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February Favourites: What I'm Loving this Month!

Baby, it's cold outside and it's making my Kiltwalk practice sessions that little bit trickier (click the link for more information on my springtime challenge and to add your sponsorship for the Scottish SPCA!) That said, winter weather is perfect for painting and, of course, for getting stuck into a good book (reading or writing it!). Here are some of my favourites finds this month across literature and the arts: from dashing vets to delightful otters!

Bookmark: 'Listening to the Animals: Becoming the Supervet' by Noel Fitzpatrick

As soon as this new release dropped into the library, I knew I had to lend it out to my mum - but then I ended up borrowing it too! Many of you will already be familiar with Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick as the TV 'Supervet': constantly pushing the boundaries of vet medicine and challenging his peers to come up with new solutions for their clients' dearly loved companions. As expected, this book is full of passion, but the poetry was a welcome surprise (it turns out that young Noel had a creative side!). Amidst the drama and difficulties that animal medicine inevitably brings, there are also warm touches of humour (I'll never forget the story of a little boy being run over by a tractor on ground so muddy that he simply dipped down and popped up again unharmed!) The ideas about One Medicine will be controversial to some (and I'd love to see Noel take a firmer stance against animals being used in medical research) but he comes across as a highly intelligent, thoughtful and utterly dedicated vet. As Miss Gypsy's best friend, I can very much identify with his love for his own dog Keira - after enjoying the book, we decided to create a little portrait of Keira and received a very kind thank you from the Fitzpatrick Referrals team!

Perfect Painting: 'Just Imagine' by Katie Jobling

In previous painting reviews, I've focused on the 'heavyweights' of art history, but it can be frustrating to only see a two-dimensional image. The texture and brushwork of a painting can sometimes get lost in translation - but there's no danger of that with this one! I actually purchased this painting by Katie Jobling for my mum as a Christmas present: I've admired Katie's work for a long time and greatly enjoy her YouTube channel (a combination of easy-to-follow tutorials and artist's life vlogs). 'Just Imagine' is both expressive and delicate, not an easy combination to achieve, and I love the use of cool tones combining amythest and green. The gentle diagonal gives the painting extra stylistic impact and the soft-focused flower petals are shaped to perfection. If you're looking for an original artwork that's perfect for a present - and you've already gifted my own work, of course! - then I'd highly recommend checking out Katie's Etsy shop.

Artist in Residence Technique: Wet-in-Wet Watercolour

There are so many ways to work with watercolour, my favourite painterly medium, and the more you learn about its properties then the more opportunities present themselves! 'Wet-in-wet' is one of the trickiest techniques to master, but its well worth the time and effort. Rather than adding paint straight onto the dry blank page or to an existing dried wash of colour, this involves adding wet watercolour to an already damp area of the paper. The results are dynamic and always a little bit different, but you can influence the final product by varying not only the amount of paint but the amount of water and how long it has to dry before adding in your colours. In this otter illustration, I swept over the animal's form with watery brown washes, allowing the darker paint to 'pool' where I wanted my shadows. Once dry, I could repeat the process (gently!) to deepen those contrasts further. Wet-in-wet was an exciting way to give shape to my little otter: combined with delicate ink details, I hope I achieved a bit of balanced beauty!

Diary of a Novel: Line of the Month from 'Ellen and Arbor'

If I do say so myself, my novel-in-progress 'Ellen and Arbor' has been going pretty well recently - perhaps being stuck indoors from the snowy weather is beneficial to work in the 'writer's studio'! I'm in the middle of my third draft, polishing my prose before crafting the book's very final touches. 'Ellen and Arbor' is a tale that's I hope is a testament to female creativity and the restorative power of nature - in this scene, Ellen is returning via ferry to her childhood home on the fictional island of Tarska:

'Ellen is close enough to see the off-white specs that denote sheep on the hillsides, cloudy circles of wool stuck like lint on a moss green jumper. A gull cries nearby, flying above her head before diving into the water while the boat lumbers onwards. Ellen watches for the bird resurfacing but its entry was sleek, consummately professional, and the ripples marking its point of entry are quickly smoothed by the ferry’s own current.'

Like the novel itself, these lines are subject to 'further revision' (especially once I reach draft four)! And yet I'm enjoying the writing process more and more as I reach the stage of refining precisely what I want to say. I hope February has been a fabulous month for you - keep listening to the animals and just imagine how good things can get! ;-)

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