These paintings began as drawings. At that time I had no idea that they would become paintings, or that I would create a book. They came out of inner necessity, at a time in my life when I was suffering much mental anguish and physical pain. I had a very dear friend, Sister Helen, who encouraged me to express this in drawings. It was difficult to get started, since up to that point in my life I had only made drawings from life, mostly portraits and some landscapes.
That Summer I found a vertebra on the shore at Iona, washed up by the waves, just below where the Abbey stands. At the time I felt I was meant to find it. I took it home and placed it on a table in my bedroom. I needed an object to help me get started drawing and chose this bone. Very tentatively a little foetus began to grow inside it. Soon she was a full grown woman and within a couple of months she was leaping out of the page at me, telling me the story of my life, refusing to let go.
When I drew the "Mother Root" I felt happy. Here was the strong, centred, rooted person I would like to be. I thought at that point I was finished. My unconscious had other ideas! It became necessary to look at the dark side of myself. The person that I didn't like. There is alot of anger and tears in the next three drawings, but a shout of liberation too.
"Pushing the Boat Out" is the first drawing where I imagined a real place. It is Staffin beach, on Skye, near where I live. A place of tremendous winter storms where waves can be twenty foot high.
"The Dying Child" took me by surprise because it did not turn out at all like I imagined it would. I thought that the adult woman and the child would lie down in the bottom of the boat, wrap themselves in the sail and go to sleep - a soft gentle drawing of reconciliation. What happened was that the lines got harder and more tense, the boat became a coffin and I realised that the child had to die. The "Born Again" drawing, which followed it, filled me with joy.
I now knew where the journey in the boat was taking me - back to the beginning of everything, which is of course also the beginning of me. Why am I here? What is life about? "The Blind Sower" was completed in a single day. I shut myself in my bedroom and worked on it for eight hours without stopping. When it was finished I felt "Now I know who I am". The woman sows her seed into the volcanic soil of anger, rawness and pain. She can only go one step at a time, as she's blind, yet she is always sheltered and led.
I grew up in a council housing-scheme in Dumbarton. As children we had no computers or televisions and not that many toys. We created our own games, playing in the street Winter and Summer, even under the street lamps. One of the favourite games among wee girls was 'shops'. We played at being bakers, making cakes out of mud pies, weighing them on scales made from a plank of wood and some stones. There is a very beautiful painting by William Blake which portrays God creating the world. He leans forward with a pair of deviders, a big strongly-muscled old man with a beard. While doing this drawing of the child playing with the first mud of creation I thought "Why should God not be a wee girl making mud pies?"
"Broken Communion" was done on the dining room table of a house called 'Saorsa' (a Gaelic word for 'freedom') which is part of the L'Arche Community in Inverness where I was living at the time. It reflects the experience of living with people who are deeply wounded. Even as I drew the symbols of joy and sorrow, groping towards one another, trying to become a circle I knew that one day I would be able to make a drawing in which they did become one. I waited a year for that one!
The next drawing, "An Ordinary Miracle", is the first in which I attempted portraits of real people. One of the Community members who I felt very close to had experienced a lot of suffering in her life, but she had a child-like trust and a lot of love to give. When I was with her I discovered myself in a new way. The L'Arche prayer says "Through the hands of your little ones bless us. Through the eyes of those who are rejected smile upon us."
One day, while I was living with L'Arche I had a rest time on a lovely Spring afternoon. I took a walk by the River Ness and fell asleep on an island in the river. The River Ness has a very strong current. The current divided in two to flow round the island and I fell asleep with my head very near the point where the two currents join together again and make a whirlpool in the river.
I woke up with the second last drawing in my head, "Joy and Sorrow". I knew that joy and sorrow would swirl together to become the pure light of eternity.
It was several weeks before I had the drawing complete. I knew there would be an angel, and somehow she had to be black, and there would be a child. But who should the central figure be? At first I thought she should be a very old woman. Perhaps this was my last drawing. Somehow this just didn't work. Then I realised it would have to be a self-portrait. That felt right.
A few weks later I dreamt the last painting. An old woman at the end of her life and a dance! The tree and the wall in the picture come from a real place - a place in Waternish on Skye which is so battered by sea winds that the trees bend almost double, in order to survive.
About six months later, while recovering from spine surgery, I began to think it was possible that the drawings could become paintings. I started with the last drawing to see if it would work. I liked the result and during the next two years painted the rest.