Katie and I spend time walking around the loch and its immediate environs, and she begins picking up things that she finds around the water’s edge – she has a number of bags for this purpose. I soon begin to do the same although it is not something that I would ordinarily do as part of my practice. However, I have in the past picked up reeds to understand the tactile nature of the water-borne grasses I photograph. Katie soon has a bag stuffed full of her natural treasures. I ask her why she does this and what leads her to pick up an object.
It takes us a long time to reach the lone silver birch tree that marks the southern end of the loch. The weather has been kind to us so far, and I am pleased that Katie has been able to see the loch, in reasonably bright and dry conditions, as the short-term weather forecast is not good. As we walk, we talk about the similarities and differences in our respective practice-led research, an opportunity that has been all too rare in the two years affected by Covid. We ask questions of the other’s research and practice processes.
The following day we head out to the loch and into bad weather. We go our separate ways – me perched on a high vantage point hoping for water reflections while Katie is drawing, balancing precariously on a rock close to the water. But, both of us seeking moments of Being – a glimpse or a glimmer. I become absorbed in my solitary practice losing myself in the opportunities the loch affords me, although I am aware of Katie from time to time as we move around. I wonder whether what we are doing would be considered as collaborative practice but as I reflect it seems to me that collaboration – the act of more than one person being involved in a creative project- might take many different shapes and forms. It can be planned (and we did discuss our hopes and expectations before working together) left to chance, negotiated either implicitly or explicitly or it might be subject to a business or project contract. In our case I think we worked on the basis of mutual understanding, a common pursuit to reflect on Being, and developed a mode of collaboration that suited us.
As the weather draws in, we write independently – me writing up my daily blog and Katie working on her creative writing. When we realise that the day, weather-wise at least, is a write off, we settle down to draw and paint the scene outside the window. I find some paper and watercolour brush pens and engage in painting for the first time in many years. I begin to think about drawing as a means to improve my attentiveness in the field, as a meditative process (like walking) that might help me slip into creative flow and allow me to dwell in the natural world. It will not be about creative outputs but rather like Nan Shepherd, to use attentiveness as a path to attenuate conscious thought and drift into a moment of Being.
We work together for five full days. Katie writes some beautiful words about the loch that I hope she will bring together as a poem, and I start to draw at familiar locations as well as do more creative writing.
My first period of collaborative working has been very successful in terms of making me think in different ways, experiment with different modes of practice, and understand how they might have a place in my future creative process. I have also spent five long days at the loch and have some “keeper” images, that might find their way into my handmade book.
Katie boards the train back to Dundee with bags of treasures from her trip and I hope some happy memories of her first visit to the Isle of Skye.
We plan to submit a joint proposal to exhibit at the DJCAD Expo 2023 in Dundee, with a provisional title of Reflections of Being, based on our work together.