Painting the Scottish Coast

Holy Isle, Kyles of Bute in the background
I have been drawing and painting scenes of the Scottish coast, in particular the West Coast around Loch Fyne, for many years. It has been a relaxation from the discipline of architecture, and I have been doing it chiefly to please myself, without any theoretical underpinning to organize or structure what I do. Recently however, having been invited to put together an exhibition of some of my work, I have had the opportunity to think a little more about what it is that attracts me to do this, and what it is that I choose to represent on paper.

The coastal landscape is constantly changing: the light and the sky, the texture and condition of the water varies with the wind, the clouds and mist  alternately reveal and obscure the backdrop of the hills, the shoreline in the foreground with bundles of seaweed, debris amongst richly coloured rocks and stones. There is very little building, and it is notable that where there are settlements, most are largely separated from the shore by a road, not that this is noticeable in the long distance view in my drawings, but it certainly makes a huge difference to the relationship that the buildings have with the water. Generally speaking there are hundreds and hundreds of miles of shoreline in Scotland that are never visited by anything other than crabs, seagulls and waders. I imagine that this is considered how it should be, by those who extoll Scotland’s desolate and “unspoilt” beauty, but it is sometimes surely a lost opportunity.

In many Scandinavian countries and elsewhere, settlements have direct access to the shoreline, and this makes a big difference to how they can relate to the shore, interact with boats and the leisure and fishing businesses, and be a direct part of the life of the water as well as that of the land. There is a popular perception that any development is seen as “spoiling” the environment, but it can on the contrary actually enhance it. For example, the northern edge of Loch Fyne would be of little interest if the eighteenth century planned town of Inverary were not there: it provides a focus and scale to the landscape, and evidence that this is appreciated can be seen by the many tourists who photograph it.

My drawings are unrelievedly dull sometimes unless there is a small settlement to include, and anyone who has sailed around the west coast (by far the best way of seeing it) would surely agree that it is much more interesting when there is the occasional building and activity evident on the shore.
Tighnabruaich, Kyles of Bute
I am not advocating huge new towns on the Scottish waterline, but there are opportunities for taking advantage of this beautiful resource that I believe can enhance it and provide a unique and wonderful environment for those who might live and work there. I would like to promote and argue for this as a general aim, before getting involved in specific sites and particular conditions: so I am now considering including speculative developments in my paintings, in the hope that I might be able to show how good this could be, and attract others to consider it.

Robin Webster