Sunday, September 26, 2010


'Assimilating'. 50 x 38cm acrylic, ink & watercolour on paper.

Finished at last. This was drawn in the days immediately after Russia when I got the being home blues. some themes that have been around for years, just buried of late. Its all coming out now, more paintings on the go.

Community art projects. Tiled map 2001

Going through my work catalogue recently I realised there aren't many photographs of any of the older projects. This one is a wall panel at the Strathcarron centre/ post office so I grabbed some photos yesterday when I was there ( narrow corridor hard to photograph !). It was done in 2001 with help from the primary school children and pension aged people at the day care centre. Pottery tiles, melted glass, map of area with flora and fauna.
The children in this photo are of course grown up and driving cars now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lochcarron Producers days

Attended the monthly Lochcarron Producers day today, I usually try and attend as many as possible, as its a good chance to a) get out of the house b)sell my wares c) catch up with people d) get feedback on my latest work. As well as a few local crafts makers there is always a good value lunch provided by the village ladies to raise funds for the Kirkton Woodland and Heritage Group. This group is looking into development proposals and a community buy out of the woodland behind the village, which would open up many possibilities for the  development of the village rather than if the sale went to a private developer.

Some people see any changes or development in the village as a bad thing, but we have a village with the oldest average age in the region ( or beyond? correct me if I'm wrong ), there is a chronic lack of affordable housing for young families and the school roll has halved in the last four years. Something needs to be done to prevent this village becoming solely a holiday and retirement village, even if the retiring holiday home owners disagree.
( heres my latest crocheted hat, sported by the lovely 'Britney' )

( my wares on display )

( Paul Swan, local wildlife expert and wildlife photographer with his work )

( Terry Hitchen- woodturner, polishing one of his mirrors )

My camera batteries ran out before I could snap any of the other usual suspects! Its always a pleasant day out and handy for me as I don't have a studio or shop front any more, to meet the public and show my work. Folks were full of questions about my Russia trip after seeing it in the paper so I had my notebook running with theYelabuga photos.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

'Going Home'

second willow wreath canvas. 'Going Home' acrylic. 10" x 8"

asymmetric canvas 1

Heres the first of the organic recycled willow canvas paintings... theres got to be a snappier word for it, homemade wonky canvases? its a woven willow hoop with recycled textiles stretched with a dreamcatcher/drum making stitching at the back, primed.

This one is pretty tiny around5". Bigger ones cooking

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

new starts, old work and clear outs.

I seem to have forgotten how I used to paint, and so has everyone else. I suppose because this sort of work never got any sort of recognition, not only did I stop doing it but I forgot how to and that I even did.I don#t know where its all gone, maybe in a folio somewhere, maybe sold, a couple in my parents house. Theres evidence of some done a couple of years ago. canvases I've painted over with the more acceptable landscapes.

But after Russia, I'm painting my own thing again ( I'll show work here as soon as its finished ).
I've been working on one during the Tuesday Art group, people seem to like it. But one woman commented that it was very Russian. But this is what I did long before Russia.

I've been chained to the computer doing the digital colours for this 'Slaughtermans Creed' coming out with Markosia soon. My wacom ( digital pen and tablet ) has given up on me, my attempts to fix the jittery wobbly brush stroke at 3am rendering the whole thing unrecognizable to the PC. But it was over 6 years old, So while I wait for a new ( 2nd hand ) one to arrive in the post, I am forced to get on with other work. This has included a studio tidy up. buried in the chaos I found these two pictures. The Zebra one was from a dream around 13/14 years ago. the unfinished one was probably within the last 4 years. Not russian. Intriguing to me is the use of the same symbols in the picture I'm working on just now. sort of, you'll see what I mean when I finish it.

Point being? the threads in our lives may go out of sight for a while but they're all still there working away in the background.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Yelabuga- the Journey home part2

the final chunk of my notes from Russian trip- although Not the final blog on the subject!
this is the second part of the final journey home, we'd said goodbye to everyone one by one, Mennat at Moscow Domodedovo and now the three of us were at Sheremetyevo.

We seemed to be at Moscow airport for ever, it was indeed a day. It was very sad to say goodbye to Shinod whos presence had filled the symposium with laughter and joy. He checked into his Delhi flight an hour before ours. Emotional and drained we did all the security, the officials no longer intimidating to us. Just at check in I noticed that my bag had split but it was too late to buy a luggage strap or get  it wrapped in cellaphane on one of the machines which seems to be the norm in some airports. So we hastily shoved some masking tape around the bag and hoped for the best that my strategically packed precious gifts and souvenires would not burst out and be lost.

Very sleepy! We kept nodding off every time we stopped. But as the Moscow plane lifted up and Russia started to drop away from us then the pain hit, flying above the land I always dreamt of roaming, flying away, I think emotions were hitting both of us at the same time. there I was in the russian sky, no longer on Russian soil. There was something special about those clouds we flew through that day.

 Again as we landed and headed for the transfer plane, Shipol airport was full of different nationalities, usually I love this - but this day I resented everyone for not being Russian, for speaking English, for being too tall, for behaving slightly differently. But then we’d noticed in Moscow that the faces were a little different to Tatarstan and people were a little taller, We had to stop our selves saying ‘Sapassiba’ to people, English grating on the toungue. However the KLM flights are very comfortable, food and refreshments provided. Moscow and Shipol appear to be major jump off points for air travel so the passengers on the plane were a complete mixture. We both kept zonking out asleep, even during take off and landing, completely exhausted!

Edinburgh airport, here we are again, it not hitting home or making sense, time and place lagged. We’d travelled back in time 3 hours, but been up since 2am so we’d in effect done 27 hour day, but then more!
Shuttle bus quick wi-fi connect message that we had landed. I got us off at the wrong stop , meadow bank, murray field hey ho- so our heavy heavy bags with us ( mine had made it intact the masking tape holding the split okay ) we grabbed a taxi and headed to my eldest daughters flat for the night, it was 10pm Scotland 1pm our time. Tal had cooked us a lovely homemade pizza, glass of wine, quick catch up, Lynn literally nodding off on the sofa. I stayed up until 1.30am Scottish time 4.30am our time showing Tal all the photos.

Tuesday? 24th August. Taxi to bus station, bus. Megabus home. Met at Inverness by Lynn's husband Sandy. stop for cup of tea & bite to eat. Inverness smelt different the air was cool and humid. drive west, met Rich at Achnasheen, and then there was one symposium artist left. home. content, floating happy for a couple of days serene. then the come down hit hard. decisions to be made, work life balance, art- family life- picking up all the threads again from anew. onwards and upwards. I still dream that I'm there in Yelabuga, at the symposium.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hi-Ex and Children 1st

Let’s talk about the Elephant in the room, no not the drink and drugs culture of the north, no not... Okay let’s talk about one of the many elephants or things that we prefer to ignore and forget about in the UK. Let’s talk about Child abuse,  Child sexual abuse. 
If you have been affected by or are concerned about anyone affected by this contact here.

Yesterday Richmond and I went to the Children 1st Open day at their Killen Centre on the scenic Black Isle. ‘Children 1st’ is the chosen charity of Hi-Ex. Every year at our Comic convention in Inverness we have run a raffle and Auction in Aid of Children 1st. The items for these events are very generously donated by comic creators, companies, groups and individuals- they have included some stunning pages of comic artwork. Thanks to the generous bids these events have raised thousands of pounds for Children 1st.  Also some of the artists and writers attending Hi-Ex have collected donations for sketches and signings which have all gone into the pot. 
So it was on behalf of all these good people that we went to see more of what Children 1st do for children and their families in this area.

Children 1st is a Scottish wide charity, they have been around for 125 years, and were known as Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSSPCC) in the past. There are offices all over Scotland and fun fundraising events near you, details on their website. They also run Parentline.

The Centre at Killen is a beautiful tranquil converted school and school house. The warm, welcoming and calming atmosphere immediately settles around you. The building houses many therapy rooms, meeting rooms, resource rooms, art room, play room, a sensory chill out room and a lovely comfortable house for residential use.

 They offer;
An Abuse recovery service
Working with children ages 5 – 21 and their families to recover from the trauma of abuse and neglect

Family Group Conferencing
A fast and efficient method of helping a family identify and work towards their own solutions to problems with an individual or various members

Family mediation

Kinship care support service
Research has shown that a child recovers better in the care of their own family or people known to them, when their natural parents can no longer look after them. It can raise many problems within that families dynamic, guilt, anger and blame. 

A residential facility for families and workers to work intensively in a safe comfortable environment.

Children 1st works with the whole family in the child’s interests.

Unfortunately due to a lack of funding they can only work with a small number of families. Estimates are that in the Highlands around 4500 children have been victims of sexual abuse, Killen Centre is able to work with around 70 families year.

I am experienced with abuse in the family and working with victims of abuse, so I am well aware of the complexity of the issue. According to the tabloids everything is simple, black and white, being angry and wishing violence upon the perpetrators is the simple, normal and kneejerk reaction. The Killen support workers told the fundraisers recent case studies which clearly illustrate that dealing with sexual abuse is not that simple. People in the audience blanching at the horrific reality of it. What about when a small child still wants to see daddy even after attempted rape? When mum rejects the child and dismisses what happened as they want their husband back? What about when their simply isn’t enough evidence? Or even when there is the perpetrators are still not put behind bars. When the perpetrator is an under aged vulnerable child themselves? Sometimes small children may appear to recover but later in their teens when they remember and realise what happened to them the trauma can re-emerge. The victims of abuse can be trapped in fight or flight mode, they can suffer Post Traumatic Stress, develop mental health problems, personality disorders, become self harmers, suicidal, incapable of forming relationships, become promiscuous, become abusers themselves etc etc.

Children 1st adopt a holistic approach, whilst setting baselines rules, and working with other agencies like social work to ensure that the child’s safety and needs are met at all times, they then work with all the people involved and the child to build upon the child’s support network and ensure recovery. They also work with the non-abusing parents to support them. Often after disclosure of abuse it can be the worst time in a parents life, they are at their lowest ebb, when the child needs them to be the strongest. It can put incredible strain on relationships as different people deal with it in different ways over a different timescale, the example they gave us was when Dad wants to rage and kill the perpetrator, Mum blames herself and wracked with guilt becomes numb and withdrawn, all at a time when the child needs love, reassurance, stability and routine. Abuse is like an explosion which rips right through a family, the effect can last forever.

I was very impressed with the skills and resources that they have, they clearly are all experts in this horrible field, every different case presenting new challenges. I feel so sad thinking of all the children and now adults I know who really need and needed this sort of support. It’s criminal that money stops everyone having access to these therapies and support.

But at least we all managed to help, the Hi-Ex money all went directly to this centre and helping these children get their lives back. I cannot thank enough all the donators and participants of our fundraising events. Rest assured we will do some more fundraising in 2011 even if the main comic convention won’t be back until 2012. I hope you will all continue to support this important cause. Ignoring the elephant in the room will NOT make it go away, we are all responsible for all the children, all the time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yelabuga- the Journey home part1

 Here are my Notes from the journey back from Yelabuga;

Monday 23rd back at terminal E, sheretemyvo airport.

Had no wifi in days still none, havent had time to keep notes let alone blog. I’ll have to back track , so much to say. Perhaps also the last few days I became so immersed in the here that the voice to report home was lost, perhaps. But certainly things were a little stretched, there was anxiety building in some folks about the departure, communication in our little group got messy, the poor interpreters were led here and there by impulsive plan changes and demands, like a school trip where the children get their every wish granted.

 Most of the Russian speakers drifted off various departure times over the last couple of days. This morning at 2.45am we left the hotel in the usual minibus with our gang of 4, plus two Russian speakers, Alex, Anna, Gulada the organiser of exhibition hall, and a couple of musicians from the bell ringing ceremony and Spassky Fair ( see previous blogs ). We dropped lovely Loreta and brilliant artist Dulustan off at the train station, tearful goodbyes. Onwards to the small Naberezhnye Chelny / Begishevo airport, folks wrapped up, cold, a rainy night but still 13C- warmer than daytime at home when we left. We said our heart felt goodbyes, dear new friends. I thought I would get upset upon leaving, many times throughout the 10 days I cried with the rush of so many emotions, so happy, things so beautiful, so poignant, so much what I was always looking for in life…but after the last days with people in our little group bickering -I guess pragmaticsm kicked in at 3am, to start crying would set everyone off. Also determined that this is only the beginning of something not the end. I must try and bring home the spirit of Russia or Tatarstan, find ways to get back, find ways to bring our new friends to Scotland? To set up links and build opportunities for cultural exchange, the UK can offer decent money for them, they can offer us wonderful culture, history, art, handicrafts, food, philosophies…oh and apart from money we have softer toilet roll, well done UK if this is all you have to offer the world….and rules, restrictions, regulations don’t forget those, we’re good at that too.

Meanwhile the scenery on the way to the airport looked so different from the drive in, unfamiliar alien landscape made warm and familiar. Airport- here hand luggage was weighed as well, we are all laden with gifts, souvenirs ,vodka, paints, so well over limits and had to pay extra, as is fairly normal in Russia, you join one queue for one piece of paper, then go to another kiosk to pay, then with receipt head back to the first, nothing happens in a great hurry here, but nobody gets narky or stressed ( except some of our group ). So I paid the extra 950pybls/rubs, then Meena also needed to pay extra, but only had dollars, having not exchanged enough at the bank the day before. Because things can be a little slow and cumbersome with anything official it is best to plan well ahead. So I gave Meena 1000rubs & headed though security. Turns out she needed lots more, so as the flight was nearly boarding and there was no sign of her… she'd had to removing items from her bag, poor lassie. Got through security, then Meena thought she had lost her camera and was stressing out…back though security, rummage bag, yes it was there all the time…and so it went on a rather stressful morning. We met a nice lassie in departures who didn’t speak Russian but English, she was from Azerbaijan and happy to travel onwards with us as the language barrier can be daunting. But this is whats happened the whole time, everywhere we go people chat, without the danger or perceived threat at home, without fake jolity, just warm, calm openess.

This 1st flight was another new experience, we boarded underneath the tail of the plane, engines roaring above our heads. A last look at that wonderful place and away. I fell asleep before take off even. Zoning in & out dream images of Tatarstan decorative motifs, gold glistening in Russian sun, the sound of Russian voices. Descent seemed to take an hour, engines revving them subsiding, I thing we must have been spiralling in a holding pattern as the plane was late in. Baggage, Meenas shoe broke, fixed it. Said our goodbyes to Meena who’s ongoing flight to Cairo was from the same airport Domodevo, luckily everyone too tired and zombiefied from a long night to get emotional.

Now the three muskateers needed to get across the massive city of Moscow to Sheremetyvo airport. On the way in we had come and gone from the same airport, only transferring between terminals ( which was then adventure enough! ). Shinod had already done the trip between airports via 2 trains. However Alex advised us we should be able to get a taxi for $100 /3200 rubs which between us would be MUCH easier and about the same price, the distance is around 90k. One problem is the taxi touts can be rather dodgy charging £100’s, and you have to negotiate a price in advance. At Domedevo though there were a couple of official taxi desks, so it was no problem!

 I think some of the phrase\guide books are rather out of date, things are changing fast here. So we paid our flat fee 3200 rubs, the driver colleceted us…a word of advice to anyone doing the same transfer, allow PLENTY of time for your flight times, the traffic is mayhem! It took us 2.5 hours, but it was a wonderful opportunity to see the mad outskirts of moscow, a glimpsed building in the distance could have been the Kremlin. There were markets, crashed cars ( little wonder! ), power stations, parks, tower blocks old and new, one detouring into town to avoid a traffic jam. I will not ever ever be hiring a car and driving these roads! They overtake on inside, weave across lanes tail to tail , use the hard shoulder, no indication, lorries, all at speed, but yet no stress no waved fists, no road rage, no big deal, battered ladas and gas guzzling new money mercs- the lorries are brilliant! Mad old fashioned looking designs. The cooler towers of the power station were bright colour patterns, not just grey. No pictures sadly as my camera was with the luggage in the boot at this point.
( image off google to give you the idea ! )

Sheremetyevo terminal D, lunch, we were starving! The hotel had provided a packed lunch which was lovely, boiled egg, Russian bread ( its tasty rather chewy stuff ), a dough thing with meat and potatoes inside, kiwi, yogurt, tomato- we’d also bought provisions of chuk chuk ( sp? ) at the market yesterday, seasame biscuits, dried apricots and more potato bread. It was a great picnic, nice to just chill out for a bit. Then to Terminal E where Shinods flight for Delhi leaves an hour before ours at terminal F. so I’m sitting typing at the same place we spent the night on the way in, the strange now familiar. While we rest & pass time until Shinods check in.

to be continued...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Influence Map

 to join in with the latest meme- its a good time for me to reappraise...this was a tricky exercise even thinking exclusively about art & creative life , people and places have all been big influences, then there are genres and specific artifacts. here are the things that have nurtured and shaped 30+ years of creative life. Spose I should have  squeezed the green movement and alternative scene it there too...

Yelabuga- Fire Station visit

Fire station visit. Sunday 21st August

At the Spassky fair I spotted a fire engine, but realising a small foreign woman gibbering to these scary big uniformed chaps alone would not make sense I phoned Anna to come and help me. Poor Anna ( and Olga ) spend the days scurrying about dealing with 10 requests at once, having to repeat themselves endlessly, and demonstrate infinite patience. I always felt bad joining in with their load. But this was fantastic, Anna bravely knocked on the large imposing fire engine door and explained who I was to the chaps who were a good foot taller than the average Tatar/ Yelabuga Russian. Their vehicle could eat ours for breakfast.

They were formal at first, I gave them badges and pens from the Scottish Fire Brigade Union, then when I asked specific questions about their watch, systems and equipment, it started to dawn on them that I was an actual fire-fighter not control staff or administration.

 There are No women firefighters here, they were shocked stating that it is dangerous work and not suitable for women, but they had warmed and were impressed. Its always challenging for me finding a situation where women are 'not allowed', I've spent my life fighting inequality in UK That my gender makes me a second class citizen, or that I would have to dress and act in a submissive way in some countries to survive is so offensive to me, while I respect different cultures its hard for me to imagine relinquishing my independence- especially after a life of doing both mens and womens work at the same time. However at the fire  station in Yelabuga, I felt more surprise at me being a fire fighter than doubt at my abilities. More chivalry than chauvinism ( although are they not part of the same thing ? ).

I guess like Russians in general, when you get past the initial reserve they are wonderfully hospitable and friendly. So on the Sunday visit I met the station manager, if I remember correctly there are 4 watches of 30 men, on a 2 on 2 off basis. Although in the recent forest fires they had all worked flat out back to back. They don’t have a pager system but instead telephones they if they are not in the watch they can still be called up. The control room is within the station with 3 terminals and like ours ( in Inverness to cover the whole area ), runs off satelites and can contact every station in Tatarstan in 3 seconds.

While we were there there was a call out, they don’t use a pole, are all based on the ground floor. They have a fleet of 30 vehicles, different specialised trucks, which all were much higher than ours, they explained that the smaller Russian roads in villages etc are pretty bad, especially in winter, so off road wheels are required. The use the Draeger Breathing apparatus that we do, a different model but same make, they also have cutting gear, but a truck fro rolling hoses which sounds great ! We saw canvas hoses drying in the yard, they’d used a lot of kilometres worth in recent fires. These hoses were much larger diameter than ours 1.5 or 1.2 ? Cm, they looked like they weighed a tonne, our 70mm’s are bad enough.

We were also shown the bosses office, he is in charge of all the report writing and paper work, unlike us where we are all currently lumbered with bureaucracy and administration. They have a small gymnasium with some seriously vintage iron weights and whatnot, a homely kitchen and rest room, and a basic dorm where the night shift are required to rest unless that are at a call.

Then the obligatory photo call, swopping web and e-mails etc. It was brilliant to touch base and make contact with colleagues working with such different equipment to ours, It was good fun showing my crew at home the photographs, once we got past the ridiculous James Bond villain and spy thriller narrow impression of Russia that people in UK have grown up with.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Yelabuga- last Day-bell ringing

Sunday 22nd.

Plan was that we’d meet Anna at 10am to have a lie in & pack bags. Lovely Olga also came along to say her goodbyes with all promising to set up face book accounts to keep in touch ( people can be quite dismissive of social networking sites, but without Facebook & twitter I wouldn't have got to Russia, nor now keep in touch with my new friends )

So we headed to a bus stop to head to town outskirts to visit the fire station, and hit a super market en route for journey supplies and vodka to take home ( Russian Vodka is nothing like the vile toilet cleaner we get at home ). Meena wasn’t keen on fire station trip but as it had been dicussed at great length and voted on off we headed, our group dynamic getting frayed on the last day as leaving anxiety rose. At the bus stop Anna got a call from her Boss Gulnara, that the bell ringing ceremony was about to start at Spassky catherdral, the director general would be there and it would be a good opportunity to catch this very busy lady. Gulzada  Rudenko obviously works hard for the international awards that their state preservation area has obtained, the whole town is on the up and its thanks to forward thinking people of integrity like this that the future for Yelabuga looks bright ( especially when we compare to the gloomy pessimism of the UK’s predicted economy over the next 3 years ).

So we crossed thr road and grabbed a minibus back into town 11rubs ( that’s around 19p ), the buses are just 13 seater minibuses, folks sit, stand, sit on knees, sit in the front, and pay the driver on leaving, there was generally banter on all the buses we went on, our being foreigners, having been on the news & in press, or maybe folks are just friendly despite the initial impression of being reserved. A gentleman in a suit told us about how he's fought in WW2 & how wasteful war was, a deaf lady gestured to get her photo taken.

Bell ringing ceremony Spassky cathedral. People sitting on benches, cosack style guys in uniform, hussars? Babushkas in headscarf’s. Bells, musicians, a speaker, flowers, children playing , police in their big hats, ( and heels for the ladies ) and the gorgeous cathedral.

Anna explained that standing near the bells during the ceremony is good for your health, the vibrations of the bells create harmony within the body, you could indeed feel the lower larger bells, it was a beautiful morning.  Apparently Yelabuga used to have a famous bell factory & even produced one that was 15 tonnes. Strangely enough I hadn't known about this when I painted a bell tower under water in one my my pictures. I was thinking about the tales of sunken cities.

The director general came to greet us, with hugs, kisses, handshakes and much warmth, we gave our small gift- which it turns out is something she collects, that’s the Yelabuga effect for you. I can't imagine myself enjoying a UK church ceremony of any denomination- but out here, where Islamic, Christian Orthodox, & pagan folk beliefs all sit together in harmony it was impossible not to feel the effects, it no longer seemed to matter which god, gods or philosophy one believed in or what it was named ( or not ), the sun shone on us all & the music did its work.

We had been joined for the day by Alex and Luda’s son George who was great company and understands a lot more English than we realised! There was always much laughter when Shinod was about, infectious! Dr Prudenko had heard ( everyone hears everything about our antics in this town! )  that we had met the firefighters at the Fair on Saturday and that we had an invitation to the fire station , so she had phoned and officially organised a visit for us .Meena was keen to do more shopping at the fair so we left her to it & caught another mini-bus to the outskirts of town, where the large imposing fire station is> more on this in next blog