Tag Archives: Iona

Turquoise On The Gate

Dancing Waves, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow
Dancing Waves, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow

I arrived as the only passenger on the ferry, with enormous amounts of materials – oil paint, acrylic, watercolours, boards, canvases, paper, sketchbooks – far too much I thought…we’ll see. My intention is to work outside as much as possible. It became apparent on day one that the weather will dictate where I can work and when – more specifically the wind. A Hebridean wind is not something to be taken lightly!

I feel very at home here; relaxed, inspired, energised and I am working hard. Spending lots of time looking, drawing and painting on the beach. I am becoming fascinated by the rocks… how they differ from one beach to the next, the colours in different light, specific formations. It is absolutely mesmerising watching the waves crash over them.

I love the fact that I am getting to know the pattern of the tides and moon. It was a big, bright moon in my first week here so very low and high tides. Wonderful settling into the rhythm of this place. I am starting to learn how the sea comes in around the various formations, the channels and shapes left at low tide and the different angles of the waves coming into the beaches.I am getting close in to the subject and wishing I had some larger canvases (reminding myself I have to get all these slightly wet oil paintings home in a month’s time!) Here are some of the paintings so far:

There is quite a bit of sand getting mixed into the paint, which is inevitable working on the beach. There is also a need to work reasonably fast before the fingers become too numb! I’m finding it very useful to bring the work back to the studio and spend time considering it… a change of pace. Something quite new often strikes me when I get the painting inside.


I must also mention the geese… there are loads of them! I have developed a habit of sitting by a lovely Celtic cross where I draw on my way to the village. It has a spectacular view across the Sound Of Iona. A great place to watch the changing sky, but I love it most towards the end of the day when the geese all lift off in a noisy gaggle and then flick from black to white as they change direction and return to their field of choice. Here are a few sketchbook pages:


I woke up to a power cut yesterday. Thick fog and an eerie silence, very calm… the first really windless day. Everything was dampened by the fog; sand, sounds, colours, smells. I went down to the beach, big waves, flood tide – it was wonderful – only being able to see quite close things – no “view” out to sea. It felt very intimate as though I was isolated in my own little bubble. I decided to take canvases onto the beach, a rare opportunity to use them outside without having to weigh them down with rocks. Beautiful subtle greys and greens, this was all about sound and movement, huge waves pounding the rocks. Very exciting, a real thrill to paint in my own little world… I worked on several paintings and my brain seemed to wake up.

Wave, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow
Wave, Oil On Board, A Critchlow

Fascinating how the fog not only changed the colour palette of these paintings but by obscuring the view made me use my other senses more, and respond to the movements and sounds with the paint.  I lost track of the day completely…it felt like a very special, private, ageless moment where time stood still…as though all this grey mist had made anything possible…ironic that a fog had brought so much clarity. I started to realise that it is the rhythm and movement created by the action of the tides on these rocks which is of interest, not just capturing a momentary crash of water, but somehow distilling this, getting the underlying rhythm.

Big Sea, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Big Sea, Oil On Canvas, A Critchlow

Lots of ideas emerging about time and motion and how these things can be noted down. Thinking of passages of paint being reminiscent of a phrase in music… all about harmony and discord, balance and flow… also thinking about using multiple panels to create larger work. I am starting to envisage large canvases once I get home with big passages of paint and realising that I need to absorb as much as I can about this experience.With that in mind I have been looking in more detail at the rocks.

One of the many wonderful people I have met here is a geologist who is able to explain, in layman’s terms a bit about  the formation of this landscape. Fascinating and slightly mind bending! It is phenomenal to look through his magnifier at the structure of these rocks, like taking a walk on the surface of another planet… and incredible how every detail is a mirror of the larger landscape in microcosmic form. It also made me think about time and notation… how these rocks hold a silent record of their creation if we are able to read it.A few more sketchbook pages…my way of transporting myself back to Iona!

I have been staying in the Shepherd’s hut which is just up the hill a little way from the hostel. I love it ! I have become used to its quirks and gentle rocking… a bit like being in a boat, it is a haven which seems to encourage peace and clear thinking.

Conversations in the hostel have ranged from politics and world affairs to accountancy and espionage, pilgrimage to sugar free baking. I have learnt about all sorts of things, much of it now feeding into my thoughts…there have been lessons in pixels and philosophy, St Bridget and geology, dance notation, quantum physics, seaweed harvesting, bread making, theology, fiddle music and choral singing, making a paint brush from a  goose feather, constellations, Scottish history ,tides, ferries and phases of the moon, sand banks , skiffs and serpentine, orgonite domes and sharing a studio with a blackbird!

Meeting a diverse mix of interesting people is a key part of this experience. The hostel seems to provide a string of well timed experts who are very generous with their knowledge and patient with their explanations. The perfect nurturing environment in which to discuss all sorts of ideas and concepts.

Turn Of The Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Turn Of The Tide, North Beach, Oil On Board, Alison Critchlow

Natures rhythms, constant , relentless, fundamental motion, percussive sounds of the sea, thinking about notes and chords, pounding beat of the waves…passages of sound and movement…how to translate all of this into paint?

A crashing wave is  momentary and ancient, repeated throughout time. There is something about watching tides come and go that resonates on a very deep level…I think its a fundamental rhythm that we respond to as humans. The work I am taking home is the first stage of a much longer process and will inform a series of larger studio paintings all about time and motion. I want to see if I can make paintings in the studio at home that create the same resonance, something really fundamental to life.It will be really exciting to work on a larger scale and see if I can find the right speed, weight and fluidity of marks.

I think I may be responsible for various shades of turquoise building up on the gate… Oil paint takes time to dry and I have to think my way around the logistics of getting wet paintings home again…so as my last week is here  it’s time  to embrace water based media!

Sea Drawing, Iona February, Mixed Media on Board, Alison Critchlow
Sea Drawing, Iona, February. Mixed Media on Board, A Critchlow

An unexpected aspect of this residency is that I have discovered a lot about myself.  I have learnt to be more open with sharing ideas and thoughts about my work in the early stages and as a result I have discovered a wealth of knowledge and talked to so many interesting people. I am also enormously grateful to the local people on the island who bothered to stop and talk and made me feel very at home, even though I was covered in paint and quite likely had a blue eyebrow or two ! I enjoyed the talk I gave very much and I really appreciated so many people coming along and their interest and questions led to some great discussion.


My aim was to gain headspace and inspiration for a body of new work…which I have certainly done, but I have also learnt something much greater…about myself. I was chatting to one of the local people the day before I left and she asked ” how have you got on ?” I told her that I have gained far more from my month here than I ever imagined and she replied ” You always get more than you expected from Iona!”

Incoming Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, Alison Critchlow
Incoming Tide, North Beach, Oil On Canvas, A Critchlow

I have been home from Iona for a month now, and a new body of work is under way in my studio, based on all of this.The words for this blog post were written while I was on the island and I decided to leave them largely unaltered for this post.It has been a deeply inspiring month, transformative and enriching in all sorts of ways.


I was very lucky to share my time at Lagandorain with some great people – Iona the artist in residence before me ( we overlapped by 2 weeks which was wonderful) Colette, Misa, Marc and John. The creative, nurturing environment at the hostel was enormously important to this experience and I would like to thank them…as well as all the people passing through. Superb coffee at the Craft Shop, healthy seaweed consumption and the Spar have all played their part too! Special thanks are due to John who was happy to let me roam around his croft getting flashes of paint on his gates and leaving my mark on the studio floor and who was kind enough to send my rucksack full of all my worldly possessions back to me when I managed to leave it on the wrong side of the Sound Of Iona!

You can see more of Alison’s work on her website www.alisoncritchlow.co.uk or follow her on facebook at www.facebook.com/alisoncritchlow-artist

By Alison Critchlow

Ten Weeks on Iona

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, FullSizeRender.jpg
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. Henceforth I ask not good fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Strong and content I travel the open road.”

How could I say it any better than Walt Whitman? I came with such eagerness and a sense of adventure with a simple desire to work in solitude and quiet. My children worried about me coming to this tiny remote island alone.  It is not easy to get here.  It takes 2 ferries and a bus ride across the desolate island of Mull before you see the soft turquoise waters and white sand shores of Iona.  It was late October when I arrived.  I had too much luggage and too many art materials.

Iona Abbey

Thousand of pilgrim’s feet trample over this little island especially over spring and summer.  Most of them come only for a day trip and to see the Abbey.  But now it is winter and they are gone.

I arrived to a hostel packed with travelers from all over the world. Who were these people finding shelter at the hostel from the winds and rain of November and December storms?  Who travels the world in winter?  I sat around the table at dinner mesmerized by their life stories. Free Spirits, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, story tellers, a whole plethora of folks sat at that table out on the north end of that tiny wind-swept island weaving magic in their combined stories.  The air was perfumed by their shared humanity. I was drunk on the richness of their lives.

When I was not in the common room visiting, I was feverishly working in my room on the small seascape pastels I was creating.  The biggest problem I posed for myself was, “Could I make postcard-sized paintings with any sense of movement and life?”. How do I translate the flow and energy of 12 foot long paintings with all their gesture and sweeping line into a 5″ x 7″ painting?  My favorite painter, Emily Carr, said, “Let my talent be in service to my vision.”  So I was asking myself what was my vision?  What are my themes?  Can they be universal and am I able to make art that exists as a metaphor for the larger cosmic energy that animates all things?  Energy that I sense, but could I translate that into form?

I did 25 paintings while I was here.  I achieved my desire to breathe life into them.  Yet I struggled with the dichotomy of my working life in my small cell-like room with the pull of wanting to hear traveler’s tales out in the common room.  The view of the ocean and the myriad islands out beyond the parameters of my window kept calling me, but I pulled the landscape in devouring it, sucking it in like air, like candy, and transmuting it into art.  Some of my questions were answered.  Some were not.


In the two and a half months that I’ve been here, there have been chapters to this experience. Besides the random traveler, there was a time when the hostel was filled with women.  All of them were artists and all of them were authors as well.  We had stimulating conversations about art and being artists.  We sang together in the Abbey and St. Oran’s Chapel.

We made meals together, it felt like we were a community of nuns, save the one lone male Marc who lives and works here.  For him it must have felt like his own private harem.  After our nightly soirees, we would retire to the quiet of our “cells” to read, create art, or sleep.

Marc’s nightly serenade

Often, the  owner of the hostel, John invited us up to his home, a traditional white croft house where we watched movies.  One was about Gertrude Stein.  Lively discussions always came out of these visits.  Gradually over the weeks the other artists did their work, gave a presentation to the community, drifted away and went home.  I was the last one left.



Christmas happened with a great tempest raging outside.  The wind howled so much and beat againimg_4567st the side of the buildings and shook the roof until it became the talk of the village.  Complaints about the inability to sleep became commonplace.  Marc, at one point, left the shelter of his little bothy, swearing and cursing the wind and its bombardment.  He even slept in the hostel for a few hours to get relief.  Collette’s parents were here during the big Christmas storm and had a hard time sleeping.  Out in the great room, the table was filled with nuts, fruit, and gold candles.  Everything looked festive and opulent.  Marc and Collette put up a willow branch and put some small white lights on it and hung seashells from its branches.  The windows were decorated too with Christmas lights and cut out snowflakes. One pilgrim, Heli who was from Finland, made a gingerbread house. It was perfect. Simple. Meaningful.

The ten weeks I spent on Iona impacted my work profoundly.  It was an experience that unexpectedly changed me.  Iona’s ancient rocks and mystical landscape cannot be denied and it’s beauty reflects the beginning of the world. It has a sense of timelessness and light like no other place in the world.

Even though I wrote here about life in the hostel, there was another reality outside which impacted me as much as the people I met.  It was the landscape. Ancient. Vibrating with energy and unseen forces. It was not only the power of the weather, I’m speaking of here, but the power of place.  How does history impact the character of a landscape? On this land, I never walked alone. Just as the vivid stories inside the hostel infused that place with life, so too did thousands of ancient pilgrim’s stories of saints, sinners, Scottish Kings, Viking conquerors and mythical beings enliven the land.  I heard their voices in the high winds above me as I walked and I still hear the low rumble of the ocean in my dreams.  In some peculiar way I hear Iona call to me, like a song.  Like a yearning. This is the power of place.

“You road I enter upon and look around.  I believe you are not all that is here. I believe that much unseen is also here.”  Walt Whitman,  Song of the Open Road





Vicki Folkerts-Coots
Vicki Folkerts-Coots is a landscape painter based in northern California. She works in oil, pastel and watercolor. She received a Master of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts, a Bachleor of Fine Arts in Painting and a Bachleor of Science in Applied Arts from Oregon State University, and three teaching credentials from Sonoma State University. Her work can be found in many private and public collections. She maintains a studio in Petaluma California. To see more of her artwork please visit her website here.

Painting on the Isle of Iona for a month during November and December (2014)

The journey that brought me to Iona began long before I arrived. As a Briton brought up in the culture of Christianity, Iona has an almost mythical reputation. Old family connections and that I already live on the West Coast of Scotland simply add to this mythology.

When I came across a bookbinding course held here last spring by paper artist Rachel Hazell it seemed a good way of continuing to learn how to make my own sketchbooks on an island I wanted to know better.The course passed very quickly and the weather could have been better but my appetite was engaged.  It fitted with painting at Treshnish on Mull and making tissuepaper cutouts on Barra one September. Last year I went on a self directed painting retreat to North Uist but for only a week. The temptation of a whole month was irresistible even if it was November, the first time I could get away, having attended the course in March.

Where better to start the month than to continue my book begun on the course led by Rachel, John’s partner.


Anna Raven book whilst on the Rachel Hazell Bookbinding Course on Iona in March 2014.
P1150577  Some pages I made whilst on the Rachel Hazell Bookbinding Course here earlier this year.