Thursday, 28 February 2013

The final four...

Well, as there are only 28 days in this particular February that means today is the last day of the 29 Faces challenge.

Sticking with the dog theme here are my final four faces.  If you pop back on Monday I've got a surprise though - it's NOT  a dog!!

Face 26 & sketch 29 of 75

Face 27 & sketch 30 of 75

Face 28 & sketch 31 of 75

Face 29 & sketch 32 of 75

The 75 day sketch challenge is still on-going though and these are also sketches 29- 32 of that - only another 43 to go - yikes!!

In case you missed my other posts this week you can catch up here:

                                                              Some More Faces: 

and I'm pretty excited to have been the Artist under the Spotlight in our local paper on Wednesday :

                                                                Under the Spotlight: 

I'm linking up with 29 Faces and Paint Party Friday and will, as always, try to get round as many folk as possible over the weekend.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Under the Spotlight...

My 15 minutes of Caithness fame!

As part of my attempts to find a part time job until this whole artist gig starts paying its way (hope springs eternal), I buy the two weekly local newspapers, The Caithness Courier on a Wednesday and the John O'Groat Journal on a Friday.

Well,  last Wednesday I noticed a feature in the Courier called Artist in the Spotlight.  Each week they feature a different local artist with an interview on their work, their goals and dreams.  Hmm, I thought,  this is interesting and what better way to let folk know that yet another 'blow-in' artist  has set up easel in the locality should they want to immortalise their beloved animals in ink or acrylics.

Anyway,  long story short,  I'm the artist in the spotlight this week! You can read the interview here if you would like!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Some more faces...

I have no stories to tell today so I'll keep it short and sweet (you'll no doubt be glad to hear).

Here are faces 23, 24 & 25 of the 29 Faces challenge. They're also sketches 27, 28 & 29 of the 75 Day Sketch Challenge and you'll see from the times on them I'm getting better at being more sketchy and less draw-y!

Face 23 & sketch 26 of 75

Face 24 & sketch 27 of 75

Face 25 & sketch 28 of 75

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Thurso Time...

Face 19  - German Shepherd & sketch 22 of 75

Well, the boiler emergency repair man arrived on Tuesday (day 5 of no heating or hot water) with the replacement timer switch.  It seems that up in the far north there exists a slower, more relaxed pace of life that S and I have taken to referring to as 'Thurso Time'.  With that in mind, I  guess 5 days for a replacement part for a boiler emergency is quite quick! 

Anyway it's very lovely to no longer walk around carrying my 'water baby' as S fondly refers to the hot water bottle I kept shoved down the front of my jumper! 

Face 20 - Siberian Husky & sketch 23 of 75

In animal news, another cat at the shelter had a kitten at the weekend. Just the one.  But sadly one of the three kittens that were born at the shelter on Friday died, poor wee soul. The cat that I had taken a shine to got re-homed which, as he was 12 years old, is brilliant news as he'll hopefully get to live out the rest of his days in a cosy house.  

I've been spending more one-on-one time with the dogs and it's really interesting to see how different their personalities all are. I've been practising my Victoria Stillwell training methods trying to discourage any bad habits and create some good ones (pity it never entirely worked with my own two!) 

Face 21 - English Toy Spaniel & sketch 24 of 75

In art news, when we first got here I called into a shop in town that frames and sells paintings to ask how artists go about getting their work sold in their shop. The shop owner told me to bring some of my work in and explained how it works - they frame it and it gets hung on a sale or return basis.  I don't have any completed pieces that I think they would stock at the moment so I'm working on that but in the meantime, I took a selection of my greeting card designs in on Tuesday and fingers crossed they might sell some of them.  

Face 22 - quite possibly the weirdest looking pug ever, sorry  about that!! Also sketch 25 of 75 

I'm working on a painting at the moment, a couple of hours here and there along with my sketches - I'm still linking with 29 Faces and still doing the 75 day sketch challenge although, to be honest, it is starting to feel like a bit of a chore but only because I chose to sketch dogs and can't seem to keep it as loose and 'sketchy' as I had planned.  

Mind you, I think you'll notice that from this point on the sketches are definitely not as detailed as those I've done previously and as for that pug - I started with his nose and worked out - bad idea!  

Twice now I've gone three days without doing a sketch then sat and done three at once! Not really the idea of the daily challenge but still at least I'm playing catch up and I'm determined to finish the whole 75 days! Perhaps that slower Thurso time is working on me too!  I'm linking with Paint Party Friday as well as 29 Faces and will, as always, try to get round as many folk as possible over the weekend.

You can read my other post from the week here:


Monday, 18 February 2013

The good, more good and the downright irritating...

Face 15 & sketch 18 of 75

The Good

Last Friday I went to the animal re-homing centre and this time I got to spend some one on one time with two different dogs.  Two very different dogs - one chased the ball endlessly and never got tired of it, the other dutifully ran and brought it back to me twice before losing interest.  I hunkered down to give him a pat and he jumped up on my knees and settled himself there instead.  Turns out all he really wanted was a cuddle so I happily obliged, at least until my knees locked after about 10 minutes and I had to stand back up again!

Face 16 & sketch 19 of 75 

More Good 

I'd just brought him back to his kennel, when one of the girls called us to come quick.  One of the cats was giving birth! Other than on wildlife programmes I've never seen this wonderful act of nature in real life before so I stood fascinated as she brought three tiny little kittens into the world,  licking each one clean before going back to the business of labour for the next one.  I ended up staying an extra half hour just watching, fascinated and a little bit emotional!

Face 17 & sketch 20 of 75

The Downright Irritating

In not so good news, we woke up on Friday morning to discover that the boiler wasn't working. Turned out it wasn't actually the boiler but the timer switch which apparently might have shorted after the power cuts earlier in the week.  A replacement timer switch was ordered and we were told they would try and get it for Saturday, if not it would be Monday. It wasn't Saturday. It's now Monday and we've just been told the part hasn't arrived and they don't know when it will but they'll keep us posted!!  Oh okay, no heat or hot water for another however many days.  I know I wanted rural but I still wanted mod cons like hot running water and central heating!

Face 18 & sketch 21 of 75

Anyway, these are faces 15, 16, 17 & 18 of 29 Faces. I'm off to strap another hot water bottle to myself.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

All creatures great and small...

Face 11 & sketch 14 of 75

I started volunteering at the local animal re-homing shelter last week.  I'll be there twice a week in the mornings.  It's really small with only 4 paid staff so the chances of a paid position opening up there is pretty remote but never say never.

The morning routine is to clean out the kennels, the cattery and the small mammal room where they have kittens, rabbits, even hedgehogs and a black bird with a missing tail feather. 

It isn't a big place so there is only room for a few of each species of animal but while they are generally quite full (which isn't good as it means folk either are unable or unwilling to continue looking after their animal companions), the good news is that many of the animals don't spend too long there before they are re-homed. 

Face 12 & sketch 15 of 75

Of course I fell in love with every dog, cat and rabbit that I came into contact with and wished I could adopt them all. It's funny because one of the woman lucky enough to work there full-time said she often felt a particular connection with certain animals and I knew exactly what she meant as I felt a special affinity with one cat in particular but I don't think our dogs would take too kindly to him moving in with us and he has to be re-homed somewhere without other animals anyway, so hopefully he'll find a new home with someone else soon.  In the meantime, I'll always be sure to give him (and all the others, for that matter) plenty of affection and cuddles every morning that I'm there volunteering. 

Face 13  & sketch 16 of 75

In other news, on Wednesday this week there was a big old snow storm that affected most of the north of England and Scotland.  I had gone to the animal shelter in the morning but within an hour it was a full on blizzard and the roads were covered.  The manager sent me home early as he knew I was nervous of driving in snow never having done it before. I got home and settled in with my slanket and hot water bottle - the power went off (again!) and was off for most of the day which wasn't so good but at least I had my sketch book and my kindle and the dogs curled up beside me to keep me warm when the hot water bottle became a cold water bottle. 

S did his final exam for his training course on Wednesday morning  (which he aced!) and drove from Manchester all the way back up here - a long enough journey when there's no snow! Thankfully, he'll be staying up in the north of Scotland now with only the odd overnight stay on the Orkney Islands now and again so my days of being home alone with the dogs are over! 

Face 14  & sketch 17 of 75

It's been a few days since I posted so today we have Faces 11, 12, 13 & 14 of 29 Faces - all dogs - no surprise there!! These also qualify as Sketches 14 to 17 of the 75 day sketch challenge. 

I'm posting today but will be linking this to Paint Party Friday - be sure to pop by and see the ever-growing army of artists who join in every week!

And in an idea I'm borrowing from the lovely Tracey Fletcher King - Just in case you missed it and want to catch up on news from Craggis Cottage, my other post this week can be seen here:-

                    Last Orders...

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Last Orders...

Face 9 of 29 Faces & sketch 12 of 75

When we were house-hunting we had a very detailed check-list of what we did and didn't want because, unless the universe throws us a cosmic curve ball,  we plan for this to be our last move ever.  We knew we didn't want to live in a built up area but rather somewhere with other folk nearby but not too nearby, so the village of Reay where our house is located ticked all the boxes.  Close enough to drive to the nearest Tescos in Thurso but far enough away to be considered remote.

Mind you, calling Reay a village seems a little disingenuous because, apart from a handful of houses, it contains one small shop, a church, a small school and a golf course.  The dictionary definition of a village is somewhere larger than a hamlet with between a few hundred and a few thousand inhabitants.  It doesn't mention what facilities there might be but surely it should have a village pub? 

Not being massive pub frequenters, a drinking establishment wasn't something that we considered one way or the other and certainly the lack of one wouldn't have been a deal-breaker on us buying Craggis Cottage.  Even so, we were a little disappointed when we got here and had a proper look around to discover that village pub there was not. We had thought we might be more sociable here, getting to know the locals over a pint or two.

Perhaps, it's having been brainwashed by all the British soap operas but I did expect there to be a 'Wool Pack' or 'Rovers Return' type pub where all the locals gathered over an ale or two of an evening.  Everyone would know each other and on first walking in, they'd all stop supping and stare at S and I, before turning back to their drinking companions to debate whether we were blow-ins (which we are) or just tourists out of season passing through. 

After a customary period of suspicion, we'd be accepted by the locals and join them every Tuesday evening for the pub quiz.  Once in a while, a couple, after a few too many drams would start arguing and one or other of them would inevitably stand up and divulge some personal drama to the whole pub and everyone would look suitably shocked (or not - it's a small place where everyone already knows your business so they'd all have heard the gossip before the big reveal in the pub anyway) before returning to their games of dominoes and cosy conversations.

I'd wear cosy big jumpers that managed not to make me look dumpy, frumpy and round, my hair would finally have grown long enough to wear in a ponytail again and I'd be fresh faced and rosy cheeked from all the healthy country living.  S and I would have our favourite spot in front of the open fire on a couple of battered old comfy armchairs and the dogs would lie sleeping peacefully at our feet while we enjoyed a wee drink, chatting pleasantly to awl Dougall McTaggart.

Face 10 of 29 Faces & sketch 13 of 75

That's how it would've been in my head.  In reality, I suspect I will end up looking weather beaten and leathery rather than fresh faced and glowing and Brodie barks incessantly at everyone and everything so would undoubtedly be barred from the pub on her first visit. Still, somewhere this small, I imagine we'll soon get to know folk with or without a drink in hand!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Clothes maketh the (wo)man...

Face 6 of 29 Faces

As I got dressed to take the dogs to the beach for a walk today, it suddenly dawned on me that in the short space of time that I've been living in Scotland already, any concern I had for my appearance has pretty much disappeared. 

I mean, I was never particularly high maintenance, at least not since my 20s and even then there was far less available by way of   the additions that women apparently now need to add to themselves to supposedly look prettier.  Back then there was very little in the way of fake tan that didn't turn you bright orange, fake eyelashes that didn't make you look like a drag queen (not that I'm convinced the ones nowadays don't still have that effect), no one bothered so much about sticking fake nails on over their own  and hair extensions, thankfully, hadn't yet make a breakthrough so if you wanted long hair you just grew it yourself.  

Anyway, even before we moved here, apart from the odd coating of fake tan, I'd never stuck on any fake body parts to 'enhance' the natural me.  I was never really a glamour girl, with sparkles and bling, wearing the latest designer trends but I did like to have nice (though inexpensive) things and I did like to wear cute, girly tops along with my faithful jeans.  

Now though, any remaining vestige of concern for my appearance has been trampled on by the desire for both comfort and warmth. Layering is the way forward, at least until the weather turns from winter to spring. I throw on whatever comes to hand most easily and whether it all 'matches' or 'co-ordinates' is of little interest to me.  My only concession to vanity now is a slick of mascara (waterproof to deal with the wind-induced streaming eye phenomenon) because curses to my fair Irish heritage, I just don't have naturally dark or thick lashes. 

I dare say if I get a job (see associated rant in that regard here) and I need to wear office clothes again then I'll make more of an effort but today, as I walked the dogs along the stunning and deserted beach, watching the waves crash over the rocks, I realised that there are more important things in life than looking perfectly turned out, I'm happier in my wellies and beanie hat!

These are Faces 6, 7 & 8 of 29 Faces and also sketches 9, 10 & 11 of the 75 day sketch challenge:

Face 7 of 29 Faces

Below, is face 8 of the challenge - whilst not technically very face-y I'm including it anyway - my only attempt at drawing from life.  Brodie was asleep on the couch but I only got to sketch her for 10 minutes as she jumped up as soon as S came into the room! I'll stick to sketching from photos in future!

Face 8 of 29 Faces 

I'm linking to Paint Party Friday and 29 Faces and will try to get round as many folk as possible - so many are taking part now!

In other news - I finally worked out how to change my URL from to so that I could order some new business cards with my new blog name on!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

If the wind changes...

Face 5 of 29 Faces & sketch 8 of 75

This is Face 5 of 29 Faces and also Day 8 of the 75 day sketch challenge.

Yesterday morning, I woke to the sound of hail battering the window, the wind howling round the cottage and the crash of roof tiles as they blew off the roof.  The same two that blew off in the storm last week which S had only been able to fit back in place as best he could as nowhere sold the stuff he needed to secure them properly. He's away until 14 February in Glasgow so we just have to hope that the rain/sleet/hail/snow buggers off and doesn't do too much damage to the gaps where the tiles should be, in the meantime. The wind continued to blow all day yesterday changing direction from south to north but blowing a howler whichever direction it came from.  

I ventured to the beach with the dogs during a brief gap in the showers but our luck didn't hold and we got pebble-dashed with hail on the way back home, walking into the wind like Scott of the Antarctic, snow blind and getting pinged in the face with hail. Although perhaps with my layers of thermal long johns, jeans and waterproof trousers, vest top, long sleeved tee shirt, polo-neck jumper, gloves, ear muffs, ear flap hat and waterproof coat with the hood securely fastened I may have looked more like the abominable snowman.  Still, it blew the cobwebs away and the dogs slept the rest of the afternoon letting me get on with the business of sketching.

Today, thankfully the phone hasn't rung with calls from the Benefits Office - they phoned back yesterday afternoon to see if I wanted to work as a 'sales consultant' in a fish and chip shop! Serving up deep fried animal parts for a living, let me think about it, er, no, thanks.  In other good news, the wind has stopped blowing with such ferocity - I think it may be making it's way south so you may want to batten down the hatches!

In other news, I wanted to show you the gorgeous painting I commissioned from my lovely on-line art buddy, Sandra from Sandraws for S's birthday (the link will take you to her blog post on this painting and a far clearer photo of what it looks like).  Sandra has done a whole series of truly amazing glass paintings and I asked if she would do a pint glass and a short glass representing S and me.  We were both delighted with the result and it now has pride of place on our new living room wall where we can look at it everyday.  Thanks Sandra!

Sandra's glass painting 

Painting in situ

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Tortured Artist...

Face 4 of 29 Faces & sketch 7 of 75

*Disclaimer - rant coming up. 

When I finished my full time 9-5 office job to move over to Scotland, the idea was that I would be able to spend my time really trying to make a proper go of being an artist.  I'm already registered self-employed so that I can sell my work on-line and take commissions etc.  although if I were to live off my earnings I think this artist may have starved in her garret some time ago! So, I was going to look for a part time job just to get me some pin money and get me out of the house.  Then I could spend the rest of the time volunteering at the animal shelter and painting.

Anyway, my mum pointed out that I needed to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance in order to keep my National Insurance stamps up for when I get my state pension in my 60s (if such a thing still exists at that point in time and if by then they haven't put the retirement age up to 85!).  So, I made a fresh claim while I was staying with my parents over Christmas.  

Now, those of you in the UK who've seen the news from Northern Ireland over the last while will be familiar with flag-gate - the nonsense of riots because Northern Ireland had essentially come in line with the rest of the UK in only flying the union flag over Belfast City Hall on designated days as opposed to every day (I used to walk past it every day and couldn't have told you if it was flying if my life depended on it).  So, what with the whole 'united' part of the United Kingdom, I could possibly be forgiven for thinking that by signing on in Northern Ireland, I could just continue with that claim when I moved to Scotland, what with both countries being part of said United Kingdom.  Wrong.  I had to sign off before we came to Scotland and then sign on again when I got here.

Now, it turns out that the closest Benefits Office to me is in Wick, a 90 minute round trip.  So, I made a fresh claim over the phone and then dutifully drove to Wick for an interview about my audacity at wanting to claim contribution-based Jobseekers Allowance.  Just to be clear - contribution-based means that I am only claiming money from the pot that I have contributed to all my working life for just such an eventuality as I now find myself in.

I explained to the lady at the Benefits Office that I am registered self-employed.  Turns out this isn't enough to mean I don't need to look for other work. I explained that I want to make a real go of my art and that I am happy to look for a part time job so that I still have time to paint.  This isn't really enough either apparently as I need to be working full time. I also have to be willing to drive an hour and a half to get to work every day.   And an hour and a half back. I explained that I am going to be volunteering at the animal rehoming centre and am hoping a potential job might come out of that.  That isn't enough either. I have to list 9 things a week detailing what I'm doing to look for work. 9!! This is a tiny backwater with limited employment opportunities and there weren't even 9 jobs in total in the local paper last week!   

Because the Benefits Office is so far from my house, I can sign by post each fortnight as long as I list those pesky 9 things that I've been doing (I've now applied for 3 full time office jobs that I don't want just to get them to leave me alone).  They phoned me today to say I hadn't listed enough things in the form I posted last week.  I explained that all the job websites list the same few jobs. She says I still need to list each website I look at.  I explained that as they haven't yet even given me any benefits because they keep sending me ever more forms to complete, I can't afford to buy two weekly papers that list the exact same jobs.  She conceded I could just buy one of them.  I swear I don't understand how the long term unemployed in the UK who've made a career out of being on benefits can get away with it. I've said I'm looking for a part time job and I am. But still they're hounding me when all I want is to be left alone to paint! This certainly gives new meaning to the phrase 'Tortured Artist'!! 

Anyway, sorry for the rant, I'm just finding it very frustrating and wish I could just tell them to stick their benefits.  Here's Face 4 of 29 Faces and Day 7 of the 75 Day Sketch Challenge.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Four seasons by lunchtime...

Face 3 of 29 Faces & Sketch 6 of 75
Today, we've had gales, blue skies and sunshine, rain and I'm sure it has even tried to snow a little.  I knew it was going to be cold up this far north and I swear I'm not complaining, but I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever feel warm again! I just can't wait until we get the fireplace sorted out so we can have those roaring logs fires we've been dreaming of!

Credit S: Yesterday this Loch was perfectly still. Today, not so much.

We picked the right gap in the clouds to get the dogs to our new favourite beach - Strathy - which is about 8 miles drive away, for a good run about.  Back home now and it's bucketing down again.  We were told that up here doesn't get as much rain as the west coast of Scotland because of the mountains in the Highlands or something creating their own weather system with the Gulf Stream - a bit technical for me - but anyway, I'm yet to be convinced as there's been plenty of sky juice in the last three weeks!

Credit S: Strathy Beach - when the tide's out there are loads of caves under that cliff.

S has to drive to Glasgow tonight and will be away for the next 10 days finishing off the training for his job and sitting a final exam (which he'll ace!)  So, it's going to me just me and the dogs rattling round the house for a while.  He'll be away on my birthday on 9th February so I'll guess I'll just throw myself a combined birthday/pity party!! Kidding - I think the whole celebratory aspect of birthdays stopped once we hit 40.  Maybe we'll start celebrating again every year we make it past 70!

Credit S:  The whole beach to ourselves!

Credit S: The River Strathy meets the North Atlantic Ocean round about here.

Anyway, today is day 6 of the 75 day sketch challenge and I'm also linking it to face 3 of 29 Faces. Can anyone clear one thing up for me though - do we need to add our blogs to Mr Linky on 29 Faces every day? I'm not sure how that works?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Smoke gets in your eyes and Sky gets on our TV...

This is sketch 5 of the 75 day sketch challenge and I'm also using it as face 2 of the 29 Faces challenge! I'm going through black ink pens at a great rate of knots as the pages in my sketchbook are quite roughly textured - probably better for using graphite pencils. I'm also finding it quite difficult to keep my sketches simple and short which I think was the whole point of the exercise - I just get carried away with the dogs' features once I get started but I'll work on making them more 'sketchy'.

Beagle - day 5 of 75 and Face 2 of 29!

In news from Craggis Cottage, we tried to light the fire for the first time yesterday, looking forward to a cosy night in front of a roaring log fire now that all our living room furniture has been settled into place.  S lit some paper first to make sure the chimney wasn't blocked. Well, it obviously hadn't been used for some time as what smoke didn't pour back into the living room starting coming out of little cracks in the chimney stack! Windows were quickly opened and plans to toast our tootsies by the open fire were put on hold until we get a chimney sweep in and S can re-point the chimney stack.

In other news, today we are getting Sky TV installed so we will finally be able to watch the shows we've been missing and catch up on world events (or perhaps not as usually we just end up shouting at the TV when the News is on as it's depressing and frustrating - maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to the state of the economy!)


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