Skip to main content

Painting in Scotland with Words

Dunskey Estate in Scotland was rugged and head-over-heels luxurious at the same time. I've just returned from teaching there-the second workshop for Workshops in Wild Places. The aim of these workshops is to encourage a deep connection with the land through meditative walking, hiking, reading poems outdoors, having happy hour on the beach at sunset, and other such important exercises, then coming into the studio to create an abstract response to the land.

While an imposing structure on the outside, the castle was cozy and sumptuous inside, with comfortable furniture, large and thick antique rugs, and fires blazing in each room we occupied. Our group took over the entire castle, eating gourmet dinners in the great hall, breakfast and lunch in the dining room and having meetings and discussions in the Drawing Room. 

Set upon 2000 acres on the sea, this opulent estate has a wildly rugged side, with beech and pine forests and a long rough path edged with ferns that winds over a river and past waterfalls to the rocky beach.

Our spacious well-lit studio was on the top floor with plenty of room for all 10 of us.

Spending time outdoors every day, we did walking meditations, sitting meditations, and as well, we made colour charts and various other exercises. 

One lovely exercise I had the group do, was Word Painting. I borrowed this idea from a beautiful book by Linda Lappin, called The Soul of Place, A Creative Writing Workbook. I invited the artists to sit outdoors and to write very specifically about the scene that was in front of them, how it made them feel, what thoughts came to their minds.  Like the colour charts, I felt it was a way of taking some of the Scottish landscape back home to their studios. The responses were really beautiful. I'll let Jo Nan Carr have the final word with her wonderful Word Painting:

Photo by Mike Brouse

"I walked alone toward the back of the estate heading to a grove of mighty beech trees but was stopped in the middle of the yard with thoughts racing through my mind.   


“A place of inspiration,” she said. “In silence,” she said. But, where is silence? 

There is the rush of the trees. Have you noticed? Each cluster of leaves from each stand of trees plays a different song like the strings in an orchestra. My steps on the dry leaves and the beat of my heart echo the drums. Then the flutes and wood winds (appropriately named: wood winds) are brought in by the songs of birds in flight. 

Isn’t that where we are - in flight. Not to escape but to soar through our existence alone and sometimes with others. 

So, where do I sit? I’m still erect in a clearing. I’m still wondering. 

Oh, I’ve found it now, a moss wrapped tree just my size. “Contemplation,” I named this tree whose upward branches fork beautifully to different heights, different choices, different experiences. 

How did I get here? Wasn’t it by choices and longings and enticements?  Wasn’t it by successes and failures and joys and sorrows?  Why am I here?  I’m just a little country girl remembering joy. 

This must be an extension. A beautiful extension of what?  Luck? Good choices? Freedom?

I sit in gratitude against this tree on the edge of a mystical moss laden forest and simply breathe. "

-Jo Nan Carr

To learn about other Workshops in Wild Places travels, go to


Popular posts from this blog

Meet the Owners of a Scottish Castle

Art Workshops and Mary Oliver

To begin each day in my painting workshops, I do a short mindfulness meditation to bring our focus into the studio, into the workshop. And then I read a poem. Words that might inspire. Poems that might, in the words of John O'Donohue, "create an invisible cloak to mind your life".

My workshops are filled with women (mostly) who are generally between 55 and 75. The Boomer Generation. These are women who have worked as teachers, nurses, doctors, professors, engineers and who are now retired or near the end of their careers. Many are also mothers of grown children. And grandmothers. They've come to art later in life and are ready for a second career, finally able to follow their hearts to discover their creativity. But still, many are tied to their roles as mothers and grandmothers and find it difficult, as women do, to allow themselves space and time where they are not nurturers and caregivers. Time for themselves, for their creativity. 

A Longing for the Sublime: Painting the North

Recently I attended a beautiful art exhibition by Oxanna Adams and Barbara Shaw at Silence, an art gallery/exhibition space in Guelph, Ontario. The exhibition entitled North, featured paintings that were inspired by the travels of each artist to northern countries, including Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Yukon and Northern Ontario. 

At their opening, each artist described her experience of being influenced by the wild landscape of northern countries. I had the deep sense that these places were profoundly inspiring for both women. I know that my work is also strongly influenced by remote, wide-open landscapes and I find it so difficult to describe that sense of awe in words.  

I feel that painting can get closer to describing that sense of wonder than either prose or poetry. Still, I delight in finding writers and poets who stretch language into forms that approach the ineffable. And it's painting and words together that make my heart sing.

There has been much discussion and many papers w…