One dawn this spring I was watching the bronzy morning light on the tree outside my window, half asleep, drifting. I ‘saw’ an image of the last human in the world lying in the tree reaching for the last apple.
It was a powerful semi-lucid moment. I decided to paint the image to further my commitment to somehow keep planting trees through my art.
A series of paintings started to emerge.
A few days later I was asked by another artist to join her in exhibiting on the theme of Orchards in 2022 and see if we could find a historic orchard to reinstate working alongside a community Orchard Group.
She knows I am into tree planting but had no idea I had started painting apple trees. I was delighted to say ‘yes’ or rather ‘YES PLEASE!!!’ I feel more excited than I have felt all year. A new adventure and clarity of purpose.
We have a potential site for an orchard already. Things are moving fast. It’s exciting.
Series 12 x 12 inches. Acrylic on board.
Please do join my blog to be kept in touch about the art and the orchard as it progresses.
The greatest Virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone.
The Tao is elusive and intangible.
Oh, it is intangible and elusive, and yet within is image.
Oh, it is elusive and intangible, and yet within is form.
Oh it is dim and dark, and yet within is essence.
The essence is very real, and therein lies faith.
From the very beginning until now its name has never been forgotten.
thus I perceive the creation.
How do I know the ways of creation?
Because of this.
Decluttering my studio this week and not painting or writing – un muddling my studio and brain! Finally prising my mind open to embrace acrylic paints and have beginners mind and experiment. Instead of saying ‘I can’t use them’, ‘I don’t like them’ and ‘I prefer oil’, I’m saying ‘I wonder what I CAN do with them’ and ‘they are not toxic, hurrah!’.
It feels so good having got all the half finished unresolved oil paintings out of the way last week. It feels like a new beginning AND the snow drops started blooming this week too. Spring is springing in more ways than one.
Simple shifts of intention and clarity of focus can be hard to find but look so easy written down. I have struggled to get here! It is long overdue to embrace working with acrylics as my lungs can’t cope with oil any longer.
I had a couple of sheets of 8ft x 4ft ply delivered and am waiting for a new fine tooth saw to arrive to cut it up into boards to paint on. I’m moving away from canvas too. A whole new beginning. A whole new practice!
So in the spirit of the Tao I am embracing the formless and the unknown, allowing my art practice to change and actually feeling excited about acrylics at long last! Yay! Faith in the unknown!
This painting made a weeks or so ago ‘Walking with Trees’ is acrylic, pastel and pencil on paper. I found myself enjoying the flexibility I found. A stepping stone drawing.
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.
Give up kindness, renounce morality,
And men will rediscover filial piety and love.
Give up ingenuity, renounce profit,
And bandits and thieves will disappear.
These three are outward forms alone: they are not sufficeint in themselves.
It is more important
To see the simplicity,
To realise one’s true nature,
To cast off selfishness
And temper desire.
The Tao Te Ching is loaded with ideas so selecting what resonates.
‘To realise one’s true nature’
I think that art is a kind of seeking of one’s self. I guess it’s what motivates to keep making artwork. The joy of ‘Aha’ moments, happy accident, skills coming together, letting go. The pure sensory pleasure of colour or paint on canvas. The thrill of an abstact line turning into something recognisable. The expression of pure feeling…
Great week in the studio resolving problem paintings – the also rans in the reject pile. Quite a big reject pile – I seem to have a lot of problems, some going back ten years!
I want to clear my studio to really learn how to work in non-toxic acrylic paint. So resolving oil paintings seemed like a good plan and instead of wanting to burn the problem paintings I felt on fire this week.
It would appear artists creates problems to solve. A crazy game but the best fun when it comes together.
Simple ideas applied – design, differences and values.
The work came alive and with it me too!
It’s the best feeling being in the zone. Dubbed the zone by children I taught Alexander Technique to at school discovering it was something they could access for themselves through a bit of Alexander Technique ‘forward and up’ thinking. A real ‘life skill’. I used to feel on fire every time I taught.
Today – intention to pack my oils to the shed and create space for acrylics! This is BIG! This is putting myself into being a beginner as I really don’t like acrylics or know what they can do but my lungs really, really don’t like oil paint!
I am finally motivated to give acrylics a real go, rather than simply fiddle half heartedly.
Beginners mind! The first three ‘give up’s’ in this verse perhaps instructions as to how to find it!?
These four paintings of speeding cheetahs were part of a series I did about ten years ago and had got stuck with. Happy with the energy in them now, and they definitely portray the feel of shifting forward and my ignited energy this week. Although they don’t really represent themes I am interested in painting now, my ‘finisher/completer’ is doing a happy dance!
I didn’t write for the last two days as have been totally absorbed in problem solving shelved paintings, as well as trying to come to terms with acrylic paint. Everything else forgotten.
I have felt stuck in a rut for so long that I wanted to keep pushing through.
Breakthroughs appearing through just staying with it. 12 hour days painting. My arm is sore today so a day off I think.
Painted over some landscapes that I didn’t like. Adding drama though rethinking the design and contrasts.
Lots in the last two days feel like jumping off places to move forward. Will share more discoveries tomorrow. Today my little landscape reworks… I am feeling breakthroughs in these so looking forward to exploring landscape from start and not as paint overs but really need to rethink oil paints as my lungs not happy. So exploring mode – open to chaos to find a new way forward in art and life.
(Just remembered my dream. I was walking up a hill and something was pushing my up. An invisible hand on my back giving me momentum and energy. The hill was overlooking Princess St Gardens in Edinburgh but wasn’t Edinburgh.
The night before I dreamt dad was telling me he had bought a castle up North for us, the oldest castle in Scotland, and I had to go and find it. I did and it was part of a restaurant in a modern ugly shopping centre! The ancient huge hearth and old stone walls were still visible. The restaurant was being done up, so in chaos.)
The words of the Tao opened a flowing morning. The spokes of the wheel, creative ideas. Keep returning to centre. Let go when done. Allow the door of the day to open and take shape.
Two drawings for my Horses and Tree of Life Calendar. I made a beautiful sample for 2021 but never produced it. With Covid it didn’t feel right to send calendars around the world! Now redesigning.
I wonder if it will get over the door this year or will it become something else? I hope to plant trees though my art.
The sample calendar I gave to my neighbour. He phoned on Hogmanay asking if I had a calendar, superstitious to go into the new year without one. I gave him my sample and asked him to plant trees. He told me in the past he hates trees. With luck, my only 2021 calendar might do good.
Strengthening intentions – finding ways to plant trees in places where they are not there!
Glencoe Mountain Rescue by Kirsten Harris, Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 80 cms approx
A few years ago I started chatting to a random stranger parked next to me. He was fixing a cable to the front of his Land Rover and talked about fundraising for Glencoe Mountain Rescue to buy them a new Land Rover. His friend had recently tragically died in the mountains. I spontaneously offered to paint something to auction towards the fundraising. This is the painting.
The book cover is something I drew at the start of this year for my good friend Susan, who has climbed every Monroe in Scotland. The Aonach Eagach is, apparently, one of the scarier mountains to climb!
Though I suspect my relationship with mountains will be largely artistic, I thought I would bring Susan’s book together with the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Land Rover painting.
We are so lucky here in Scotland to have such an amazingly stunning landscape and brave volunteers who are willing to risk their own lives when walkers get into trouble in the mountains.
Link to Susan’s book here, recounting some of her adventures hill walking in Scotland.
My latest few blogs are collections of art on specific themes. Certain themes recur almost without thinking. So these blogs are a kind of sketch book for me or mini exhibitions. (Apologies in advance for my poor photography of some of the images.)
Tinto Hill here in South Lanarkshire with its distinctive profile, is a daily view and over the past three years has shown up repeatedly in my art in cartoons, drawings and paintings.
Tinto is a hill with history.
If you are interested in any of the artwork in this blog please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The traditional Lanarkshire rhyme, On Tintock Tap or On Tinto Top is for me less a rhyme and more a riddle. It could be suggesting that there is great wealth buried under the 4 metre high Neolithic/Bronze age cairn which is believed to be the biggest in Scotland and has never been excavated but I like the idea of it being a riddle full of symbolism.
Musings on the Symbolism –
Tintock/Tinto – Red fire hill. Fire symbolises energy, life, the inner spark, passion, sexuality, courage, determination, action and risk taking. Tinto – the divine fire hill. Fire serves as a beacon, seen from afar, especially from the top of a hill. The ancient Beltane festival and the Baal Fire are associated with Tinto – traditionally lit across Britain on May 1st to bring prosperity. Beltane, the time of dancing fires, when cattle were driven out to summer pastures. The simultaneous lighting of fires stretching across the landscape connected people, a giant fire calendar of hope. Many think Tinto looks like a giant breast the cairn being the nipple. Mother Earth herself.
Tintock Tap– climbing a hill or mountain symbolises the will to succeed, ambition, success and reaching your highest potential. The top of a mountain is the closest we can get to ‘heaven’ on earth. We are lifted by mountains. Mountains symbolise eternity, constancy and stillness.
Mist – symbolises a veil, thehidden, the ethereal, the mysterious. What is shrouded in mystery on the top of Tinto? Mist is a slow drizzle that blurs and distorts our vision preventing us from seeing clearly. Mists are like foggy thinking and lack of clarity. What can we find when the mists of perception clear? What visions for the future can we create?
Kist – A treasure chest. Here is a mystery within a mystery, the mist contains a treasure chest. How do we find the treasure and open the chest? Is this the treasures of the heart? Or something bigger than the individual?
Cup – Cups symbolise the spirit, receptivity, the heart, love, emotions, water, the holy grail, suggesting that the top of Tinto is an important spiritual place.
Drop – the mist has turned into a drop of water. Life itself. Is this a drop of blood, holy blood or the millions of drops of water that make a river and humanity. The human body is mainly water. Water is linked to the moon which governs tides. Emotions are symbolised by cups. The ebb and flow of the tides of life are alluded to. Water finds a way, water flows, water finds a course to the sea, to the whole. The mountain has been endured to drink from the cup. Is this to quench a thirst, physical or spiritual?
Set up camp – A steep path represents a journey that requires energy to persevere to reach the goal. To set up camp is an invitation to stop, to meditate, to look and experience a new or different perspective. To contemplate the journey made thus far. To be present to the beauty around us.
The astrological elements are represented in this verse – Fire, air, earth, water. Where better to study the astrological clock, the stars, the moon, the directions of Earth but from the top of a hill.
Tinto Hill is the defining landscape feature of this part of South Lanarkshire. It is in itself a map and marker. The rhyme further suggests Tinto is a place of spiritual importance.
Perhaps there is gold hidden under that cairn on Tinto Top. Wanlockhead, the source of pure Scottish gold, is within sight of Tinto or maybe the treasure referred to, is within.
In my drawing a rider has reached the top of Tinto Hill. She looks over the landscape. She has found great treasure. It is not actual gold that fills her heart it is journey that has made her rich. She knows that true riches are in the experience of loving life itself.
The hardest part of this drawing for me was the script, it took me hours to do and then I realised I had missed out a line from the verse and had to rub it out and start again. Drawings too can be mountains to climb.
Currently on Exhibition at The Tolbooth Lanark alongside photographs of Lanark Closes and other pencil drawings based on local history.
The Grey Lady of Shieldhill Castle by Kirsten Harris, Pencil on Paper
Are ghosts real?
At Quothquan near Biggar sits the historic Sheildhill Castle, seat of the Chancellor family for over 750 years. The tower built in 1199 still forms the heart of the current building, dating from 1820.
The Grey Lady, a daughter of the family, is said to haunt the building.
One story goes that the girl was raped by a soldier during the second half of the seventeenth century, known as the Killing Times, when Charles II tried to impose Episcopacy on the Scots.
A second story tells that she fell in love with a lowly farm worker, and became pregnant. The ashamed family locked her in a room. When the baby was born it was taken from her and left in a field. The grieving girl never recovered from the trauma and when she died her spirit remained at Sheildhill.
Reported sightings of a Grey Lady, who appears to be searching for something, have included various rooms in the castle, the roof and grounds.My drawing depicts her waking the grounds.
I have used the heraldic symbols that appear in the stone above the front door of the castle and incorporated them into the landscape. As well as ancient weeping ‘horse trees’ silently aware of her presence and responding to her grief.
And for a bit of added spookiness some gravestones from nearby Dunsyre Kirkyard.
The idea for this painting came from walking in the mountains. I wanted to make a painting which was more about the experience of walking uphill, than a portrait of a hill or mountain. I have called it ‘A Spiritual Path’, as it is about the push to keep going in life when the path seems steep or challenging.
I looked at Hokusai’s ‘Climbing on Mount Fuji’ as inspiration, in particular the abstract, atmospheric feel, the mark making and colour
Climbing on Mount Fuji
by Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849)
Maisie on my lap while I contemplate the work of Hokusai and plan my painting and Walter mows the lawn!
Painting mapped out
‘A Spiritual Path’ is a large canvas, 110 x 150 cm.
I painted standing up keeping the thought of walking on rough ground as I made the marks on canvas, inspired too by my current explorations with The Alexander Technique. I wrote a blog as a warm up to the painting ‘On Being Wiggly, Part 2 – Here is a link to part 1 and 2
And here is the path of the painting –
Maisie with ball on table, she knows the game of art or the art of the game!
I have to chuck the ball out of the open studio door between brush strokes to keep her entertained while I paint.
Looking like a big breast at this stage!
I guess that is Tinto the fire hill for you.
Wanting to bring in a suggestion of
Fallburn Roman Fort at the bottom of Tinto,
the semi circle marks
A Spiritual Path
by Kirsten Harris
Oil on Canvas
110 x 150 cm
After!!!! Several days later
Brushes stuffed into rubber gloves to stop them drying out during the process!
Messy Painter! : )
This painting will be exhibited at 36 Views of Tinto Exhibition, Tolbooth, Lanark
On my recent trip to the picture framers for 36 Views of Tinto Exhibition I had a conversation that I have been thinking about all week. I want to share it –
I was helping another artist choose a frame for her painting for the show.
A woman in the shop became involved in the discussion.
She was framing her husbands painting, who she described as one of The Scottish Contemporaries.
My artist friend starting belittling her own painting as ‘only an amateur effort that Kirsten has kindly included in the exhibition, I am not sure why, it’s not very good ….’
The other woman replied – ‘Yes, there are only two kinds of artists amateur and professional’ or words to that effect.
She wasn’t being snobby (well maybe slightly) but she was just stating a perceived truth!
‘Is that true?’ …. I thought, and found myself saying what I believe to be true –
‘There is only one kind of artist, and that is artists, because as far as I can see everyone puts there heart and soul into their work and that is the only criteria that matters!’
Come and see the 36 Views of Tinto Exhibition at the Tolbooth, Lanark if you are in the area – where local artists have put their heart and soul into interpreting Tinto our local much loved landscape feature. Maybe you will find something you want to own. It is going to be a great exhibition!
Look forward to seeing you … and by the way, my friends painting is very good and I am sure it will be snapped up!
I smoked as an art student. Nearly all of us did. It was the 80’s after all and we thought we were cool. What we didn’t realise was that the ashtray we were casually flicking ash into was worth a million quid! Now that’s cool!
Professor David Hill, the world renowned Turner expert and author, was our art history lecturer at Bretton Hall College in the 80’s. Every class from cave painting to the High Renaissance, from pop art to pointillism, David Hill would find a way to bring Turner into the conversation.
As a first year I hated Turner, and with artist Jane Tomlinson took a pop at Turner by writing a joke essay about a fictional Mrs Turner and handing it in. Anything to argue against the revered man. By the third year I was converted and wrote my degree thesis on the Turner Prize.
David Hill wrote a book called In Turner’s Footsteps, so of course the big inspiration behind gathering a group of artists for the Romance of the Falls Exhibition at the Tolbooth, Lanark 12 October – 12 November is to follow in Turner’s footsteps drawing inspiration from the Falls of Clyde. Ever since I have visited the Falls I have thought ‘I am walking in Turner’s footsteps’, seeing what he saw. An idea for an exhibition has been brewing for several years. David Hill
For the million pound ashtray story and David Hill’s discovery here is a link to his website … well worth a read, quite amazing.
The Royal Academy of Arts in Edinburgh have kindly allowed us to reproduce Turner’s Falls of Clyde painting as a postcard which will be on sale at Romance of the Falls, Contemporary Art at the Tolbooth, Lanark 12 October – 12 November.
Detail from a much bigger oil painting’ A Falling Romance’ work in progress ….
Looking down onto Cora Linn …
Looking across to Bonnington Linn
An old postcard looking up to Bonnington Linn. Details of the upcoming exhibition
In the days when The Falls of Clyde was on the ‘must paint’ list for artists, visitors were able to get to the base of Bonnington Linn to paint the scene. There was also a little red iron bridge, now unusable, over one of the cascades to the rocky island in the middle where the two falls separate, which housed a temple. The island is covered in trees so I have no idea how much remains.
The experience of the waterfalls then must have been more intense. Coupled with the fact that since the 1930’s the hydro electric has ‘stolen’ the water, subverting it though the power station. My guess is that action alone caused the Falls of Clyde to fall off the ‘must see’ list!
Unbelievable luck for this group of contemporary artists ‘Romance of the Falls’ as coincidentally the river have been running in it’s full glory again all summer due to repairs to the substation. So, in part, we have been able to see what Turner, Wordsworth, Naismyth, Burns and countless others greats saw. The left hand cascade on the old postcard is now-a-days usually dry, though not at the moment, so go soon if you get a chance.
Researching the history, I found an old etching by a nameless etcher.
I decided to imagine myself into the view from below, using the etching as inspiration. Many of the romantic paintings and engravings of the past show naked nymphs prostrate at the base of the cascades too. Not a naked nymph in site during my walks in the beautiful woodlands by the Clyde this rainy summer so decided against nymphs!
I began and soon realised what a flipping difficult task painting a waterfall is. I don’t want to paint a portrait but somehow portray something about flow, power, movement, energy, growth in a semi abstract way.
Water coming from the sky, over the falls and into the earth.
Wow and I thought painting seascapes was hard!
The first layer of paint came out as a pretty but fantasy-like waterfall picture. Hmmm, ok, but not what I had in mind… more walks …. more layers of paint …. more and more respect for the unknown etchers level of detail and truth about the landscape ….
The words ‘the field of intention’ were with me all day. A weird instruction from my ‘higher self’ if you want to call it that. Words to override the blues and feeling that I might be a tad mad, that I woke up with. Too much time spent alone no doubt!
‘Paint the field of intention!’ …
Ok! I will paint the field … plein air paintings and see what happens … positive action. If in doubt .. Paint!
Always assisted by Maisie the day goes like this …. paint, throw the ball, paint, throw the ball … all day!
She makes it very easy and ensures the ball is in reach …
Both obsessively doing our own thing and keeping each other company.
Crazy Maisie and Me!
I watched a documentary recently about the Japanese artist Hokusai 1760-1849 – who in later life called himself Old Man Crazy to Paint. He did a famous series of woodblocks called 36 views of Mount Fuji. It came to mind as a bit of artistic license crept in – Tinto Hill started to appear in some of the landscapes. Not quite Mount Fuji, but I can feel a series of paintings coming on with views of Tinto! I can see Tinto Hill, with it’s distinctive profile, from the other side of my house.
Ideas come when you paint …
I have mainly avoided landscape painting for a long time but was encouraged back to it the other day by a neighbour. Thank you! I enjoyed my day doing these small oil paintings, studies in the field of the field. A blue start got colourful.
Hay Field and Scots Pines, 23×30 cm, Oil on Canvas
It’s a strange thing … I was mulling how the brilliance of Alexander Technique could be summed as ‘head up’, yet somehow it has given me the ability to keep my ‘head down’ and focus. Just get on with things.
Well the neck is a flexible mobile thing, so perhaps it is not so strange.
I was also mulling how being an artist is at the same time a lonely pursuit yet a place to find oneself and a connection with something greater and so never lonely.
At one or alone?
Or all one – like the body.
Thoughts whilst walking waterfalls …
A waterfall is about constant flow, power, being in one’s power, being free to move yet in cold conditions a waterfall can freeze, unlike the sea which is about ebb and flow and much less likely to freeze.
I found my way into Alexander Technique because my neck froze, became immobile and painful. The best thing that could have happened in retrospect because it was an invitation to self discovery and the flow and gave me a second career and ‘backbone’ for my art.
My last exhibition was all about the sea, this one is about the river and waterfall … and both are giving me an opportunity to explore and merge my art and Alexander Technique thinking. Which one informs which?
A painting can be a bit like a waterfall. Go with it and it takes you into flow, its journey, listening for what to do, breathing and freeing yourself to it …
Judging the process is like hitting a rock, it is going to hurt …
Your thinking can hurt you or free you …
Let your neck be free and paint, flow with the tides of breath and inspiration …
Letting a painting take your energy over the waterfall into the unknown is like the metaphor sounds both scary – a potential neck tightening experience and exciting.
Why sit on the banks of a painting … be prepared to drown …
Why know what is going to happen next?
The Alexander Technique journey is a like that too – move out of the known into the unknown and into the flow …
Where is it going to take you?
Painting the first waterfall yesterday already feels like an invitation to further abstraction, from form to the formless.
Water flowing, paint moving, an invitation to let go more …
Head up to flow downstream …
I revisited the waterfall today and it is so interesting that even after one painting the relationship with the place has changed.
The image seen has altered, the noticing increasing …
One waterfall, renewing constantly … like the body
I am enjoying this new subject matter and have no idea where it is going to take me …
In the Chinese art of Feng Shui (Feng meaning wind, Shui meaning water) waterfalls and images of waterfalls, in the form of photographs or paintings, symbolise an abundant flow of wealth, prosperity and good fortune.
Feng Shui is described as a system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relationship to the flow of energy (chi) and how it effects us in our environment. It is 3000 years old. Applying Feng Shui helps to balance your home and health and creates abundance!
In order to attract a flow of money into the home, Feng Shui experts advise that waterfall paintings should be hung in corridors, offices and living spaces.
A space that you move through where every time you see this symbol of abundance you activate your good fortune! In other words waterfalls paintings are wonderful things to have in your home.
This all sounds very good to me as an artist currently painting waterfalls and organising a group art exhibiton called Romance of the Falls drawing inspiration from the spectacular Falls of Clyde near my home in South Lanarkshire.
Feng Shui experts also suggest carrying a photo of a waterfall in your purse to ensure that money always flows into it.
I have currently taken hundreds of photos of the four Falls of Clyde on my iPhone – Bonnington Linn, Corra Linn, Dundaff Linn and Stonebyres Linn, I wonder if that works too!? : )
Whether Feng Shui is correct or not (it is an ancient system so why not) one thing seems abundantly clear to me – the idea to organise this art exhibition has come at a very auspicious time …
The Falls of Clyde, which has attracted artists and visitors for the past 300 years is running at full force for the next ten weeks.
Water is abundant!
Who knew that the Scottish Hydro would be doing repairs for ten glorious weeks? Not me. I am absolutely delighted!
The Falls are a power place …Energising
The noise of the Falls is exhilarating
The walks beautiful
I totally recommend a visit ….
During the Napoleonic wars when trips to Europe on the Grand Tour were not possible, The Falls of Clyde were on the route of Le Petit Tour …
I am so happy to go be able to go there as often as I can over the next few weeks and walk and look, be inspired and paint the area. Following in the footsteps of JMW Turner, Wordsworth, Robbie Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to name a few …
I am loving learning more about the amazing history of the area and connecting with new people locally.
Feeling abundant just being in the idea of the Falls of Clyde and very happy with this new adventure and exhibition to work towards and today I painted my first waterfall painting so am embracing the new theme.