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Isabel McLeish’s Art Residency at Inshriach Bothy

By Isabel McLeish on 21st June, 2023


All images courtesy of the artist.

I was commissioned by Cairngorms Youth Action Team with Bothy Project, in partnership with the Cairngorms Trust and Cairngorms National Park Authority to undertake an arts residency at Inshriach Bothy in the Cairngorms National Park. The bothy is in nestled in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and close to many National Nature Reserves.

I set off without any preconceived ideas or agenda. I wanted to be completely open, curious, and receptive to the landscape and my time in the bothy and to see what unfolded. My intention was to completely embed and immerse myself in the forested and rural environment and to reflect on how such an experience supports my creative practice and wellbeing. I thought the limited daylight during the winter would have been challenging but was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed spending time in the bothy during the darker hours.

It was a week of walking, wondering, photographing, filming, drawing, gathering, cooking, eating…as Nan Shepherd (2011: 82) says “There is a deep pervasive satisfaction in these simple acts.” I gave myself invitations each day to help me connect to the environment by slowing down and noticing nature. I enjoyed being outdoors, breathing deeply, listening to the soundscape of the birds and the river, and looking at the fractal patterns of the birch trees, ice and lichen. I felt more present, grateful, and lighter as a result.

I experienced vivid dreams and enjoyed the ever-changing light and vibrant colours of the wintry Cairngorms. Through experimental and impressionistic photography, I tried to capture this dreamy experience by playing with movement, light and longer exposures. Some of these experiments can be found in my Led By Light publication.

Following the residency, I spent my time drawing, looking through hundreds of photographs and experimenting with monoprinting at the Highland Print Studio. Monoprinting is a type of printmaking enabling the creation of unique, one-off prints. The abstract monoprints celebrate the variety of patterns, lines, and textures I discovered as well as the vivid Cairngorms colour palette. I incorporated fallen and found items such as grasses, lichen, feathers, and seed pods into the prints, experimented with layering different items and paper stencils and learned how the colours interact with each other. I loved the sensory explosion of “the spicy juniper” (Shepherd 2011: 98) needles when they were crushed in the printmaking press!

The residency was an enriching experience, giving me the chance to connect with the specific and unique environment of the Cairngorms as well as freeing up my creative practice, enabling me to be more curious, responsive, and experimental. An opportunity to be guided by experience and to focus on process, rather than outcomes. The ecology, biodiversity and landscape of the National Park has been so inspiring to my artistic practice, and I feel deeply connected to nature and this place. I had a peaceful, inspiring, and restorative time wintering in the bothy.

“I knew when I had looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see.” – Nan Shepherd (2011: 11).

Find out more about Isabel and her work here on her website.

Supported by the Cairngorms Trust Youth Local Action Group in partnership with Cairngorms National Park Authority.

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