Friday, 30 April 2010
In search of Nessie....and Edinburgh Rock
I feel as though I have travelled from late Winter through to early Summer on my journey from Loch Ness to Letchworth. Leaves and petals seemed to unfurl before my eyes, and as I look at the abundant foliage here I am thinking of the plentiful snow still clinging to Ben Nevis. So, after a week in Scotland I feel disorientated but happy to be home.
My head is spinning with pictures and ideas, memories of warm hospitality, long distances travelled, and the magnificent contrast between nature and civilisation.
Whenever I travel I think long and hard about what I should take with me to sketch. I remember many disasterous trips when my tools seemed ill suited to the occasion. I suppose a bad craftsman blames his tools, but from struggling with fountain pens designed for waterproof ink (they never work) at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, or regretting the embarrasingly large sketchbooks I took to New York (talk about drawing attention to oneself), I have made every mistake imaginable.
This time my main challange was time. The weekend was busy with a workshop for adults, two storytelling sessions at the National Gallery of Scotland, all superbly orchestrated by Linda McClelland at the gallery. It was exciting and a bit overwhelming to see the exhibition at last, perfectly realised. And to see families enjoying the "Katie trail". As always, Linda was kindness itself and it is only because of her vision and enthusiasm that it all came to fruition. This was followed the next day by a whistlestop tour of the city of Edinburgh. My stalwart editor discreetly left me to sketch the courtyard inside Edinburgh Castle, only to later spot me being approached by an Australian couple, who delightedly told me of how they had counted the bricks in an engraving of some historiocal building in Britain, which they then checked against the real thing. Suddenly my weedy sketch of the castle looked even more disappointing. But I rallied when I reminded myself that this was a study for an illustration not an architecturally accurate record!
Early next morning, I managed two studies of the exterior castle, one with a fibre-tipped pen, one with pencil. Otherwise I used brushes with ink or paint (in fact brush pens, great for speed).
Later on, as I took the spectacular rail journey (I can't call it a trip; it's too fabulous) to Fort William, I tried sketching vertiginous mountains from a rattly old train. Sometimes the train was slow (I don't normally rejoice at such a circumstance, but this time I did), and I also filled in some detail from memory (or from other mountains). They are "impressions". I used the brush pens again and also some white oil pastel for resist and some lightening.
If anything, the bus journey from Fort William to Loch Ness is even more impressive. At Loch Ness I had time but less inclination to sketch, as I wanted to walk and explore. What a fabulously dark and moody place the Loch is, and I was very pleased that the ruins of Urquhart castle had not been "recreated", but left largely to the imagination.
I promised I would post any half-decent sketches. Not sure which half of them is any good, but they are incredibly valuable to me, both as reference and as a reminder of a really exciting expedition. I have wanted to visit Loch Ness since I was about 5 years old. It took over 40 years, but a little dream has come true. And Nessie? No, she didn't turn up for me. But I will say how the water of the Loch - which is miles long of course and exceptionally deep - was full of strange currents and surface pattens, dark shadows and ripples. A little imagination could have created a monster out of any of them.
So... onwards with Katie in Scotland. I have now largely rewritten the story and begun storyboarding the plan and the whole experience has filled me with enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder for Nessie, Edinburgh, Scotland and how they will all appear in the book...