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’.


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!  @katehorse (twitter)

praying figure abbey

Images and text copyright Kate Walters 2015

Weekend courses in March


Jill Calder (Illustrator – and Rachel Hazell (paper artist – have now held their annual creative weekend courses at the Hostel. This is now a regular event for Rachel and the second visit for Jill. Both courses sold out and were a great success.

Jill and Rachel compliment each other. They are experienced teachers with that special ability to both communicate their love of their chosen medium whilst making it accessible and achievable. Participants leave the courses with a wider knowledge than when they arrived, and, most importantly, with completed art-works of their own.

Iona is, of course, a particularly apt place to practice illustration, book-binding and personal mapping. It is a place of significances and paradox and this sense of place was clearly expressed through the thoughtful art-works of the participants.

Below are a selection of images from both groups. They are in no particular order but hopefully convey the creative dynamism of the courses and the fun had.









The first residencies

Sarah left a week ago and I’m reflecting now of how the residencies went, what they contributed to hostel and island life and in what ways they benefited those that took part. I’ve personally found it incredibly rewarding to watch the hostel develop as a creative space and have learned a great deal over the winter. I’d like to thank Anna, Natasha and Sarah very much for rising to the challenge of coming to wind-swept Iona to pursue their art. It’s been a tough winter here yet they all have completed some amazing work and have contributed so much to the creative life of the Hostel and island. They have also shown exemplary stamina and vim in sticking with their Bothy home in what has been some truly vile weather. I’m impressed. I know also that many islanders appreciated their creative presence on the island and the opportunity to come and see their work. Personally, I’ve loved having them all around. It’s added so much to my winter and my understanding of this remarkable place.

All three have pursued quite different directions in their work, which all goes to show that nothing is what it seems, but is endlessly open to possibility and interpretation. Perhaps the ever changing skies and seas of Iona contribute to the poignancy of that moment apprehended. Kathleen Raine, captures something of it:

The Moment

To write down all I contain at this moment

I would pour the desert through an hour-glass,

The sea through a water-clock,

Grain by grain and drop by drop

Let in the trackless, measureless, mutable seas and sands.

For earth’s days and nights and breaking over me,

The tides and sands are running through me,

And I have only two hands and a heart to hold the desert

and the sea.

What can I contain of it? It escapes and eludes me,

The tides wash me away,

The desert shifts under my feet.


Thank you all again and I hope that your time on Iona has been what you hoped it to be.

Time to Go…

My last week went by in a frenzy of glue and varnish as I made a series of collograph blocks (printing blocks made by collaging onto card. The blocks are varnished to make them watertight before being inked and wiped like an etching plates).  An idea or response to all the boats on the gravestones at the abbey here on Iona and some of the found items in the museum (marble stone beads and a little Norse silver bell) had been growing in my mind and finally at about midnight one night I set to with glue and scissors and by morning there were collage blocks dry and ready for varnishing then printing.  I spent the day mixing inks and planning the print.  It’s got more than 20 blocks so it’s a lot of inking and wiping before you can print anything.   John told me the boat is a “Birlinn” which is a Hebridean war-galley and differs from a Viking long ship in that it has a hinged rudder whereas the long ship uses a gigantic oar for steering.   I was thinking a lot about the idea of a boat as a vessel particularly in the journey from life to death, and the use of bells in ceremony and ritual.  The beads went from green marble to orange.  It was a tense decision as introducing  a very radical colour like that sometimes makes a print but often reduces a print to a write-off but I just had an urge for orange beads and I am a risk taker at heart.  It was mixed from Indian yellow, primrose yellow and warm red and half of the smaller bears were inked just in warm red then blended into the orange.   Here is “Birlinn, Beads, Birds and Bell”. ??????????????????????????????? The boat collograph block worked well – so next day I made a semi abstract whale and a swan to pick up on some earlier thinking I had been doing about “The Sea Roads” – the way that sea places become connected by marine roads and the old English or Anglo Saxon “kennings” – riddles or descriptive sentences . So a series of prints is now underway based on old sea words like Svan-rad – the swan road, Hwael –weg, the whale way, Seolbaeth, the seal-bath, Fiscesethel, the fishes’ realm, Windgeard, the winds’ home …….. ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? So this is a whole new body of work which has jumped out from the last week of the residency.    I also leave Iona with better connection to myself.  There was a clarity for me here – I connected to myself from BC (before children), able to roam the hills on my own and look after myself,  and also to myself now in 2015.  I had this absolutely clear focus on the island – when I put pen to paper things happened. I walked every day and I drew every day and I spent time doing good work in my sketch book. I leave Iona with my creativity very much refreshed and stimulated and a lot of work to do to make the ideas that have come up into a body of work. I took a few final longer walks  – not actually far from the north end of Iona but very “wandery”, heading over the rocky face of Dun I looking in detail at the remnants of juniper wood growing there and across the orange machair in the afternoon sun and exploring the woods planted by John, Marc and others.  The wood is very exciting – there are all sorts of birds there – snipe and smaller birds especially wrens.  It’s still very small but its growing and by fencing out the sheep over such an extensive area they have created a chance for a natural recovery of the biodiversity of the Island. It will be really special in a few years time.   It would be good to take cuttings from the old stock of , willow, hazel, juniper and other trees hanging onto the cliffs and to re-introduce them to the woodland – they are probably very old genetically.

??????????????????????????????? Remnant juniper,  John and Marc’s woodland shaping up well and the machair in the afternoon sunshine.     ???????????????????????????????

remnant  of ancient juniper wood on iona

Finally my time has come to an end. John organised a little show of my work for anyone on the island who wanted to see and lots of people came!  I provide cakes and John some wine and by then Roddy and my daughters and friend Theresa had come and harp and whistles provide a musical backdrop to a lovely afternoon.

demo of printing press at exhibition exhibition at hostel on last day small A splendid feast follows for all of us staying at the hostel and I say goodbye to my little hut and sleep the final night in the hostel ready for an early start next morning.   I immediately miss the sound of the wind, birds and sea – at times it was very noisy in the hut – horizontal hailstones on the outside of a tin hut would wake up the deepest sleeper! And at times it’s been cold but as the month has gone on I found I adapted to feeling colder and needed the heater less and less.  Back indoors I feel slightly deadened – as if less connected to the wind and weather and nature around me. Although it’s been tough at times, being in the hut in February has been a very special part of the experience.  I found a poem by Scottish poet Norman Bissell (who lives near Luing, I think) which neatly captures my feeling of sleeping in the hut. ???????????????????????????????   Sounds  Sometimes here its hard to tell the sound of the wind from the sound of the waves. Or the sound of the waves from the sound of the rain. Or the sound of the wind, and the waves and the rain from the sound of my breath. Norman Bissell  ??????????????????????????????? I am back in Dumfries and Galloway now and inland again – I miss the salty-ness but it’s good to see everyone again.  I am home and it’s good but I feel I am not quite fully here yet.  The speed of traffic came as a shock after a month of travelling only on foot on Iona and of course not having many cars on the island.  I still have a lot of catching up to do but I have brought a couple of wooden oars back with me and one is going back to Iona for John when its painted so I will get to go back again…..maybe in slightly less extreme weather? ROddy's photo of my studio in the autumn sun In the meantime I have my own hut to sort out here – my studio is a hut in the garden and needs a serious clean to let me get to work on the response to this residency, so I am heading out to catch up on hut dwelling and fondly remember my month on Iona.  My work from the Iona residence will be on show at Spring Fling between 24-26 May 2015