Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Day We Left Orkney. Part I: You *Can* Get There From Here


First edition originally published January 23, 2015

Hoy Sound Sylvia Wishart, 1987 oil and mixed media on paper, from the Pier Arts Centre Collection © the Estate of Sylvia Wishart

Sylvia Wishart – Hoy Sound
1987, oil and mixed media on paper
from the Pier Arts Centre Collection, used with permission
© the Estate of Sylvia Wishart

When I do my home yoga practice, the light comes in through the dining room window, casting rectangular reflections on the glass of one of my photographs of Loch Ness. This interplay of light and shape layered on shape always reminds me of an artist whose work I was delighted to discover while we were travelling in Orkney during our Scotland trip in the fall of 2012. Each time I see them, these reflections conjure up Sylvia Wishart’s compositions.

Part I: You CAN Get There From Here. 

When planning your itinerary to Scotland, don’t let the seeming remoteness of any of the outer islands deter you from a visit. While there are many daytrip tours heading to the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland, there is so much to explore, especially if you plan to do any island hopping, that I recommend you allow several days here. We allotted four, but could easily have stayed longer, and as fans of prehistoric sites, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Glacial erosion resulted in stone beaten by the sea. Stretches of treeless, windblown land are topped with distant rounded hills — a visual combination to inspire the artist’s heart and eye. This is the furthest north I have ever been, and place names here are derived from Old Norse as a reminder of Orkney’s history and your proximity to Scandinavia.

The Mainland, as the largest island is known, is particularly littered with prehistoric remains — including The Ring of Brodgar, an amazingly large stone circle that boasts Viking graffiti on one of its stones. As you drive along a thin strip of land sandwiched between two lochs through the archeologically rich Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, you will see such wonders one right after another. An ongoing archeological dig at the Ness of Brodgar reveals layers of history that hint at the great importance of this area to the ancients.

The Watchstone Near the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Scotland digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012 All Rights Reserved

The Watchstone — near the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, © Amy Funderburk 2012, All Rights Reserved

The weather was beautiful during most of our Orkney days, though my husband swears he saw snow mixed with the spitting rain as we boarded the small ferry to get to these islands. After all, they say that you can experience all four seasons in one day in Scotland. I was more enamored with the small pod of dolphins I spotted immediately as we pulled away from the dock than whether or not any of the cold precipitation was actually frozen. The day we went to the capital city of Kirkwall was rainy, but since we were inside the highly recommended Orkney Museum in the Tankerness House, the Earl’s Palace, and splendid Saint Magnus Cathedral for the day, our plans worked out fairly well.

Until, that is, the day we left.

It was my husband’s birthday. We had a grand itinerary planned — we were to board the departing ferry at 11 AM, then have a lovely drive down to Loch Ness, stopping at various points of interest to photograph along the way.

But Mother Nature had other ideas. A big storm was due, and it had started its approach the previous night. The waves crashed dramatically along the causeways as we drove around on our last  day. Our bed and breakfast hostess in Ophir was very accommodating, and offered us our room for another night should we need it.  But all seemed well according to her sources — the ferries were scheduled to run as usual the next morning. At any rate, we had already booked accommodations at our bed and breakfast on the northern shore of Loch Ness, so I was very relieved that all seemed well with our departure plans.

After eating breakfast the next morning, including a cute birthday cupcake for Jimmy, we packed the rental car and off we went to catch the ferry on South Ronaldsay. After a 45 minute or so drive, we pulled into the carpark for the ferry, only to learn from the office that during the crossing earlier that morning, the captain found the waves too choppy and treacherous, so if he made another trip, it would not be until the end of the day.

Not one for much spontaneity or the uncertainty of a crossing with no guarantee, I immediately went into lateral thinking mode as if I were a contestant on The Amazing Race. “The other ferry company!” I thought. “The one that sets out from Stromness — they have larger ferries. I bet they are running!” With a cartoon light bulb over my head that shone brightly with this idea, I eagerly called the number that was listed in my guidebook. Luckily, they were operating as scheduled! However, the next crossing wouldn’t be until 4:45 PM. So much for our leisurely drive on a sunny day, but at least we would be able to get off the island and keep to our plans to arrive in Loch Ness, albeit several hours later than expected. After making a booking, we headed out, driving north for an hour to Stromness.

We had hoped to visit this town of stone and narrow lanes on our trip, but as it goes with an overloaded itinerary, we hadn’t made it. Now we had a few hours to spend here before our ferry departure. The main draw for us was to visit The Pier Arts Centre, so after finding the ferry dock, the Arts Centre, and a place to park (the latter being easier said than done!), we set out to explore this artistic treasure trove of over 180 works by 20th Century British artists. Founded in 1979, as the name suggests, the Centre is right on the water, an old building originally converted to hold the collection of founder Margaret Gardiner.


View of the Harbor from Inside The Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2012 All Rights Reserved With kind assistance and permission from The Pier Arts Centre

View of the Harbor from Inside The Pier Arts Centre on a Rainy Day, Stromness, Orkney
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2012 All Rights Reserved
With kind assistance and permission from The Pier Arts Centre

Before our artistic exploration could commence, however, there was also the matter of notifying the Loch Ness bed and breakfast of our delayed departure. My calls weren’t going through on my mobile for some reason, so email was my only hope.

The Pier Arts Centre to the rescue! The staff was very accommodating and welcoming in our time of need. They had a room with free WiFi, so I was able to use my laptop to contact our next home away from home and alert the hostess to our impending tardiness.  Shelter from the cold rain, a rescued day spent looking at a rich, varied art collection, and a free WiFi hotspot as well — what more could The Pier Arts Centre provide?

I had first seen a piece of Sylvia Wishart’s work at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall. Her signature use of textures and unusual reflected shapes, as well as her penchant for including rabbits and birds made Wishart’s distinctive style stick in my mind. As I sat in the meeting room that graced my laptop with WiFi capability, when I saw the large painting before me, I knew it was clearly painted by the same artist. It was there that I fell in love.

Stay tuned for my next post, Part II: Sylvia Wishart. The best artist you may have never heard of, unless you’ve visited Orkney.

Many thanks to the Pier Arts Centre for their assistance.  The above image of Hoy Sound by Sylvia Wishart — the painting that hung in the meeting room — was provided by the Pier Arts Centre and used here with their kind permission. For more information, please visit their website.

For a wealth of information about Orkney, I highly recommend the website Orkneyjar: the Heritage of the Orkney Islands.

All the best, and Namaste,


Posted in Art Travels, Other artists, Sacred Sites, Travel Tagged , , , , , |

Your Best New Year’s Resolution: Sing Like a Bird

It's Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full Adult Carolina Wren digital photograph © Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

It’s Hard to Sing With Your Mouth Full
Adult Carolina Wren
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2013 All Rights Reserved

First edition originally published January 3, 2015

The start of January naturally symbolizes new beginnings to most people as they take down last year’s calendar and pin up a fresh one, but the New Year’s Resolution is an often dreaded thing. Of those who do not scoff but earnestly attempt to shift habits, most try to take on too much in one way or another when they make such grand proclamations of change.

“New Year’s Day now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain

Others talk of reasons why resolutions often fail. Perhaps someone has listed way too many things they want to change about their life, thus he or she becomes easily overwhelmed and discouraged. Maybe others give up because the change seems too vast, too deep, and too high; instead of taking small stepping stones to eventually reach the goal, these people try to leap to the top of the tall building in a single bound, so they give up.

“A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one Year and out the other.” – Anonymous

I offer an additional reason why you may have given up on a resolution in the past — it may have been something you tried because it was something you thought you should do — something that someone else thought you needed to change, but it wasn’t an earnest desire stemming from within you.

My Kundalini Yoga teacher reminded me last week that there are no “shoulds” — only your personal truth regarding what you want to do or not. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga address each other by saying “Sat Nam” in the way that other yogic traditions say “Namaste.” The mantra Sat Nam means “Truth is my identity.” In that spirit, I offer a potential resolution for you to consider.

My suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution is a one-size-fits-all goal that will fit every person according to individual need. It is a message I have been seeing in a variety of ways for the past month or two, popping up in quotes and other forms like dandelions in my organic yard.  It is a simple yet profound thing:

To be your authentic self.

You may have read of another way to say this in my previous blog post, A Relaxed Mind is a Creative Mind. One of my favorite inspirational tea tag quotes I mentioned in that post is by Traditional Medicinals:

Be yourself  1 

This can mean whatever it needs to according to each individual. What would this mean for you? It can be general or specific, and could pertain to the spiritual inner aspect of your life as well as the outer physical.

For example, are you in a job you dislike because it is a path that someone else dictated for you, or are you following your dreams? Even if you are walking your chosen road to prosperity, are you being true to yourself?

If you are a fellow artist — are you creating from your heart, then finding the matching target market, or are you only trying to paint, sculpt, or photograph what you think will sell?

Being your true self — listening to your own inner voice of guidance each day and not worrying about what the Peanut Gallery thinks — is a concept beautifully encapsulated by Rumi in a quote I came across recently:

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.

This quote seems particularly important for artists. We put our heart and soul into our work, and then we display these tangible symbols of our innermost secrets and insights to the public in hopes that someone will like our expressions enough to purchase the product. Artists can feel vulnerable when their unproven new work is on display.

This is a good time to remember how subjective art is, and that doing your best and speaking your truth are all you can do. Art is a “visual opinion,” and there is someone out there somewhere who will agree with that point of view. It is merely a question of finding the right fit of audience to artwork.

For a solo show in 2012, my creative team and I built The Wishing Tree installation. Visitors tied their paper wishes to the removable oak branches. After the exhibit was over, I cataloged all the open wishes before burning them, and am now creating drawings from the wish categories using the resulting ash and charcoal. One thing that some participants wished for was “To be my true self.” A powerful wish.

My most memorable and best New Year’s Resolution was one I made over ten years ago: to start practicing yoga. Always the last picked for teams in gym class, the non-competitive, spiritual, and holistic nature of yoga appealed to me, so it was a perfect fit.

The practice was something that had been calling to me for some time. I was fueled by the desire to do it, and I did not try to overload myself with a lengthy resolution list. I think these are two reasons why I bought the beginners’ DVD and my first purple mat. Since the day I made those purchases, I haven’t looked back — unless the asana I am practicing is a twist that calls for it.

I chose a photograph of the Carolina Wren to accompany this post. They are songsters, but I consider them to be curious, spunky birds that constantly delight us with their vast array of loud, wacky noises. Wren seem to be a bird who makes the precise sound it wants to make at any given time without a care in the world what anyone else thinks.

What is your New Year’s Resolution? Does it fall under the heading of being your authentic self? I look forward to seeing your own Resolutions in the comments.

Happy New Year, and all the best,


 1 “Be Yourself” is a tea tag quote from Traditional Medicinals, .  Used with permission.


Posted in General art discussion and philosophy, Inspirational Quotes, Meditation and yoga Tagged , , |