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Artwork for Sagas & Seascapes

In conversation with Orla Stevens


Sketchbook Research, Orkney, Responding to Landscape

How I got involved in the project;

I was invited to collaborate with Sagas & Seascapes by Katherine Wren of Nordic Viola in early 2020, creating visual art to support the programme of music. I have a long lasting history with Katherine, having known her since I was nine years old when she taught me violin throughout my school years. Although I never followed a professional music route, her teaching, enthusiasm for the arts, community and outdoors have filtered through into my work and life. I remember a key visualisation exercise she taught to help tackle a piece I was struggling to play during a lesson: We created a story to follow, where I imagined for each phrase characters, landscapes, a plot line - full of colours, movement and energy which helped connect me to the piece and fill the music with purpose and character. Maybe it was here that designing images and places to accompany music really started! Connecting sound with sight and responding to sound through painting has been an underlying and natural current in my practice: the source I think must come in part from these early lessons.

'Aud the Deep Minded'

How I’ve been responding to music and memory;

Fast forward sixteen years to this project, and we have collaborated to create a series of five paintings responding to the program of music, which will be showcased alongside the performance at the Edinburgh Fringe. The paintings explore the stories and landscapes that inspired the composers, and were created following our group trip to Orkney in 2021. Whilst together, I gathered the composers thoughts, stories and ideas attached to their music, and their take on the relationships between landscape and music.

I filled sketchbook pages with writing and drawings in ink, charcoal, pastel and pencil, drawing from the composers ideas, the landscape we were immersed in and the sounds of bird calls, wind and sea. Only once I was home in the studio did the final pieces begin. The works were created using sketchbooks and sound recordings as reference points, notes, mind maps, and were accompanied by the soundtracks of the compositions on repeat. Colours, lines and textures represent the atmosphere of the pieces and moments within them that caught my ear. I think that this combination of reference points, combined with being removed from location and working from memory has allowed me to freely create the works as a reaction to the music, history and landscape.

Soundscape 'Eynhallow Sound' Inspired by Sagas & Seascapes Work

It feels particularly poignant to be writing this blog post whilst on the ferry to Orkney once more (albeit for a separate project launch). I am looking forward to seeing the impact that our Sagas and Seascapes project has had on my return to the islands; how I see and remember the landscapes, and what I will take away from this trip, exploring more of the Orkney Islands. My sketchbooks and notebooks are packed, and if you’d like to follow along with some of my research trip and process, you can do so over on my instagram at @orlastevens.

Sketchbook research, Rackwick Bay, Hoy 2022

How the trip, landscape and collaboration has influenced my work, and the latest commission;

Travelling to Orkney and collaborating with such a lovely team really invigorated my practice in 2021 - especially in the context of the past two years of social/creative isolation. I see this series of work as an important turning point for my practice, where I fully embraced this exploration and balance between abstract expressionism and figurative story telling.

In the latest painting responding to ‘The Seal Woman’ by Eli Tausen á Lava, I have taken a step closer towards the figurative in a mixed media collage on canvas. Eli’s music has been composed in ten sections, each wildly different to the other. Its sounds are so contrasting, depicting a turbulent Faroese folk tale of a seal woman, love, a trap and a curse. To capture so many different shifts in music, I drew and painted textures and marks on papers whilst listening to the music, which were torn or cut to assemble a scene from the story that really stuck in my head:

“Once a year, on Twelfth Night (Faroese: trettandanátt, Thirteenth Night) seals are able to shed their skins. A young man from the village of Mikladalur on Kalsoy had heard this and went to see if it was true. He hid behind a rock in front of the seal cave. After sunset, a lot of seals swam to the cave, stepped on land and shed their skins — they looked like humans. The young man saw a beautiful young woman removing her sealskin and immediately fell in love with her. He made note of where she put her skin, snuck over, stole it and hid behind the rock again. The seals danced the whole night, but shortly before the sun rose, they put their sealskins back on. But the young seal woman wasn’t able to find hers, so she walked around in search of it, complaining loudly”

Researching ideas for 'The Seal Woman'

During a conversation with Eli, I discovered that his piece had originally been inspired by 10 artworks, created by Edward Fulgø. These images were used as the Faeroes island stamps in 2007, and would go on to inspire the ten movements of his composition. I love the fact that Eli’s music was created in mirrored reflection to my own process for Sagas and Seascapes; creating music from artwork. We share the same love of creating from intuition, and I think you can hear the freedom that comes with the approach to process within his piece. We joked that perhaps the chain of art to music, music to art will continue in response to my painting, and return to music once more!

To learn more about the collaboration please see the video below:

To View Orla's full folio please visit:

Orla Stevens x Sagas & Seascapes

We are so excited to screen the film with live music for the first time in Edinburgh and hope to welcome you there from 15th-17th August at 8:30pm.

You can book tickets here.

There will be a relaxed performance on 17th August which also has audio description and social distancing. If you can’t make it to Edinburgh, then the original digital show will screen from the Scottish Storytelling Centre’s website at 7pm on 18th August, followed by a zoom Q & A with the creators at 8:30pm.

Faroe Isles Folk Tale Research, 2022


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