• Orla Stevens

Gathering a Sense of Place


I am just back after a two-week trip travelling around the mainland of Orkney, and further afield: to South Ronaldsay, Westray and Papa Westray. Over the first three days, I took part in a collaborative residency - as part of Nordic Viola’s ‘Sagas and Seascapes’ project:


‘Sagas and Seascapes’ is a collaborative project presenting music and visual art that responds to northern landscape, history and heritage. Commissioned for Orkney International Science Festival, the project will be presented in video format, sharing compositions and artwork responding to shared northern themes. The film footage was shot by Craig Sinclair over these residency days, and will share landscape footage as well as discussions and interviews between the composers and artist to document research and thought processes.


To accompany the film, I will be creating a body of paintings that encompass the landscape and music explored as a group. Gathering together for these days were contemporary composers/musicians Linda Buckley, Gemma McGregor, Lillie Harris, Katherine Wren and myself.




Each piece of music has been inspired by Orkney landscape and history. Travelling round the sites with the composers prompted many discussions into the landscape’s history, the people of past times, and what the composers were looking to capture in their music. It was fascinating to learn of their individual music making processes, and I found many similarities between composing a piece of music and a painting.



We visited many mainland sites together, including the Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, Maes Howe, Broch of Gurness, and Birsay to name a few. After our time together, I spent the remaining week and a half exploring orkney further with my partner. A walking/camping trip round the coast of Papay was incredible, sharing time with the sounds of wind, sea and thousands of birds. Hoy saw moody sky-scapes gathering around the only two hills there; a mist enveloped Old Man of Hoy, and down to the dramatic finale of Rackwick Bay.




I have gathered many sketches, notes, field recordings, videos and photos to document this time away, and will be sharing the research and development of paintings over the next month. I am looking to draw influence from a medley of the sites visited, the Orcadian landscape, folklore and history, as well as pull improvisational marks and colours from the pieces of music themselves. This body of work will develop on my past work responding to music, field recordings and soundscapes.



I am excited to get back to the studio and translate the colours, sounds and stories absorbed from our time away! After over a year of relative solitude working, it has been such a rich experience to collaborate and discuss in person creatively again - I would like to say a warm thank you to Creative Scotland for assisting in the funding of this project, without which this collaboration would not be possible.



I will share more on the stories, people and places that are driving the paintings as they develop, which will be logged here in the notes section.