In June I returned to Shetland for a month as artist in residence at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and RSPB reserve. The long days of the "simmer dim" when it never becomes completely dark, wonderful light of passing weather systems and the fantastic wildlife all provided a wealth of inspiration and a never ending source of fascination.
On the breezier days fulmars glide effortlessly at the cliff edges while puffins preen at their burrow entrances. From the rocks below, the faint whiff of guano drifts up from guillemot colonies where parent birds cling to seemingly unfeasible ledges, incubating their single speckled blue egg. Not far away in a shoreside boulder field, arctic terns are joined by gulls to announce the arrival of any intruders and a few ringed plovers, oyster catchers and turnstone patrol the waterline.
Looking beyond the cacophony of birdlife are the dramatic landscape forms, many sculpted even now by the ongoing effects of wind and water. And nestled among it is the evidence of human habitation, a derelict cottage, broken down wall or carefully stored set of nets and creels.
But for me probably the highlight of my stay was a trip out to the base of the cliffs on the Isle of Noss with photographer Richard Shucksmith http://www.shetlandphototours.co.uk/ and Phil Harris of Shetland Seabird Tours http://www.shetlandseabirdtours.com/.
Noss is a National Nature Reserve and the nesting site for over 8,000 gannets. These are birds which I've watched many times from shore since childhood as they make their characteristic dives into the sea or perched in their nesting sites. But this trip was to be something different...drawing the birds from close proximity in the boat and then slipping into a wetsuit and snorkel to spend some time in the (very cold!) water with them. It was great fun being out on the boat with Richard and Phil, getting some incredible underwater film footage and photography and absorbing all the knowledge they've gleaned over many years. Many of my drawings were rather liberally spattered by the birds overhead...a rather nice vibrant green as it turns out when dry! But the transformation in actually being able to see these birds as they dive and swim was extraordinarily beautiful, plumes of bubbles following them through the water and a shimmering play of light.