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Issue 101 - Artist in Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 101
November 2018


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Artist in Residence

Kelly Stewart is very much at home at the Edinburgh Printmakers workshop

Kelly Stewart arrived in the UK from New South Wales, Australia, in 2000. It was the nudge of a fellow creative family member and the Edinburgh Arts Festival that attracted her to the city which has been her home ever since.

She revelled in the capital's breathtaking Victorian and Georgian architecture. "Australia didn’t really reflect my aesthetic values when it came to architecture," she muses. "It’s all far too modern and lacking in history."

It was summer time when she arrived in Edinburgh so she figured she’d stay a few months until it became too cold, then head further south. Yet, nearly two decades on, she still calls Edinburgh home.

Kelly is from Toongabbie, a suburb west of Sydney and one of Australia’s first historically important settlements. However, she mourns the fact that over the 20th century, the few historic sandstone buildings have been demolished to make way for more practical modern buildings. "I decided then and there that I couldn’t bear witness to the continual ‘out with the old, in with the new’ philosophy. I decided to go where old buildings are cherished," she explains.

She first went to see her grandfather at Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire, then visited family in Anstruther, Fife. It was her second cousin John Lowrie, an accomplished artist and painter himself, who took her to a local pub and recommended she look into the Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop.

Back in Australia, Kelly had studied illustration at the Nepean Campus of the Western Sydney University. "I studied illustration as opposed to fine art so we didn’t learn to paint, as such," she recalls.

It wasn’t until a three-month visit to the Castilla y León region in the north of Spain in 2009 that Kelly was inspired to paint and draw landscapes. "Those wonderful flat horizons intrigued me. Perhaps it was their similarity to the flat plains in Australia? I don’t know," she reflects.

"I would draw page after page from the windows of a bus as it travelled from village to village... hastily drawing the flesh coloured fields, dotted by the occasional shrub or tree within a moving landscape, capturing as much of it as I possibly could. I’ve painted landscapes ever since, predominantly in Scotland."

Kelly has recently discovered the west coast of the Isle of Skye (Elgol, to be precise) with a stunning series of images that became the focal point of a current Edinburgh-based exhibition titled Highlands and Edinburgh City.

The remainder of the exhibition features exquisite mixed media drawings of the Old and New Town of Edinburgh with its grand facades and mysterious hidden-away closes and vennels. The detail in her work is really quite enchanting.

"I was introduced to print making at university and in particular I loved screen printing. It was early in the day, in 2001, that I joined Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop and I’ve been a dedicated member ever since."

The Edinburgh Printmakers workshop has therefore been an intrinsic part of Kelly’s artistic career. Without it, she doesn’t believe she could have made a living from her art. Her original prints range from one colour to 30-colour screen prints, the layers of which are all screen printed by hand to create limited editions. She also runs screen printing workshops and courses at both Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop and Swansea Print Workshop in Wales, where she will occasionally combine drawing and bookbinding into the course.

Kelly held her first solo exhibition in Edinburgh in 2005 and has since exhibited in galleries all over the U.K. She annually exhibits her full range of screen prints at the West End Art & Design Fair, which is held in the grounds of St John’s Church during the Edinburgh International Festival. Although her first love will always be drawing traditional architecture and European cityscapes, Kelly shares this passion with that of drawing animals.

About seven years ago, she was introduced to Roy Abel, a farmer who owns Highland cattle in the Scottish Highlands. Visits to Roy’s farm inevitably led to more drawings of the highland cattle.

"On this one wintry visit, it had snowed the day before, so the cows looked particularly gingery as they stood on a white foreground against a white bleached sky behind," she recalls. "They are such amazingly beautiful beasts."

While on the subject of animals, it is worth noting that Kelly is currently compiling a book of 101 illustrations of dogs. Titled Wanted: Dogs with Personality, the drawings mostly originate from commissioned images.

"I’m so fortunate," she says. "I really am living the dream. To earn a living from something that I love doing and to live in Scotland’s capital city. Sometimes I have to pinch myself."


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