The artists of East Neuk Open Studios are preparing to meet members of the public next weekend after the pandemic imposed a hiatus on their summer and winter events last year.
The Courier caught up with some of the artists and makers involved in the creative collective at the Bowhouse near St Monans to find out how the event will unfold for 2021.
For many members of East Neuk Open Studios, or ENOS, the June Open Studios event has always been a big focus of the summer season, providing artists who often lead quite a solitary working life with a way to meet the public, share their working practices and sell their art.
A Fife Fixture
ENOS has been a fixture of the Fife arts scene since it was established in 2003 by St Monans artist Jo Whitney to provide a community and public platform for the East Neuk of Fife’s artistic community.
In non-Covid times, visitors are invited into artists’ studios and workspaces to view work and talk to the artists and makers about their techniques and inspirations.
This year, ENOS is back but with a focus on a showcase exhibition at the wonderful Bowhouse and an Open Studios Trail from 12 artists whose studio spaces can safely be accessed with Covid safety measures in place. For membership secretary Sheila Caldwell, who has been taking part in Open Studios for at least 10 years, the early months of the pandemic were a challenge.
“I had so many paintings ready for the 2020 Open Studios and Pittenweem Arts Festival,” she says, and having this huge body of work but no outlet to show or sell it left her feeling disheartened.
Now, she is looking forward to welcoming people back to her studio as one of the ENOS members participating in the Open Studios Trail.
The later stages of lockdown provided the artist with the chance to explore different ways of working, including a move away from painting to some pastel work.
“I have been doing a lot of pastel animal portraits on velour paper, which gives a stunning effect if you are doing fur,” she says.
“I have also been making pictures with pottery and sea glass, merino wool felting and most recently abstracts using wax.”
Designer Katie Smith of Tablet + Haar moved to Crail from London several years ago and finds inspiration for her print and surface pattern designs in the Fife coastline.
Katie has been involved with ENOS for four years and says that last year was difficult with no opportunity to show her work.
“It pushed me to get my online sales going,” she says, “but seeing people and having them actually see the work is so important.”
With work and school suddenly all moved into her home, Katie says sometimes it was impossible to work.
“I found that deeply frustrating,” she says.
“However, lockdowns reinforced my connection with the outdoors and re-ignited my passion for pattern and textiles.” Together with time spent walking the coastal path and in her garden, Katie was able to enjoy the “vast skies” that have amazed her since she arrived from London. Her prints and textiles currently have a focus on tidal patterns and seaweed and she is exploring a series of colour palettes inspired by her surroundings called Tones of the East Neuk.
Cellardyke-based Louise Stocker brings the Fife coastline into her work in a more literal sense. Her East Neuk Beach Crafts are created with objects found on local beaches.
She says: “I moved up to Scotland in 2013 and started beachcombing. I made a few gifts for family and friends and things grew from there.”
Louise uses sea glass and pottery to create jewellery, pictures and cards inspired by the East Neuk with a focus on puffins, seagulls and coastal scenes. A trip to the beach can reveal amazing finds, including turquoise and blue glass and rare pottery patterns.
The Sea’s Harvest
“Each piece comes out differently from the sea and I love that they are so old and finding out the stories behind them,” she says.
She is looking forward to the Bowhouse exhibition, “It’s just so nice to have something to plan for, an event to work towards.”
Another fan of the puffin is St Monans-based photographer Dave Smith. “I have been a photographer since I was eight,” he says. “My dad was an amateur photographer and I used to help him working in his darkroom.”
Now Dave focuses on wildlife and landscape photography and is also interested in taking macro-images. With a background in web design Dave is also responsible for the ENOS website and brochure design.
“There have been plenty of opportunities to take photographs over the past year, but not much opportunity to sell them,” says Dave, who rarely leaves home without his camera. He will be showing his photographs at Bowhouse next weekend, with a selection of large scale canvas prints as well as smaller mounted photographic prints and greetings cards.
Based in St Monans, he is spoiled for choice with subjects for his pictures with landmarks such as
St Monans Windmill, Newark Castle and the Isle of May on his doorstep.
East Neuk Scenes
Yolande Kenny is a watercolour painter who captures scenes of the East Neuk and St Andrews. Another creative who has made Fife her home following a move from the south east of England, Yolande found the change of location completely altered her way of working.
“I was exhibiting my horse and animal portraits around London and beyond,” she explains. “When I moved to the East Neuk I found the villages so pretty. They seemed more suited to drawing and watercolours.”
Yolande also produces beautiful paintings of Scottish wildlife including puffins and Highland cattle. She will have paintings, prints, cards and her latest product, printed jigsaws, for sale at the Bowhouse exhibition.
Ceramicist Leonie MacMillan’s current focus is sea animals and mammals.
“I’m interested in conservation work and used this idea to bring the Inuit goddess Sedna who protects the oceans into my work,” she says.
Her representations of seals, whales and dolphins in clay are finished with self-made glazes and all tie in with creatures who frequent the waters of the East Neuk.
Another East Neuk Open Studios stalwart Elizabeth Shepherd is well known for her etchings of animals, flowers and local Fife scenes. Her detailed representations of old buildings and colourful studies of farmyard animals has been the focus of her work for many years but with access to the print studio in Dundee Contemporary Arts impossible during the lockdowns, Elizabeth had to find new ways of working.
“I couldn’t do the big etchings anymore,” she explains, “so I decided to do things like pastel drawings of things in my garden. I’m lucky to have a big garden with lots of flowers.”
After months at home the artist is pleased to be enjoying more freedom once again. “I’m looking forward to coming to the exhibition. I have lots of pastels and still-life paintings,” she says.
Elizabeth will be one of more than 40 artists and makers involved in the Bowhouse showcase on Saturday and Sunday June 26 and 27. Each of the participating artists will have a large exhibition space to display a wide range of their work in a safe environment.
Artists involved in the 2021 art trail include Pittenweem-based Sheila Caldwell, former political cartoonist Iain Green, landscape painter Stephen Howard Harrison, abstract painter Sheila Mitchell and landscape artist Gina Wright.
In Cellardyke, visitors can see the work of jeweller and silversmith Julia Cowie, cyanotype printer Cat Coulter, painter, photographer and sculptor Jake Brown and mixed-media artist Ann Smith.