The Hebrides – Things You Have to Do and See

I spent three days working in the Hebrides this week. I’ve not visited in the summer before, only the winter, and what a fantastic place Lewis and Harris are in the glorious light of the sun. After doing a couple of digital consultations with some clients, talking websites, social media, cloud storage, mobile and tablet devices and the merits of having a mac or a pc, I got to take some time to explore the North Uists for the first time. So I’ve compiled a list of the things which I reckon are not to be missed if you ever find yourself over on these sunny isles.

1. Harris Tweed

There are so many amazing designers now making the most beautiful items from Harris Tweed these days, it has become a fashion must have for sure. Although I wasn’t able to get the jacket I really fancied (it was about £500), I was able to take a good look around some of the stores in Stornoway and around Tarbert.

Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed

Recommended Harris Tweed Outlets:

2. Firstfruit Tearooms

I had the most wonderful tea and scone, lunch and afternoon hangouts at the Firstfruit tearoom in Tarbert. It’s a fantastic family run summer joint where you can chill in the croft space or bathe yourself in the sun outside in their garden. It’s a fab place to meet other tourists and chat about travels around the island. Great value for money too.

First Fruits tearoom

First Fruits tearoom

3. Callanish Standing Stones

These amazing stones were pulled and heaved into place about 4,000 years ago by the inhabitants of the Hebrides. No one is certain why they were put there and for what purpose, but I imagine they would draw people in from all over the island as a place to come together as a community, for shared experiences, and perhaps even some form of worship – in someways its not changed all that much! There is a great little visitors centre there too with an exhibition, unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great when I went and two enormous coaches of tourists arrived just as I did, but it is definitely worth the visit and for a wonder around, it’s not too far outside of Stornoway either.

Calanish Stones

Calanish Stones, JM Barries Signature from the Harris Hotel, and looking over Tarbert

4. Hebrides Art Cafe

Hebrides Art Cafe

Hebrides Art Cafe

If you like your art, or colour, then a trip to Seilebost to see the Hebrides Art Cafe is an absolutely must. Not only is it an exquisite drive down to the South end of Harris, but the cakes and paintings are to die for. I would rank this gallery as one of my favourite of all time. It was relaxed, friendly, the location was amazing, and the talent of the artists and maker’s on display was incredible. All art in the gallery has to be inspired by the Hebrides and about 50% of the exhibits are from local artists. I was overcome by the beautiful colours on display – always have been a sucker for the colours of the sea. Will be saving my pennies for a piece from there soon (managed to buy a couple of postcards as a reminder!)

Hebrides Art, Seilebost, Isle of Harris, HS3 3HP.

5. Stornoway Black Pudding

If you are going to take a trip to Harris or Lewis then you absolutely have to stop and pick up some original Stornoway Black Pudding. The butcher who made the original pudding is based in Stornoway, not far from the high st. It is perhaps the most delicious piece of blood and guts I’ve had to date, it just melts in your mouth – we’re saving the piece I brought home for some Sunday black puddin’ rolls! Yummm.

Stornoway Black Pudding

Stornoway Black Pudding


Make Works Tour in Inverness #thisismakeworks

This morning I got out and about to attend the Make Works Tour and Creative Industries Information Day at Cowan House in Inverness.

The day was hosted by HIE and emergents, and led by the lovely Fi and Vana from Make Works.  Fi Scott founded Make Works during her final year studying product design at Glasgow School of Art, after an internship in Brooklyn Fi returned with a realisation that it’s not that easy to find the practical means  to get things made here. She found after talking to a number of designers, makers, artists, craftspeople, architects, creative practices and manufactures in Scotland, they also expressed a need to be more closely connected with industry, machines, materials and the whole design to production process.  And Make Works was born.

Make Works Tour in Inverness

Make Works Tour in Inverness

The organisation itself is independent and design-led, it aims to celebrate and debate making, manufacture and materials, while connecting design with local industry. Their big project is the Make Works directory. The goal is to create a digital platform providing practical and relevant information about how to get things made in Scotland – from prototype to wholesale manufacture, this would be a directory for makers, manufacturers, factories, specific machinery, material suppliers and workshop or studio space.

Fi and Vana spoke very passionately about their vision to see Scotland’s craft and design industry, whether small cottage industries to large-scale manufacturing plants, showcased, documented and utilised by skilled designers and makers up and down the country.

I myself have come across a number of maker’s in the past who are looking to outsource or have products manufactured for them and simply can’t find, with ease, the right factories or companies in Scotland with the tools and know-how to do what they require. In one instance a maker ended up using an Indian based company despite her best efforts to want to use a Scottish company.

In some ways the Make Works directory will become our very own product design and producing online dating service. We want to be able, as makers and designer, to know who to approach, how to approach them and how to strike deals with manufacturers or people with the tools/skills we need to realise our design dreams.

Bashing out ideas for Make Works

Bashing out ideas for Make Works

What make’s the Make Works directory unique is its approach to collecting and displaying the data they are gathering at the moment while on their tour of Scotland. Instead of your bog standard name and contact details, Fi and Vana are visiting and meeting with the people who run these businesses, interviewing them, and producing short 90 second videos to accompany each entry into the database so we, the users of said directory, can actually see who the business is, what they do and how they do it.

The session today at HIE was looking at what our experiences are with production in Scotland and how we might want to use a directory like this. One of the things which was very much supported by all designers, makers and other interested parties at the session, was that we want to be able to say that our products are ‘Made in Scotland’ – completely. Not just that the company is  based in Scotland, that the materials might be from Scotland, but that the whole production process and therefore the making of the products are 100% Scottish.

Encouragingly Fi and Vana said they have been surprised and delighted by the number of creative businesses and manufacturers out there, and that there really isn’t any obvious gaps in the market. Which is fantastic for us makers, it’s just a matter of connecting the two together and making some beautiful work together.

The Make Works tour is currently under way, as Fi and Vana travel around the whole of Scotland in their Tartan VW camper called Rhubarb – you can follow the tour on their website and by following #makeworkstour

The aim is to launch the directory next April – so watch their space!

Inverness Castle and Ness River

New Beginnings

As of June HI-Arts, the cultural development agency for the Highlands and Islands, closed its doors after 20 years of providing support to the cultural and creative sectors of the Highlands, Islands, North East and beyond. I was privileged enough to work there for four years, where I was able to hone my skills, develop my knowledge and work with a talented group of individuals across Scotland.

This month I have set out on my own, as a freelancer based in Inverness, I aim to continue to work with the cultural and creative sector, as well as the tourism sector and with small businesses or all persuasions. My focus will be on marketing, promotion and audience (or customer) development, and after working so closely with numerous small businesses in the creative field on making the most of the digital and online world, there will be a slant towards taking advantage of the world wide web.

I’ve since started a 9 month contract with Strathpeffer Pavilion, a beautiful 19th century spa building in the lovely little village of Strathepeffer, about 30 minutes away from Inverness. The Pavilion is the UK’s most northerly Spa and now runs as a multi-purpose venue for the community, the Ross and Cromarty area, Inverness and beyond. The Pavilion puts on live music events, theatre, classical concerts, craft and food, arts and photography fairs, weddings and conferences. In the last couple of months it has doubled it’s staff members and has an eye to becoming the provider of choice for all types of entertainment and events in the Highlands.

I’ve been brought on board with Kris Reid to assist the team in developing and improving their branding, marketing and promotion, press and media relations, programming, sales and income generation, audience development, sponsorship and friends schemes – so quite a bit to do.

I’ll also be continuing to work with Pamela Conacher and Avril Souter on their crafts development programme, which has now joined with Peter Urpeth’s writing programme to form a new organisation; emergents. I am delighted to be able to continue to provide marketing and development support and advice to the many makers on the Making Progress and Made to Measure schemes over the next year.

To top all this off, I’m going to continue to work with HIE on their IT Engagement Programme, as a specialist advisor and trainer, specifically in social media. In the last year I’ve delivered workshops in Dornoch, Orkney, Oban and Caithness.

Over the next couple of months I’m also working on setting up a social media marketing  business – so watch this space!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the services I can offer please do get in touch

This is it. This is Craft.

Made It! Exhibition 2010

Made It! Exhibition 2010

 Intellectual, physical, unique, challenging, beautiful, useful, tactile, extraordinary, cutting-edge, innovative, aesthetic, visual, thought-provoking, handmade, multi-disciplined, cultural, designed, artefacts, visual, sensitive…is this contemporary craft?

In recent years contemporary craft makers have been challenging our perceptions of what craft is, pushing the boundaries of traditional craftsmanship and emerging to represent a new, innovative and exciting art form. Jenny Deschenes, Laura West, Lucy Woodley and Daniel Kavanagh, four makers from across the Highlands and Islands, demonstrate in their joint exhibition Made It! the ingenuity, passion and creativity that contemporary craft is today.

The Highlands and Islands have long been a natural home for craft, its inspiring landscapes, rich mythology and wealth of natural materials, have contributed to the rise in interest and desire to understand, see and own Scottish craft, from both the traditional and contemporary sides of the spectrum. Craft is an integral part of the economic, social and cultural life of the Highlands and Islands, and its diversity combined with the increasing professionalism of the sector has opened up greater opportunities for growth, both for makers and for craft audiences. 

In order to sustain, grow and advance such a culturally rich and engaging art form, contemporary craft has been the focus of a number of initiatives set up and delivered by the HI-Arts Craft Development team. To support the emerging professional contemporary crafts makers in the Highlands and Islands HI-Arts launched the Making Progress programme back in November 2009. The mentoring and business support scheme was designed to support mid-career makers, demonstrating exceptional potential in their chosen field, and enable them to develop new work, be supported by talented and established Highland makers through mentorship, to exhibit their work, and develop their understanding of curating, marketing and management. 

Ceramics, textiles, wood and jewellery are the dominant disciplines for the Scottish craft scene; however the four makers selected for the Making Progress programme represent the diversity of contemporary craft today.

Jenny Deschenes A Chair

Made It! Jenny Deschenes

 Drawing together vintage fabrics with textile design, Jenny Deschenes’ work highlights how a maker can bring the old and the modern together with style and exciting flair. “I am interested in the intimacy of old fabric, to keep the character of old cloth but yet to infuse it with a new modernity and style.”

Laura West has reinvented the way bookbinding can be infused with art and craft. West has created her own signature range of unique artefact books which take inspiration from historical and multi-cultural book structures, “they are unique and contemporary artefacts meant to inspire the user and enhance them or their surroundings.”  

Daniel Kavanagh works with fine art ceramics which demonstrate both a classical and contemporary style, and is developing a fusion of bronze and ceramics to create unique and inspirational sculptural forms. 

Working from her studio in Tain, Lucy Woodley takes inspiration from her local environment, the sea and its many creatures finding itself as Woodley’s muse. Woodley’s jewellery brings together silver, gold, slate and sandblasted glass to create the sense of the flotsam and jetsam of the ocean. 

Made It! Spotlight Show Laura West

Made It! Spotlight Show Laura West

I was able to catch up with two of the Maker’s; Daniel Kavanagh and Laura West, to talk about their experience of the Mentoring Programme. The programme was designed to give these maker’s the freedom and support to explore their full potential, as West explains; “the mentoring process was like being given ‘permission’ to explore new materials and ways of working in order to come up with a whole new collection of work”. 

As maker’s based and working in the more remote and rural areas of Scotland it was important that through the mentoring programme there was a greater sense of community around their own artistic craftsmanship. Kavanagh felt he had really benefited from the experience as the “opportunity to be part of a collective group of makers has been a new experience … and one that has provided a lot of insight and reflection, just being able to share ideas about your work and the practical parts of exhibiting and applying to shows as well as the more humanistic opportunity to talk about the stresses and positives that being a maker can present has provided support and guidance that has allowed me to feel less isolated and more informed”. 

Made It! Mentors and Mentees

Made It! Mentors and Mentees

If anything the mentorship programme not only enabled these maker’s the time and space to focus on their craft and develop beyond their comfort zones, but gave them the confidence to face the future as a professional craft maker. “I feel excited by the future and what I have learnt on the programme and believe that this is a valuable experience for any maker at any stage of their career, it is easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day commitments and to have an opportunity to work in a structured way has allowed me to view both my work and my development in a new light”, Kavanagh explains. West echo’s this sentiment, admitting that the pieces she created for her Spotlight show “opened up a whole new range of possibilities in my work…No binder that I know of has attempted to move into the world of fashion in the way that I am attempting”. 

But the experience also had a profound affect on the mentors involved; Gilly Langton and Eileen Gatt. Gatt worked with Jenny Desenches and Lucy Woodley who felt the mentoring programme ‘has been a very rewarding experience, seeing [Lucy and Jenny] develop and become clearer about their career path. The mentoring process has been a very positive experience for everyone involved and it has proven to be a two way process, as I have gained a lot in terms of networking opportunities and the exchange of ideas and contacts has been valuable”. 

The theme of the exchange of ideas is a prevalent one across the Made It! Exhibition, with works on display, courtesy of the Craft Council, from notable maker’s such as Rupert Spira and Tord Boontje, the four maker’s were able to draw on collection items which have inspired their own practice, to exhibit alongside their work. 

Immersive Recordings

Immersive Recordings

Another exchange of ideas culminates in what might be perceived to be a video installation, but on closer inspection are videos of each of the maker’s and their mentors working from their own studios on their craft. HI-Arts partnered with Distance Lab to create these immersive and extraordinary insights into the world of the craft maker. Distance lab is a creative research institute bringing together digital media technology, design and the arts to redefine and overcome the issues and problems of distance. This collaboration required each maker to wear immersive recording devices (HD bullet cameras) around their chests, to have the freedom to move around and work in their studios. The overall effect is one of feeling very much a part of the craft and artistic work which you are viewing, rather than simply being a passive viewer. These recordings bring a totally unique and innovative insight into the world of the maker, their talent, skills and creativity, enabling you to appreciate the incredible works on display. 

The Made It! exhibition is a showcase of  four talented Highland and Island makers and works which have inspired their craft and runs until the of July 2010 at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

Promote Your Art

Promote Your Art

Promote Your Art

 Are you an artist based in the Highlands and Islands? Perhaps you’re an art gallery or a theatre company, maybe your a musician.

Whatever your artform I invite you to be part of my Highlands and Islands Art Blog. Every month I’d like to change the Banner on my Blog to promote the great work, design and events that happen across the Highlands and Islands. This month is the Belladrum Festival, a fantastic festival in the heart of the Highlands! 

If you would like to promote your art why not send me a ‘Blog Banner’. Images need to be 700 x 200 pixels and in a jpeg or gif format. Include your website or any relevant contact details that we can promote you through the Banner. 

If you’d like to ‘Guest Post’ for the Highlands and Islands Art Blog please do get in touch with me. If you have a great event running, a inspirational story to tell, or want to write about an arts and cultural issue, then please consider this your portal to a wider Arts community. 

As always contact me at or drop me a comment below. You can always find me on facebook and twitter as well. I look forward to hearing from you!

Voluntary Arts Scotland – Conference

Voluntary Arts Scotland Logo

Voluntary Arts Scotland Logo

Tomorrow morning I’m heading down the road to Livingston to attend the Voluntary Arts Scotland Conference (VAS).

VAS is a fantastic organisation, with a wealth of information online, and a supportive and friendly team behind the scenes. Seeking to promote participation in the arts and crafts by supporting the development of the voluntary arts sector, VAS offers help and support to organisations, groups and individuals who engage in the voluntary arts.

There are an estimated 2 million people in Scotland who participate in arts and crafts, 9,400 organisations and 263,400 volunteers in the voluntary cultural sector. Volunteer work within the arts sector is imperative to the future and sustainablity of organisations and groups. I myself spent six months volunteering for Stills Gallery in Edinburgh between 2008 and 2009. As a volunteer you have to be dedicated, committed and passionate about what you can do and need to do as a volunteer. There are obvious downsides, no pay, although you are now able to sign on to job seekers allowance if you are volunteering, and there is the risk of being taken advantage of. However on a positive note, volunteering and volunteering for the arts is a right of passage we all must pass through, if you envisage a career within the arts and cultural sector.

Howden Park Conference Centre

VAS Conference Location - Howden Park.

So, on Friday and Saturday this week I’ll be attending a number of workshops, talks and seminars looking at issues such as the new Creative Scotland body, how we can measure the impact of arts and crafts on communities, fundraising, the protection of vulnerable groups and the legacies of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.

I’ll be online and active throughout the conference, so hopefully there will be some interesting items to report!  

Check out VAS at 

Let’s Talk About Crafts

Birsay, OrkneyAll we could do was look on and giggle nervously as the Pentland Ferry drew in closer to Gill’s Bay, on what was a wild and windy lunchtime in September. The ferry had been delayed earlier due to the weather, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was still safe to travel across the Pentland Firth towards, what has always been an island I have longed to see, Orkney. The ferocity of the waves looked like they were toying with the ferry; I had to remind myself that it goes out every day, and probably in worse weather. As a confirmed central belt Scot who traversed the A9 to settle and work in Inverness four months ago, I had never truly appreciated the extremes, remoteness and beautiful isolation that make up the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. These are three elements which have attracted people, as tourists and migrants, over many years, and elements which have had a profound and unique influence on artists and makers for many more years. Which brings me to why I was sat on a ferry bound for Orkney, for the next four days the crafts development team at HI-Arts and fifty makers from across Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the Highlands were to come together to discuss and share experiences on a topic close to their hearts; Crafts.

Crafts have long been an important contributor to the traditional and contemporary culture of Scotland, and the Highlands and Islands has provided a natural home for craft makers and artists, drawing inspiration from the beauty of the environment. Since early 2000 the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) has recognised the integral part craft plays, not only in the culture of Scotland and its economy, but in the lives of its inhabitants. Setting out in 2002 to ‘develop the infrastructure to enable a broad range of people throughout Scotland to experience and appreciate the best of contemporary work’. Through its own work Hi-Arts has endeavoured to engage a broad audience in the appreciation of crafts as well as providing support, business advice and professional development for crafts people across Scotland. Since 2008 HI-Arts craft development has been spearheaded by Pamela Conacher and since has coordinated a series of Makers’ Day’s designed to give those within the craft sector opportunities to meet other makers, share and learn from each other’s experiences, as well as provide advice on funding, marketing and business development.

The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, OrkneyPrevious Makers’ Days were designed to give crafts people a reason to spend a whole afternoon, or as we have lovingly dubbed it, a ‘craft-ernoon’, to talk about nothing other then crafts; their passion, their inspiration, their lives. The Orkney Makers’ Day was unique in that it allowed this forum to be extended beyond the craft-ernoon to a fully fledged three day operation. Over the course of the trip the maker’s who had travelled from places such as Lerwick, the Isle of Tiree, Plockton, Harris, Findhorn, and Papa Westray were invited to attend an informal reception at the impressive Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, to explore the Orkney Crafts Trail, travel the one and a half hours to Westray, dine in the fine Helgi’s eatery in Kirkwall, and then to top it all off come together to discuss crafts under the banner of the Makers’ Day. This not only gave makers the opportunity to unearth the true nature of crafts in Orkney, but it allowed them as individuals to connect with one another, establish new networks and most importantly come together as friends in an open, supportive and understanding environment at the culmination of the trip.

One of the biggest hurdles craft makers in the Highlands and Islands face is the sense of isolation they feel, not only geographically, but also within their chosen profession. In general there is a misconception of what crafts actually is and is often seen as a ‘hobby’ or not a ‘real’ job. Lizza Hume, who runs the successful Hume Sweet Hume with her sister Jenna on Westray, demonstrated this best with a story about a visitor to her shop, who believed that the reason there were so many makers in Orkney was because there were no real jobs available. But craft makers are artists, they are professional and they are incredibly gifted. HI-Arts through its Makers’ Day’s are designed to reinforce the reality of professional crafts, bringing makers together reaffirms in their minds the importance and professionalism of their chosen careers, it also allows makers the opportunity to develop business and marketing skills to reinforce the real image of crafts for their customers and wider society.

In the stories that were heard during the Makers’ Day I came to understand the effect this perception and reputation of crafts has had on its makers. Both incredibly successful, nationally and internationally recognised craft makers, Wendy Inkster of Burra Bears on Shetland, and Eoin Leonard of Belgarth Bodhrans on Orkney, spoke of their ‘accidental careers’. Leonard was particularly honest in admitting that initially creating, these now spectacular, ancient single-headed drums, had been a hobby, he and his wife Jane had no idea how much their product would come to be in demand. A perfect example of the power of word of mouth, Leonard has now worked full time since 1998 to produce drums, “the sensible day job went” and he now runs a hugely successful business. Inkster, or the ‘Bear Lady’, tells a similar story of making a keepsake bear for her sister in 1997 out of a recycled hand knitted Fair Isle woolly jumper. As more and more people asked for a bear, similar to her sisters, out of their own jumpers or those of fond relatives, Inkster soon found the confidence and the belief that she could do this for a living. Elements of these inspiring stories can be found within the stories of all craft makers.

The WoolshedCraft is a personal endeavour; ultimately each one of these makers is putting themselves and their work out there to be judged. I found this truly inspiring and encouraging. The passion, commitment and dedication to crafts as a sector demonstrates its sustainability for the future, but this is reliant upon the support of local councils and the national government. It was interesting and enlightening to hear from Clare Gee of Orkney Islands Council, Hazel Hughson of Sheltand Arts, and Elsie Mitchell of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar of the Western Islands, three arts development officers, talk of the level of support they were able to provide the sector. While crafts in Shetland receives a high level of support through projects geared towards the development of individual makers and craft groups, and works hard to promote the contemporary application of indigenous craft, the Western Isles shares one part-time arts development officer who’s commitment to and vision for crafts cannot be fully realised in the limited time available to them. These discrepancies of support from councils for arts may be disheartening, but to see the level and quality of work to come out of poorly supported areas is what must be taken away and remembered.

Aside from the beautiful setting provided by Orkney, the island also provided a context for how collaboration between crafts people can truly benefit the professionalism and ability to enable crafts to provide a living for its makers. The now established Orkney Craft Trail, based upon the various Whisky Trails dotted across Scotland, was established in the 1990s and is maintained by the Orkney Crafts Association (OCA). The Craft Trail was designed to provide support for professional crafts people by promoting their unique and beautiful products. The Craft Trail made up an important element of the Orkney Makers’ trip, and the fifty intrepid makers traversed the Orkney mainland and Westray, visiting and meeting with their peers. If there were ever to be a template for how crafts, as a respected, professional and sustainable artform, should be moulded, it would have to be taken directly from Orkney and its islands. For what emerged from the trail and the trip was that here in Orkney crafts is not just a profession, a job or an artform, this is a culture.

This idea that craft is culture is embedded in the way makers perceive what they do. This is not simply a job, it is a lifestyle. The trail exemplifies this, as you wonder between the makers workshops set against the backdrop of their homes and on some occasions farms, you get a real sense of how their craft is reflected in their lives. Dawn Cawthra-Hewitt, a Morayshire based textiles maker, described how important it is to be true to yourself as a crafts maker and equally so to have the support and advice of other makers to understand the value of what you are doing, to generate that sense of self-confidence needed to be successful, on your own terms. Whether this is opening a shop-front, being part of a craft trail or being at ease with life and making what you love more then anything else in the world. Like all art forms, being an artist, a maker, being creative, it is clear that ultimately this is not work, this is life.

Hi-Arts would like to thank the all the Makers who attended, the Orkney Craft Association and the Pier Arts Centre for the trip could not have been such a success without their help and support.