Art holidays in Scotland

Ute Amann-Seidel, founder of our partner Wild at Art, has created her art holidays in Scotland with the express purpose of encouraging visitors to step beyond the easel and connect with Scottish culture. For instance, on a painting holiday on the Hebridean island of Iona, you’ll be taken for a cruise on a wooden ex-fishing boat piloted by a local captain. And in Orkney, you’ll spend an evening around the peat fire exploring legend, lore and ancient traditions through music, song and storytelling.

“I’ve lived here for over 20 years,” says Ute, “and what I love is that there are so many talented artists here, so many galleries, exhibitions and workshops, as well as landscapes that lend themselves perfectly to artistry. I want to create opportunities for people to actively participate in that because I think creative holidays are such an enriching way to connect with a place, to slow down and see things differently.”

Ute’s award-winning company assembles itineraries for artists designed by artists, many of them renowned nationally and internationally. That doesn’t mean you need to be a whizz with a paintbrush, by any means – as with all of our special interest holidays in Scotland, you’re encouraged to move at your own speed, and the atmosphere is never anything other than supportive and positive.

Where to go on a Scotland art holiday

Inner & Outer Hebrides

“As a painter using mixed media myself, I love more than anywhere the light and colours that you find in the Hebrides especially.” Ute Amann-Seidel speaks with a passion about the Hebrides that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has visited these wild and windswept islands off Scotland’s west coast.

You can join a painting and sketching holiday that’s based on just the one island, such as Iona, which is considered a perfect example of a Celtic Christian quality known as ‘thinness’ – a sense of the otherworldly – for which the Hebrides are known. You’ll walk around this tiny Inner Hebrides island off the coast of Mull, sketchbook in hand, deliberately slowing things down so as to achieve a deeper immersion in the landscapes and culture, while your tutor helps with technique.

A day trip in a traditional wooden fishing boat to explore nearby islands, helmed by a local skipper, is a sure highlight of the itinerary. You’ll stay in a hotel owned by islanders and make use of a variety of local businesses, from restaurants to galleries, providing invaluable out-of-season income to a small community.

Orkney

The Orkney archipelago, with around 20 inhabited islands, lies off Scotland’s north-eastern tip. A painting holiday here situates you on Mainland, the imaginatively named main island, though you’ll also take a day trip by ferry over to nearby Hoy to admire handsome Radwick Bay.

Besides visiting historic Orcadian sites including Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, you’ll capture vivid colours in the sea, cliffs, crofts and bays, and find inspiration by dropping into the studios of Orkney artisans to explore their work and perhaps make a purchase if something catches your eye. An evening spent sitting around the fire, hearing takes of island legend and lore, will be sure to infuse your work with a sense of history.

Scottish Highlands

Few venture to the far north-west of the Scottish Highlands. Eagle mountains peek up above sandy beaches where seals sunbathe and otters scout for food. You’ll be some of the only people here while on a painting holiday – along with the hardy communities of crofters and fishermen. Painting sessions use watercolours, and you’ll also get the chance to hike to hills, waterfalls and beaches with your charcoal, pens and sketchbook in your rucksack. A supportive, communal atmosphere is a given; all drawing abilities are welcome, although hill walking experience is a help.

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Art & wildlife cruises

With their abundance of marine and birdlife, the Hebrides make a predictably sublime setting for small ship cruises that combine art with wildlife watching, and even some wild swimming if you happen to bring along your swimsuit. As Wild at Art puts it, think of these trips as creative nature retreats on a boat. And because you’ll be travelling on small ships such as one built originally to traverse the Norwegian fjords, you’ll be able to reach waterways and bays that larger vessels cannot.

Choose from either the Small Isles in the Inner Hebrides south of Skye (Canna, Rum, Eigg, Muck and Ornsay) or a cruise taking you around both the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Whichever you select, you can expect hauntingly beautiful landscapes and a revolving cast of wildlife. Whales, dolphins, migrating seabirds, basking sharks, seals and golden eagles all frequent these waters.

Your days will be spent on deck sketching and painting under the guidance of a specialist tutor, perhaps trying out techniques such as using the local environment as a tool – drawing birds using a feather or painting the sea with seawater. Depending on your cruise you might also head out by small tender or sea kayak for a closer look at the island landscapes.

Professional ecologists sometimes accompany art and wildlife cruises in the Hebrides, helping you to identify different species and interpret their behaviours. Your cruise may be helping to collect cetacean data through recording sightings.

Evenings will be spent moored up, enjoying meals created by an onboard chef from local produce, and either working on your own projects, or taking part in communal and supportive feedback sessions with the group.

When to go on a Scotland art holiday

Since these holidays aim to have you creating in ‘plein air’ as far as possible, you need the daylight and good weather, so May to early October tend to be the best months to travel. “But we usually avoid running trips in July and August when Scotland has more than enough tourists already,” says Ute. “And of course, creative travel is a great way to extend the season. One special trip is the creative retreat in Orkney we run in November. You really experience the elements but then you come back to a cosy wood burning stove. I love that we’re able to support people and places during the autumn and winter.”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: © Wild at Art] [Intro: © Wild at Art] [Inner & Outer Hebrides: © Wild at Art] [When to go: © Wild at Art]