Lady of The Woods

I make my way through the damp, cold, wet streets of the New Town. Buildings, which loom over me, assimilate themselves into the dreich, dreariness of the weather, complementing my mood.

I pass by the small row of colonies on Glenogle Road, turning right onto Bell Place, walking in a northerly direction towards the Water of Leith. I climb the small steps that lead me to the bridge situated at the end of this quaint Victorian side street and, once over, take a sharp left onto Rocheid Path. I follow this muddy path – which runs adjacent to the river – passing small woodlands on either side. Apprehensive, nervous…each step I take fuelled by anxiety.  Still, I keep moving forward with an innate knowledge that change is in the air.

I cross the road, making my way to a small stretch of woodland known locally as Lover’s Lane.   At the entrance to this lane, I see, to my right, steps with a steep incline to a metal gate, and beyond that, my destination, New Caledonian Woodlands – a charity and social enterprise whose aim is to encourage environmental sustainability, whilst supporting people to improve their mental well-being, confidence, self-belief and skills through their People Projects; Fruitful Woods, Good Woods, Fruitful Woods Collective and Branching Out.  I had arrived. The year, 2016.  The month, November. And, although still officially late autumn, winter was slowly, gradually getting ready for its rebirth. But, my journey – mapped out over two years – had only just begun as I was welcomed, on this bleak November day, as a volunteer to Fruitful Woods.

I tentatively worked through that first year developing skills and knowledge in green woodworking and woodland management. I discovered that I loved working in the woodlands, immersed in nature and found deep solace in the mindful process of carving a wood object. I began to notice that I was being drawn towards nature more and started working with flowers to create photographic images. This, in turn, led me to undertake a course in Botanical Illustration at The Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. I charted my progress through a journal, noting that it was time to step back from a career I had successfully built over twenty years and, somehow, find a new role that would allow me to work alongside Nature. And, on 29 August 2017, I was offered a way in.   Invited to join Fruitful Woods Collective as a self-employed Maker.


The year, 2018. The month, October. The fifth day.  I sit with a circle of friends, colleagues and staff at New Caledonians Woodlands, silently carving wood around a lively fire – its flames leaping and circling high into the air – within a small secluded wood in Edinburgh. Trees, stretched high above me, reach into the crisp, blue sky. Their leaves ethereally illuminated by the bright, autumnal sun.  A silent calmness envelops us.

I walk, from one place to another around this small wood.   A friend points out the artwork I donated to New Caledonian Woodlands last year.   A series of eight photographs and a small written prose, nailed to circular pieces of wood, have faded over time.  Rust seeps into the images and nature slowly, carefully, wraps itself around and over.   I will leave this when I move on from here.  An offering, a gift.

My senses slowly devour this moment of unfolding memories.  The people.  The friendships formed.  The smells.  The silent conversations.  The autumnal colours.  The  shared secrets of knowledge.   And, the warmth of the fire on my face, complementing my mood.


Back home, I add the final touches to my artwork,  Lady of the Woods.  Two separate entities merge.  The circle closes.  Change, a new destination, has arrived.

Lady of the Woods…a salute to all that is New Caledonian Woodlands.


Steeped in ancient Celtic symbolism, Lady of the Woods represents new beginnings, growth, expansion and self-realisation.  Inspired by the Birch Tree and its connection to the Welsh Goddess Blodeuwedd.  Her dual aspects of flower maiden and owl, represented through the mediums of photography and woodcraft will be exhibitied at Out of Sight Out of Mind, the biggest show of its kind in Scotland.  All welcome.

See below for details.

For Eadha

Today, the Autumn Equinox indicates the start of Autumn. And, to those who know me, it is no secret that this time of year is when I feel most at ease in the world. Closely connected to this season, more than any other.

This morning, the golden haze of the sun illuminated the rich autumnal colours splashed haphazardly across the grey urban landscape I could see from my kitchen window.  I knew I ought to be some place other than where I was to quietly honour and observe this change in season.  And, I knew the best place to do this.  In a woodland – Saltoun Big Wood – close to where I live, situated just outside Pencaitland, between the villages of East Saltoun and West Saltoun.

For me, woodlands hold an intense magical spirit and, on entering Saltoun Big Wood I was immediately transported into a dream-like realm. The sun, lying low, cast its rays between the trees, catching my eye, momentarily blinding me with its light and in doing so, bringing to mind the act of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing.  Used in Japan as a form of preventative medicine, the emphasis is on slowing down and allowing yourself to be immersed in nature through all five senses.  A practice, I thought, apt for Autumn. A time to slow down, to find internal balance, calm and stillness.

So, I slowed down. And listened. Hearing geese – but unable to see them – and the soft cooing of wood pigeons. The smells, sights and sounds of this woodland triggered something deep in my psyche, transporting me back in time to the early morning walks I would take through the small woodlands near the village –  nestled at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills –  where I lived, until recently.

I take note of the trees.  Most seemed to be Birch, Oak, Scots Pine, Rowan – thick with red berries – and Hawthorn.   I was searching for Aspen, known as the Whispering Tree or Quivering Tree.  If there were any, I had to accept that I lacked the appropriate knowledge or skills required to identify trees unknown to me, thwarting my attempts. Ferns, their leaves first to have turned in colour, covered the woodland floor.

The Aspen’s leaves –  I am told through literature I have read – turn bright yellow or red in Autumn.  It is a tree associated with the Autumn Equinox,  regeneration and known to the Irish Celts as a tree that offered spiritual protection – The Light in Darkness – teaching lessons in fearlessness.  The wind, as it gently moves through the Aspen’s quivering leaves, whispers a message of peace.  So, with this in mind, I continued my walk, my spirits lifted, quietly acknowledging the magical spirit of this woodland bathing my senses.

Autumnal Ambles

HawthornAs my first summer in a small isolated village nestled snugly into the Lammermuir Hills comes to an end, the air hangs heavy with a haunting melancholy that signifies the end of a life cycle. Autumn, a season that embodies change, has arrived and I embrace this time of year hungrily. I take to walking in the glorious autumnal glow, mesmerised by the sun’s rays permeating through the branches of trees, suffusing leaves with luminous light. Vivid shades of browns, golds and amber are illuminated with a comforting warmth against the cold, blue sky. I stomp over dry, crisp leaves that have fallen to the ground and listen to the crunching underfoot with delight. Warm textured tones cover the landscape. The Lammermuir Hills are splashed with rich russet browns. Pheasants, startled by my presence, flap raucously with cumbersome movement, from the deep brown undergrowth that camouflages them so well. I walk over hills and through small deciduous woodland. I slowly breathe in, satisfying my senses with the earthy scent of autumn that emanates from the dank, moist soil covering the woodland floor. I stop to forage and pick berries in various colours – vibrant red, crimson, soft flushed pink and white.

And, as I make my way back to the village, I can smell burning wood carried on the gentle breeze from chimneys on the rooftops of my neighbours’ homes. I know that The Feast of the Dead — Samhain — approaches, as I see bright orange pumpkins with stars and faces carved into them, placed on doorsteps and benches along a small country lane sitting above the banks of the Dye Water, which roars loudly as it surges past in an easterly direction to merge with the Whiteadder. Samhain — wondrous and enchanting. A time when the veil between this world and the Otherworld is thin, allowing spirits and faeries to pass through a mist-covered gateway to mingle and linger with us, the living.
I sit on a white bench situated by Dye Water, and reminisce about childhood memories of Samhain: of bonfires; of lanterns made from turnips; of guising; of dooking for apples; of a place in time almost forgotten, and I feel a connection to my Celtic ancestors through this time-honoured tradition, which has long been celebrated in Britain, marking the end of the old Celtic year and the beginning of a new one.

Winter Buds II

As the sun sets, the air begins to cool. I gather myself and my memories and walk the short distance to the place I now call Home. A small secluded Victorian cottage, situated towards the North-East end of the village. I momentarily pause outside the door to the cottage and allow myself to be immersed in the hypnotic beauty of autumn, before entering and quietly closing the door behind me, greeted eagerly by memories waiting to be created.



Copyright © 2018 | DM Artist All rights reserved


Teaching and Learning the Creative Process Through the Use of New Media and Technology (for the make-up artist)

The following blog is an excerpt from my study (2015)  “Teaching and Learning the Creative Process Through the Use of New Media and Technology (for the make-up artist)

The creative process for Make-up-artists is an integral part of their creative practice. Therefore, innovative pedagogical approaches should be adopted to nurture creativity and the creative process within this field of study. Media and technology can play a significant role in facilitating the teaching of creativity if used in partnership with traditional teaching methods. This study supports current research into the field of creativity and the creative process whilst drawing attention to how social and cultural influences guide the learning and teaching of creativity. To show this, this study takes a
closer look at the teaching in make-up-artistry. This brings to light that ethics must be incorporated into the learning and teaching of the creative process…

The creative process plays a significant role within a creative practice as it enables and empowers the exploration of ideas to enhance and evolve creativity, expands knowledge and refines technical skills and abilities (Sawyer 2012). It forms the very foundations of any art created in the world of fashion, film and photography. Given that a make-up-artist can work in and across each of the afore mentioned creative domains, the creative process they undertake to create a special effects makeup, fashion make-up or execute a piece of body art, is no different in respect to this.

Csikszentmihalyi (2013) examines the psychology of creativity by first asking the question “where is creativity” rather than “what is creativity”. He claims that creativity plays an essential role in forming meaning to our lives for two main reasons; creativity is what makes us human and, whilst immersed in a creative activity, we feel more content and satisfied with life, giving a “profound sense of being part of an entity greater than ourselves” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013,p.2). He terms this as being in the flow whilst imparting the importance of nurturing creativity, as our future is intrinsically linked to
“human creativity” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013; Redecker et al. 2011). Sawyer (2006, p.27) argues that creativity is shaped by “social, cultural and historical factors” while
Kaufman and Sternberg (2006), Thomas and Chan (2013) and Csikszentmihalyi (2013) contend that creativity is not solely the product of an individual, but relies on the relationship between the domain, the individual and specialists within the domain. This said, Sawyer (2012) also discusses the individualist approach as well as sociocultural approaches and considers the most recent research cognitive neuroscience has to offer.

Sawyer’s aim to convey creativity through the use of modern science is a common thread throughout his work, (Sawyer 2006; 2012). Additionally, research carried out by personality psychologists during the 1950s and 1970s allowed them to distinguish between Big-C creativity and Small-C creativity. The latter applies to everyday creativity we all have that is necessary to carry out our daily tasks, while Big-C creativity relates to those who have made a significant impact within their field or culture, (Simonton 2012; Sawyer 2006; Csikszentmihalyi 2013).

Whilst researchers have different theories on the creative process most of them agree that it has four basic stages: preparation, incubation, insight and verification (Sawyer 2006). Petty (2009) describes the creative process as ICEDIP (inspiration, clarification, distillation, incubation, perspiration and evaluation). Although there is a slight variation in terminology and number of stages used by Sawyer (2006) and Petty (2009) both agree that due to the recurring nature of the creative process each stage will be experienced on numerous occasions and not in any specific order. Expanding on his theories through individualistic approaches Sawyer (2012) provides an in-depth discussion on the creative process, whilst demonstrating how his eight stages of the creative process relate to other models such as Mumford’s group (Scott et al. 2004 cited in Sawyer 2012, p.89).

The creative process can be challenging. Carabine (2013) provides a candid, first-hand account of her fears surrounding the creative process – which Beghetto and Kaufman (2010) refer to as “uncomfortable” – and how she has developed her creative practice through deep self-reflection.

Education can play a key role in supporting learners to explore the creative process, as they are afforded a safe place within an educational context, supported by their lecturers or teacher (Carabine 2013). What makes an individual creative and how creativity can be nurtured are intriguing issues, given that creativity is the “interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013, p. 23). Furthermore, learning from what others have done previously is critical and is an integral part of learning to become proficient in a particular domain (Sawyer 2006).

You can read the full report here


The Healing Power of Make-up as Art

Anyone who wears make-up will know the transformative effect it can have on facial features and how it can boost an individual’s self-confidence. It can create an illusion, a character, a different persona and give us a sense of self. So, is it possible that the creative process of applying make-up as art, can have the power to heal on a deeper level as an individual as well as bringing people and communities together? Having direct experience of this, I believe it can and, I aim to explore this question here and discuss how I, as an individual, have experienced the healing power of make-up as art.
Over a quarter of a century ago, I embarked on a career in make-up artistry. Over the years my work has evolved from working on weddings to editorial shoots to teaching make-up artistry. I have witnessed the positive effects make-up can have on an individual or a collective group of people. But, it wasn’t until 2013 – when in an effort to try and understand what was happening in my external world, I subconsciously drew on my creative practice in make-up artistry to look inwards – that I truly understood the capacity it held to heal. So, in 2013, I took my first tentative steps towards using my skills in make-up artistry to find a safe way to communicate and process my thoughts, emotions and beliefs.

“The creative process is to a large extent unconscious and by engaging in creative activities we can touch on or release deep emotions, beliefs and memories. By expressing these we can become conscious of them and start to re-process past events and relationships…”
Psychologist, Edinburgh

I began treading new territory and pushed boundaries with a new creative direction as I moved from working solely on the face to painting the body. One of my greatest challenges. Nonetheless, when I am painting, I am in the flow of the moment. A concentrated focus, it is mentally and physically exhausting, but deeply rewarding.


Triste was a concept that took form whilst I was on a photography and painting retreat in 2015, at a Buddhist retreat centre near the village of Balquhidder; known locally as the thin place, which is an expression derived from old Celtic belief that the veil between this world and the otherworld is thin in places, allowing faery folk to pass between the two. There is certainly a tangible form of magic and tranquillity that is present in this part of the world.

The daily meditations on this retreat provided the stillness I needed to hear my thoughts clearly for the first time. During one meditation, we were asked to meditate on a leaf of our choice. I chose a fern leaf, interestingly, a plant I associate with Faeries. As we were guided through the meditation, we were asked to focus our attention on the leaf we held in our hands; its texture; its weight; its very essence and find words that described that essence and colours associated with those words. On opening our eyes, we were asked to create a painting or sketch using the colours and words in our mind’s eye and the leaf we held. I sat, heavy with sorrow; but, for the first time I turned towards it and allowed myself to be immersed, welcoming it as a guide and companion; tapping into a reservoir of undiscovered creativity to express visually through colours and texture, what I could not yet verbalise in words. Using the fern to guide me, I slowly began painting in my sketch book.

Triste was born from a place of deep emotional turmoil. By accepting and hearing its silent words, I was able to lovingly and tenderly care for it. I began to see beauty in this turmoil as it was transformed into a visual entity on paper, moving through the veil of a ‘thin place’ and its mist, from one world into another and recreated and embodied onto the human form.
In 2016, I took the concept of working with the body one step further with Timeless Time, a triptych which represents my soul, body and mind and my disconnection to each. The image you see here represents the body. Due to the nature of what I was trying to visualise and communicate I chose myself as the model for this project. Although Timeless Time is my concept, I worked collaboratively with another body painter (Lynn) and photographer (Leigh Bishop Photography) to create what you see here today.

Timeless Time (Body)

With help from Lynn, I painted different colours onto my body. Each stroke of colour was primal, textured in its application, symbolising the different emotions and spiritual meanings related to each aspect of the soul, body and mind. Leigh added to this by creating more depth and texture through her photography. The creative process was at times emotionally fraught, filled with doubts and insecurities. Was I being narcissistic painting my thoughts and emotions onto my body to exhibit? I have given this a lot of thought and I don’t think I was. Alongside these doubts, I was able to explore my true intentions behind Timeless Time and the process behind it.

“Such practices and arts acknowledge the body’s vulnerability and its propensity to be overtaken by suffering. Yet the body is also the bearer of hope and the will to live”  (Thomas, 2014).

It was to give each thought, emotion and feeling an identity of their own; a voice of their own; and a home of their own in order to live outside of me. Trapped as they are within the confinements of a photographic image, I am now able to see these experiences as separate entities to me. The ritualised painting of my face and body in Timeless Time, helped me to reunite my connection to this life, to this body, to this mind and this soul. A process which has allowed for deep healing and recovery to take place within me. This is the healing power of make-up as art.

“Healing through body-painting: to be wild, different, to be yourself, to be at one with everyone and everything” (Groning, 1997).

Groning K. (1997). Decorated Skin, A World Survey of Body Art. London: Thames & Hudson
Thomas N. (2014). Body Art. London: Thames & Hudson