A trip back in time

In 2004 I made a series of drawings from old microscope slides on loan from the Bell Pettigrew Museum at the University of St. Andrews, for a project organised by artist and illustrator Jeannine Osborne. I worked with a beautiful set of insect wings, collected and prepared by biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948).

Thompson published his famous book ‘On Growth and Form’ in 1917 and it has influenced thinking about natural structures through to the present day. I remember borrowing an old well-used copy from the St. Andrews University library in the 1970s, struggling with the text and thoroughly enjoying the illustrations.

In 2004 we exhibited our drawings and paintings alongside the original microscope slides in the Cooper Gallery at University of Dundee and I was delighted when two of my drawings were purchased for the University collection: ‘Diptera’ (a bluebottle wing) and ‘Odonata’ (a lovely dragonfly wing with a little break on one edge). 

A few weeks ago I received an email from Dundee University Curator Matthew Jarron, letting me know that my drawings were to be included in a new exhibition at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, showcasing artwork inspired by D’Arcy Thompson’s work. I visited the exhibition last week and found my drawings in great company. I feel very proud to be in the same show as Wilhelmina Barns Graham, not far from one of her lovely ‘geology’ drawings.

I asked Matthew if it was ok to photograph my work so here it is, with authentic fluorescent-lighting stripeyness:

The label says these are ‘mixed media’. I must have been less specific about materials back then. I remember using pencil, pen and ink, red and yellow ochres from the Fife coast and shellac varnish. I enjoyed adding the shellac. I used it to give the drawings the same antiqued look as the old microscope slides and had a smile to myself at the time, knowing that shellac is a resin made by insects.

‘A Sketch of the Universe: Art, Science and the Influence of D’Arcy Thompson’ is on at the City Art Centre until 19 Feb 2017.


Paint and draw like a Pict!

Here’s a visual record of the Pictish art workshop I ran at the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland on Saturday 30th May. I’m absolutely sure that Liz, Marek, Ali, Sophie and Sarah would be accepted as scribes and banner-makers by any self-respecting Pictish tribe…

We used illustrations of Pictish stone carvings for reference and made notebooks for storing tracings and drawings

Everyone created their own designs and tranferred them onto calico to make banners – some larger than others!

Natural mineral pigments (ochres) from the Fife coast provided rich colour for the banner designs

The beautiful finished banners (Ali has taken pigments home to finish the colourwork on his). The Pictish carved stones found the length of eastern Scotland may have been this colourful. Who knows? 

There’s a glimpse of East Lomond hill behind Sarah in this photo. Dr. Oliver O’Grady supervised a successful community dig on the east side of this hill in 2014 for the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership and he thinks it was a very significant place during Pictish times. More about that on the Living Lomonds website: http://www.livinglomonds.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Big-Dig-East-Lomond-Hill-Fort.pdf

Illustrator Bob Marshall has created an amazing reconstruction of the hill fort in collaboration with Oliver. Spot the banners outside the ‘great hall’ at the top of the hill: http://www.bobmarshall.co.uk/portfolio/illustrations/east_lomond_fort.asp

And if you’d like to see (and buy) contemporary interpretations of Pictish art: http://www.ancientstoneart.co.uk/

The last word goes to Sophie’s Pictish archer.


This workshop was funded by the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership and hosted by the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland: http://www.centreforstewardship.org.uk/