Home is where the Art is

16 - January - 2019

I first stepped foot on a Scottish island on my honeymoon. My husband had fallen in love with the Isle of Mull and wanted to take me there. Though it was the newlywed love that got me exited to go, I was instantly won over by the colours of the autumn trees and the sharp mountain edges rolling into the crystal-clear seas. I encounter Highland coos for the first time as they surrounded our isolated boatman's cottage. I loved the place! Yet I was still excited to get back "home" to Leicester and newly-wed life.

My new husband, however, couldn't have been less enthused to leave the idyllic landscape of the highlands for the flat fields of the midlands. For him the islands had a certain type of magic that made him feel at peace. Seeing this serenity in him is what first got me to see the Scottish islands as more than just a nice place to visit. Soon, they became our refuge.

I even forgot the premarital negotiations to have a "proper" abroad holiday every other year and became just as exited to discover new islands and visit old favourites. I've edited out pages of this blog detailing all the things I love about the islands. I could gush about them for hours! For now, I will just focus on the art and the heart of the place.

Every west coast Island has a unique landscape and character but all of them have an artistic heart. The dramatic vistas and plethora of wildlife both inspires and attracts artist of all kinds. From the sculpture walk on Mull to the long list of galleries on Skye, to the Quilted tapestries displayed on Islay. There is so much to see and appreciate. So much to INSPIRE! The dramatic clouds, the stunning sunsets, the open sea views and the towering mountains, the colour of the heather, the yellow lichen on the rock, the detail in each shell; everything makes me want to stop and paint!

That's why, when I was taking the leap of faith that is "Illustrated Isles", there was no question that the Scottish islands would be the inspiration underpinning all my work. I'm a restless creative and get bored working with just one medium, yet everything I make is inspired by the colours, landscape, and Celtic spirit of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

Working out what came first, the art inspiration or the longing for 'home', is like trying to solve the puzzle of the chicken and the egg. The more I was inspired by the art communities of the islands the more I was inspired to create art of my own, the more I longed to be surrounded by this inspiration, until every time we visited and had to leave, it felt like a piece of me broke off and stayed there.

"Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave but not our heart"

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

When the opportunity to buy a little piece of home on the Isle of Skye came up, it seemed like the best chance we would get. Though there are lots of churches across the Scottish islands, my husband is a Baptist minister and there are only two Baptist churches on the west coast large enough to employ a full-time minister.

Not going to lie, we wrestled and wrestled with God over this. "Why would you give us this deep longing to be here when it all seems so impossible?" we would ask, often while sat on top of a mountain or on a beautiful beach; overwhelmed by the view and sense of God's presence there.

For a few years we lived out the calling that had brought us to Kent (even further away from Scotland!) and visited our Skye house as much as we could, letting it out for other people to holiday there in between. We explored the islands and got to know the communities by guest preaching at the Baptist churches on Mull and Colonsay. I kept painting and creating with the islands as my muse.

"Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave but not our heart"

Maya Angelou

Yet through the many trials of the last few years the ache for us to be truly "home" just grew stronger. We held to the Bible promises that God cares about the desires of our heart and even places them there. The fact we had prayed for him to take away this longing for an impossible dream, only for it to grown stronger, gave us hope that a miracle may happen.

Then it did!

In March last year we were told about a vacancy on Islay Baptist Church. After a few visits, some guest preaches and meetings with the church and community, my husband was invited to be the new Baptist minister and we delightedly accepted!

When we made the plans in August, moving in January felt like a lovely idea. New year, and super new shiny start! However, having now lived through the stress of it, I'm not sure I would recommend moving house and COUNTRIES, while, negotiating winter ferries and all the duties of Christmas! Yet it was all worth it to come home.

Of course, we are still not native islanders and have A LOT to learn. Like how to pronounce the place names for a start! (its "I-la" not "eye-lay") We've been keenly learning Gaelic to help us with that because there are many Gaelic speakers and Gaelic schools on the Island. There will of course be many other challenges to face, but I can't think of a more beautiful place to face them.

Maybe you can't see why we would give up all the amenities of living next to London and the luxuries of Deliveroo and Prime same day delivery. Maybe you think we're looking at Islay with rose tinted glasses. Well, in a way, we are! They're the rose-tinted glasses of people who love their home and have spent far too many years deeply homesick.

A few nights ago, just over a week after moving here, we went to a community dinner. There were dancers and music and extraordinary talent from all over Islay. One young singer sang a song I hadn't heard before:

From Mull to the Pentland Skerries, from Skye to Colonsay
From Staffa to Iona and the sands of Castlebay.
Each island has it's magic, which holds men in its thrall
But always in my dreams, I'll see the lights of Lochindaal

Loch Indaal is the sea view right outside the window of our new home. As I sat there, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of this community and watching a hall full of people sing about their home with joy and pride; I cried a happy tear.

I know that finally feeling at home and being surrounded by all that inspires me will help me grow Illustrated Isles into the business I've envisioned, but not had the energy or good health to fulfil. I hope that my passion will shine through every piece I create and that you will fall a little bit in love with Scotland through the art too. After all, home is where the art is.