There’s a beach near Burrastow that looks towards the Island of Vaila.
Here’s a sketch I made from the cliffs above the beach.
Those cliffs look steep and dark. The tower is a “watch tower”, I’m told, built by the Laird back in the day (1700s) to watch over his fishing operations. The story I was told was that the Laird’s tenants were selling their catch to Icelandic vessels out there in the bay. Then they returned with a meagre stock for the Laird. Or at least he suspected them of doing this. After all, he gave them very little, if anything for their catch. And the Icelanders would pay.
So he made the watchtower for surveillance. I was told this story in the Germattwatt café in Walls. The people made it sound as though it was living memory. But it was many generations ago, even if true. They also pointed out to me the place on the nearby hill where the miscreants were hanged, and left hanging, as an example.
The tower is listed as a project on the website of “Groves Raines Architects” as “Mucklaberry Tower, C19th 2-storey square plan Baronial reconstruction” . Their project was to refurbish it as a retreat, along with renovation of Vaila Hall.
On another day, from the beach, I determined to draw the rocks.
Drawing the rocks. Muckleberry Tower is just visible, on the right in the distance.
Drawing the rocks.
On the beach.
It was a very windy day, the wind blowing over the top of me.
My rule for drawing rocks is this: everything that’s drawn is there, but not everything that’s there is drawn.
Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together better if I don’t use many colours. And it’s faster.
The rocks off the ward of Mucklure are almost geometrical in their formations. They make abrupt right angles.
Here are the Skerries of Easter Paill, small rocks in the sea off Dounawall and The Hamar.
Here is another drawing of the same location. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale.
Here’s a map showing the location. I drew the picture sitting on a rock that was not pointed but smooth and rounded, at a convenient height. In fact, I saw the convenient rock first, and then thought, what can I draw from here?
I had spotted a few items of plastic waste on the beach at the Seal Lagoon and intended to put them in my rucksack. But there was more and more, until they didn’t fit in my rucksack and I had a whole dustbin bag full. Then I realised I didn’t know what I was going to do with the bag. I carried it for the next hour, until I reached civilisation again, and found a bin. Moral of the story: don’t start collecting plastic waste until you have worked out a forward plan for the next step. This is a general life lesson, I think.
The wooden sign from the main road said “Historic Site”, and pointed up a small road that lead steeply uphill. I was on my morning run and felt energetic, so I set off up there, keen to see the Historic Site. In Shetland, Historic Sites are often at the top of hills.
At the top of the first hill, there was no Historic Site, but a view of the next summit. I carried on. At the second summit there was no Historic Site either, just undulating hills in all directions. I was disheartened. I was also a long way from home base.
I turned around. In the distance was the island of Foula, which lurks on the horizon, looking menacing. Usually it’s seen across the sea. But from that second summit, Foula hovered above the green hills, too large, too grey, too abrupt in its cliffs. As I started running back downhill, Foula sank reluctantly, until it disappeared below the horizon and all around was again soft green hills, and sheep.
The next day I resolved to find the Historic Site. I went on a mega-walk. Here is my route:
You see marked the “Germattwatt Café” where I stopped on the way.
I found the Historic Site which, against all expectations and precedent, was not at the top of any hill, but low down. near the sea, on a promontory, and near a fishing lake. There were low ancient walls, and the distinctive patterns of undulations that indicate a dwelling, property divisions, field boundaries.
In tribute to the wisdom of the ancestors who chose this place I stopped a while. There was a good view up and down the estuary. Good fishing was to be had, both freshwater in the lake, and salt water in the sea. Such fishing was still being had. In the sea was the fish farm and the mussel farm. I drew a picture:
You see the stones of the Historic Site in the foreground. In the distance the “A971” makes its way East at the foot of the hill. The lines in the sea are the mussel farm. The high hill is the Ward of Browland. Here’s the Ordnance Survey Map. The arrow shows the direction I was looking when drawing the picture.
Then I walked on, following the sea. Here’s a drawing near the “pier” circled in red on the map.
The whole walk was 22km, and took 8 hours, including two hours of stops for drawing, refreshment and looking at the view.
Shetland is a place of sky and water. I was working on reflections.
Experimenting with reflections
A sketch done on the beach at Burrastow
Here are reflections of rocks:
Here’s one that is almost abstract. Perhaps it reflects a mood.
The rocks round Burrastow each have a skirt of yellow and brown seaweed. So does the pier. There are lobsters down there.
I am using a new paintbox and experimenting with the colours.
You see the brown seaweed on the shore.
The island of Foula is sometimes visible from nearby cliffs. It is about 20 miles away, so it floats on the horizon. Foula is a mysterious place.
Here is another picture of Foula. The island disappeared while I was making these photos of my painting things.
Foula, from Uskie Geo
Painting things at Uskie Geo
Watercolour Box 3, Uskie Geo
I walked to Footabrough. Here’s the route, and some pictures of Footabrough.
A walk from Burrastow to Footabrough
On the way, there is a lagoon where the seals live. The arrow on the map shows the direction of the view in this drawing. The weird dots on the map are because I drew it on the left hand page of the sketchbook. I’d previously used that left-hand page to try out colours (see photo below). Note I am wearing gloves. This is July, in Shetland.
Lagoon of the seals, postcard sketch.
Lagoon of the seals, sketchbook sketch
Here are the headlands north of Footabrough. They have marvellous names: Knowe of Banascord, The Hamar and West Stack, Gerdipaddle, Skerries of Watsness. The picture is from Braganess, south of Footabrough.
This is a characteristic Shetland scene. It shows the remembered view across the Weisdale Voe.
As you see, there was a lot of wind and fine rain. Here are some local drawings around Burrastow (click to enlarge).
On the way to Burrastow I stayed in my favourite Shetland B&B: Hayhoull, in Bigton in South Mainland. It is right next to the amazing St Ninian’s Isle, which is connected to the Mainland by a strip of sand.
On this trip I also did quick sketches using pen and ink. Each of these takes about 10-20 minutes.
In Shetland I was learning to paint clouds. Here’s one of the pictures I like best, also the simplest.
Sometimes the clouds are lighter than the rest of the sky:
Sometimes very dark:
Sometimes rather complicated:
Below is a picture drawn in the rain. I was using a sketchbook which had very heavily sized pages. In light Shetland rain, the pages became damp, and were absorbent.
The water is brighter than the sky: a Shetland phenomenon.
See how this heavily sized paper lets me put layers of colour on.
Here’s another picture in the same sketchbook. See the colours in the sea.
This was a sketchbook from the Vintage Paper Company, based, appropriately enough, in Orkney. The paper is described on their website:
“The paper was made in the 1950s in Somerset, England. It’s a 180gsm, 90lb rough surfaced paper ideal for drawing, ink and of course, watercolour. Made from cotton rag and gelatine sized, it’s a dream to paint on. “
It took a bit of getting used to.
I found it didn’t take the paint very well, until it was damp. Here’s an early attempt. See how I struggled to get the paint to adhere to the paper.
This was painted in a strong wind from the edge of a hill. At first I thought this picture was a total failure. But later, it seemed to have captured something. perhaps you can see the rocks, the dry grass, the shifting sky and sea?
Later pictures were a bit better, especially if I kept things simple:
The other sketchbook I used was a Khadi cotton paper, much more absorbent. Below is a picture of the roads of West Mainland. The roads are calligraphic strokes on the landscapes.
Here’s anther picture of the roads:
I also drew birds:
On a day it was raining outside, I drew my boots:
Below is a picture of Burrastow Cottage, where I was staying. I swam in that bay. Despite the blue sky, the water was cold. I rate it somewhere between “refreshing” and “challenging”. That is, probably about 12 degrees Celsius.
Here I am on the banks of the River Dee, looking across to Aberdeen.
I had just left the overnight sleeper train from London, and was in Aberdeen waiting for the overnight ferry to take me to Shetland. In the River Dee, I saw dolphins. I walked to the Torry Battery, built 1858-1860. In the picture on the right is the “Aberdeen Harbour Operations Centre”.
The ferry docked in Lerwick, Shetland mainland. It was raining.
I drew this picture in Fort Charlotte, sheltering from the rain under the thick walls of a gate. The shelter was not perfect, as you see from the water splattering the picture.
Bus number 9 from the Viking Bus Station took me to the West Mainland, where I was staying in Burrastow Cottage. Here is a drawing of Burrastow House. The cottage is the small building, in the background on the left.
I did a lot of walking.
In Lerwick I bought a landscape sketchbook. So I experimented with using both pages. There’s a lot of landscape in Shetland.
Above, I tried to show the bright yellow flowers, very vivid, in the low light.
The picture above shows the bay and the village of Walls.
Above is an attempt to draw the huge cliffs near Burrastow. The peninsula is the delightfully named “Wards of Mucklure”.
I drew the sea. Above is the view from the door of the cottage. Out there, one day, I saw an otter.
Above is what the island of Foula looks like, viewed from Cairn 4. I numbered the Cairns.
Here is my numbering scheme:
I also drew the plants.
That picture of the drain hole shows iris plants above dark water. The picture on the right shows flowering sorrel, and iris leaves.
This is a picture of “The Ned” near Westerwick. It was much more dramatic than the picture. More dark and more light. Maybe the pencil sketch catches it better:
Here is another sketch of the sea. I tried drawing quickly. Sometimes it seems to work better that way.