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The Joys of a Creative Retreat in Scotland

Last October I signed up to a creative retreat in the Spring, led by two amazing photographers, Charlotte Bellamy and Ania Rolinska. I was tempted by the mix of photography and art, which would teach me new techniques, and also by having time with other creatives to share ideas and inspirations. All through the winter, I looked forward to the retreat, and now at last April was here! Still sticking to my current no-fly rule I made the long car journey up from Devon to Loch Katrine in the Trossachs (with the help of an amazing friend!). I was hopeful that after the wettest eighteen months in England since records began in 1836 we would get to see some sun for our photography.

And after a few very wet days in Stirling, we arrived at Loch Katrine, which is about an hour north of Glasgow. It is an amazing 8 miles long, 1 mile wide, and 400 feet deep in places. This was my first experience of spending time in a Scottish landscape environment. I took in the the beauty of the loch and the surrounding hills, so glad to have made the decision to come. Others had already arrived at the large house by the lake where we were staying. One was a friend from USA who I had known for a while online, and I was thrilled to meet up face-to-face. I was then pleasantly surprised to discover that two of the group were people I had met before on another workshop! Suddenly I felt I belonged.

The seven of us were following in famous footsteps. Henry Fox Talbot had taken photographs here in 1844, including this one:

Queen Victoria had opened an aqueduct constructed here in 1859 to provide water to the people of Glasgow. In the days before the retreat I had read Sally Magnusson's fictionalised account of life in Loch Katrine as these waterworks were being constructed: The Ninth Child. Sally explored the possibilities that the industrial activity in the hills surrounding Loch Katrine was disturbing the sithichean, the fairies. Legend has it there are 'urisks' - small people like pixies or faeries - who live under the rocks around the loch, and this gave me a link with the pixie stories of my local Dartmoor. Here you can hear Sally talking about the characters and the folklore in the book.

And then there was a sign, a rainbow across the hills - the urisks saying it was all going to work out.

Late afternoon we went for a walk up the hill overlooking the loch. I felt a calm descend. I was here. But that was not all! After a lovely meal, we then started the art element of the course! Having settled and started to feel at ease by casting off my anxieties, I was thrown completely out of my comfort zone! We experimented with representing what we had experienced on our walk using charcoal, pastels and then collage - all new to me. What had I let myself in for!

The following morning we were greeted by a dry day. Such a relief! We retraced our steps from the walk the day before, taking our time to absorb what we were seeing and feeling. I noted the way that the colours in the landscape kept changing as the clouds scudded over.

I paused and looked at details to help ground myself in the space.

Feeling energised and excited about the week ahead, we continued our exploration along the side of the loch. I started to play around with some ICMs. I was captivated by the colours, the bronze and golds, with the deep blues, and the light shining on the trunks of the birches:

while looking the other way, the palette was silver and various shades of grey, with ghostly silhouettes of the skeleton tress awaiting their spring foliage:

I experimented with some in-camera multiple exposures, changing the angle of the camera to grab the shape of the hills, the light on the lake, the clouds and the trees:

and searching out textures that would work together:

until i created this gem. Magic, ghostly, sparkling fairy dust ......

In the afternoon Ania gently and thoughtfully guided us through a series of activities that helped us to connect the landscape we had seen with the emotions that had emerged for us. Here is my first drawing with charcoal, and my eyes were suddenly open to the possibilities of this medium:

Add in some colour:

and then look for details:

I was smitten! And there was still another day to go!

NB An introductory video on using charcoal: Tom Quigley Art

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May 03

You truly captured the workshop experience in these blogs. They are wonderful. And I love your multiple exposures, ICM and art. I always learn so much from you. You are thoughtful and observing, and you remind me to stop dashing about - which I'm inclined to do! - and soak in what's around me BEFORE taking a photo. Thank you. It was lovely seeing the workshop through your eyes. I am so glad I got to meet you in person.

Valerie Huggins
Valerie Huggins
May 04
Replying to

Thank you for those kind words. I really felt on the edge of my comfort zone! It was so good to spend time with you too Scottee. My only regret is that we didn't have one more day to explore putting the art and the photography together in one creation. Or maybe that is the next workshop we go on together!

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