As well as an artist, I am also a shepherdess.
With my family, I run a croft on the Isle of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides where we rear Hebridean sheep a rare breed of North Atlantic sheep that are dark fleeced, horned and well adapted to the harsh climate of the Hebrides.
As well as being tough and very characterful, these sheep also have a fascinating history. As the Norwegian Vikings spread across the Northern periphery during the 9th Century, as well as their families and personal belongings, they also brought their sheep. Hence, in Greenland, Iceland, Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, St.Kilda and the Isle of Man, you can find double or even four horned multicoloured sheep that all share the same Norse heritage as our own Hebridean sheep.
From our sheep, and working with neighbouring crofters, I produce knitting yarn and sheepskins which I sell through my business The Birlinn Yarn Company. As with my art work, the environment here has a strong influence on my creative approach, hence the choice of organic yarn colours and designs for knitting patterns take their inspiration from the aesthetic qualities of the Hebridean landscape and culture.
In February, I will spend three weeks at Textílmiðstöð Íslands (Icelandic Textile Centre) in Blönduós, Northern Iceland on an arts residency. My plan is to research the ancestry of my sheep while studying the knitting, felting and wool culture of Iceland. I will also visit a shepherdess who rears Icelandic sheep in order to learn about her sheep husbandry in the extremes of Icelandic weather and darkness.
At 65* North, it will still be very dark in Iceland during February but it will be fascinating to draw the light within the dark and dramatic landscape. I plan to install solargraphs both here in the Hebrides and while I am in Iceland to record the arc of the sun as it slowly rises in the sky just a little more each day.
Through wool, history, extreme environments and sheep - this will be a wonderful opportunity to bring together these aspects of my life both as shepherdess and artist.