A project about the coastline of Deerness, Orkney – ‘almost an island’ – and my journeys around it by land and sea.
After working with a few parts of the original continuous roll it became clear that the idea of these becoming finished pieces was problematic. The sense of being in the threatening heave of ominous swell at Point of Ayre or rock hopping around Marka Ber was already on the paper. The known landscape beyond the viewshed and projected in my minds eye was there, or not – if attention had to be focussed on the reflected swell off the cliff.
For now these will remain loose leaves of a gigantic sketchbook.
The drama in the gentle landscape of bays and shallow sands is more atmospheric.
In these places haar and mist deceives and distorts time and distance.
Floor to wall
To move the roll of paper to the wall it had to be cut into lengths of no more than 3.5 metres. This started the process of selecting and editing, and making decisions about what can be discarded – always much easier to do at the beginning of a new day’s session when old attachments have been forgotten and fresh ones have not yet formed… details here and there can become precious and demanding at the expense of the larger whole.
Moving the work on to the wall allows for viewing from a greater distance when work is in progress, taking photos at the end of the session can crop and shrink sections into potential individual pieces.
A personal perspective
Working on the second roll of sketches I am allowing the places that I know best and have the most significance to expand and take up more space. In my head I go back to the swimming beaches and bays I know well, the cliff paths and kayaking routes between them. Swimming looking back at the land, sky above bringing weather in, paddling below cliffs around headlands.
Painting with peat
One of the lines around the coast of Deerness is the path which follows the clifftop around the perimeter of Mull Head nature reserve. Like the cliffs below the path human activity is directly and indirectly accelerating the speed of erosion. After footsteps have made their impact the weather washes out the layers of peat, clay and sand.
Heather roots in the top layer break and collect in piles of debris in puddles. From these washed out materials I can collect clay and sand, mud and peat to incorporate into paint mixtures.
I dried heather roots picked up from the eroded path at Mull Head and made charcoal with them. The sticks can be used for drawing themselves or ground down to make powder that can be added to paint mixtures or rubbed into surfaces.
The project progresses at a pace dictated by the time each length of paper roll requires to dry before it can be worked on again, or one end can be rolled up and the other unrolled to reveal fresh surface. Working on the floor means I can unroll about 4m of paper at a time and use improvised long handled implements to apply charcoal, graphite and liquid acrylic paint with plenty of movement and gesture. The almost black mixture of blue and brown liquid acrylic can separate and go its own way, a bit like rock and water.
This new project about the coastline of Deerness has been maturing for a long time and now it is ready to land on paper. Beginning on a 5m concertina sketchbook and 10m length of Arches paper it charts the coastline of Deerness in a circumnavigation from Dingieshowe to St Peter’s Pool. It is a continuous journey with drama in the cliffscapes and rock formations at their base, sweeping bays with rolling surf and headlands where the swell breaks and tide races form.
Deerness is the easternmost parish of the Mainland in Orkney, quite often having different weather conditions – steeped in freezing haar while the rest of the parishes are baked in sunshine, or poking out of the clouds like the prow of a ship setting off for Norway. It is ‘almost an island’ connected to the rest of Mainland Orkney by a natural sandy ayre, the site of an ancient parliament or Ting at Dingieshowe.