I live and work in the glorious city of Dundee on the East Coast of Scotland. I grew up in the Highlands north of Inverness, in a small village called Strathpeffer. Throughout my childhood and probably too much of my adolescence I had two hobbies – pretending to be Robin Hood in the forest behind my house, and painting miniature models.
Since graduating from Duncan of Jordanstone College in 2017, I have found a way to jam these two hobbies together. Any artwork of mine will start with a trip to a wild place, where I will either camp, bivvy or go for a mighty long walk. Not Robin Hood – but close. During this time I will make sketches, take photographs and find as many interesting rocks as I possibly can. This part of my practise satisfies my childish fascination with that which for me is outside the civilised world, in the woods and the hills: the sublime.
I believe that people in general are well versed in the knowledge that we, as a species, are becoming increasingly separated from nature, and humanity does not need another guilt trip to feel even more alienated from the rest of the animal kingdom. We’ve already lost our claws, our fur and our tails which is bad enough. Dividing ourselves into indoor/outdoor types, or worse, city slickers and country bumpkins is not good for anyone. What still exists of nature, which is an awful lot, is there for everyone. But, let’s face it, getting the time to truly soak it up is hard. In my experience so far, most people are either poor or tired, both of which mean you’re likely to be holed up in a building somewhere either trying to make money or get less tired. Most of these buildings are surrounded by other buildings, which repeats itself for sometimes long distances until the buildings stop. Just next to this is the bit next to all the buildings, which is often not very nice, as all the detritus from building the buildings gets put there, as well as the roads to the buildings in other places. Next to this is the bit of nature that most of the people get to first when they walk away from the buildings. This bit often has many of the hallmarks of nature – trees, rocks, grass, birds etc. – but also many of the hallmarks of the places with buildings: other people, litter, more buildings. Beyond this bit lies the nature that most people mean when they talk about nature, but often by the time you get there it’s almost time to get home to the buildings. Also, in a municipal sense, there’s technically ‘nothing’ there, so getting a bus to or from this bit of nature is more tricky than say, getting to other buildings. Getting out into nature is hard, and as the great concrete crust of civilisation expands, you have to travel just a bit further to step off.
I grew up in an area where the journey from buildings to that proper nature I mentioned could be as little as 20 minutes on foot, and I was enormously privileged to be so close. In order to get back to living in such a place I’m going to have to spend a whole heap of time among buildings in order to make enough money, or else give up on buildings altogether and live as a hermit. I have spent time in nature because my mother and father moved to a sparsely populated part of the world, and showed me what they love about nature, and I believe showing is the only way to encourage others to appreciate. Not by commanding or shaming, but just by letting you see what I see. My vain hope is that in doing so I might make nature feel a little closer than it does most of the time.
My father loved looking up – climbing to the highest point, the thrill of standing on top of the biggest rock, and jumping off it into the water. My mother, on the other hand, showed me how to appreciate the smallest details – the patterns of rushes in a stream, the texture of bark, the yew root jutting up from the ground. I feel that in showing me how to enjoy that which is already and has always been there, I have been put in good stead. This way you’re having a nice time without having to achieve anything.
So, in my practice, my aim is simply to show the things I love, and hope that I can find common ground with others. This is where my drawings come in. Each of my drawings is a snapshot of what I found most beautiful and most sublime in the places that I visit. The fact that these snapshots are usually rocks is still a mystery to me. I could wax lyrical about the juxtaposition of the timelessness of these formations with the temporal nature of life, or the eons of history wrapped up in every grain of sand and pebble. These are definitely fascinating thoughts, but I think I like drawing rocks just because I like it. They’re hard to draw, but because they are rocks nobody can say I did it wrong. My miniature painting hobby has certainly fed into the way in which I draw. I want every detail represented, and when I’ve finished drawing a rock, I want it to stay drawn. Maybe I’ll come round to trees, but that time is yet to come.
While spending a month poring over a rock face with a microscopic paintbrush is certainly satisfying, it doesn’t half make me tense and dizzy sometimes. So my practice becomes two pronged. When the acidic detail becomes too much, I want to feel the freedom of mark making and separate myself somewhat from the final product as well as draw in the landscape itself. I am now trying to devise my own kind of experimental mark making and automatic drawing. These are so far taking the form of canvas walks and drawing machines. As an explanation for these, you can find images of them elsewhere on this website.
Two artists in particular are very important to me due to their approach to drawing. Richard Long first, for his “Line made by Walking”. In this work he drew a line by walking up and down on a patch of grass. What a fantastic starting point for thinking about drawing. If one can think of going for a walk as making a drawing, then how many doors can this open for undiscovered drawing medium? The second is Sol LeWitt. In many of his exhibitions, LeWitt would not send drawings to the gallery, but rather a set of instructions. These instructions were detailed and precise, but very easy to follow: “Lines in four directions (horizontal, vertical, diagonal left and diagonal right) covering the entire surface of the wall. Note: The lines are drawn with hard graphite (8H or 9H) as close together as pssobile (1/16″ apart, approximately) and are straight.” Would you like an original Sol LeWitt? There. follow these instructions and you have it – as original as any of his drawings, as it does not require his hand, or any other hard to obtain objects. Simply a wall, a pencil and a ruler will do.
I like these approaches to art because it relieves the pressure on both sides of the artist/viewer divide. Life as an artist is difficult enough without having to take responsibility for every single line and splotch in your drawing. And appreciating art can be dense enough without having to pay reverence to the artist, their unique brain and their hallowed and inscrutable process. The line, the brush stroke, the mark made is what takes precedence for me. Even better if it wasn’t even the artist who made it. A drawing is just a drawing, and drawing is fun. If drawing that stick figure felt good, then draw another one, you’re an artist now.
So there you have a rundown of my practice. I draw rocks because I like how my drawings of rocks look. I drag canvases around because it’s nice to go for a walk and make art at the same time, and then open up my canvas like a big grubby birthday present and see what I got. This website is where I’ll show all the things I do.
I’ll start by showing you my silly face – there’s no need for mystique here.