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Hello everyone!

Welcome to my first blog, a small contribution for Patchings Virtual Festival 2020, as we can’t attend the usual annual event where I was due to exhibit, and demonstrate for the first time in the Search Press marquee to promote my book.

A ‘Derbyshire lass’, I began my career as a graphic designer BC (before computer), some years later I moved into Adult Community Education, teaching drawing, calligraphy and watercolour. I began with one evening class per week, but ‘Adult Ed’ soon became my new career and for years I had little time for my own painting, but I learned a lot about people, myself, and painting. I found that I enjoyed teaching adults and seeing how art can enhance lives; on those early classes I’d meet people suffering from depression, illness, bereavement or other life-changing events, who benefited hugely from attending. Apart from the confidence and skills they acquired and friends they made, some learned to really look at what was around them for the first time. A student told me ‘I get more out of my day because I check what colour the sky really is’. That’s no bad thing. I still share the excitement of students when they turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I did’. Who would guess that a life could be so transformed with a simple pencil, pen or brush? Well, perhaps everyone who has been involved in art at some point. 

Photograph ‘Looking right’ from the house in Skye: Sunrise over the mainland
Photograph – ‘Looking right’ from the house in Skye: Sunrise over the mainland

We moved to Skye in late August 2004; the first three weeks were non-stop sunshine (apparently summer arrived late that year) but a few months later there was the worst storm for many decades. I’m rarely frightened of bad weather, often in awe of it, but it was an experience to see our windows bulge, to hear the fury of the wind. When daylight came the landscape was transformed; electricity poles and forests were sheared off, many homes damaged, agricultural sheds flattened. Five days without electricity, tap water and heating wasn’t enjoyable, but we were safe, and over the summer we equipped ourselves for future power cuts; there would be many. When rain or snow fell it would often come from several directions at one time; it had to be seen to be believed. I learned that the weather is seldom the same for long (often ‘four seasons in one day’), to seize the moment, and to make a quick sketch or take a photograph now.

Photograph - view from the back of the house complete with crooked electricity pole Photograph – Ben Tianavaig and the Storr; view from the lounge
1: Photograph – view from the back of the house complete with crooked electricity pole; 2: Photograph – Ben Tianavaig and the Storr; view from the lounge

While wild weather would make life interesting, midges could make it miserable and I made no attempt to paint outdoors during ‘midge season’.

The population on Skye was too small to provide full time work in Adult Education and I had various part-time jobs, and taught occasional classes or workshops. A few years on I took up watercolour painting more seriously again and exhibited three paintings in the first Lochalsh Art Fair; the experience was so positive I felt motivated to carry on and submitted work annually.

Arthritis in my painting hand, and thoughts that it might at some point hinder my painting, pushed me on to make painting a greater part of my life; the creation of a studio was a dream fulfilled; at last I felt like a ‘proper artist,’ whatever that is.

The environment gave me plenty of subject matter; highland cows at the garden fence, red deer in the garden and spectacular views all around us. Numerous streams emerging from the slopes of the nearby Cuillin Hills gave me plenty of inspiration for waterfall paintings. I was pleased with the first waterfall that I painted after opening my studio and felt I had found a subject area to develop: mountains and waterfalls. The Cuillin from Allt Dearg Waterfall remains a favourite. Many a walk would be taken beside these streams after a day in the studio, occasionally followed by a glass of wine at Sligachan (when I was not the designated driver).

The Cuillin from Allt Dearg Waterfall (pronounced Coolin and Alt Jerrak)
The Cuillin from Allt Dearg Waterfall (pronounced Coolin and Alt Jerrak)

 Sligachan Bridge Photograph under Sligachan Bridge
1: Sligachan Bridge; 2: Photograph – under Sligachan Bridge

March could be quite a dry month, and, being too early in the season for midges, gave a chance to paint outdoors, just for fun. On occasion I’d make my way to the river to sit on rocks that would normally be submerged and paint for a couple of hours, taking a heavy ceramic palette that could resist the breeze. With mountains and sea views, ever-changing light, weather and seasons, there was always something new to see even on days when little could be seen at all; mist would reveal peaks seldom seen in good weather. Sea eagles would circle overhead in winter, occasionally we’d spot a golden eagle; seals and otters added to the magic.

The Cuillin from the Dunvegan Road Photograph of the Cuillin from further north
1: The Cuillin from the Dunvegan Road; 2: Photograph – the Cuillin from further north

In 2017 the date of Patchings Festival changed – I could go! I applied to exhibit and was accepted; before long I’d given notice on my part-time job. I drove south with several years’ worth of paintings and took advantage of B&B with mum for the week. During the festival I met Search Press and Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes: Mountain Scenes in Watercolour was born.

Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes: Mountain Scenes in Watercolour

It had become clear that we needed to be near family and friends as the long journey to us became too difficult for them; in 2018 we moved back to Derbyshire. I had to ensure that everything that I needed for the book was gathered before the move and I enjoyed some spectacular winter outings, my farewell to Skye; several of the snow scenes in the book are from these trips.

Photograph from Sligachan Bridge Photograph - Winter view from the lounge
1: Photograph from Sligachan Bridge; 2: Photograph – Winter view from the lounge

The removal van left several days ahead of our moving date as the two-day journey fell on a busy holiday week. Everything that remained had to sustain us for a few days yet fit in two cars, one to be collected later, the other to carry essentials including our elderly hen and an even older cat. The hen was accommodated in the hatchback, the cat on the rear seat, and we set off for our new home. Work on the book began again shortly after our move and the rest of the year was spent in getting reacquainted with Derbyshire.

In April last year the step-by-step photos for the books were done – in a heatwave. Watercolour has its challenges – that’s why it appeals to me – but high temperatures in spring were not a problem I expected to encounter. Being in front of a camera is a torment for me too, fortunately photographer Gavin and editor Edd put me at ease, but even they couldn’t influence the temperature.

Last year at Patchings Festival I had a lot of enquiries for workshops and demonstrations, but weeks later, after an accident at home, I found myself lying on the lawn looking at the beautiful summer sky as I waited for the ambulance, briefly wondering if I’d be able to paint again. Most of the sensation returned to my hands quite quickly but x-rays showed a spinal fracture, a simple and (thankfully) stable break, but muscle damage to my back took months to recover.

2020 was to be catch-up year for me to visit waterfalls for reference for paintings, and work of the last decade would be consolidated. My book was published in March and numerous events were tied into its promotion; workshops and demonstrations were in much greater demand. How things can change!

There is now more need for books and online classes and workshops; I’m already comfortable with writing and am working towards being more comfortable on-screen.

So, I’m missing my classes and workshops very much, the art group demonstrations that had to be cancelled, and the chats with visitors to Patchings Festival; I look forward to catching up with you all soon.

Stay safe and enjoy your painting.

Ready to Paint in 30 Minutes: Mountain Scenes in Watercolour by Lesley Linley, is available from Search Press now, RRP £12.99.

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