Our Legacy

Copyright © 2006 Invergordon off the Wall

To view other photographs relating to the Natural History of the Firth Mural click here.

Children's art competition - To view the winners' drawings click here





The following are some excerpts from artist Tracey Shough' diary. They give some idea of her passionate concern for the environment and her commitment to ensuring that the children who took part in her workshops and helped design and paint the mural would become equally enthused.

August 16th

My work in Invergordon began with a walk on the beach at Foulis. Jess Tomes from the RSPB gave me a few pointers for the walk planned with the children. She showed us micro worm things called hydrobia without which there would be no birds on the Cromarty Firth; these she dug up in the sandy mud. Under the seaweed we could see lots of sand hoppers jumping up and down. I spotted some glasswort and there was lots of eelgrass, which widgeon feed on.

We could see seals, redshank and oystercatchers, but only through binoculars.

I was then given the competition entries from which the children I will work with were chosen.

At 6pm I had my first meeting with the environment group - my clients so to speak. I presented my ideas so far to the group. I was very nervous but needn’t have been, as they seemed to like what I had done. I showed them an illustration by Nick Price which, along with the work of Kit Williams has inspired my ideas so far.

We decided that the mural would concentrate on wildlife of the sea and shore. Oystercatchers, dolphin, cormorants, herons and swans were mentioned as likely inhabitants and we agreed that the mural would contain some philosophical words about protecting our environment that would be apparent only on a second look.

It was also discussed that there could be a key to the mural on an information board alongside, and that any interesting facts about the wildlife could be included on an audio tour. I said I would continue my research and design but also take some input from the children’s workshops.

August 17th

Took a walk along the shore to Invergordon to note what I saw. Apart from a fair few herring gulls, I saw a black backed gull, a hooded crow, a curlew, a robin, 2 different types of bee, a wasp, some spiders, and some as yet unidentified plants… maybe sea spurrey? And some butterflies.

August 18th

This morning I was shown round Albyn Housing Association, to meet those responsible for the building I will be painting. I discussed with the chief exec the subject of the mural and his first comment was that he hoped to see an arctic tern on the picture… this for me confirmed their importance to the local area although at that moment I had yet to see one. He also confirmed sightings of osprey and informed me they sometimes nest by the Cromarty Bridge.

Walking out from Invergordon towards Saltburn, I enjoyed a while watching curlew and oystercatchers feeding along the shore; a seagull stood silent and still, but another landed and saw off the curlew who moved to a different part of the beach and stood for a while, perturbed. Further along I came across an as yet unidentified purple flowering plant covered in bees and further still, a buddleia bush swarming with red admiral and tortoiseshell butterflies. I would like to include such insects on the peripherals of the mural as much needed colour variation. Heading back towards town I saw my first terns and their lively activities in front of the cruise liner in the harbour.

The afternoon was spent touring the Cromarty Firth in a circle from Invergordon, across the Cromarty Bridge, where I startled a load of redshank, along the Black Isle to Udale Bay where I was stunned by the scale of the mudflats, but could see very little apart from crows, mallards and gulls. Approaching Cromarty were some swans and lots of terns. The ferry from Cromarty, although an amusing experience, revealed no dolphins on such a rough day. Cormorants passed by as I regarded the Sutors.

August 20th

At lunch time today, I was lucky enough to meet a famous trompe l’oeil mural artist called John Pugh from San Francisco, I didn’t get much time to chat, but he spoke about an environmental mural he painted which had a water main draining a local river. It caused great controversy but was a poignant message and got lots of media attention; I hope my mural will have a similar effect - make people think at least.

At 3pm the competition members, some members of Off the Wall, the competition winners and some of their parents went on a nature walk on the beach at Foulis. I showed the children the tiny creatures that live on the beach; talked about seaweed, lichen shellfish etc. The children found shrimps and crabs and rag worms. A few herons passed by, as did some turnstones apparently. A seal was good enough to give us a lovely display swimming and diving in and out of the water. Two cormorants sat the whole time on some buoys, and wagtails flitted about.

The children did a couple of drawings and I asked them to do one more before the workshop tomorrow, after school. The sun shone on us too and the exercise was deemed a success by adults involved; I think most of the kids enjoyed it too. One of the parents identified a plant I was unsure of as orach; he told us people used to eat it which of course spurred the children to try it. By the looks on their faces it could have done with being cooked at least.

August 21st

Held the first design workshop with the kids today. I started by reiterating food chain information and then tried to get them doing drawings in a food chain. I think it was a bit beyond the capabilities of some of the younger ones but they all tried very hard. I think they will enjoy Wednesday’s session more as it will involve lots of cutting and sticking. Favourite elements seem to be crabs, curlew and seals on rocks. I am particularly impressed by the general attentiveness of the group and their incredibly good behaviour.

August 22nd

I am getting more certain of my intended design now. I’ve been out drawing wild flowers and sussing out how to paint rushing water. I think I’ve cracked it.

August 23rd

Spent the morning preparing for the design workshop, I’ve got a scrapbook for the kids’ part of the project, which will be a nice record of their involvement.

I measured up the wall today and was a little daunted by its size I have to admit. I have to get the measurements quite accurate before I draw out the final design, as there is a window and some vents to take into consideration.

At 3.30pm the second design workshop with the children took place at the museum.This was very fruitful; we started by running through a few ideas on the board, and then, in groups, did collages on an outline of the wall layout. There were lots of good ideas again, some of which I will definitely include in my draft proposals e.g.: we decided that an ideal use of the grills would be to have seagulls standing on them; one potential use of the window could be to turn it into a rock on which a seal sits; general consensus also required there to be a seal with its head out of the water. We also agreed it would be nice to use the bottom strip as an under water bit with some of the things we saw on the nature walk, and somebody drew an oystercatcher at the side fishing for mussels. The children’s collages are lovely, full of action, which I hope the mural will be.

We used photocopies of the drawings the children did on Monday so that each collage is a mix of all the children’s’ work. The one by Rebekah, Chloe and Shannon has a large flying bird in the foreground, seals on a rock on the window, with a dolphin jumping above; they have really thought about composition and layout. Billy and James Goodwin used the window for dolphins to jump from. Lindsay, Beth and Tammy also have a dolphin jumping over the seal and have made good use of the grill with a seagull perching on it. Although Ryan, James and Harry were less conscientious about composition, I like the general feeling of movement they have achieved in their picture. Kayleigh, Marie, Harry and Josh included a lovely detail of a fish swimming through the seaweed.

Popular elements with the children are crabs, seals, oystercatchers, mussels, seaweed, shells, curlew and, of course dolphins. During today’s session some children had brought things to stick in the scrapbook. Emily had pressed some flowers she found at Alness Point which included sea aster, a flower I have not yet seen here myself. Alicehad written this fantastic poem about seals:

A seal swimming
Is really thrilling
When I see a seal
I think so surreal
The soft gentle eyes and the short blunt nose
You can tell my love for them really shows
A powerful large tail and short front flippers
As well as a set of long white whiskers
As you see overall
I think seals are the best of them all.
The soft gentle eyes and the short blunt nose
You can tell my love for them really shows
A powerful large tail and short front flippers
As well as a set of long white whiskers
As you see overall
I think seals are the best of them all.

At the end of the session they wrote comments about the project to date, to stick in the scrapbook. They all seem to have enjoyed it so far.

August 24th

I worked very hard to get 2 design ideas together today. The designs were compiled from drawings from my sketchbook, photographs taken either by me or from books or the Internet and the children’s drawings and ideas. Everything I have included apart from the dolphins and fish, I have spotted myself in the area. An arctic tern is one of the major features on one design and a hooded crow on another. It will be up to the mural group to make the final decisions, as I cannot fit everything I’d like on to one mural. I wanted to get input from the Environment Group before I draw up a final proposal.

August 25th

Met with the design group to finalise what elements will be on the mural. It was quite a straight forward meeting; the basic layout of the design with the tern was chosen with a few added elements.

We decided between us to write on the picture, the words,

Take nothing but pictures, Leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

…and to also include at the bottom;

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. Thomas Fuller 1739.

August 27th

Typical! Now I have finished my design I went on a cycle ride and saw hundreds of lapwings, a red-breasted merganser, sea campion and sea plantain which I maybe should have included in my design.

August 28th

I will have to adjust my design slightly… Anne took me to Shin falls today and I saw salmon leaping up a waterfall and they were massive. My jaw dropped as I realised their size. The ones on my picture are weenie so I must verify that they will be a lot bigger on the mural. It was such a sight to see… one would leap every few minutes but not always make it. The river and falls are beautiful.

August 31st

My design was met with approval all round, particularly from the ladies in the group. I had a meeting with the exec of Albyn first this morning and then with Off the Wall and the Environment group later. It was agreed that there would be a key to the wildlife features next to the mural.

September 1st

Drew out the whole design on the wall and went over the bottom lines with marker pen so it is easy for the children to see when it comes to their turn at painting.

I am going to work from the top of the scaffold down so that it can be removed before the children come to paint. I have borrowed a shopping trolley from Somerfield to carry paints back and forth from the mural to the office, I look like a bag lady as one or two people have commented!

September 9th

Have almost completed the elements on the very top layer of scaffold but it is impossible to see them from the ground.

September 11th

Have been making good progress on the mural so decided to take a day off as a friend was visiting. It was a surprisingly beautiful day so we went across to Cromarty and walked up the South Sutor. I was particularly struck by the amount of lichen on the rocks; giving an orange glow to them in the sunlight. I noted this for inclusion. It’s nice that the mural is still evolving at this late stage.

September 12th

Ruby helped me paint today; she did lots of filling in, saving me invaluable hours. It was also an important exercise in making sure things are going OK. As she was up on the scaffold she could see what passers by, as yet, cannot see, so it was reassuring to be told its all looking OK by an impartial outsider. Her only advice was that the nest placed above the burglar alarm should perhaps have some hungry chicks in it so you can see what it is meant to be. I have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far, so have been putting in very long hours; it could still go pear shaped though.

September 14th

With one day to go before the kids come and about a day’s work left, I am now in a panic as it rained all day today. My makeshift cover caused more problems as it gathered rain, thus pouring it onto the wall, ruining bits I had painted. I gave up and went to the library to draw chicks. I have chosen some heron chicks to go in the nest.

September 15th

By the skin of my teeth, I finished all the upper parts of the mural today; I look forward to seeing it when the scaffold comes down. I still have 22 different colours of paint to mix before the children arrive at ten in the morning!

September 16th

What a success!

After mixing paint for two hours, I arrived at the site at 9am. The scaffold was down and I was relieved to see that the mural works so far in terms of space and colour. The first group of children arrived and got to work, painting like professionals. I had spaced out the sessions so that I had a little time to tidy the edges up between groups but there was very little to do. The kids were totally engrossed in the work.

September 17th

Kids all day again today. It seemed a lot more tiring today somehow. The children were far more boisterous. It was suggested to me that two sessions is too much but I think it was more to do with the fact that they were feeling less inhibited as they knew me better and less intimidated by the amount of ‘responsible adults’ keeping watch over them. The nicest moments were when the adults joined in with the painting. By the end of the day I had relaxed my authoritative approach and the final group of older children gave much merry banter. The mural is looking great, the parents and children were all very grateful for the time we had put in.

September 18th

A few days of finishing touches to do. It is much more pleasurable painting on ground level as people stop to comment. Today was the first time a lot of people have seen it without the scaffold so I had some nice positive comments.

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