handmade in scotland


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by Alexander Forsyth

Emily Mackenzie is the creator of the famous "50 Shades of Scotland" print - a joyful daubing of colours on a plain white background, with descriptions that transform them into a "what's what" of Scottish culture and history.

Whether it's her picks for for the Forth Rail Bridge, neeps, Nessie, Scottish thistle, or even "peely-wally" - the entire print works like a colour chart of nostalgia for the nation.

Working as an artist and author from her home in Edinburgh, the city plays a central role in what Emily does. Who better to ask how to make the most of the city as an artist, than someone so skilled at describing what makes Scotland tick?

An Artist's Guide to Edinburgh

Emily mackenize at her desk surrounded by prints

1. Explore the city for inspiration

I love wandering around all the great galleries we have and visiting the Museum of Scotland, but I get a lot of my ideas for prints and book characters just observing people and animals I come across during my walks. I also find that the paint colour combinations I choose are often related to the buildings I’ve wandered passed - there’s some brilliant colour inspiration on Victoria Street.

2. Plan for the crowds 

If you’re wanting to observe and draw hustly, bustly crowds of people then August during the festival is the busiest time of year, but I prefer drawing here when it’s much quieter. Plan your trip for the sort of work you'd like to do - even if you're drawing or painting a static object, continually having crowds of people passing by (or posing in front of it) can be quite distracting!

3. Plan for the weather

If you’re visiting in the Winter bring some gloves you can draw in. I like those fingerless ones with the mitten top you can fold over to warm your hands up when you’re done. Numb fingers and delicate hand movements aren't the best of friends!

4. Get some perspective on the city

To get a sense of the city from above, climb a hill! Arthur’s Seat would be the obvious choice and walking round Holyrood Park is beautiful, but you get amazing views from Calton Hill too.

5. Bring the right supplies

Make sure you bring the right equipment for your trip. For me it's really simple - i'm never without:

1. A ruled notebook for writing to-do-lists and jotting down ideas for prints or children’s books that may come to me when I’m out and about.

2. A small pencil case stuffed with Japanese brush pens, a 6B pencil and a few of my favourite Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils.

3. A sketchbook or my A4 layout pad

4. A couple of bottles of Ecoline watercolour ink

6. Buy the right supplies

Greyfriar’s art shop is a must visit if you need to pick up some materials while you’re here. I can’t visit the one on Dundas Street without walking out with a paper bag full of Neocolor crayons.

7. Get an education

Edinburgh Printmakers have a great selection of weekend courses, which is how I learned to screen print.

8. Take some time away from the sketchbook/easel

Edinburgh is beautiful, and make sure you day at least a day simply to explore. It's hard to think of what to recommend, because it's such a diverse and exciting city.

My ideal day in Edinburgh would probably start with breakfast at Broughton Deli, pop across the road to do some shopping in Curiouser and Curiouser, followed by a walk to the Botanics. From there I’d head to Stockbridge via Inverleith Park, look around the shops then stop somewhere for lunch. After that I’d walk part of the Water of Leith to Dean Village and spend the afternoon looking around The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Dean Galleries. Then if I wasn’t ready to flop after all that walking, I'd head up back into town for curry at mother India’s Cafe. Sounds perfect.

Alexander Forsyth
Alexander Forsyth

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