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Welcome To Rob Roy Country - A Place For All Seasons

July IAD2016 - Life's Design

Gill Waugh

  • Artist and Designer, living and working in Balquhidder
  • Studied Illustration, Graphic Design and Photography at Edinburgh College of Art
  • gillwaugh.com

I’m such a lucky person as I’ve always known what I wanted to do, right from the word go – ever since I picked up my first colouring pencil. I never considered any other employment. I never had an interview with the Careers Officer at school. So there was only ever one path for me. To draw, to design, to paint, to create – and to make a living from it. It’s a treasured thing, to know what you want from an early age and go for it. And now here I am, still doing it, in one of the most lovely places in the world. But it took a long time to get here.

In 1980 I was halfway through a Masters Degree in Graphic Design in Birmingham and feeling a bit disillusioned, when I was offered a job as a wildlife illustrator in a small studio overlooking Edinburgh’s Water of Leith. It seemed like a dream job with which to start my career, giving me the opportunity to learn about flowers, animals and birds as I incorporated my paintings into the stationery products of the studio. The view from my window was wonderful and included plenty of activity from squirrels, kingfishers, water voles, fish and foxes. I was also learning the techniques of a ‘finished artist’ - drawing up precisely measured artwork on a drawing board, with a straightedge, set square and technical pen - a vital skill in those pre-Mac days.

After a while though, I started to feel the need of something more challenging. A lot more.

So I become a freelance designer - taking advantage of the government’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme which encouraged people to start new businesses with the princely sum of £40 per week. I was joined by a friend and colleague who had decided to do the same thing, so we collaborated under the same name, each having our own customers whilst helping each other out. It was great to be able to share the responsibility of a new venture with another like-minded person: we were both illustrators, but we wanted to turn our hands to much more. We were lucky enough to find the perfect premises in the Royal Mile – a room in an old primary school building owned by Edinburgh Council, made into work units for small businesses. Our neighbours were carpenters, bookbinders, kilt makers and upholsterers – a wonderfully creative community.

For the next seventeen years, sustained by loud music and chocolate biscuits, we supplied graphic design and illustration for hundreds of diverse clients from the financial sector, tourism, publishing, retail, tv, theatre, music, and the whisky industry. It was very busy and at times exhausting - but constantly challenging, and fun. The switch to using computers was a steep learning curve, but it didn’t take long to realise the benefits - and to appreciate the huge changes it made in our working patterns. It was a very exciting time.

Then in 2002 I was offered the chance to join a specialist consultancy, also in Edinburgh, which designed visitor centres around the world. I was sad to break away from my long-time business partner, but I welcomed the excitement of being part of a larger group and learning new disciplines, as well as getting to travel.

Three years later, my life was beginning to take a different tilt, personally and professionally. Inspired and energised by my time the consultancy, and with new confidence and direction, I reverted to being a freelance designer, this time working from home, and being more selective about the work I was doing. The whole industry had changed so much since I started out - there was more freedom in so many ways and you could work from practically anywhere. So my partner Richard and I decided it was time to start living our dreams and we moved to Balquhidder in 2006.

I carried on with my design work within the whisky industry and also book design. My clients by this time were few (by my own choosing) and long standing. More like friends, in fact. Occasionally new contacts would appear to keep me on my toes, some of them local. I took on the job of laying out The Villagers magazine for the four villages. I still do it now.

In the beauty and peace of our new surroundings I felt, to my surprise, that I was being drawn towards the idea of painting. Not the small watercolours I’d been doing most of my life, but big stuff. Big, free, and colourful. And where better than to paint than here?

The end of 2013 saw me tentatively trying some experiments in oils, and then with the encouragement of a friend here in the glen I discovered acrylics. That’s when I really got going.

So here I am now, planning for an exhibition with other local artists and painting as much as I can. ‘Emotional landscapes’ are mostly my thing - dreamlike mists and the lightness and darkness of our amazing weather. My work is developing all the time - and it’s a thrill.

Yes, I’m lucky all right. Illness last year made me realise that life is very short, and if you have something to say, you had better get out there and say it.

NB: Gill recently illustrated Lochearnhead author Ursula Haselden's book, Wacky, The Diary of a Ship's Cat, published June 2016. 

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