Tag Archives: Scottish landscape painting

Works in progress. Iona, October series.

Iona is a very different island in October – the bars and restaurants shut down as tourists slow to a trickle, everything feels wilder – more what you’d expect from a Hebridean island.

The wind is so strong you can lean against it. It’s not really cold, yet, but you have to wear a hat and hood as the sand blasts you in the eyes at times. Hair is a problem, as it can also whip you in the eyes so has to be tightly managed!

The birds appear to love the wind, they swirl above the waves in flocks, if you’re a bit short- sighted they look like wave splashes.

It all adds to the tumultuous Octobery weather and energy, it feels like everything is being cleared and scoured, not just the landscape but the very atmosphere and memories of summer. Despite the gritty eyes, the annoying hair, the noise etc, I love it!

This time I’m staying in Iona Hostel, not a tent, you’d have to be quite tough to survive a tent in this weather. I’ve camped in sub zero temperatures before, but again it’s the wind that’s the issue.

So my accommodation experience in a hostel is completely different – much easier. You immediately get friendly with people and it’s great to share stories. I’m full of admiration for the women I’ve been chatting with here – Mary, Jan and Dorothy from various parts of America, Jane from France and Rachel from the north of England – all of whom have been involved in humanitarian or aid projects around the world.

Our evenings around the kitchen table have involved a bit of wine, whisky, and much political debate, you can imagine the theme – the world appears to have gone to shit in many ways basically! – But these good humoured compassionate people don’t let that kill their optimism and effort.

Tomorrow is a full moon (in Pisces, hostel worker Mark tells me) so we all plan a night walk, I suggested this since I like the idea of a night painting. Of course the reality of painting in the dark in howling wind hurling sand in your eyes till you feel you’re being blinded is hilariously unpleasant to a city-bred person such as myself, however I can at least walk around a bit on the beach on tomorrow’s (hopefully cloudless) moonlit night, then attempt to paint my experience later in the studio…

It’s a lovely studio – a perfect set up with numerous intriguing sea- related objects, plenty light, I can make a mess within reason, and even light a stove if I get cold. So, thank you to John (owner of the hostel) and staff – Chris, Mark and Maria for providing such a friendly and excelient oasis for artists and creative people here on the north end of the island.

Hope to post moon pics after tomorrow eve …

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – 2 more

‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, Swans on St Margaret’s Loch’. Mixed media on 16×13 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2018. £250

‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, St Antony’s Chapel II’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood panel. Rose Strang 2018. £180

Two more paintings today, for the Wells of Arthur’s Seat exhibition, which launches this Saturday (all details Here).

I couldn’t resist painting this view of St Margaret’s Loch with swans, having spent the weekend sitting there with friends watching them take off then fly down across the water.

For this second painting of At Anthony’s Chapel I splodged primary colours directly onto the wood, the colours at sunset are so vivid it’s the only way to capture it.

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – complete series

If you have any queries about these paintings, or would like to buy one in advance of the exhibition, contact me at rose.strang@gmail.com. (If paintings are bought prior to exhibition a red-dot sticker to denote ‘sold’ is placed next to the painting, which will then be posted one day after the exhibition ends – 25th June).

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – exhibition/event and open studio days

We’re very much looking forward to the upcoming private view of the exhibition and performance event (details/link below). This is ‘invite only’, as spaces are limited, but you can email me to enquire about spaces at rose.strang@gmail.com

Alan Spence

Atzi Muramatsu






I’m delighted and honoured to be collaborating with two very talented people on this project; the poet Alan Spence and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu. Their reading and performance will premiere at the Private View on the 16th June, but will be viewable on subsequent exhibition days on video (we hope to develop the project further and there may be subsequent live performances).

There are also Open Studio days, where the paintings can be viewed, and a video-showing of the poetry reading and performance of poet Alan Spence and cellist/composer Atzi Muramatsu from the private view event.

For all details on the upcoming exhibition and event, and open studio days, click Here

Alan Spence was named Edinburgh’s Makar in 2016 (Makar is the Scots word for learned poet). His work has, for many years, explored Japanese culture and spirituality including Zen traditions and Haiku poetry. In recognition of this Alan was recently awarded the Decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan). This is the first time I’ve collaborated with Alan, and I very much look forward to experiencing the poetry he’ll create for this project.

Atzi Muramatsu has been (amusingly) described as ‘the Scottish Central Belt’s most well-known celllist’, this is not least because he is an avid and dedicated collaborator, with artists, dancers, other musicians and writers across Scotland and beyond. He also writes film-scores and in 2016 was awarded a Scottish BAFTA for Best Composer New Talent. It’s absolutely a pleasure to continue our long-lasting collaboration.

*please note –  as we are not receiving public funding for this project, a performance and project fee is paid to Alan and Atzi from the profits of painting sales. We hope to develop the project further and there may be subsequent public funding, resulting in additional performances and developed professional video of the project.

Read on to find out more on the inspiration behind Wells of Arthur’s Seat …

(detail) ‘Wells of Arthur’s Seat, Waterfall I’







This series is inspired by the landscape and local history of Arthur’s Seat – the hill in Edinburgh that sits to the south of the city.

The paintings focus on the flora and fauna of the hill in the vivid greens of early summer, but in particular, water. This is rainy Scotland, so water is constant – everywhere on Arthur’s Seat – in springs that tumble down the hill, lochs that form in the valleys, and in its wells.

Some of these wells have been named after saints – St David, St Margaret and St Anthony for example – so at some time in the past they were perceived as sacred.

It’s simple enough to trace their Christian origins, but probably very few of the hundreds of tourists and locals who visit the hill throughout the year will be aware of the purpose of the wells further back in time …

There are hints; in the worn stone basin and cup-chain attached to St Anthony’s Well, which ran dry in the 1980’s but used to seep through the cliffs below the summit, before emerging near the bottom of the hill and flowing towards St Margaret’s Loch.

Just above the loch, on a rocky promontory you can see the medieval ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel – it was built in the 12th century, but the well and its stone basin were there long before.

On the first of May, locals would drink the well-water, walk their livestock through the streams and celebrate the beginning of summer. The first of May continues to be celebrated to this day throughout Europe, but there were other, far more mysterious healing rituals that took place at St Anthony’s Well …

We know about these rituals because of written records from court cases that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries during the Protestant Reformation. For over a hundred years, people who were seen to ‘worship’ at wells might be prosecuted if their words and actions were seen as un-Christian. Yet, while these people may or may not have invoked the Christian god during their healing rituals, their actions showed reverence towards nature – a belief in its healing power and a complete faith that their prayers would be answered, if their well-being was part of nature’s plan.

This was a pan-European belief – that nature held everything in balance, that disease or sickness, or bad crops, represented an imbalance of nature. Therefore healing rituals involved actions believed to restore balance, first by walking sunwise three times around the well (to create a boundary, or safe space) second by dipping a cloth in the well, applying it to the afflicted part of the body, then leaving it near the well, third by offering a token of gratitude such as flowers or a piece of metal ( this is the origin of ‘Clootie’ or rag-wells throughout the British Isles). If successful, the prayer would be heard, the disease absorbed into the earth, water or sky and the token accepted.

Water was seen as a ‘place of in-between’; these days we might say a liminal space (a place of transition – occupying a position at both sides of a threshold) or if religious we might describe it as a place where there is a ‘thin veil between heaven and earth’.

It’s this last intriguing concept that so fascinated me, and inspired this series.  It made perfect sense therefore, to introduce these ideas about Arthur’s Seat to the poet Alan Spence, whose work is often created in response to nature and the changing seasons. For many years his work has explored the Japanese traditions of Zen meditation and Haiku poetry (in recognition of this he was recently awarded the Decoration of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Government of Japan).

He and his wife formerly ran the Sri Chinmoy meditation centre in Edinburgh, and now run a bookshop and meditation centre The Citadel just across the road from my studio in Abbeyhill. The summit of Arthur’s Seat sits directly ahead from the front door of their bookshop (and from the window at the back of my studio).

Alan was intrigued by the project, and was delighted too to collaborate with talented composer and cellist Atzi Muramatsu, a friend with whom I’ve collaborated since 2013 on most of my art projects. It was a given, of course, that I’d invite Atzi to collaborate, and of course his Japanese origins add to the aspects of Japanese culture explored in this project.

The creative fruits from this project  – poetry, music and paintings – will launch at the Private View on the 16th June 2018 (this is invite only as spaces are limited, so please email if you would like to attend). There are also Open Studio days (open to the public – all welcome!)  where the paintings will be on display, and a video showing Alan and Atzi’s performance from the 16th June.

All details of the Private View and Open Days Here

All paintings in the series viewable above (if you have any queries about these paintings, or would like to buy one in advance of the exhibition, contact me at rose.strang@gmail.com)

Note the sizes of the paintings, these are not always clear from images online, so to give an indication I’ve included the photo below ..

New painting – private commission

‘Wallace Mounument, Stirling’. Mixed media on 10×10″ wood panel. Rose Strang, May 2018

Today’s painting (above) is a private commission for a friend. It’s of the Wallace monument in Stirling.

Gus recently got in touch to ask if I’d paint the Wallace Monument for his mum, who grew up next to the Wallace Monument. His mum isn’t well just now and I was very touched and honoured to be asked.

I decided to paint a view with the Ochil hills in the background, with the sun coming out after a rain storm; I hope that’s how it looks!

Here’s a close-up of the tower, I’ve made it fairly impressionistic rather than detailed – the way it appears at a distance in sunlight ..





The tower in real life is quite beautiful – (images easily findable online) made of warm yellow sandstone which catches the light in the late afternoon and at sunset. It sits on the Abbey Craig; a quartz-dolerite intrusion that was harder-wearing than the surrounding  landscape, so took its current shape after the glaciers retreated about 14 thousand years ago.

The Abbey Craig was also the site of Wiliam Wallace’s HQ during the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and the tower is a fitting tribute to this fairly monumental human being! He was apparently 6 foot 7 inches with a broad-boned warrior’s build. The sword he used in battle was at least five feet (though that would have been for an initial charge towards cavalry apparently).

The  tower was built in 1869 and is characteristically Victorian and ornate in style, though inspired by Medieval era buildings. The top represents a crown and, to my eye, if you see just the tip of this emerging from the surrounding foliage, it looks strangely similar to Hindu temples from thousands of years ago.

Pretty much everyone has seen Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, so most of you will have picked up the general gist of the story, and myths! If you read this blog you’ll know I’m always curious about the history of painting subjects, so if you’re interested, read on for  a brief outline about William Wallace …

Early depiction believed to be a likeness of Wallace










A few hundred years after William Wallace died, a writer called Blind Harry wrote a history of Wallace, much of which is deemed to be fantasy, but nonetheless the facts are there, as attested by official records of the time …

Following the untimely death of King Alexander III of Scotland, whose only heir was his three-year-old granddaughter, Scotland was in disarray and King Edward I of England was brought in to help arbitrate. You do have to wonder why anyone was surprised when he took full advantage of the situation, since he was renowned as a pretty unpleasant character to say the least – he decided to appoint himself Lord Paramount of Scotland.

Skirmishes broke out against the English occupation, and support for the cause grew as tactics of the occupation grew more brutal. The first proper battle, led by Wallace, defeated Edward’s army at Stirling Bridge.

After this victory Wallace was appointed guardian of Scotland, but the next battle was lost. He attempted to rally support from the French but  was later caught then tortured and killed for treason (pretty much exactly as depicted in Braveheart except that he was also dragged through the streets behind a horse for five miles before the execution). After this, Scotland appeared to be defeated, but covert plans were being made as Robert the Bruce succeeded Wallace as Guardian of Scotland, Robert the Bruce then went on to win against the English in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and after the 1300’s Scotland remained entirely independent up until the treaty of Union in 1707.

It would be nice to know more about the character of Wallace, but there’s only speculation and few hard facts. Suffice to say he was clearly a born leader – he wasn’t from nobility but was probably educated and trained as a warrior, he was also clever, as attested by battle strategies, and extremely determined. The decision to build a monument to Wallace came at a time of resurgence of interest in Scotland’s national identity, following the near decimation of Highland culture following the Highland clearances.

Thanks again to Gus Carmichael for commissioning this painting, it’s been a pleasure to paint and an honour to be asked!

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – day 2

(in progress)’St Anthony’s Chapel II’. Mixed media on 24×16 inch wood panel. Rose Strang, 2018

(in progress)’Tree Grove (Arthur’s Seat)’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood panel. Rose Strang, 2018

(in progress)’Spring (Arthur’s Seat)’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood panel. Rose Strang, 2018

(in progress)’Green Spring (Arthur’s Seat)’. Mixed media on 10×8 inch wood panel. Rose Strang, 2018

Today’s paintings for the Arthur’s Seat exhibition and project, all info Here

More experimentation today, which got quite messy. I’ll have a look at these tomorrow and decide what to do with them. They’re loosely based on views of St Anthony’s Chapel, springs that run through the valleys of Arthur’s Seat and a grove of trees in Hunter’s Bog. I definitely want to progress in a more expressive direction, to convey atmosphere rather than a mimetic approach. It’s a bit of a return to previous styles which will suit this project.

The bits that work for me are the energy expressed in looser brushwork and more primal colours, and the sense of feeling a place as opposed to seeing it simply as it’s observed. I like the connection between clouds and spring-water through drips in ‘Green Spring’ (which needs a bit more work). I’m also trying to get a sense of flow between elements of sky, land and water.

Atzi, Alan and I were discussing ideas – the concept of ‘in-between’ or liminal spaces and places. In the last post I described rituals that would have taken place at these wells hundreds of years ago, and the way that people perceived water in certain places as possessing a magical property between the everyday and the sacred, also the idea of rituals that create a space in time, and a safe place in which to heal.

I’m not quite there with the atmosphere or ideas I want to capture, but with a month and a half to go I’ll hopefully get there!

Wells of Arthur’s Seat – Day 1

‘Spring sunlight on Hunter’s Bog, Arthur’s Seat’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood. Rose Strang 2018

‘St Anthony’s Chapel from St Margaret’s Loch’. Mixed media on 10×8 inch wood. Rose Strang 2018

‘Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat’. Mixed media on 10×10 inch wood. Rose Strang 2018

Today’s paintings of Arthur’s Seat …

I played around with different experiments and approaches today, just to see what works, so I’ll have a think about these in the meantime.

For the St Anthony’s Chapel painting, I was a bit inspired by the strangely beautiful atmosphere of Medieval paintings, such as those featured in the Medieval manuscripts – ‘The Book of Days’ (example below) I might work on that approach more.








I’ve also been working on the video for the project, as there will be a video showing the background to the project as part of the event.

As described in my last blog post, I’m exploring the history of Arthur’s Seat and in particular the way the wells were used for ancient healing rituals.

I’d discovered that St Anthony’s Chapel (painting above) was bult in the 12th century, but the nearby well (named St Anthony’s Well) had probably been used for many centuries beforehand as a place of worship or healing.

As mentioned, early Christian churches were usually built on or near sites of ancient worship. In the first place this was simply to encourage local people to incorporate Christian ideas with their own beliefs, but by the 16th century this had become unacceptable to the Christian church.

Martin Luther’s ideas for reformation of the Catholic church started out simply as a series of criticisms of corruption in the Catholic Church; one of his main points being that the church accepted payment for atonement of sins in lieu of confession and repentance, which obviously became a lucrative sideline!

The other complaint was that the worship of various Catholic saints was too similar to ancient ‘heathen’ practices of praying to or invoking numerous deities as the situation required, rather than one god. Also Luther believed that people could have a direct relationship to god, without requiring elaborate rituals by popes and the church hierarchy.

(By the way it’s probably best if I interject at this point to say that I don’t follow any religion and therefore have no prejudice towards any particular religion. Certainly I’m no expert on the subject! I thought I’d better explain this in case people assume I’m working towards a religious argument, when I’m simply showing the ways that religion was politicised or appropriated towards the aims of various rulers, whether from institutions of church or monarchy).

Luther’s observations made sense in many ways; but he’d never intended the subsequent actions during the Protestant Reformation which involved horrific violence, not least witch hunts, which were at their height during the reign of James VI of Scotland (First of England).

I won’t go into more detail about all of that though today, except as it concerns our well-worshipers on Arthur’s Seat. Some of their activities would have been viewed as devil worship at one time, not because they were running around naked, painted red and invoking Satan (as far as I know), but rather because their rituals didn’t invoke the one God of Christianity – they were not monotheistic, they invoked or prayed to a variety of deities, most often at those wells, springs or trees, which were believed to be sacred, or to have magical powers.

With varying details in each country or locality, this was a pan-European world-view in pre-Christian times, as explained by Aude le Borgne in her thesis, which I discovered online recently (* see reference/footnote at the end of this post).

Le Borgne’s thesis is a wonderfully rich source of information about the rituals people enacted at these wells, I’ve only read the part dealing with wells, but she goes into great depth about the possible meaning or beliefs behind the rituals.

You may have heard of ‘Clootie Wells’ (called Rag Wells in England). Clootie means cloth, in old Scots and to this day there are numerous wells around the British Isles,  Ireland and France where people leave a rag, cloth or offering, yet few people even know why they do this!

According to Le Borgne, whose evidence comes partly from court trials held during the Reformation, there were numerous types of ritual held at the wells, for a variety of purposes such as healing, praying for better crops, or marking important times of year in the calendar such as the summer and winter solstices, or May day.

She describes; “the notion of balance that underlies this mode of thought – that human beings and supernatural forces share power..” and explains that understanding this is helpful as part of her explanation “to show how popular healing practices clashed with the Christian ideology”. *

To describe a typical ritual, according to Le Borgne, here’s how a visitor or healer may have conducted a healing ritual at St Anthony’s Well on Arthur’s Seat …

First they circumambulated the well, this was thought to ‘close off’ the area, to create a barrier or make it a safe space for healing to take place. It was also to stand aside from time, from the everyday, so a healer might circumambulate the well three or more times. The healer, or visitor would walk around the well “sone gaitis, deiseil, i.e. sunwise” *, or clockwise as this was deemed lucky, to walk around anti-clockwise was seen as dangerous; against nature, or possibly attracting ill will.

Le Borgne describes in some detail how ritualistic approaches followed a belief that balance of opposites was vital in all aspects of life. Disease itself was viewed as an imbalance of nature, therefore each action or event had a counterpart, or required a counterpart for healing.

Interestingly, if you explore ancient religions or spiritual beliefs, balancing opposites was often perceived as the aim of life in general – the attainment of wisdom and well-being. Yin and yang for example.

Water was seen as possessing this liminal property – an essence or quality of ‘the in-between’. A Christian, for example, might describe a spiritual place as being ‘a thin veil between heaven and earth’. Wells were perceived in a similar way.

Borgne observes that water was universally perceived as possessing healing or sacred properties – Scottish rituals included. Water might provide a cure through drinking, immersion, or by washing afflicted body parts, but although it was valid for anyone to practice these rituals, it was often the case that a healer or another person would conduct the ritual on behalf of the person with the ailment or disease.

A mentioned in my last post, which quotes an eye witness from the 19th century at St Anthony’s Well (from Paul Bennett’s book; Ancient and Holy Wells of Edinburgh) people would dip a piece of cloth in the water, then apply it to the place that was diseased. What that quote didn’t describe though, is that the cloth was then buried in the ground near the well, or hung on a nearby bush or tree.

Le Borgne explains that the practice of using, then leaving, a ‘clootie’ or piece of cloth has often been misinterpreted in various ways, i.e. as an offering, or as an act of cermonial union with the deity of the well, but in fact its purpose (apart from dipping it in the water and applying it to the place that required healing) is likely to have been to ‘ask’ the well, or deity of the well to dissipate or ‘take away’ the disease (it was seen as unlucky to touch any such ‘clooties’ if they were encountered near a well, so bear that in mind if you visit a Clootie Well!)

Again, the idea of balance was observed; by way of gratitude, the visitor or healer would then leave a token of thanks or offering at the well, most often a coin, nail, or wild flower. As propitiation.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of these rituals though, is that they were often conducted in complete silence. Le Borgne explains that this practice, which again is fairly universal as part of many sacred rituals, may have been because the deity or magical property of the sacred place is seen as inexpressible, or that human words can’t equate to or communicate with the spiritual nature of the sacred place, which is unknowable.

Silence was perceived as a form of respect to the power of the sacred place, and again, this has parallels with many spiritual practices across all beliefs and religions – meditation for one example.

With that thought, I’ll end today’s post and wish you a peaceful evening …

* Thesis by Aude Le Borgne:


Aude Le Borgne. PhD, The University of Edinburgh 2002

weblink: https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/10540

(Please note, I’ve had no luck in finding contact details for Aude Le Borgne, I hope I’ve referenced the thesis accurately, and credited it sufficiently, but I’ll tag this post to make it clear I’ve quoted and referred to it. Any feedback or enquiries can be emailed to me at rose.strang@gmail.com)