, 27 November 2014

Edinburgh Art Fair 2014 - Children's Art with Art in Healthcare

I'm delighted to have been involved over the past few years with Edinburgh-based charity Art in Healthcare. As part of their excellent Outreach Programme I run workshops in various places including the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital and St Crispin's School for children with autism and severe learning difficulties. I'm on the Art in Healthcare Collection Committee, discussing decisions regarding their extensive collection of top-end Scottish art. A lot of the works you might see in hospitals and healthcare settings through the Lothians (and beyond) come from the here. More info -

2014 was my second year running children's workshops for Art in Healthcare at the Edinburgh Art Fair. This link shows the results of my 2013 visit. As last year we had an exhausting but inspiring - and extremely full - three days.

I was working alongside Hal, of the Edinburgh Art Shop, both of us with the invaluable assistance of many enthusiastic Art in Healthcare volunteers, and of course Amelia, victoria and Trevor from Art in Healthcare. All our materials were generously sponsored by GreatArt and by the Edinburgh Art Shop.

Here are a few of the artists and lots of their fantastic results:

feathery lion



oil pastel fox

happy elephant


fox family


by children who knew much more of marine life than I do. seals, porpoise, and more

seals (leopard?) & hammerhead shark

woodpecker family, female, male, juvenile



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Scotland by Rail - Dumbarton, October 2014

Dumbarton Castle 
 - more accurately Dumbarton Rock - stands tall and dramatic on the south shore of the town of Dumbarton. A volcanic plug, a fantasy fortress, sheer cliff sides splitting at the top into two grassed domes. Bits of battlement and building are visible from afar.


I've admired the rock often when travelling north on the West Highland Lines to Oban or Fort William, or to Jennifer's parents' in Garelochead. I was recently speaking to the Helensburgh branch of the Saltire Society and we decided to make a weekend of it, including a visit to Dumbarton by train. If coming from Glasgow you're spoiled for choice - two trains an hour from Queen Street Low Level platforms, and three stations to choose from when reaching Dumbarton: Dumbarton East is a kilometre from the castle; Dumbarton Central about a kilometre and a half; Dalreoch about two kilometres.

We chose Dalreoch, walking briefly south from the station to cross the River Leven by the Old Dumbarton Bridge rather than the modern and heavily traffic-ed A814 bridge. Old Dumbarton Bridge was built in 1765 on the orders of the Duke of Argyll, keen to have access to Glasgow from his nearby Rosneath estate.

After a short distance on riverside path beside lovely winter-plumaged (no black heads - & in fact even in breeding season the 'black' is actually rich chocolate brown) black-headed gulls preening on the railings we joined the High Street and found a nice friendly cafe with soup for Jennifer and scone for me. Rigo's Bistro -

From here Dumbarton Rock is only a fifteen minute walk past what was once a large distillery complex and is now waste ground, then past supermarket superstore, then past recent housing estates. Use a map or if you don't mind a few dead ends just keep your eyes on the castle and navigate by instinct.

Dumbarton Rock, pencil in sketchbook, 15x20cm

Dumbarton Rock impresses in every aspect - its size, its shape, its history. Fragments of wine amphoras suggest that Iron Age residents traded with the Romans; it suffered Viking attacks -and capture- in the 9th Century; William Wallace was a prisoner once, maybe; Mary Queen of Scots was here in 1548, waiting for a ship to remove her to the safety of France; In 1489 James IV had the famous - huge and hugely heavy - Mons Meg canon brought from Edinburgh to assist in laying seige to the castle for the second time that year. The second time was successful; In the 17th and early 18th centuries substantial artillery fortifications were built, largely covering all that had been before. These last are what the visitor sees today.


We saw birds - blackbird, robin, song thrush, blue tit, long-tailed tits, flitting and foraging among healthy amounts of shrub and scrub across the rock. A red admiral butterfly on ivy flowers. Gulls and cormorants, a seal on the water. And from the very top, the most fantastic all-around views of Dumbarton, the Clyde, the Erskine Bridge, the Glasgow skyline, Ben Lomond and a horizon of hills.


'Dumbarton', by the way, derives from the Gaelic 'Dun Breatann' - ‘Fortress of the Britons’. Before that, one-and-a-half thousand years ago, it was known as 'Alt Clut' - ‘Rock of the Clyde’.

Dumbarton Castle is managed by Historic Scotland and costs £4.50 for adults, £2.70 for children, £3 for concessions, free for Members. It's open throughout the year but check full details here -

a walk-in well


 How to get there

ScotRail timetables here -
Click - Central Belt - Glasgow Suburban Routes - Dunbartonshire

Many thanks to ScotRail for their ongoing support of my project to explore Scotland by Rail.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Aberdour - whimbrel, skua, deer & seals. 37 plastic bottles.

Inchcolm Abbey, ink

Finally a return to sketching with Kittie (Kittie Jones artist - Our first day, we think, for six months. We were back at our favourite spot on the Fife coast near Aberdour, travelling by train (two an hour from Edinburgh for Kittie, two an hour from Burntisland for me.)

Four and a half good hours of work in pen and ink, pen and brush, graphite pencil, coloured pencil, watercolour and gouache. An atmospheric day of quite thick fog. Inchcolm was showing, but we never could see as far as Edinburgh and the Lothian coast. A good amount of birdlife around - species seen in total. Also many seals in the water and two roe deer treading through gorse and scrub.

cormorant sketches, pencil in sketchbook

Works in progress...

watercolour, ink, coloured pencil, white gouache

ink and watercolour

ink and white gouache

and where they were created...


Two unusual bird sightings - a whimbrel and an arctic skua. Neither are by any means unheard of in the area but neither are they frequently seen, especially whimbrel. I've only twice before seen whimbrel and only seen skuas up and around Orkney and Shetland. Skuas are well known as using the Forth to cross the country from west to east and east to west. This particular skua was around for many minutes, showing large and dark against the fog and beside the sandwich terns that it chased, twisting turning diving in its attempts at any fish they were carrying.

BTO skua i.d. video.

The whimbrel was close to me on the shore although unfortunately it saw me before I saw it, so I didn't see it for long. Whimbrel are very like curlew only overall smaller with a shorter, more kinked than curved beak and very distinctive dark streaks through eye and along top of the head. BTO curlew v's whimbrel i.d. video here and a photo of the whimbrel we saw in Ireland earlier this year (see Ireland blog post).


On thirty metres of rocky shore I collected thirty-seven sea washed plastic bottles. They went in the recycling bins in Aberdour station car park.

Two Minute Beach Clean -


Two skeins of geese flew over high above. About a hundred and fifty birds honking their low calls. Greylags. Autumn is here.

BTO grey geese i.d. video.

spot the skeins

zoomed in and cropped, to aid spotting

How to get there:
Trains to Aberdour run half hourly from Edinburgh. An adult return is currently £10 on-peak, £7.20 off-peak. Timetable here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their generous support of my work to explore Scotland by Rail.