turning the page

nunnery

Sometimes there is a blank page inserted in novels before a new and prominent section starts. These past 15 months have been this page in my story. I needed this time for reflection, this space for exploration, before I could move to the next chapter. Now, with only 1 day before my flight home, I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips. It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. Friends and family continue to ask me if I’m ready. I think I am as ready as I can be. I gave myself 6 weeks on Iona to prepare for ‘the return.’

In truth, I have spent the last 6 weeks doing very little, but I have also spent the last 6 weeks doing enormously profound things. I have been sketching and painting and journaling and walking. I have ambled down Iona’s only road every other day to the village in order to buy the essentials for my island life (veggies and hobnobs). I have baked and I have cooked and I have brewed cups and cups and cups of tea. I have sat for hours on the sofa in the hostel living room staring out at the ocean. I have watched the landscape transform amidst constantly shifting clouds and sun, and I have marvelled at this endless theatre of color and light and shadow. I have read some radical life-changing books, and I have allowed myself to rest and relax and try to process the past year and a half. I have thought a lot about what I want my life to look like when I return to Portland. Even more importantly, I have thought a lot about the kind of person I want to be as I live this life.

When I first was the Artist in Residence at the hostel last February, I became enchanted with Iona. You can read more about that starting here. I came away with a body of work of about 25 paintings that had been created in just under four weeks. During my stay, I was encouraged by some of the locals to use this art for a second book. I loved the idea of returning and carried this idea with me when I headed off to Spain to exhibit my work in Santiago de Compostela. As the months passed, I realised that I did, indeed, need to return to Iona. At the beginning of July, I emailed John to let him know I wanted to head back to the island. I decided to give myself a bit longer this second time. I knew I would use these weeks not only to sketch and paint, but to prepare my heart and my mind for heading home.

Consequently, in late October, I found myself nestled amongst a hostel full of creatives from all over the world. The community John has fostered on this wee island in the inner Hebrides is quite unique; I would even venture to say it’s magical. These past 6 weeks I have been surrounded by beautiful, inspirational women who shared their art and their lives with me. We talked about fledgling projects and our hardest challenges, past and present. We peered into the future, sharing tentative hopes buoyed by encouraging words and kindness. Within this community, I started to flesh out the idea of a second book, but I still had no idea what the underlying story would be. The text in my book about the Camino de Santiago had been pulled directly from my journals and pieced together with a small amount of additional writing. I knew this book would be different, but I wasn’t sure where to start.  There are a myriad of books written about the history of Iona and its famous Abbey, and I had no intention or desire to delve into something that had already been covered so thoroughly. I basically had a collection of drawings but no narrative. So I prayed for guidance.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably have noticed that I use a main painting to tell a story. I start with an image that speaks to me, and then I build from there, weaving my words around the metaphor of my painting. Traditional illustration tends to work the other way around, with art that is created to enhance the written word, but I always like start with the visual piece first. As I thought about my writing process, I realized that the imagery I had been painting on Iona could tell the story of my journey this year; not just where I had gone and what I had seen, but what had transformed and changed in me along the way.

This painting above is of a piece of the ancient Nunnery on the island. The wall I decided to draw is set sharply against the blue of the sky, with crumbling rock creating a vivid contrast to the stark angles jutting heavenward. I like these ruins a lot, perhaps even more than the abbey. They feel more approachable somehow. The ladies at the hostel would laugh and joke that we were all from the nunnery; all of us single, cloistered together on this holy isle. The outside surface of this building looks smooth and flat, but from my viewpoint one could see the vast amounts of rock that were used to construct each wall. It is hard to believe that when such varied stones are placed just so, they can be used to build a magnificent structure.

I hope that my stories will be like these stones; I think that I can use each one, stacking them just so, to create a narrative that will share my journey during this time of travel. We’ll see how things progress when I get back to Portland, but I am setting a goal to have the book finished by the spring of next year. It is a bit ambitious, I’ll admit. I have quite a lot of stone stacking to do.

ionastones

Friday was my final day on Iona and although my mind was swimming with the excitement of heading home, I wanted to be wholly present. I wanted to breathe in the richness of the island one last time. The weather was unseasonably warm and so I decided to do the very best thing to ensure I would remember the fullness of the afternoon. I headed out to sketch on the beach.

Afterwards, I wrote the following in my journal:

Eucharisteo. The silver sea. Rose tinted hills in the far distance. The ache of my back as I perch on this rock. Waves gently settling onto white sand at the water’s edge. Clouds, great sculptures, wild and puffy stacks of cotton over Mull softening as they move out over the Atlantic. Mild air and virtually no wind. A November day spilling over with grace. My heart is full of gratitude. Iona, thank you for rest and respite before I return. Thank you for holding me. 

So, it’s time to turn the page. As I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips, I hope that you’ll come with me. This next section is unwritten… I’ll need company along the way.

img_5690

Kari Gale
Kari Gale is a illustrator/writer from Portland, Oregon specialising in food and travel. She has spent the past 15 months living, walking,  painting and writing in Portugal, Spain, France and the UK . She has documented the entire journey in her journal with pen/ink and watercolour and has shared her experiences and art on her blog.  She published her first book ‘The Art of Walking: An Illustrated Journey on the Camino de Santiago‘ in June of 2015, and has spent the past 6 months exhibiting her work in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. You can find out more about Kari and her work on her website at karigale.com

November Harvest

odhrans-chapel-2Almost seventeen years ago I planted a seed: I called my son Odhran after the legendary saint associated with Iona. There are many versions of Saint Odhran’s story, most of which involve him being buried alive. You’ll be relieved to hear that I didn’t name my son after this saint because of his gruesome end! Rather, I gave my son this name because Odhran had been prepared to tell the truth as he saw it.

Over the past year my urge to re-tell the legend of Saint Odhran has grown stronger. My rational explanation for this urge is that, in re-telling this legend, I will somehow find it a little more bearable when the time comes for my son to leave home.

As a writer, folklorist and storyteller, I believe the land holds stories and memories. For me, to ‘unlock’ the legend of Saint Odhran, I’d need to go to the places associated with him. I’d need to walk the landscape into my bones. I’d need to listen to the wind. I’d need to see how the sky illuminated special places and how the stars hid secrets in the night sky.

iona-4

Thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Iona Hostel residency programme, I’ve been able to do exactly what I needed in order to start unlocking the legend. During November I spent two weeks on Iona, staying in the bothy at Iona Hostel. In the mornings I wrote, in the afternoons I researched (which involved some reading and a great deal of walking🙂 ) and in the evenings I spent time with the other artists in residence. On the last Friday of my stay I had the opportunity to talk about my work, tell stories and read from my book, The Faerie Thorn & Other Stories. It was great to share an evening with other hostel guests and artists in residence – and it was really lovely that some of the islanders came along too.

iona-3In terms of the writing and research aspects of my residency, I kept to my plan and have everything I need to support the completion of my new book project. However, Iona and the residency gave me a little more than I expected! The island is a magical place: it had a profound effect on me both emotionally and physically – and I think these effects will play out in my work and in my relationship with my son. The residency is a magical opportunity: it gave me the chance to meet other artists (illustrators, writers, pastel artists) and be part of a free-thinking, playful, supportive and creative community.

I talk a little bit more about my residency experience in this video:

It seems that the seed I planted almost seventeen years ago has grown well. The November harvest has been rich for me: I have left Iona with its spirit – and its stories – in my bones. I am ready to re-tell the legend of Saint Odhran and feel more prepared to handle the next stage of parenthood.

Jane Talbot
Jane Talbot is a writer and storyteller based in Northern Ireland. Her first collection of short stories, The Faerie Thorn & Other Stories (Blackstaff Press, 2015), is being adapted for the stage by  Big Telly Theatre Company. The stage production is due to tour the UK and Ireland in April/May 2017. You can find out more about Jane and her work on her website

Art Residencies, Autumn 2016

The plan, as usual, was to have one artist come for a month long residency… and the picture below tells what actually happened. Vappu (writer) and Vicki (painter) asked to come for a couple of months, then Kari (illustrator and writer) who did a residency in the spring wanted to come back for a month, then Jane (story teller and writer) asked to come for a couple of weeks. Hele who is a writer then washed ashore from her travels for a while. Caroline, Colette (water-colourist) and the irreplaceable Marc make up my fabulous team.

It’s a happy, stimulating and creative group and it strikes me as extraordinary that in this little hostel on a dot of land surrounded by the heaving November seas there should be a coming together of such talent and warmth. When they get the chance I hope that some of them will introduce themselves on this page so that you can find out more of what they do and what brings them here, to Iona.

 

img_2521

The trembling brink of transformation?

Kate Walters left today having completed her four week residency at Iona Hostel. The good news is that she is coming back in January for another month or so. Yesterday we held an open studio in the Hostel so that islanders and visitors to Iona could see what Kate has been up to. An afternoon sun warmed the common-room in the hostel and a good crowd of people came to meet and talk with Kate and to enjoy a glass of wine. Kate introduced her work and responded to an interesting range of questions. In keeping with her work the mood in the room was reflective and thoughtful. You could sense that people felt an affinity with her work.

Kate is a listener. She listens to her psyche and dreams and an to altogether more ancient response to the land than that which we currently know; what Thomas Carlyle described as ‘ the ancient dialect’. Her work is in part an exploration of this dialect. It explores place through archetype, symbol, the animal world and the older religions. This is home territory for Kate -she is quite comfortable in the company of the ‘Sheela’s (the Sheela na gigs).

Kate’s work isn’t easy in the sense that it neither makes assertions nor statements. It seems to be deliberately un-emphatic. The effect is to unsettle, to make us alert and create a pause. We find ourselves listening. The image that comes to me of her work is of that moment, in the stillness, when you hear a faint and tremulous bird call. You ask yourself if you even heard it (was it your imaginings?) and are silent and poised, listening for it again. You are completely present. In a review of her work art critic Laura Gascoigne gets it dead on when she says ‘It is this sense of trembling on the brink of transformation that lends Kate’s shadowy forms psychological substance’.

IMG_1813

I love this particular piece. There is something haunting, archaic and incredibly tender about it. I also like text that guides our responses and opens possibilities. Sitting pondering it I realise that this figure sums up, for me, much that is precious and true of Iona.  Kate has gone to the heart of the matter.

Kate Walters Second blog post, Iona residency

Kate Walters blog part two, Iona, November 2015

pink sunset

A starling in the byre, and sunshine. My dog gazes upwards, somewhat anxiously. I don’t know how the bird found her way in here. This morning the sounds were of thick water and a thin delicate birdsong. The path sucked at my boots, the grasses too sodden to sing in this morning’s winds. The light was bright after a night of the bothy imitating a boat, with the bed shaking and quivering like a trapped animal.

I see the breast of the bird, it is pale from beneath, so she blends with the sky when she flies. I open the door, she flies down from the rafters and out through the doorway in an arc of relief and triumph.

Body as Constellation

In the days I’ve been here I’ve kept a sketchbook of drawings, a still anchor amongst the swirl of works I’ve been making. The drawings, the monotypes, the notes and the watercolours have created a conversation between themselves, and I’ve been supported by the fusion, the generation which has occurred.

Iona evening clouds

When I first arrived and the weather was kind and warm, I wanted to immerse myself  in the water, feel the cleansing power of diamonds suspended in and around my body. I  made drawings about this communion of skin, flesh, and water. A body crouching, or bent double as if horse-borne, foot placed on some subtle shore, hands stroking a watery surface in prayer.

I asked the Water to come to that place in me

Reflected in the crystalline water have been extraordinary clouds. I’ve spent time photographing them, and feeling the beings which dwell in them momentarily. Related to this, I’ve also made a drawing which recalls a vision I had many years ago which showed me how a soul can evolve: I saw one face dissolving into another, going back through time, face upon face each melding into one another, each more beautiful than the last, until a holy face came into clear view.

Sketchbook drawing She who gives birth drawing after vision about evolution

How she gives birth to the evolution of consciousness

I’ve also been considering boundaries: of watery bodies, of soul bodies, of soul family members recognising one another, and of the energy which such dynamics can fire.

That which is incomprehensible to an Organ of Sense (Womb antennae)

That which is incomprehensible to an Organ of Sense with Vision Lance

to Staffa

A trip to Staffa to see the caves led me to think once again about the feminine body, the giantess who holds; and of the correspondence with our own bodies, with all their little fjords, rivers, caves, and arches. I closed my eyes and followed the free movement of my left hands, trusting in what it would show me. This as I sat in the cave, awed by the integrity of its presence.

Fingal's Cave

Staffa basaltA guest in the hostel spoke to me about Julian of Norwich and her visions, or ‘Showings’ as they are called. I will seek these out on my return to Cornwall.

I wanted more and more to meet Water, to have her hold me. A drawing of this impulse became a figure with a matrix, and a bird around her, holding her. This drawing developed into a series ‘And I am the bird’s egg, she my nest..’

Sketchbook drawing body with Water prayer October 2015

..which grew into a series about the ‘Bird with Womb to give my Consciousness…’

Bird with Womb to give my consciousness

The dreams which came as I slept here informed the studio work and my insights about the work which came. My father who died some years ago appeared in a dream, looking younger then I ever remember him, and somehow golden. The perfume of this dream infused a piece about a happy Buddha figure with a cape of breasts.

Happy Buddha

Sketchbook drawing Buddha with Breast cape

John Maclean has lent me a book about Sheila-na-gig and as I read I see through my drawings and notes how I have anticipated and tuned into the spirit of this place in a very clear and strong way.

Priestesses with Staff

How the Sky opens like my Tail

Sketchbook drawing after visit to the Abbey Iona

sketchbook drawing The Mystery

As my last week here begins, I awake feeling that I will just about be able to bear the leave-taking of this place, and the return to my other life.

I have my first day off, and head of towards St Columba’s Bay in the dazzling November sunshine. It’s a long walk past the jetty towards the machair and the West beaches. Wet and rocky we climb to high lakes of dark water before descending to green openness, cattle, and sheep. The round pebbles invite searching. I become as someone gathering fruit or jewels and I think to myself that you would never see sheep, or dogs, on their hands and knees turning over stones searching for that special bright one. I leave with heavier pockets. I had promised to send a couple of serpentine pieces to people who will never make this trip.

I had a strong desire to re-visit a place I last experienced in my thirties. It is the Hill of the Angels. I set off up a barely discernable rocky path over bogs and drops and tiny animal tracks through heather. Following my nose I head north-east until the great swelling mounds of dried heather, a sprawling bonsai forest, invite me to rest once again. When I lay upon this springy heather bed some twenty years ago up on this high place I thought this was the closest I could ever come to Heaven in this life. So I lay myself down again and gave thanks for the return to this most glorious of holy hills.And the sky was blue, the sun warm.

Inner work reflecting the drawings I’ve made is coming into clearer focus for me; as are the possible outcomes I see this work leading towards – a book, a show of works in a public space, and I hope, all being well, a return to this wonderful place to re-establish the connection I feel here, the sense of being in a place where I experience the sensation of being held in a harbour which fits me, holds me perfectly at ease, at rest.

The days here seem to move through their hours more quickly than anywhere I’ve ever been. As my last week passes I am working with oils, trying to find their voice. The rain came in again today so Marc kindly lit the stove. The studio-byre was immediately brightened and warmed. I sat on the rocking chair with my dog, cuddled her, wished that time would slow a little.

A little later Luke appeared with a plate of freshly made bread and butter. So simple, so kind, and so delicious. Lysanne has said that as tomorrow is her last day she will be making a last night brownie. It has been such a joy to come into the kitchen/dining room to find a plate of shortbread, ginger bread or brownies with a note on the top -‘please help yourself’.

At home I cook every night but here cooking has not been on my radar at all…so it has been a real treat to receive these expressions of generosity. The last hostel I stayed in was in Venice, and there was a tiny shared dining room without cooking facilities. This hostel has been the warmest, cleanest, friendliest place I could imagine and I have been so very happy staying here.

Kate Walters residency, October – November 2015 first post… after one week…

abbey evening

I first came to Iona when I was aged 18, to take photographs for my ‘A’ level photography course… a long time ago. Then I came here again, nursing a broken heart, in my thirties, with my young son who was then aged about 5. I was especially entranced by the abundant vegetables growing beside the Abbey, and I was grateful to a generous person attached to the Abbey who suggested we help ourselves to the salads growing there.

My last visit was around five years ago when my husband and I camped at Fidden Farm on Mull, and every day we crossed to Iona, and walked around, sat on the beaches; generally falling in love with the magic here all over again. I am always inspired by wild places. Something in me responds to the sense of them being completely themselves, raw, fine and pure. There is a quality of soar-i-ness which my heart enjoys when I come to these wild places, whether in Italy or Cornwall, Dartmoor or Iona.

beach shadow

When I saw the residency opportunity I did not hesitate to apply. I already knew about the particular quality of beauty which Iona embodies, so I knew what to expect – up to a point.

I arrived on a  beautiful sunny day from two days’ drawing at Glasgow School of Art, working with staff and students making monotypes employing a technique called ‘becoming the hollow bone’. I was loaded with luggage and materials, so I was relieved to see John and his partner Rachel waiting to greet me. I was made very welcome, and introduced to many islanders as the resident artist, which felt like such a privilege.

bothy view

hello bothy

I arrived carrying a deep tiredness and I knew that part of my reason for wanting to come here was to be restored in myself. I was delighted when the John showed me the large byre-studio, and the beautiful and charming bothy where I would sleep (I’ve managed  a week in there but now need two nights in the hostel to prepare me for my weekend trip to London… where I’m going to be resident artist at the National Open Art competition show at the Royal College of Art…@noac). My favourite time in the Bothy is early morning; lying in bed watching the light through the curtains gain in strength…. then opening the door to be greeted by birdsong, hesitant and fine; the smell of water in peat, and the green scent of willow.

inside bothy

I’ve been working long days in the studio, making a series of drawings on pages which I’ve taken from an old copy of the Bhagavad Gita, The Song Divine, and which I’d already prepared with gesso.

preparing to make monotype by storm lantern

I’m working into them in my usual intuitive way (with watercolours and inks) , responding to the strong spirit of place, and how I feel/experience it in a deep way in my body. I have been for walks on the magnetic and extraordinarily beautiful North beach (Traigh An T-Suidhe ) near John’s croft, and I’ve tuned into the subtle energetic life there. Yesterday I found a mighty tower of green serpentine; I held it in my hands, it was an object of such power and beauty!

My dreams have become more intense and I’ve been able to see clearly and directly how they are illuminating my practice.

Port nam Mairtir

Calving clouds

Meeting you O my fluttering Heart

It’s been great meeting guests and staff working here, and spending evenings in the warm and comfortable kitchen/living room. There are some very interesting and varied books in there too. I loved Ice Bears and Kotick by Peter Webb, and I found these special lines at the close of the book, written by an Inuit:

And yet there is only

One great thing

To live.

To see in huts and on journeys

The day that dawns

And the light that fills the world.

…………..

sand waves

Last night was especially windy, with a storm lashing the island. I had started a new book: The Curious Earth… and I was laughing so loudly at the description of a man watching his false teeth fly out if his mouth, and away into the night … as he stood in a gale on a ship…. that my laughter drowned out the sound of the gales buffeting the iron-clad walls.

As a gardener back in Cornwall I am delighted by the gardens and flowers on Iona. Outside The Low Door (excellent for fine foods and books on cooking) there are two buckets producing towers of most deliciously scented sweet peas even at the end of October. Iona is a place of startling surprises like these flowers, and the diminutive Post Office beside the beach – which surprisingly sells herbal remedies too. I find that being here, being fully awake and absorbing everything with my heart completely open, fuels my work and is resulting in a rich cross-fertilisation.

Having longer periods of time to focus on my work uninterrupted has proved a great boon for me, and I will hope to continue this routine when I am back home in Cornwall.

After my short time in London I will return ready to immerse myself at an even deeper level with my work, when I hope to make some larger pieces in watercolour and oil. Next blog in ten days or so!

http://www.katewalters.co.uk

http://www.katewalters.co.uk/blog

vimeo.com/73134126

k.walters@outlook.com  @katehorse (twitter)

praying figure abbey

Images and text copyright Kate Walters 2015