Here’s a little experiment for you.    Type your product into a search engine and see where you appear.    If you make red ceramic mugs and you type in “red ceramic mugs” and it appears on page one, you are cooking on gas.    Hover over the image of your product in google “images” and a tag should appear for buyers to quickly access your website.

Once in a while I google “thistle canvas”, “thistle art” or “thistle painting” to make sure that my thistle image remains at or near the top of page both in images and in the listings as this ensures I pick up quite a lot of custom through organic searches.   ‘Tis all about making sure your website gets noticed.

Put your website in the main thoroughfare

In blog 3 of How to Sell Art Online I strongly recommended that you employ a professional website designer but even with the funkiest website in the world it is still up to you to promote it like crazy.  Think of your website as your shop –  do you want to place it in an ill-lit back street or do you want it fully illuminated in the main thoroughfare?     Metaphorically speaking you need to be standing at the end of the road with a loud hailer drawing folk’s attention to what you are selling.

When you upload product onto your website you will see sections marked  “tags”, “meta tags”  and “meta description/data”.   It is here that you try and think of keywords relevant to your product.     Your website has 2 audiences i.e. users and search engines.    The meta tags will not be visible to your users whereas your tags are.    The meta tags however will be visible to the search engine so its worth paying attention to both.     Meta description (or meta data) are usually 150 – 250 characters long and you may find it easier to write the website content for your web page first then extract the main idea of your text to create your Meta description.

Going back to the red ceramic mug, it is best to put your key words in as soon as possible so instead of “Brighten up those mornings at work or home with our glossy red ceramic mug.”  write “Our glossy red ceramic mug will brighten up those mornings at work or home”.       Here is an example for my Highland Dance Shoes print –  “Highland Dance Shoes,  high quality print by Pauline James-Paterson, artist of contemporary Scottish images.”   Its only 105 characters long so I could add a bit more if I felt the product warranted it.  If you don’t include a meta description it isn’t a massive problem as google will just take the first 250 words or so of your product description.

We have been looking here at digital promotion but there are other ways of  bringing your website to the attention of potential customers:

Printed promotional material

Printed material can be expensive but well worth the investment.    If nothing else it is worth having some groovy business cards printed.    I think you can do a lot better than vista print but if you are not up to designing a bit of graphics yourself you can always contact a freelance designer on  The fiverr website will put you in touch with (literally) the world of creative people who will do a first class job for an incredibly low budget and  £7.19 will buy you a business card design – yes honestly, have a look!    Although I haven’t tried fiverr myself, I do know quite a few folk who have and who rate it highly.

I have a very basic photoshop package (Elements 10) but it is pretty user friendly and great for putting together a bit of artwork.   I do all graphics on  photoshop and ping the jpeg to J&B Print of Newton Stewart for printing.     I started with a business card and a while later came up with the idea of business card with a blank box, on the reverse side, on which I can write a message.   These I leave in coffee shops, hotel bedrooms, visitor attractions……… in fact anywhere where I can say “thank you” for the service and fingers crossed  that the recipient will look at my website.

I also invested in an A5 leaflet which I enclose with a product if it is bought from a platform other than my website eg Etsy, Ebay or Amazon in the hopes that any repeat trade will be via my website.   Since I rebranded these are redundant but I will get more printed with Thistle HeART Print.

If you do craft fayres it is worth promoting your business via a roller banner which is very portable and makes a nice backdrop to your stall.    These are a surprisingly cheap and very effective form of advertising.   I have three and ordered mine off ebay for approximately £25 each.     This will be more if you can’t supply the artwork but again have a look at seeing what you can get designed for you via a freelance designer on




A highly publicised event is a great opportunity to promote what you are about and it is rewarding to support a local initiative.     All events have sponsorship packages and you may find one to suit your budget as not all rely on investments of thousands of pounds.   Last year I sponsored an event at the Oyster Festival in Stranraer which for £399 gave me 3 roller banners in prime position, an advert in the brochure and 4 tickets to an event.   It is always possible to tweak a sponsorship package with the organisers of an event – the original deal with the Oyster Festival was for £299 and one roller banner but I wanted more exposure and a better position at the event so negotiated a bespoke package.        At the time I didn’t have a huge market in Dumfries and Galloway so it was a way of bringing my website to the attention of my local community.    This year I have approached two more organisations with a view to sponsoring an event later on in the year.



Making your product look good

It is worth looking critically at the photographs of your product before committing to the expense of promotional material.      If you make a gorgeous artisan product, you need to have gorgeous photographs of this product to put on any leaflets/business cards or social media posts and for this it is well worth employing a professional photographer.   Product often looks better if you show how it is to be used so in the case of the red ceramic mug, it looks a whole lot better when filled with coffee, tea or hot chocolate.    If you are a painter you can “place” your paintings in a sumptuous interior for a small licence to photo stock companies (see How to Sell Online 6 for a link to istock).


Promoting yourself on social media

To get to grips with social media a few years ago,  I attended 3 digital workshops.    In my very first digital workshop I remember the instructor asking us to imagine being at a party when a stranger approaches.   If that stranger immediately launches into his sales pitch you would feel annoyed, irritated and would probably look for a quick escape route.  If however that same stranger approaches and his/her conversation is interesting, humorous, engaging  and it is a conversation in which you were invited to participate,  you would be happy to hang around.      That is how it is on social media.   If you continuously bombard your followers with prices and links to product, your potential customers will quickly disconnect and may well “unlike” your page.  (see facebook tips in my How to Sell Online 3).   Instead you need to post up interesting content and ask plenty of open ended questions to engage your audience.

Promote yourself and/or your product on video

On the home page of my website  is the video that I  had created for me by a local video company Airborne Ltd.    It is an amazing piece of filming with footage of my studio and the surrounding countryside.   There are beautifully lit close up shots and stunning panoramic views of Galloway filmed with a drone.   The video has so far racked up over 140,000 viewers, so my investment of £1,500 has paid off handsomely because, if my maths is correct, that only amounts to just over 1p per view. 

You may now be thinking that all this promotional lark is time consuming and eats into your day.   It does and if that doesn’t float your boat, it may mean a shift in thinking…………

Is this your job?

Do you get up on a Monday morning, with a list of tasks that need doing?     Do you put on work clothes?  Do you have a separate working space?  Do you work “office” hours?  If the answer is yes to all, or most, of these then it is your job, you are a professional and have a fair chance of making a living from your creative endeavours.    It is still possible, of course, to sell product and earn a few thousand a year with a more relaxed outlook but you are probably either very very thrifty or have the luxury of a second income.      It is part of the job to upload content on social media, arrange promotional material, update a website,  update listings on other selling platforms, seek out new markets, engage with customers,  order materials, dispatch orders, update accounts, stock take……and that is before you have a chance to be creative.   Like any job, there are boring bits and rather than resent this, it is best to embrace it as tasks to be accomplished to get you to a better place.   Despite all of this I still managed a bit of creativity this week and finished off my painting of The Titan Crane at Clydebank which is now available as prints on my website.    I am well chuffed with it.  

All this work takes a whopping amount of energy.  When I first started this business I was working 8 am to 6 pm, 6 days a week but gradually have managed to trim this to a more manageable 8 am to 3.30 pm 5 days a week.   I had to make the decision last year about whether I wanted to upscale this enterprise and take on large premises, staff etc but, after much deliberation, decided against it and am content to have a  “lifestyle” business.  I can recommend it.    Happy endeavours and see you next week for the penultimate blog.      Pauline




Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz !  that was me at the beginning of the week.  Boy oh boy it was quiet with only orders for a few prints each day and only a couple of canvases.    There was a time when I used to hyperventilate when sales were low and start to fret, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that it all kicks off again and, sure enough, canvas orders started to pop into my website from Wednesday onwards.    To avoid stressing about orders it is worth doing a few sums to calculate what you need to turn over in your business.   You may be surprised as to how little you need to get by.

How much do you need to earn?

If you are an artist or craftsperson, happily doing open exhibitions, selling via craft fayres etc and generally happy with your lot then don’t change.   You  perhaps have another source of income and are in the enviable position of being able to create what you want, when you want because your next meal doesn’t depend on it!  Enjoy being creative and enjoy giving pleasure to others with the fruits of your creativity.   This blog though is if, like me, you need a good healthy turnover in order to support yourself and maintain a reasonable standard of living.    It is perfectly possible to turnover in excess of £50,000 a year selling your work on line and with good margins, that makes for a decent income.    That takes time though but if you know what you need to earn it can be a highly motivating factor.

Calculate your monthly household bills.    Let’s say £300 per month and with a working month of, say on average,  21 days, you  need to earn £14.28 per day.       Depending on your overheads, reckon on a turnover of £25 – £30 a day to achieve this £14.28, which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility is it?       Let’s add food to that of again £300 per month, your earnings need to be £28.56 and your turnover £50-£60 per day.   Ok, that is only going to give you an annual income of £7,200 but that is where I was 5 years ago when I turned my back on selling art through traditional channels to concentrate on ecommerce.  That was my peanut butter and banana sandwiches year, I survived, it was very character forming and made me massively determined to succeed.  The next year I worked ridiculous hours, sometimes 16 hours a day but it shifted my business up a gear and I’ve not looked back since.

I remember standing in the post office queue with a pile of prints chatting to the guy behind me.   He revealed that he too was an artist but was finding it difficult to motivate himself.   “What motivates you?” he asked, “Food” I replied honestly.     Basically if I didn’t sell I didn’t eat,  it’s was easy as that!

It is all very well talking about earnings but you, of course, need something to sell.


What is your product?

Are you happy with the product(s) that you are currently offering.   Is there a demand?   That may seem as bit of a daft question but if you have said to yourself “no-one else is painting/making this” then it may be that there isn’t a demand.    There are certain general images which are always in demand – poppies, trees and sunsets being three.   Some animals have more universal appeal than others e.g. cows, chickens, pigs, hares, dogs and cats (and at the moment unicorns) I picked up on the poppy thing quite a while ago and the image still sells , and I do admit to doing the chicken thing also. And sunsets?  ‘fraid so, done that one as well.     There are better artists of cats and dogs so I’ve left well alone.

If you want to exploit the home decor market (a much more lucrative market than the art or craft market) keep an eye on what folk are buying in places like Dunelm, Ikea and other furniture outlets.     It is definitely worth subscribing to a monthly magazine to keep an eye on trends.   If the colour of the moment is aqua and you can see a way of exploiting this, then go for it.    This doesn’t always mean that you have to start all over again with something new as there may be an opportunity to tweak an existing product.

I did this a couple of years back when the magazines that I were looking at were very much promoting “grey with a splash of colour”.     I had on my website an image of umbrellas in the rain and, as it was very much a grey image, I thought it had potential to add a splash of colour.      Via the powers of photoshop I was able to add a choice of red, orange, teal, purple, green or turquoise to one of the brollies.     I went a bit further with this when I designed a digital image of a poppy in a field and offered my customers any colour of poppy.      Usually a swatch of colour was sent digitally but I do remember a customer asking me to match the lemon towels in Dunelm.    This I was able to do by accessing the Dunelm website and colour picking via photoshop.      I felt, though, that I was drifting too far away from my market so gave myself a good talking to and returned to supply the market that I had identified.    (more about marketing in blog 5 of How to Sell Online and Live Happily Ever After).

What is your USP?

Have you looked critically at your product and thought about it’s unique selling point?    Are there zillions of similar products out there and if so can you tweak yours to make it a bit different?  I suggest getting together with a friend and over a bottle of wine brainstorming ways in which your product can become the next big thing – a change of format/material/colour/function.    If you are an artist, can you frame it in a different way, make the image out of something unusual,  reformat it, cut it up and re-arrange it?   I remember seeing a ceramic artist who specialised in smashing up her fired pots and rearranging the pieces into something incredibly groovy with wonderful textures and colours.

My own slant is to  take popular subject, sunsets, trees etc and add “halation” i.e. the way an outline dissolves directly in front of the light source.

As an artist it may be about your style which is unique.   My own style is colourful and looks a bit out of control with splashes and textures created with salt and gin (yes gin!).  It is in fact very controlled but shhh don’t tell anyone!    I don’t think you can force a style and if you are an artist who excels at detail don’t allow others to tell you to “free up”, instead exploit that ability to its fullest.

Beware being a “me too” though.   By all means go to an art gallery or have a rattle around Pinterest if you are lacking inspiration but try to retain your originality.


Protecting yourself against me toos

There are plenty of folk out there who haven’t got the talent or the imagination to come up with anything new and will steal your work.      If you put images out on the internet you must make sure that they are of low resolution – 72 dpi.     I have found that the smallest I can get away with digitally is converting an A4 300 dpi image (which is usually 297mm x 210mm) to 72 dpi 177mm x 125mm.    This looks great on screen but pixellates like crazy if you try to enlarge it.       I further protect my images by adding a watermark via photoshop.

I think most people know that it is an infringement of copyright to copy another artist’s work but not everyone realises that this extends to photographers’ work.      A photograph is the property of the photographer and he/she is protected by the 1988 Copyright, Design and Patents Act.   You cannot use photographs that you have sourced via google, flickr or social media sites.   That is a big no no.   Either take your own photographs or use a photo stock company (see my How to Sell Art Online Blog 6).

Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to contact the photographer and ask him/her if you can use their work.     The umbrella painting above, came about because I saw a fantastic photograph on Flickr of Glasgow in the rain taken from the Central Hotel bedroom window.   I contacted the photographer and offered him a licence deal, we negotiated a fee and instead of a licence deal he was happy to sign over his copyright for the image.

What is your back story?

I recently read a survey about paintings and art.     A  sample of the population were asked to name an artist and many confidently said “Picasso, Van Gogh, Manet, Salvador Dali etc”.   That same sample were asked to name a work of art  and many struggled to name even one work of art.    The lesson here is that it is important to promote yourself as the artist or the craftsman/woman as it will be that which is remembered and not necessarily your work.      If you are the shy, retiring type then create a persona to hide behind but don’t just fade into the background.    The difference between an artist achieving massive sales in a top London gallery and a similarly talented artist struggling to make ends meet is often down to the back story that their agent is using as a promotional tool.      Social media gives you the opportunity to let the world know what you do, your struggles, your achievements, your successes and your failures – it’s all good content.   I look forward to reading all about you!

Bye for now









It is inevitable when running a busy e-commerce business that things go wrong from time to time.   Everyone makes mistakes and in my business, carelessness may lead to dispatching the wrong size of print or the wrong number of prints – or, on a bad day, both!   This usually leads to a customer complaint.

How to deal with customer complaints

This is an easy one – if it is your fault it is always best to put your hand up and admit the error.  Apologise and communicate with your customer at the earliest opportunity to let him/her know your intended actions to rectify the situation.   You may now be thinking “oh duh, that’s obvious” but I have been on the receiving end of sellers that don’t give a damn and it made me, as the customer, furious and determined to never buy again from that person.   Also we live in the days of feedback so it is worth solving any problems quickly and efficiently.  Depending on the scale of your error it may be worth considering some small recompense.   I will sometimes send an extra A4 print by way of an apology.

In all the years that I have been selling canvases I have only had one returned and that was via Amazon with a “not what I was expecting for £59 thank you , I could have bought better at a discount store”.  Considering that I use top quality canvas, FSC certified pine frames, top of the range Canon printers and frame each canvas carefully myself in the studio, I was not best chuffed to be compared with a mass produced product.      I became very very shouty indeed and felt like travelling to Aberdeen to give the customer what my mum used to call “a piece of my mind”.   When I had calmed down I had to accept that the framed canvas wasn’t what she wanted and had to respect her opinion, hold my tongue and arrange to recover my canvas (by that stage I didn’t want her to have it anyway!!!!…… but then I’m off again).

Errors are particularly irritating when the fault lies with others, especially if you are paying for a service and the service provider messes up big time.   I use Hermes for my UK deliveries and on the whole they are very good but a nightmare to deal with if a parcel goes astray.

When things go wrong with Hermes and other courier services

I send hundreds and hundreds of canvases each year without incident so I really can’t complain too much about Hermes. I  have a good working relationship with Alex and Jacqui who collect sometimes up to 16 canvases from me and on a cold winter’s night I can only admire their hardiness.     However when canvases go astray, this means hours and hours on “live chat” with Hermes live chat room.    The employees on “live chat” are friendly but are working to a script so don’t expect much.   The most effective way is to prepare your case thoroughly as a word document and get photographs, screen shots etc. lined up ready to attach to this document.   Email it to Hermes who will open up an incident number.  The next day and the next and the next, email in your complaint and each day an incident number with have to be generated and eventually the penny drops that you are NOT going to give in!

It is important to remember that the contract is between you and the courier and not your customer and the courier.   Although I send my customer the tracking number, if there is any problem at all, I assure them that the problem is mine and the issue is between myself and Hermes.  When things go awry, customers can get very heated and I have been in situations where a considerable amount of my day has been taken up liaising with Hermes in trying to nail a delivery time whilst at the same time trying to placate my customer.  Often the incident is caused by a lazy driver at their end who makes no attempt to deliver a parcel until he has more parcels in that locale.   I know that happens and I’m sure Hermes knows that happens but will they admit it!!

Fedex are excellent, especially their International Priority Service which means I can export a canvas to the USA and it will arrive the next day.    Despite the nightmare of the detailed input required on their website to generate all the necessary export documentation, Fedex do the job efficiently unless it means exporting to South Africa.   Both times that I have exported to South Africa I have been left out of pocket as the South African customs demand more money – usually in the region of £40.        There is no problem exporting via Fedex to USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand so I’m not sure what the situation is with South Africa but in future any orders from my customers will have to carry a £40 excess.

Despite investing in a great website, spending hours and hours thinking of the best phrases to use in listings, preparing postal tariffs that are uncomplicated you can guarantee something will go wrong……..


If there is a way to mess things up a customer will find it!

You may thing it is straightforward to type in an address and postcode.   Nope, that is often where the first error lies and only comes to light when you find there is a conflict of addresses and/or postcode on the courier’s data base.   It’s easily rectified but it takes time and energy to contact a customer either by phone or email and on a busy day this isn’t what you want to be doing.

Sometimes your customer is required to follow instructions.  This is at the top of my website listing for the Thistle and Clan Tartan print……

“IMPORTANT:  With your order I will need to know the STA or STWR Ref Number and the name of your clan tartan/plaid from the Scottish Tartan Register.  It’s very easy – just log on to and type the name of your tartan into their search box. What to do next…..On the checkout page of my website there is a box marked ORDER NOTES and it is here that you can inform me of your tartan name and STA/STWR Ref Number to identify the exact tartan that you require.”

Despite the above I will often receive tartan names without STA numbers, STA numbers without tartan names, attachments of hazy photographs of unidentified tartan samples and requests for help via long strings of communications via facebook.   I have to accept that this is part of my job and do what I can to help, after all it will lead to a sale so it’s best of get on with it and be as helpful as possible. 

One perpetual headache that Chris and I encountered was the confusion caused by the unframed canvas.  There was clearly a problem with the word “unframed”.  The canvases are box framed (i.e. stapled around a wooden frame) but I also sell the canvases unframed and rolled in a tube which are popular if the customer lives overseas.    Despite the “unframed” option on my website being accompanied by a photograph of a rolled canvas, customers would interpret “unframed” as not having an additional frame around the outside of the pine frame so were disappointed to receive a canvas rolled in a tube.  No matter how many times Chris and I changed the wording, there was still confusion, until Chris came up with the brainwave of calling these “rolled” rather than  “unframed” – sorted!

If customers don’t always read the words, photographs can help.    They are also invaluable in another way…..

How to help the customer to visualise your product in their home

There are photo stock companies on the internet which have gorgeous professional  photographs you can use if you pay a licence fee.    I use You can subscribe for £45 per year but I prefer to buy on demand……£25 will buy you 3 photographs, £35 will buy 6, £69 will buy 12.  Once downloaded you can use the photographs again and again so it’s cheap as chips in the long run.   IMPORTANT – don’t ever use photographs off the internet as all photos are the property of the photographer and you will be in deep doo doo if you download someone else’s image without permission.




The classic black dresser and the beautiful lamp on a background of blue wall and striped curtain

Using photoshop I place my canvases on the “wall” of  an Istock interior.  It’s all about life style and aspiration these days and if your customer sees a fabbydabby interior decorated with your product she/he may be tempted to buy.    

Because I sell my A4 and A3 prints unframed I find it leads to more sales if I post the print on social media displayed in a frame.    This I do through photoshop using a photograph that I have taken of readymade frames from discount stores and point my customers towards outlets such as The Range and Wilko where they can obtain a frame for as little as £5.       I also enclose framing slips within the packaging of my A4 and A3 prints in the hope that once the customer sees that a print can be framed quickly and cheaply they will more readily come back for more.

Do you keep a data base and/or send a newsletter?

This is probably going against every other bit of advice regarding running an ecommerce business.  I know you are supposed to keep a data base and bombard your customers with offers/weekly newsletters etc. but personally I find that really annoying!    I hate receiving spammy stuff from businesses and don’t want to know about their latest products/schemes or anything else to do with their business.   I’m sounding very grumpy here and maybe you are into that kind of thing,  but it is not for me.

I am uber grateful for every order that I receive and along with acknowledgement of their order and any tracking details, my customers get a “thank you for your custom – much appreciated”.     That’s it, I  then leave them alone. So this one is very much in your court. You may think keeping a data base and sending latest product information is for you or you may, like me, dislike that kind of intrusion.

Despite all your best efforts you can’t please everyone all of the time….

What to do about negative comments on your website/social media

The most important word here is “transparency”.  It says a lot for your business if you are happy to accept criticism and deal with things out in the open.   If someone leaves a negative message on your social media page you can turn this to your advantage.    It is best to acknowledge the remark and if it is a complaint that requires further investigation, explain what you are going to do.   You can always use humour……when I invited folk to comment on a thistle canvas, one guy wrote “I’ve seen better!”   Personally I thought that was hilarious and the exchange between him and myself became good hearted banter, all out in the open for everyone to enjoy.       Don’t, whatever you do, contact the complainant and ask that the negative comment be removed.   Believe me, hundreds of people will have already read it and will be very suspicious if the comment suddenly disappears.    You will destroy any trust in your or your business in an instant.

Well, hopefully your feedback this week will all have been good……Bye for now



Monday started with me in Glasgow, with a mission!      I wanted to photograph and sketch the Titan crane at Clydebank.     I left my business in safe hands with Chris, enabling me to sally forth with my camera and sketch book.   As usual I “took” my facebook followers with me…..


Don’t be coy about what you are doing.    The behind the scenes stuff is interesting to your followers and is great content for your facebook page.    I found my way to Clydebank only to find that the Titan crane was hidden by an orange crane.       Folk love it when things go awry so I commented on my facebook page and added the photograph of the chuffin great orange crane masking what I had come to photograph.   When I returned to my studio I posted up the drawing that I was in the process of doing, prior to the painting and I will post up a few photos of the painting as it develops.     This engages your followers, its entertaining and they form an emotional connection to your product which is more likely to lead to a sale.

By engaging your customers at these early stages you set up a dialogue which you will find hugely beneficial.   This worked particularly well for me when I visited Paisley.  I had announced my intending visit on facebook and received a lot of messages and posts  from Paisley people with advice on seeking out  the iconic images of their town.   By the time I got there I was invited to numerous cups of coffee and there were continuing enquiries about how I was getting on.    My followers started posting photos of where they lived in Paisley and of course this all appeared on their own facebook feed thus leading to increased followers on mine.  The ensuing painting of the Anchor Mill has been a very successful product and I have an abiding love of Paisley people.

The question I had to ask myself before taking time out of the studio to  photograph the Titan was “does this image fit with my market?”.   I love industrial architecture and there is a lot to be said for satisfying my artistic creativity but the question needed to be asked nonetheless.     So does it? yes, it does and how do I know?



This is the most fundamental question that you must answer.  If you sell art it can’t just be “people who buy paintings” or if you sell quirky ceramics, it can’t be just “people who buy pots”.  That is far too broad and makes it impossible for you to successfully market your product.      Broadly speaking my market is people with a connection to Scotland either in the UK or further afield.    I am in the open print print market and I don’t sell originals .    I price my goods to that of the “Ikea” market i.e. decorative products for the home which don’t cost a fortune, match the decor and can be replaced in a few years time.     I find that this is a huge market and I am happy to exploit it.   The original art market is much more rarefied and with so many people now claiming to be “artists” you are rather up against it to make your product stand out…’s not impossible though!

Do you know who is more likely to buy your product?   You need to think about gender – male or female, location – do you know where they live?  Is it the UK, worldwide, both?  It helps to make up a fictitious profile of your ideal customer.   Mine is Mhaira MacDonald, she lives England but loves her Scottish roots, she lives in a semi-detached and likes to spend money on home decor though not too much as she has a couple of kids…….etc……” This helps when targeting your product.

If you are selling originals through craft fairs and local galleries etc then your market is, of course, local and you have to work extremely hard to promote your product as your target market is very small.   It doesn’t work to put a few pieces on Etsy and declare yourself a global seller if you are not doing anything to further that label.    So how do you find out about your market?


For any Scottish sales, I keep a note of where my customers live.   This can be done digitally of course, but Chris and I merely put a mark in a map of Scotland defined according to postcode.    As you can see, a lot of my customers are in the central belt and with that in mind I was comfortable that the Titan in Clydebank will attract sales.

Similarly with gender.    Keep a record of the gender of your buyers.    If it is a home decor product your market is predominantly female so bear that in mind when “targeting an audience” on boosting a  post on facebook.   This is not closing the door to male customers but if you are paying for an advertisement you need to be targeting your female buyers to make your advertising budget work best for you.

Records of sales will reveal surprising information.   I have painted the seven cities of Scotland and find that the city of Inverness outsells them all.    A field trip to Inverness to find other images is therefore on the cards for the near future.

For sales further afield this is where Google Analytics comes in…..



This is a free analytical tool which will help you understand who is using your website.      I can’t pretend to fully understand all of the statistics and at first glance it is mind boggling.   Don’t let that put you off – in the very least look at your “audience” information .   Here you will find your statistics on your active users, demographic information, geographical location and user behaviour ie where do people “land” on your website and how many are new visitors versus returning visitors.   As you can see from my geography statistics the bulk of my website users are in the UK but I attract users in the USA, Australia and a few other countries.    This is backed up by reasonable sales from those areas so I trust the Google Analytics are correct.

Under Acquisitions/all traffic/social you will find out which of the social media sites best drive folk to your website.  As you can see, mine is definitely facebook so I tend to concentrate my activities to this social media site rather than Instagram or Twitter.   You will also be able to gauge what devices your customers are using.    Through this information, I have been able to see that most people engage with my website on smart phones or tablets during the day but tend to order via their pc in the evening.    Luckily my website is set up to cater equally well with all devices but if yours isn’t, then it is something you need to address.   It may mean employing the services of a professional web designer which is money well spent.

The best fun though is looking at your real time/overview which shows who is interacting on your website at that particular time, which pages they are browsing , how many pages etc and whether they go through to checkout – it’s quite exciting and better than a lot of stuff on the telly these days.

What was particularly useful for me recently was that I tried a facebook ad as opposed to “boosting” a post.    I paid £3 a day and at the end of the week analysed the facebook statistics against the google analytic statistics.  Facebook identified over 3,000 hits on my website but when I checked my Google analytics I found that the advert performed poorly against the boosted post.     I didn’t notice any increased sales with the advert but the boosted post on 19-21st January  led to the sales of  18 canvases over that one weekend.    So ads are outs and boosts are in!



I do a range of Scottish thistle with national flowers and get many requests from customers all across the globe for a thistle with an obscure national flower.    I have to politely refuse if the image of say, Scotland with Puerto Rica, doesn’t fit with my market.      I can’t afford the time and expense to do what amounts to a commission if I know it will only generate one sale.  This is my latest – Thistle with Lady Slipper , the state flower of Minnesota for my American market .

I am happy to personalise products with a discreet name added via photoshop and that is something that may fit with your product.     There is a good market for personalised wares and it may be a way of finding an additional market.   This happened to me with weddings…..


If you have a successful product, there may be scope for selling this item in another market.   This happened to me with the Thistle and Clan Tartan canvases.  I thought it worth looking at the wedding market and offering to add both clan tartans to the ribbon and personalising further with the bride/groom names and date of marriage.   To be honest I don’t fully exploit the potential here as I feel I am busy enough with my weekly sales but it continues to be a successful foray into the wedding arena.

If you are a local producer and wish to expand your sales to take advantage of online sales my advice would be to develop product which is specifically tailored for online sales.    Let’s say you are a creator of original paintings selling via open exhibitions or craft fayres,  I suspect that you are painting on canvases or watercolour paper of all shapes and sizes.   That’s great for an exhibtion space as it gives your customer choice but it would make your website very confusing and a nightmare to upload.     Standardise your online canvases or watercolour paintings to no more than 4 sizes.    I offer A4, A3, A1 and A2 which are available as options for my customers, easily found by the image on my website and easy to pop into the checkout trolley.    Standardising your product in this way makes it  easy peasy to attach standardised prices and postal tariffs .   Perhaps consider a range of 30cm x 30cm paintings which folk can “collect”.  You retain your local market but expand into a new one.       However there is one big no no …….


It is so easy to be seduced by new ideas and selling opportunities.   This happens when you have been running a business for some time and you get led astray by your need for more excitement rather than the day to dayness of running an enterprise.   Business is about speculation but it is also about consolidation and many businesses have gone to the wall by ignoring their successful product in the pursuit of something new and exciting.  One fatal error is to start dabbling in products which don’t fit your market or dabbling in markets that don’t fit your product.     By all means keep your website fresh with new product but make sure it fits with your overall image.     I used to love watching those Mary Portas programmes on the TV where time after time she would find a struggling retailer crowding his selling space with alien product eg a carpet shop selling gift wrap and cards.   This is how your brand becomes confused and your customers go elsewhere.

Well, that’s me for another week.  Good luck in your selling endeavours.








The jury is still out on a facebook advert

Monday is always a bit of a blur as Chris and I have to deal with the weekends orders.       This is usually because I have boosted a post over the weekend but by Wednesday things are tailing off .    I decided this week to have another go at a facebook advert.    My thinking this time is that an advert may be a slow burn rather than a “boost post” leading to an inferno which gets doused fairly rapidly.

I have previously tried an advert which flagged up my website but it was too broad so this time I’m trying something a bit more specific.     I’ve aimed the ad at the UK which is my biggest market and photoshopped 3 canvases to promote my thistle with national flower.   I selected the £3 per day rate and I’m going to give it a week.

For my £3 a day, facebook promised 5-7 clicks on my website which I thought was a bit poor but hey ho “he who dares wins” and all that.  After 2 days I checked the stats and found that the advert had attracted 125 clicks on my website.      I’m suspicious of this as this hasn’t translated into sales so will definitely be checking this out on my Google Analytics when the ad ends.

Personalising a product – do I or don’t I?

“Painted by me, personal to you”  is my strap line.   I don’t want my art to be about me and find it much more rewarding if a customer seems something that resonates with themselves or their situation.     To further this aim I offer a personalisation service (free of charge) and will add, discreetly, to any image a name/date or both.   I get a lot of wedding business this way.    I occasionally get asked to add a name to the forget-my-not flower canvas, if a customer has a relative with Alzheimers, or a cornflower if it is a motor neuron sufferer.    In these cases I am more than happy to oblige and make a 15% donation to the relevant charity in the name of my much beloved late dad.

This week a customer from the USA wanted me to add a heart to a Stirling Castle canvas .  Her husband had proposed under the beech tree in Queen Anne Gardens.    I gave Chris the task of ascertaining which tree on the canvas was the beech tree – Chris is great at research!     The tree was duly located and I added a heart.      It’s always a tricky one because although I am very happy to personalise an image, I don’t want to compromise the image itself.     I managed this one by adding the heart on photoshop, colour picking the colours from the original image and keeping the heart small in size.

One of my best sellers, apart from the single thistle, is the thistle combined with clan tartan.    This can be problematic though, as customers are required to go onto the Tartan Register and locate their relevant tartan with the STA number.   Although the link is clearly visible on the listing of my website, folk don’t always read the listing so I have to field lots of enquiries through facebook.   It is amazing how many customer give me the wrong STA number and experience has taught me to always ask for the “name” of the tartan as well as the STA number.     Do I always read a listing on ebay in its entirety?   Nope, so that’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black!

Do I give a customer what he/she wants?

….or do I tell them what they can have?       Wherever possible try to fulfil a customer’s wish without compromising your art or craft.   This week I was asked if I could add a clan tartan to my Scottish Icons canvas.   My initial thought was nope, as the photoshopped tartan is difficult to blend into the watercolour original, but I had a few spare minutes and I like playing on photoshop so gave it a go.    Well blow me, it looked great and again I kept it discreet, photoshopping the top left hand corner of the image.     The customer got what she wanted, I thanked her for the idea and bunged it up on facebook as a new product.

Beware of the “have you thought of doing………”  It is often a passing whim of a customer who has no intention of buying from you.   You are the artist/craftsperson so trust your own judgement.

All this personalising business takes a bit of organising.    I’ve tried, in the past, a whiteboard, a diary, iphone reminders, spreadsheets, you name it I have tried it, all in the name of organisation and then I discovered……..

Bullet journal – an organic and easy peasy way of organising a business

Oh joys, it suits my way of working and this is my second year of using a bullet journal.   There are lots of lovely examples on Pinterest but mine is horrendously messy . I have no idea how I could now operate without it.     Everything gets bunged down quickly on that day and is “migrated” forward to be added to future days.    Its a fantastic way of keeping track of everything and if a task is continuously migrated it is an indication that it doesn’t need to be done or it is a task that you are better just getting on with to save continually writing it down.     The incentive though is to get most tasks marked as “done” (i.e scribbled out) to save migrating them.

One of the tasks I was continually migrating was “find out about Amazon pro-seller”.   In the end I put an arrow next to the task and a “C” which meant the task was migrated to Chris.   I wonder if I can migrate my house work to Chris?

Is it worth being a pro-seller on Amazon?

I hate hate hate Amazon’s listing tool and thought perhaps being a pro-seller would give me access to something a little easier.    In addition Amazon earn £11 of a £59 canvas sale which is a fair old whack of commission and I was hoping that a pro-seller would attract a better deal.     It appears that the  monthly subscription is £25 plus VAT which does away with the 75p per item sold fee.   This is only a better deal if you sell 34 items a month or 408 a year and I probably only manage 10-15  canvases a month through Amazon.      Even as a pro-seller Amazon would still relieve me of £11 per canvas!   Hmmph!    So back to just buying barcodes and keeping my listings down. (The link to the barcode site that I use is on How to Sell Art Online and Live Happily Ever After 3.)

This week attracted another enquiry re a trade price.

Shall I sell to trade?

This is a tricky one.     A retailer will want to mark up 2.4 so a canvas on my website selling for £59 would attract a trade price of £24.50.    This is no criticism whatsoever of the retail trade because they have shop overheads and staff wages so need to earn a fair wallop of money.     Personally my business is what is known as a “lifestyle” business and I earn enough selling direct without the need to sell via retail outlets, and don’t want the pressure of up-scaling the business to satisfy a different market.   If you manufacture your product easily and in bulk it is well worth pursuing merchandising through retail outlets.    This may mean though that you have to invest a lot of money to get your manufacturing costs down and your margins up.     If you take that plunge then its off to trade fairs for you and you are into a whole new ball game.   Scarey!

The enquiry this week from the retailer was relating to 5 canvases and I have come up with what I think is a good deal which he may or may not agree to.     It is perhaps less discount than expected but is accompanied by a full endorsement of  whatever price he/she wishes to charge for the canvases.      Whether the retailer asks for £59 or £599, bothers me not and I fully encourage trying to get as much profit as can  be achieved.

Well, the sun is shining outside and a trip to the post office beckons.   Bye for now.






I checked my orders on Sunday afternoon and things were very slow, as is often the case in January, so I gave the competition that I am running on facebook a bit of a welly.

When is it worth boosting a post?

If one of your posts is attracting quite a lot of attention it will probably be worth gambling a bit of money by boosting it to attract even more attention. (more about boosting on facebook in How to Sell Art Online and Live Happily Ever After 1 )   A while ago I did try a facebook advert, rather than boosting a post, but it didn’t work at all for me at the time.   I’ll have a look at this again but at the moment am sticking with what works.   Boost a competition especially if you are asking folk to comment and share.    It is the comments and shares that are useful and not the “likes”.   (and the “reached” aren’t worth a light) . I felt my usual £8 a day boosting fee wasn’t quite working for me this time so decided to bang in another £12 on Sunday evening and hope for the best.  It was a gamble!

It worked and I woke up on Monday to find 10 further orders on my website and 2 on etsy.    There wasn’t anything on Amazon which is unusual.  The downside of this is an earlier start, 7 am rather than 8 am  as there is always a lot to do at the start of the week and one of the orders was for Australia, which meant booking out with fedex before 10.30am to get a pick up in the afternoon by Bobo.    Bill and Ben, my Canon canvas printers chugged away noisily most of the morning as most of the orders were for the thistle canvas. 

Monday is also a day when either Chris or I schedule facebook for the week, so out comes the timely diary.

Keep a “Timely Diary”

I have a desk diary and at the beginning of the year we trawl through the internet and find events, flowers of the month, festival dates, quirky facts etc which can be used as content on my facebook page.      I link one of my prints with an amusing or interesting fact which hopefully informs and entertains.     It’s a great way of exposing product to followers and a fun way to engage with potential customers.

Don’t spam on facebook

There’s a difference between engaging with your followers and pestering them to buy.  Avoid putting up your wares with prices and where to buy etc as that is quite irritating and more than likely result in driving folk away from your page.   Wait until folk ask you about your product either by commenting on the post or via messages, and at that point send a link to the item on your website/etsy/ebay etc.       Don’t get overly excited though as you will soon discover that the  enthusiasm of customers doesn’t often translate into sales despite you giving a link, prices, advice etc.

A nice picture for a virtual home!

I was constantly puzzled that customers would trip over themselves with superlatives “amazing picture” “definitely want to buy” “just what I have been looking for” “I know the exact spot to hang this print” and that enthusiasm wouldn’t translate into sales.   I asked at a digital workshop and learned that many people have a “virtual house”.     They pin stuff to their Pinterest boards and enthusiastically enquiry about items that they would like in their “house”.   That is enough to convince themselves that they have “bought it”.    Okay, that’s a bit weird and I don’t pretend to get it, but hey ho, I suppose you have to go along with it and try not to see them as time wasters.       The reason that I mention this is that it is far too easy to convince yourself that you are onto a winner with a product, when reading people’s encouraging comments, only to find it sits there unloved on your website.

Just a few tippety top Facebook Tips

Through the knowledge gained by attending a few digital workshops and with a lot of trial and error I find a few things work well.

Always put up a picture with your post as that will attract far more attention.  It works to make the first sentence really punchy and attention grabbing.

It’s best to keep any content short as most folk can’t be bothered to press the READ MORE prompt so don’t ramble on too much.   Apparently short posts of between 100-250 characters get 60% more likes.   Less is more!

Asking open ended questions is also good as it engages your followers and, should they reply to your question, it will pop up on their page for their friends to see.  Hopefully you will pick up more followers. A good one is to put up two pictures of products and ask “which one do you like best”, or “If I bought this print/painting/piece of furniture I would display it………” things like that.  This worked well for me recently  – “Today is the birthday of Dolly Parton, who was born in the state of Tennessee in 19** (guess!) While you’re pondering that, here’s a thistle entwined with Dolly’s state flower, the iris.”   It accompanied the Thistle and Iris print and attracted lots of comments.

Personally I don’t like hashtags on facebook and don’t use them but that is a personal preference.  I feel that they get in the way of the content and are a bit “spammy” but that’s just me.

If you are an artist, craftsperson, artisan, baker etc people love to see behind the scene photos.   What works particularly well is to show a project as it develops.   In my case that will be the sketches, half-finished paintings, any errors (people love hearing about when things go awry) and the finished work.   By the time that the task is done, customers will have emotionally engaged with the product and will be more likely to buy.     Not all of my working life is spent in creative loveliness and a large proportion of my day  is spent in the canvas stretching room so I show this also as part of my behind the scenes stuff.

It stands to reason though that if you spend a lot of time attracting customers, you have to make it really easy peasy lemon squeezy for people to buy your wares.


What are the best selling platforms?

Please, please, pretty please invest in a professionally produced website.  It won’t be cheap but it will pay for itself in the long run and  it is, after all,  your shop window.   My  website cost £1,000 and there is a modest annual maintenance charge but I couldn’t operate efficiently without it.   To me it is an absolute must.  Barry Russell of Kirkcudbright constructed mine and he did a first class job .  A website has to work just as well on an iphone as a pc so any layout has to take this into consideration – hence my employing a professional.    My website is user friendly, very secure and easy for a techno dunce, such as myself, to operate.      The vast majority of my total sales (80%) are placed on my website so I consider it the lynch pin of my whole enterprise.     If it goes wrong or if I press a few wrong buttons (which is more likely) the solution is only a phone call away and Barry fixes it in a trice.   He also updates it for me and does routine maintenance which leaves me to do what I am good at (and that’s not sprucing up a website).

There are other selling platforms – Etsy is very good with a nice easy listing tool.    I earn approximately £100-£150 per week through Etsy so it’s definitely worth a punt.    Ebay is slightly less but worth considering and again the listing tool is a piece of cake.

Amazon (groan) can’t be ignored . I hate their listing tool but I achieve regular sales so just have to put up with it.   Amazon require you to provide your products with barcodes but these can be bought off the internet.   The site I use is and the barcodes are approx. £1 each. I also list on Made In Wigtownshire which is a local initiative that I like to support and have achieved some sales.

You need to make it as easy as possible for potential customers to buy and most people have a favourite site.  Not everyone can be bothered to type in their address, contact details etc into a website and will defer to ebay or Amazon.      Obviously sales from a website are better as they don’t incur charges but it’s the customer that you have to consider and respect their choice.  A sale less commission to Etsy, Ebay or Amazon is still a sale!

It’s all very well having lots of opportunities for customers to buy but when the internet fails, as it did last week,  running an e-commerce becomes fraught with difficulty.     A fault on the line was identified and thankfully the Openreach engineer fixed the problem on Monday.    Back in business!

Pretty much everyday this week orders have been placed  for my thistle print.    It’s the best selling print on my website by a county mile.

Try and come up with a pot boiler

The thistle print pays all my bills and when all is quiet on the order front,  I can guarantee that it won’t be long before a thistle order appears on my website.    A pot boiler gives you quite a bit of creative freedom because all of your outgoings are covered, leaving you to explore other ideas which may not necessarily generate a return.     It’s a tricky one because you will want to keep your integrity as an artist/artisan/craftsman but at the same time you need to eat.

Sometimes that might be about latching onto a current trend and going for it hell for leather, while the subject is hot.    At the moment it is unicorns and anything and everything emblazoned with a unicorn is in demand.  It’s not my thing at all and I will resist the temptation to do a unicorn print but if you want to exploit this current barmyness, go ahead!     It won’t last of course,  but a 6 month pot boiler is better than no pot boiler at all.

Wednesday attracted a couple of thistle prints and not much else so I turned my attention back to the Thistle and US state flowers range and did a bit of drawing.  My scanner decided it didn’t feel like cooperating which was annoying.

I had plans to go away on family business on Friday so fingers crossed there wouldn’t be any canvas orders to hinder my early departure.  It’s always the way though that when I don’t want orders that’s when they flood it. I woke up to orders for four canvases, one of which needed to be personalised, which necessitated a crack of dawn start to the day.    I managed to catch my train though.    Jeez that was a quick week!









Is the customer always right?

Good customer relations are top of my tree, absolutely tippety top, so when this week started with a customer complaint it was like a slap in the face with a cold fish.   Her claim was that I hadn’t personalised the canvas which I had sent overseas direct to a relative.   The personalisation is something I do free of charge, adding a name/date discreetly to the stem of one of my Thistle and Clan Tartan prints.   I was totally baffled as I keep a jpeg of all personalised artwork and the names and dates were clearly added.    I emailed the jpeg to the customer and heard no more.   I’ve no idea if the issue is resolve or not but until I hear further, I can only assume all is okay and there was a miscommunication between the sender and the receiver of the canvas.

Am I irritated?   No, not at all as it’s important that customers can contact me with any issue and know that I will do all I can to resolve it.      My shouting at the screen is only temporary and shows my age – I shout a lot at the television also!

This was all dealt with on the train to Glasgow as my week started with a field trip.   I tend to travel on the train, rather than drive as it enable me to email, read, drink macchiato and, of course, people watch!


The need to escape the computer screen and sketch

There is a lot of computer screen time with ecommerce and it’s easy to get bogged down with emails, orders, listing products etc.      This is an art business and relies on….er…. art!    That means regular trips out of the office and escaping on the train to some far flung destination in Scotland to seek inspiration for future prints.

This week I had the Titan Crane at Clydebank in my sights and took the 7.00am train on Monday morning from Stranraer to Glasgow Central.   This means a 5.30 start to get to the station in time – how’s that for dedication!   Industrial architecture really floats my boat so this promised to be an exciting day, however the sleet, wind and intense cold in Glasgow had me heading for the shops instead.     I hang my head in shame!    So no Titan Crane photographs but I did find a lovely new fuchsia pink coat in Debenhams Sale.   I return in two weeks time to Clydebank.

Meanwhile Chris, back in the office was keeping things afloat.   Not that there is much to keep afloat at the moment.    Orders are always poor at this time of year as it coincides with the xmas credit card bill landing on the doormat.      I asked Chris to total up my turnover in order for me to compare it with last year so that I can better calculate what my tax burden is likely to be 2018-2019.

What they don’t tell you about self employment tax

You pay on account on what HMRC “think” you are going to earn!   That’s an absolutely lulu isn’t it?    This is how it goes…….. you jolly along in your business and work out your net profit on which you are taxed.    Fine so far.     You receive a tax demand and that’s okay, we all have to pay tax.    Now, and here’s the rub, let’s say your net profit is up by 30% in your second year, the tax man will assume that your enterprise is expanding at the rate of 30% a year.   Your tax liability will therefore be a demand on account of what the HMRC estimates that you are likely to earn in subsequent years.     This happened to me and I had to pay a whopping amount of tax and continue to do so until such time that I can prove that I am running a static business (or one at a loss) hence asking Chris to tot up my figures.     There is no incentive whatsoever to expand so I’m not!    It may be that I have to cease trading for a week or two as I approach the end of the financial year – just plain daft!!

Apart from tax worries, the  internet has been an absolute nightmare this week owing to a faulty connection at the end of the drive.    I only “rent” (for free) studio space at my husband’s farm so am not in control of phone lines.       I was supposed to announce the winner of my Snowdrop canvas on Sunday night but with communication problems I had to delay until Tuesday.

What is the best wording for facebook competitions

Competitions are a great way of getting orders and I run regular competitions on facebook which I then boost.     With a boost you can target those people who are following you or you can target an audience.   It makes sense to seek out new customers so I always target an audience with tags such as Scotland, Scottish, thistle, Scottish landscape, clan, tartan etc .       The wording is important as it is against Facebook’s terms and conditions to put “comment and share this post”.    I think it’s the word “post” which is the issue as it suggests it is a competition run by facebook but don’t quote me on that.  I usually word it like this  “COMPETITION to win this striking A2 Scottish Thistle canvas. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to leave a comment.  You don’t have to share but it would be appreciated if you did.  Winner will be announced on………. Good luck!”  So far that hasn’t flagged up any problems with facebook .


Competitions gain new orders, attract new followers and are a good way of rewarding your current followers with a chance to win a prize.        I usually spend £8 a day on boosting a competition but sometimes can be a bit rash and welly it up with a £20 day.

I’ve just started a further competition – this time for a thistle canvas.   It’s a bit soon after my snowdrop canvas competition but times are hard!




It’s the end of the week and things are backing up owing to the internet problem.  I want to list the next print in my Scottish Thistle with US State flower range, the Thistle and Sagebrush for Nevada but the system keeps crashing.    I have 3 canvases to book out and that’s proving very tricky indeed.   To hinder things further, I’ve put a complicated pork dish in the oven back at home (10 minutes walk away) and I am supposed to turn it every hour.  This is nothing to do with the internet but everything to do with running up and down the hill at frequent intervals.

An order has just popped in for two canvases so I’d better get on with them.   Bye for now.







Do you get that Monday morning feeling?








Do I get that Monday morning feeling? – no,I don’t thankfully, and I don’t like to pose this question to Christina who works for me on a Monday.   She assures me she loves her work and I would now struggle without her as she cheerily sorts out my admin for me once a week, does my accounts, dispatches orders and arranges art canvas shipments around the globe.      Monday started off with 6 canvas orders to print, frame and pack and a handful of A4 and A3 prints.    This represents a quiet Monday, but it is January and is rather soon after the big spend of Christmas.   The upside of this is that Chris and I can have a lengthy coffee break in which to catch up on family gossip.   Lengthy breaks aside I make a note in my bullet journal to boost something to generate sales.  This, above,  is a photo of the “coal face”.   I admit it doesn’t look much like an artist’s studio  but the business side of my enterprise has rather taken over and all the necessary technology of running a business has invaded my creative space.    Note “Bill” and “Ben” in the foreground which are Canon IPF6400 canvas printers working super efficiently unless displaying the “I am cleaning my nozzles”  of “I’m agitating” alert when all grinds to a halt.


How to achieve more sales

I find a competition on facebook is a very effective of generating immediate sales.    If you run a competition be very careful of the wording as you don’t want to fall foul of Facebook’s terms and conditions.   You can’t use “like and share this post” although a lot of people do.   I am not absolutely sure why but it is something to do with the word “post” which implies that facebook is involved in the competition.   I use the following wording and it appears to be acceptable…..

“COMPETITION to win this striking A1 Scottish Thistle canvas. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to leave a comment.  You don’t have to share but it would be appreciated if you did. Winner will be announced on Monday 16th July. Good luck!”

Short and to the point!   Don’t be tempted to write a long winded type of post as folk don’t read more than the first four lines.   The important thing is to get folk to comment and I have found that if you ask politely for them to share, they usually will in the hope that it gives them a better chance of winning.    It is worth clicking on the “pin to top” button which you will find if you click on the three dots … which you will find top right of the post.

Your competition may sit there unloved so you have a decision –  do you or don’t you boost your post?   I’ve been to digital workshops where the logic seems to be that you can promote yourself for free on facebook so why pay?    In my world you don’t get owt for nowt and facebook is, after all, a business.     I run a business and look after my customers who pay me for my product in return for which I give them the best service possible.     If I pay facebook by boosting a post I expect something in return.   I am the customer and facebook better deliver – they do!   The boot is on the other foot and I am a demanding customer.

Personally I find boosting works best for me as it enables me to target a particular product.     I don’t do a whopper of a boost, spending squillions, but find £8 a day, coupled with a short competition for a £45 canvas prize, works well.    This generates healthy sales without the tail wagging the dog.

It’s up to you how you choose a winner but I find a number random generator on the internet is the fairest system to use.     Always, always, always announce your winner to build up follower confidence that your competitions are legitimate.


A printed canvas of the Wallace Monument type of week

An unusually high demand for Wallace Monument canvases this week, A4 and A3 prints, followed closely by prints of the Falkirk Wheel and Paisley Mill.     The usual thistle and thistle combinations orders arrive daily (sometimes hourly) so business isn’t too bad as I can always rely on my thistle.    My canvases are printed from my original watercolours, the subject matter of which is Scotland and anything Scottish.    (My husband, a proud Scot, accuses me of exploiting the Scottish brand!).   I have a contemporary style which is a bit splashy in a controlled kind of way and my passion is the industrial architecture of Scotland.  Continued sales in my buildings, harbours, bridges, mills, makes me a very happy bunny.     I do other stuff of course, mainly thistle related but that will be a later blog.



Highland Dance Companies

Another order from a USA Highland Dance Company popped into my inbox on Wednesday.    Last year I sold A4, A3 and A5 prints to Highland Dance Companies in Canada and the USA.    These they frame and award as trophies to the winners in dance competitions.   I don’t generally sell my prints as A5 but an order can be £800 worth of prints so I’m happy to oblige.   This time it was for my Highland Dance Pump print.  I use J&B Print in Newton Stewart so a quick call to John with a grovel grovel “can I collect these tomorrow please” request.

I am keen to cultivate all of these contacts and am considering a trip to Canada next year.   This will be a whopping business expense to reduce my whopping tax demand which I have to find each year and it causes me a whopping headache each January and July.

Fedex and Hermes make me very shouty!

I’ve kept fedex busy every day this week which is unusual as it’s normally only twice or three times a week that I schedule a pick up.  I use Hermes for UK deliveries and Fedex for international shipments.   Despite receiving a fair amount of criticism I find Hermes very good and booking out a parcel on their website is a piece of cake.  The biggest drawback with Hermes though is the length of time that they take to mop up any problems such as mis-deliveries and they will also wriggle out of paying you any type of compensation even if the item is insured.  I find Fedex is very efficient  (I can get a canvas to the USA in 2 days) but their booking out form makes me shout rather a lot at the screen because it is so complicated.    I used to use Parcels2Go but fedex came a-courting and I succumbed.

The overseas sales this week have been mainly rolled canvases.  I print out on “Bill” or “Ben”, roll the canvas into postal tubes, enclose framing instructions and text the fedex driver to collect from my studio.  All the drivers that I deal with are great.

Where shall I sell my art on-line 

My website was busy at the start of this week and then quietened down a bit – only 3 sales this morning, Friday.   Sales on Etsy meanwhile have been good and those, combined with sales on Ebay and Amazon keep the wolves from the door.     I also sell on Made in Wigtownshire, a Highland Dance supplier website and have a range of products selling on RedBubble in the USA.    I recommend that you have as many “income streams” as you can handle and hopefully you end up with a fast flowing river rather than a dried up puddle.  To help you decide on which selling platforms to favour the figures break down as follows

Ebay – you can list up to 20 items a month for free and then it is 0.35p per item and 10% of the transaction fee

Etsy –  you pay 0.20p per listing and then it is 3.5% of the price of the item

Amazon – you pay 0.75p for each item sold plus a whopping 15%


Sell your art on-line now

I listen to Radio 4 whilst I stretch canvases and learned today that £1 in every £4 is spent on-line so my advice to any artist is SELL ON-LINE NOW!!!!     If you can’t afford a website then list on Artfinder, Etsy, Ebay and any other selling platform appropriate to your product.      Amazon needs barcodes but that’s easy as you can buy these online for approx. £1 a barcode.   (Amazon’s on-line listing form, like Fedex though, makes me very shouty!)

You have to be committed as customers want their purchases “NOW” and companies such as Next are promising next day delivery for anything ordered before noon the previous day.      I can’t do that and can only be crystal clear in all of my listing as to the time scale of delivery.     For smaller prints that is indeed next day via Royal Mail but the canvases take 3-5 working days.

A chap ordering through Amazon yesterday wanted it for a birthday on Saturday.   Unfortunately I couldn’t guarantee that but we sorted something out between us.   Most customers are reasonable, especially if you meet them half way.

Selling art on-line is a 9-5 job

In my case, its 8-4 (sometimes, if I’m honest its 8-3) and I do treat it as a full-time job.    I’m lucky in that I don’t work from home but commute half a mile up the road to my studio/office.    This means that I am not tempted to watch Homes Under The Hammer or vacuum the curtains during a working day.     I also dress for work.   In my case this is a flowing frock and doc marts and I don’t carry a briefcase.      My commute to work is up a country road where the only hazard is an occasional tractor or stray cow.   I “rent” space in the farm next door at a very reasonable rent i.e. zero.   I married the farmer instead!

Selling art via retail outlets

I had a message on Thursday, through my facebook page, from the owner a shop in the north of Scotland to enquire if I supply the trade.   I get these from time to time.    If this is where you wish to sell your art, you will need a trade price and a recommended retail price.      It’s not my area of expertise but a shop has massive overheads so will want a discount of at least 50% (probably more).  If you are selling online you will be expected to sell at your retail price as its very bad form to undercut your trade customers.        I don’t have a trade price but I do allow retailers to buy from my website (with a modest discount on 10 or more prints) and give them my blessing to generate as much profit as they think they can muster from my work.    That works for me.     Beware though of……..

“Let me hang your work in my hotel/café/shop for free…..

…..and I’ll tell everyone from whom I got the painting!”    Don’t be tempted to allow establishments to put your work up on their wall for free with the promise of it being great publicity for you.   It’s very cheeky and unfortunately all too common.    What do you think the plumber would say if he was asked to fix the overflowing loo for free in return for publicity?    Well, that should be your reply also!    It massively devalues your work so is a very naughty ask.  Tut! Tut!

“I’m running a charity event, can you give me a raffle prize?

With the best will in the world I can’t give a raffle prize to every single person or organisation that contacts me via my website.    I don’t wish to offend or appear offhand and find the following works well (and it is the truth)  “I am sorry that I can’t help you but I receive such requests daily.    I had to make the decision some time ago to limit my charitable donations to fund raising bodies in my local community.   I hope your bingo night to raise funds for cancer research is a success”.










We were all set, our Kuku camper was booked, return flights organised and we were looking forward hugely to our trip to the land of ice and fire.    Our enthusiasm was tempered a little with reports in the press of the volcano Katla threatening to erupt and Hekla appearing to be similarly grumpy.

“No problem, we’ll just drive swiftly by and hope for the best”, said I, ever the optimist.









Wednesday 21st September 

We arrived in Reykjavik early evening and, being dark, we didn’t get much chance so see the lava fields on our taxi drive to our guesthouse.   Still, there was plenty time.   8.30 am the next day saw us eagerly stride forth to experience the delights of Reykjavik – there wasn’t a soul around, no-one.  It was eerily quiet.   We discovered later that Iceland doesn’t surface until 10 am so we were lucky to find a café open for breakfastP1040090.    I say lucky, but after blowing £20 in Icelandic Krona on lukewarm coffee, 2 tiny waffles and a bit of squirty cream we began to wish it had been shut along with the rest of the shops.  Our mission for the day was to visit the Church, Hallgrimskirkja and the Saga Museum.  .  The church was inspired by the shape of basalt lava flows and is spectacular, both inside and out.   We’re not big on churches but this one will always stay with us as the elegance and majesty of the interior is something to behold and it’s got a chuffin big organ with over 5,000 pipes. 2

The Saga Museum was a bit more elusive.   Unfortunately my guide book was out of date so we walked the length and breadth of Reykjavik many times until we ended up at same place on the harbour where we had begun our search.  The Saga Museum was behind us!  It was like a mini Madam Tussauds and gave us a sense of the history of Iceland’s population – and a scarey lot they looked too. Iceland 010

Our experience of the café and also reading various menus around the city woke us up to the fact that Iceland is very very expensive.    The decision was made to buy some food at the supermarket and cook in the well-equipped kitchen at the guesthouse that evening.   This seems an easy enough task but when you don’t speak or read the lingo it is very much a case of pot luck when you buy tins or packets at the supermarket.    We both love fish and the beloved picked up a packet displaying a salmon – “Salmon pate – great” said he triumphantly.     We purchased a few other items to accompany our salmon pate and enquired as to where we could find the wine aisle.    Now here’s the thing, supermarkets in Iceland don’t sell alcohol – this is the territory of Vinbudin, an off licence open for around 2 minutes a day.  Our enquiries at the checkout revealed the whereabouts of the nearest Vinbudin, a mile or so away and it would close in 10 minu……..!!  We didn’t hear the end of the sentence as we were out of there – sprinting down the street at a rate of knots.   We fell in the door at Vinbudin, just in time and selected a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our salmon pate.

We took our booty back to the guesthouse and sat down to enjoy our salmon pate – after all Iceland is famous for its fish so this would be an outstanding pate.    The salmon pate was opened with much flourish only to reveal a beigy goo – a bit of sniffing and a bit of tasting identified this as dill sauce, intended to bling up a tasty salmon fillet – that will be the tasty salmon fillet which we had omitted to buy.    Oh well, dill sauce on toast it was that evening – the wine was good though.Iceland 008

We retired early as my fitbit said we had walked 28,000 steps that day, the equivalent of 12 miles.






Thursday 22nd September

Our task today was to find the Kuku camper depot which was on the outskirts of the city.   Iceland 075We located the relevant bus and had much discussion about how we were going to find the exact money for the fare when we didn’t know a) how much it was likely to be, and b) the value of the coins in our possession.     Luckily the bus to Hraunbrun was free as it was a free bus ride day.  To this day we still have no idea why but we were happy to take advantage of this initiative and the bus dropped us off around the corner from the Kuku depot.

We had booked a camper van for 5.   Yes, there were only 2 of us but we figured the extra room would come in handy.   This, as it turned out, was the best decision we could have made and if you ever book a Kuku camper (we can recommend it) it is worth considering paying the extra.   Unfortunately our camper wasn’t ready as the previous hirers had overlooked the fact that they had to return it.   Oh duh!!     The staff at Kuku couldn’t have been more apologetic and showered us with extra goodies – blankets, pillows, a satnav, free food and lots of advice on where best to visit.    “You must go to the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon, shhhh!! not many people know about it” said our guy furtively.    Remember this dear reader – it’s important!   The tomato farm at Reykholt and the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon were also flagged up as worth a visit.    We were privileged to get this insider information and excited about the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon.

The waiting room was full of student types, young carefree youths and us middle aged adventurers.    We figured it was a young person’s thing this Kuku camper lark which made it all the more exciting and we couldn’t wait to get going.   We occupied our time waiting for our van doing our cryptic crosswords book (we wouldn’t travel without it) visiting the local supermarket and buying yet more food for our trip and were delighted to find Vinbudin open – a wine box of Shiraz was swiftly purchased – we weren’t going to risk a wine free holiday.Iceland 050

Our camper finally turned up 3 hours late, it was cleaned and we loaded up with our gear and set off.

Icelanders drive on the other side of the road which made the beloved a trifle nervous.   We hadn’t planned to go any further than Thingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle, and there bed down for the night.

“I’ll be fine, so long as I don’t have to negotiate a roundabout”, said the beloved through gritted teeth.     No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a roundabout loomed up ahead.   We both held our breaths and negotiated this obstacle without incident only to encounter another roundabout and another and another.   Seven roundabouts later we were out of the city and on our way to our first night in our lovely van.   Talk about a baptism of fire!

Time to try out the cooker and all the various cooking implements – these were basic but did the job admirably.    The van heater was fantastic and we had a very cosy evening.P1040264


Friday 23rd September

A big day for me, my 60th birthday, and I looked forward hugely to the adventurous day that we had planned.    We skipped out of our toasty van to line up outside the shower block.   All the youngsters washing dishes and cleaning their teeth in the outhouse were kitted out in arctic gear – 3 layers of gortex, leggings, hats, scarves, gloves and thick woolly socks.    We were wrapped up in dinky little towels, making polite conversation to our fellow travellers.  They must have thought we were either very hardy or very stupid!

Thingvellir is the place where the tectonic plates have been pulled apart thus causing a rift.  On one side in the Eurasian plate and on the other is the North American plate.   It’s pretty spectacular and although a very popular tourist destination it is still worth a visit.  P1040174 The weather was glorious as befitting this special day.     We walked the rift and then met up with our Icelandic Adventure crew for the next bit of our itinerary – snorkelling the Silfra rift.

The Silfra rift is full of glacial melt water which is, not surprisingly, absolutely  baltic but luckily we were given a fleecy undergarment to put on, followed by a dry suit.   A neoprene balaclava and thick waterproof mittens completed our outfit and we, after much giggling at each others appearance, were ready to go.P1040189

There were 20 or so folk, similarly attired and we all entered the rift with a dive master at the front and a dive master bringing up the rear.   No-one was going to get lost as we manoeuvred our way underwater down long shallow channels, winding fast flowing sections and lagoons.     There wasn’t anything to see in the way of wildlife but to snorkel between two tectonic plates is an unforgettable experience.

Back on the road and our next stop was Geysir to gawp at Strokkur, a very active geyser which spouts water 100ft into the air every 10 minutes.     This was our first experience of standing on ground steam pouring from every orifice, the smell of sulphur in the air,  surrounded by boiling mud and steaming puddles, all adding to the sense that the earth’s crust was very thin at this point.  We bought a fabby Icelandic woollen blanket in the shop to keep us warm and toasty on the cold nights in the camper van.  It is as itchy as hell but oh so warm.Iceland 019

We had a lot to see this day so pressed onto Gullfoss to see a spectacular waterfall – there are waterfalls and there is Gullfoss – wow!   It’s a big ‘un.    A well trodden path saw us on the edge of this amazing spectacle and we marvelled at the beauty of this amazing island.

A quick stop off at Kerid to see the volcanic crater was perhaps one too many tourist attractions and we were happy to return to our van and find a campsite for the night at Selfoss.P1040207







Saturday 24th September

It is not always necessary to camp in campsites in Iceland and many travellers pull over and camp on the road side but we preferred the amenities of the sites so tended to head for the nearest campsite each night.   This gave us wifi access, which enable us to touch base every so often, and of course it give us flushing toilets and showers.    At Selfoss the showers were communal which came as a bit of a surprise.  I was happily chatting away to a girl from New York in the queue, swapping travelling tales.  It was just as well that we got on well because we got naked very quickly!

I did wonder how the beloved was getting on in his gents communal shower.   He disclosed that he had looked everywhere except in the direction of his fellow bathers, resorting to counting the holes in the showerhead – there were 52 apparently!

Our first stop was the tomato farm Fridheimar at Reykholt.   Acres and acres of greenhouses covered the landscape, most of which are filled with tomato vines, all heated by thermals underground.  We did get a little lost trying to find the entrance so enjoyed the alternative tour of villager’s back gardens and towering heating installations but eventually found our way in and treated ourselves to a pint mug of freshly cooked tomato soup accompanied by warm crusty bread – delicious.P1040227

We were a bit excited that day as we were on a mission.  To discover the Secret Lagoon at Fludir – the secret lagoon that the Kuku camper employee told us about, the secret lagoon which was ever-so secret.  How were we going to find this very secret lagoon if it was secret?  We arrived in Fludir and drove around a bit but weren’t too sure what a secret lagoon would look like.

“Ask at the garage” said I, pointing down the road “only you might have to use a bit of subterfuge because they probably don’t want anyone to know about their secret lagoon”

“We don’t need diesel so I’ll buy something and try and extract the information out of them” said 007 and set off.

5 minutes later, clutching a bunch of bananas our secret agent emerged triumphantly.  “I know where it is”, he said, pointing in a southerly direction.

We set off, barely able to contain our excitement, to very quickly come across a huge signpost  “SECRET LAGOON THIS WAY”.     Our destination lay ahead, we just had to follow the bus loads of tourists to this very secret lagoon.     A hefty entrance fee, café, bar and changing rooms were negotiated before we entered the heavenly thermal spring water.   It was glorious, both invigorating and relaxing all at the same time.     The temperature was perfect – varying between warm, very warm and hot according to how close you chose to go to the very active geyser erupting regularly in one corner.      We stayed in the water until we were both resembled the Shar Pei breed of dog.P1040237

Our stopover that evening was a site at Hvolsvollur which was at the foot of Mount Hekla.   That was the Mount Hekla which was a bit grumbly and that same Mount Hekla which we were going to avoid at all costs!P1040260







Sunday 25th September

Breakfast was a leisurely affair in the van and a time to read the traveller guide and peruse the road map.

“It says here that we need to look out for the sharp mountain ridges”, said I, reading the tourist book.

“Sharp mountain midges!” said the beloved alarmed.   He sat bolt upright.  “No-one warned us about the sharp mountain midges!”  So speaks a Scotsman who is often beleaguered with the not so sharp variety of midge during his many fishing excursions.

We laughed, boy did we laugh when I repeated what I had said and we spent the rest of the holiday warning each other about the sharp mountain midges which we expected to encounter around every corner.

This was our waterfall day.  We had experienced Gullfoss which was spectacular and were keen to see the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss.  It was a huge affair, tons of water hurtling off a mountainside and the walk behind the curtain of water was quite an experience.   P1040268We ventured further along the route to the nearby Glijufrabui which was inside a cave and could be accessed by carefully negotiating slippery rocks, taking you into the interior every closer to this thundering mass of water.   I was the only person dressed in a frock but this didn’t impede my progress and I managed to stand on the whoppin’ big rock in front of the waterfall, getting a tad wet like everyone else.   It is part of my mission to prove that the dress is the most practical of clothing whatever the occasion.  It is easy to put on, very warm if you also wear leggings, practical, quick drying (much quicker than jeans), takes up a tiny space in luggage (very important) and incredibly comfortable.     I never pack trousers and travel much of the world on hand luggage as a result.P1040273

Our next waterfall (this was definitely a waterfall day) was at Skogfoss which was accessed via an iron walkway.   Yes, you had to be quite fit to get to the top but then Iceland isn’t really a place to visit if you don’t like walking.     We bounded up to the top and were more than a little smug when we passed many a younger person, clutching the fencing, out of breath.    What they don’t know is that I “train” each day by walking 5 miles to enable me to yomp effortlessly when travelling.

We pressed on to Vik which has the highest rainfall in Iceland.  It was raining!   To avoid getting soaked we sought shelter in the large woollen shop which promised a “free factory tour”.  This  turned out to be a walk along a balcony overlooking the stock room but we bought a couple of souvenirs nonetheless.

Vik is interesting but it was a little too soon to stop so we headed further east to Kirkjubaejarklastur where we were going to spend the night.    Er, the navigator (that’ll be me then) was too busy admiring the spectacular scenery that I forgot to er…..navigate.    We ended up driving many miles past Kirkjubaejarkastur before realising and ended up staying the night at Skatafell and by this time we had run out of adjectives.  Iceland is spectacularly beautiful and we have never experienced a quality of air like it.  You can, literally, see for miles and the clarity of what you are looking it is something to behold.  Even if a mountain is tens of miles away you can see every contour, every ridge, every colour – amazing.      This makes distances deceptive and it is easy to miss destinations – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.P1040324







Monday 26th September

Skatafell was, as it turned out,  a great place to stop as it gave us access to many trails inland.   We chose to walk to the foot of the Skaftafellsjokull glacier.   It was early, the weather was glorious and there wasn’t a soul around.   The glacier is magnificent and there were lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” with no sign of those pesky sharp mountain midges!P1040359

Our mission that day was to explore the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon which had been recommended to us by the guy at the camper van depot.    Just when you think the previous visitor experience can’t be surpassed, it is surpassed.   Large floating chunks of ice, towers of exquisite turquoise loveliness gently sailed down the lagoon , under a bridge and out to sea.   We followed their progress and walked to a black sand beach to witness the icebergs venturing out to sea – words fail me and it was one of those days that you remember forever.

After taking many photographs we wrenched ourselves away and travelled onto Hofn, a fishing port.  It was to be our most easterly destination and the town where we decided was the place to turn back.    It is possible to drive the ring road in a week, i.e. the road that circumnavigates Iceland, but we prefer a more leisurely holiday without schedules or pressure .P1040397P1040387

Hofn is well worth a visit, with its lovely harbour and free maritime museum housed in a large wooden shed, unmanned but stuffed full of interesting fishing exhibits.

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis that night as we were at the eastern edge of the island, the day had been brilliantly clear with not a cloud in the sky and the night promised to be clear also – perfect Aurora Borealis weather.P1040429

Sure enough, we were just finishing off our wine box when Adrian pointed heavenwards to an amazing green colour.    Waves of light pulsated across the sky and everyone was outside, gazing skyward.      It was beyond words!P1040580







Tuesday 27th September

Sometimes boys will be boys and although we were planning to head back west, the beloved wanted to experience the road tunnel through a mountain 10 km due east of Hofn.   So we drove east, drove through the tunnel, turned around, drove back through the tunnel and headed back west.   It kept him happy!P1040481

This was our “rock” day.  We had done waterfalls and icebergs so this was all about rock and Iceland has loads of the chuffin stuff.   A brisk walk up a mountainside to the canyon at Fjardrargljufur (by the way, the pronunciation of Icelandic names escaped us) was made even more enjoyable by the fantastic blue sky and the exercise gave us a voracious appetite.P1040499

Lunch was poached eggs cooked in our camper van in a lava field near Laufskalavarda.   We loved our Kuku camper which enabled us to do just that – cook poached eggs in a lava field.   This was at the foot of Katla, that very same Katla which we were going to avoid at all costs!   It was only when we returned home that we found out there had been an earthquake at the precise place where we had stopped, only by that time, early afternoon we were back on the road so didn’t notice it.    The beloved and I “do” earthquakes.  We don’t seek these out but in Japan a couple of years ago we had clung to our bed as the hotel room rock and rolled around us.  Btw San Francisco, look out as we are heading your way next year!P1040528

I have no idea how to describe lava fields except that the landscape is lunar.  Apparently the Apollo astronauts practised their lunar landing in Iceland and I am not surprised.   The lava fields are other worldly, black petrified fields of lava covered by a vibrant green moss – truly stunning and we stood there with our mouths open at the wonder of it all.Iceland 032P1040318

The weather continued to be glorious and this time our stopover at Vik yielded a trip to the Black Beach nearby.    It is not unlike any beach anywhere in the world except that the sand is black.  The basalt rock formations were truly spectacular and again we ran out of adjectives to describe the scene before our eyes.P1040549Iceland 060

Despite its proximity to Katla, that’ll be that threatening to erupt Katla then, we decided to stay over at the campsite in Vik.    We bought some Hardfiskur from the local supermarket, wishing to experience this local delicacy.  Hardfiskur is wind dried haddock, sold in packets,  a greyish colour, stiff like cardboard and smelling er…fishy!     The Icelanders eat it spread with butter so we followed suit.  It was okay really and although we didn’t eat the whole packet we did both have considerably more than a mouthful.   It is great washed down with the local beer.Iceland 063

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis again and again were not disappointed.   This time it was even more spectacular with vivid green, pinks and yellow pulsating in waves across the heavens – spectacular doesn’t even being to describe it.




Wednesday 28th September

Stuffed to the gills with a hearty breakfast we set off on the 6 mile walk over black sands to the wrecked DC 3 airplane at Solheimasandur.     Iceland 069An eerie sight but not macabre as the pilots escaped injury.  The plane has remained on the beach since 1973 and although worth of a quick visit, it is worth the 6 mile trot to witness the spectacular surf off Solheimasandur beach.    The smell of ozone and the noise of the crashing waves was something else and although we live on the west coast of Scotland are used to such things, Iceland does it bigger.

We retraced our footsteps back towards Reykjavik and took the opportunity to mop up those things that we hadn’t experience on our journey east.

The thermal park at Hveragerdi was a little disappointing because the latest earthquake had capped the thermal pools so what once was milky white/bluey bubbling pools of thermal water were now streaming craters.   Never mind, we were not here at Hveragerdi to witness this particular tourist attraction we were here to do the hot river walk.P1040640

The hot river walks commences a few kilometres out of the village and is well trodden.   This is just as well because it is extremely hazardous with boiling thermal pools and frequent blasts of hot steam emanating from orifices along the route.     This, I think, was the highlight of the trip to Iceland.   The route was an hour and a half of fairly intense hiking and many folk were on the mountain that day but we were all on a mission and all clutching our swimwear and towels.

Up and up we went, the smell of sulphur around us, the spectacular view unfolding below us and the ever present blasts of steam billowing out from crevices in the mountainside.   P1040670   The final path was a little tricky to negotiate and took us perilously close to a large boiling mass or sulphurous water but we manage to reach out destination without incident.     A few modest wooden cubicles lined the riverbank and we quickly donned our swimsuits and entered the water. P1040662 It was wonderful, truly sublime.   To lie in a wonderfully warm babbling river, snuggled up to a small waterfall which cascaded hot invigorating waves of water, surrounded by steaming rocks and incredible views was probably the most intense experience of my life.P1040654P1040658

We floated back down the mountain feeling light footed, serene and not a little hungry.  My fit bit displayed 39,000 steps i.e. 18 miles, 3500 calories – time to eat.

Our last night and time to blow our Krona on an Icelandic feast and taste the dreaded fermented shark.    The restaurant of our choice in Reykjavik was called Laekjarbrekka as it specialised in Icelandic cuisine and Icelandic cuisine was what we wanted.      The first course was a wooden board of tasty things – hardfiskur which we had already sampled so we wolfed that down, gravad lax, various pickles and a small kilner jar of the infamous fermented shark.    We couldn’t put off the moment any longer and opened our jars.  The smell of ammonia was overpowering but we dived in.   We had 6 small pieces each and although truly disgusting we were determined to send empty jars back to the kitchen.   The beloved described it as eating “a soiled baby’s nappy” and I can’t even find words to describe its awfulness   It was bad – truly bad, but we did it!   Whoop!!  High five!!!!P1040673

The evening yielded another display of Aurora Borealis which was a befitting end to our last night.






Thursday 29th September

Time to return our Kuku camper to the depot and unload out gear back into rucksacks.   It had been the perfect way to see the island and suited our relaxed adventurous style of travelling.   We don’t like an itinerary, don’t need to be absolutely sure of where we are going to spend the night and like to take advantage of serendipitous things on the way.

A taxi took us to our last experience, the Blue Lagoon.   P1040676It is built amongst the lava fields south west of Reykjavik, a huge pool of milky blue deliciously warm water.   It is an expensive visit, is very manufactured,  but worth a visit nonetheless.    We preferred the naturalness of the Secret Lagoon at Fludir and the wonderful hot river at Hveragerdi but two and a half hours of floating around in this womb of warm water was a very  pleasant end to our holiday on a remarkable island.   What surprised us was the blueness of the water and yet the sand upon which we stood was black.

Our flight was delayed at Reykjavik but a cryptic crossword book gets us through many a moment and we were quite happy holed up in the departure lounge combining our brain power to solve the puzzle in front of us.     We had £25 worth of Krona left which bought us fish and chips and chocolate before we boarded our flight and travelled home


It is difficult to sum up this remarkable place.   We went in the autumn and I have never seen colours like it – a palette of orange, russet, olive green and purple.   Every turn in the road yielded yet another spectacular view which prompted more “oohs” “wows” and “ahhs” then I have ever uttered in my life.   It is definitely the little country with the big scenery.     We don’t generally return to a place once visited as there is so much to see but I do wonder what Iceland is like in the snow!!P1040342











MALTA – AN ALTERNATIVE GUIDE…….two let loose on an island


Travel is, for us, very much about experiencing a new land and a new people, hence we travel very light and use public transport wherever possible.  With no strict itinerary in mind and only the vaguest of ideas about what we wish to see and do, when we arrive in a foreign land, it is not surprising that we blunder from one mishap to another, often with hilarious results.  And thus we approached Malta……


Day One

We arrived in Malta on a balmy evening and travelled to our AirBnB apartment in Valetta via taxi without incident – a good start for us!  We knew that our AirBnB host was not likely to be at the apartment to greet us but we assumed, having not heard further from him, that someone would have been nominated to let us into our accommodation.

The outside door to a building of six flats was open and, finding no-one present to greet us, we fumbled around in a stack of postal boxes and found two keys in an envelope to Flat 6.  So far so good; the fact that the envelope bore a name other than our own was ignored.   The key opened a glass door at the top of a small flight of stairs and we arrived at the foot of a lift shaft.   Arriving panting at the uppermost flat no.6 after a brisk ascent of endless flights of stairs, we discovered that the key didn’t fit the door.  The beloved ran up and down the stairs a few times and finally rooted around in a cupboard outside Flat 6 to discover a key in a biscuit tin.   Can I say that at this point I had serious doubts that we were at the correct flat and was contemplating the prospect of spending out entire holiday banged up in a Maltese gaol.

We entered the TWO bedroom flat (it is important that you remember the word TWO) and chose what we thought to be the cleaner of the bedrooms.    I found a stack of lemon yogurts in the fridge and helped myself, whereupon we got into bed with a cup of herbal stuff that we found in the cupboard and logged onto the internet.

The beloved fired up his ipad only to discover an email from our host welcoming us to his ONE bedroom flat.  I sat bolt upright and became totally preoccupied with how I was going to hide the yogurty remains of my crime and wipe all evidence of our presence in someone’s home.  The beloved, however, was confident the host had made a typo and that this was indeed the correct apartment.   Can I say here that I was never absolutely convinced in all the time we were at the apartment that it was the right one!


Day Two

Day two began with taking in the sea air on our Valletta balcony, overlooking the harbour.

“I don’t think this is Valletta,” said the beloved


“That’s Valletta over there.” He pointed to a skyline across the bay shrouded in the early morning mist.   “It can’t be more than a couple of miles, let’s walk.”

Malta 033

I like walking, we walk a lot, so off we set, buoyed up by the best chocolate croissant we have ever tasted, accompanied by a strong cup of coffee bought from a Sicilian café on the waterfront.

We walked and we walked and we walked some more, arriving at what we thought must be Valletta.  There were people, churches, squares – beautiful.   None of the landmarks in our guide book fitted in with this new place and a street map marked Floriana indicated that we had missed our goal. So what did we do?  We asked a drunk – good thinking!!  He very obligingly pointed us in the opposite direction – er, thanks! This unexpected detour added a couple of miles to our travels but eventually with 12 miles under our belts we arrived in Valletta – hurrah, and we celebrated with a beer.

Neither of us are particularly interested in churches and prefer instead rather offbeat visitor attractions, so the Lascaris war rooms of Valletta (an underground network of tunnels and chambers) was right up our street.  The exhibits were fascinating but what made the whole visit hilarious was the use of the audio guide.  We were handed two receivers and instructed to swipe these against the wall at strategic points throughout the attraction.  There weren’t any rooms labelled 1-10, commencing instead at 11, followed by 9, leading back to 12 and so on.   We never did find rooms 14 or 15 and ran around the tunnels waving our receivers at anything remotely resembling an exhibit to see if we could access the accompanying audio commentary.   16-19 were discovered in this way.  By pressing 20-24 on our telephone receivers we heard an accompanying commentary but failed to find the rooms.  No wonder – the very charming lady at the gift shop counter obligingly told us that these rooms didn’t exist!    I love Malta – how brilliant!

Now there is something that you need to know about the beloved.   He hates “tourist maps” and gets mightily frustrated trying to follow inaccurate, three dimensional maps which bear no relation whatsoever to the topography of the place.  So a  ‘proper’ map of Malta was purchased and he felt a lot more confident that he wouldn’t make any further map-reading errors with a ‘proper’ map  (remember this – it is important!)

Deciding that a 10 mile hike back to our apartment wasn’t on our agenda we took the ferry from Valletta to Sliema (apparently that’s where we were staying) and vowed to end the day with some nice wine, nutritious cheese and plenty of fruit.   We instead fell into the flat clutching wine, crisps and chocolate – a much better idea!


Day Three

A brilliant discovery! – for only 21 euros each we had access to the Maltese buses for a whole week with a bus pass – whoopee, freedom!   Our first destination, plucked pretty much at random because of its accessibility from Valletta, was Marsaxlokk.   It was lovely, with a pretty harbour but not a lot else, so I suggested we got out the map to see what else there was of interest in the vicinity.

Malta 014

“Ah,” said the beloved.

“What do you mean, ‘Ah’?”

“I’ve left the map in the room.”

That’ll be the ‘proper’ map then!

Not wishing to be stopped by the lack of a map, he found a tourist information place and reappeared at the doorway waving a tourist map. That’ll be a ‘tourist’ map then!

“Great, a heritage trail with salt flats, a fort and some interesting terraces, no more than four kilometres in total,” he announced triumphantly.

We set off, and yup we found the fort but, as the miles passed, the landscape failed to reveal either salt flats or terraces.  We walked further, a bit further and walked some more until we found ourselves in an oil refinery.  It wasn’t on the map!   After further walking and finding ourselves facing a whole bank of container ships and cranes I suggested that we had walked off the tourist map, especially as we found ourselves in a place called Birzebbuge (henceforth called BusyBugga). Malta 019  We liked BusyBugga and had a beer, once again re-examining our tourist map.    The beloved, rather embarrassed, pointed at the name emblazoned in red lettering across the top – “Masaskala” – apparently we had navigated one village using the map of another!


Beer finished, we walked to the nearest bus stop to see which bus route we had stumbled upon, only to find the buses were heading out of BusyBugga to a town further north – Masaskala!   Great, we had the map so jumped on the next bus and headed off to Masaskala – after all we had a heritage trail to do.

Can I say at this point that the Maltese buses are um…interesting.   They have a capacity of about 25 but pack upwards of 80 people into their hot and sweaty depths.   25 people sit rather smugly in their comfy seats whilst the rest dangle by an arm attached to a grey plastic strap, hanging on for dear life as the driver swings the whole contraption at a rate of knots around packed streets and perilous cliff roads.   The entire holiday was spent sniffing Maltese armpits but I got my own back as mine were none too fresh after 10 miles of hiking in the sweltering daytime heat.   The buses arrive at times totally unrelated to the timetable and even if a bus does arrive on time there is no guarantee that the driver will stop to pick up any passengers.

Masaskala was great though, especially as we had some good food and another beer.  Malta 027 We even found those elusive salt flats which were fascinating but we never did find the terraces.

The close of day three saw us finishing up our wine, crisps and chocolate back at the apartment.


Day Four

Time to leave Sliema and, packing our belongings, we read the email from our host instructing us to leave the keys to both the flat and the outer door inside the flat.  His cleaner had spare keys and was due at 11 am.   We vacated the flat at 9 am, carefully made sure we hadn’t left anything, had a bit of a clean around and placed both keys on the table.  We closed the door, descended the lift shaft and confidently pressed at the handle on the outer door – it didn’t budge.  We were locked in. Our immediate surroundings next to the lift shaft were approximately one metre square, very dark and unbelievably dusty – not the best location to spend more than a few seconds.Sliema (2)

The beloved rattled the handle, jumped up and down, huffed and puffed and swore quite a lot.   This was not helped by the fact that I found the whole episode hilarious. A cryptic crossword book kept us amused whilst we sat in the dark, dusty depths of a lift shaft for an hour and half until released by the cleaner who, thankfully, had arrived half an hour earlier than expected, at 10.30.  We plundered the Sicilian café for chocolate croissants before wishing a fond farewell to Valletta – oops, that’ll be Sliema then!

We arrived at our next destination Ir-Rabat in the sweltering heat.   Reading his ‘proper’ map the beloved set off confidently and I followed gamely behind, hoping that we would find our new digs quickly in order to have a shower.  We tramped down a long, long, very long, hot, dusty road only to tramp up the very same long, long, very long, hot, dusty road again as No.91 was the second house from the top – I said nothing to the map reader!    Our host Rochelle was lovely and our room was huge, cool and very comfortable.

A shower revived us and after putting out feet up for a while, we decided to go and explore the walled town of Mdina, within walking distance of our room.    It’s gorgeous but we had allocated three hours to explore its winding streets and fortifications before an evening meal and you can ‘do’ Mdina in an hour.  Malta 038  The restaurant we had chosen didn’t serve until 7pm so we paced the streets of Mdina and saw everything: every shop, every door, every stone slab, every cat.   We gazed over the fortifications at the rest of the island, walked the familiar streets once again and gazed over the fortifications a few more times.    We knew Mdina really well!  The food was fab in the Medina restaurant and the place is indeed magical at night.


Day Five

Sunday, and with Malta being a staunch Catholic country we were a little concerned that we weren’t going to find anywhere open and had resigned ourselves to the fact that breakfast may have to be the rather squashed packet of crackers that we carried with us.  So squashed in fact that breakfast was more than likely going to be cracker powder.

We walked into the centre of Ir-Rabat, not expecting much, rounded the corner and were met by a cacophony of sound and a blaze of colour.   The bar in the square was packed with local guys having a good time with their mates, the roads were jammed with scores of friendly middle-aged “Hell’s Angels” revving their engines and shouting good-naturedly to each other and everyone else.  The Sunday market was in full swing with hordes of women shopping for their weekly veggies. We managed to find a table in the square and breakfast was a rather dry almond-flavoured jammy cakey thing and lukewarm coffee.  Ah well, we could enjoy the atmosphere if nothing else.

We were happy as today  was our snorkelling day.  Clutching flippers, masks, swimming gear etc we set off to find the bus to Ghar Lapsi – a place highlighted on the internet as particularly suited to diving.  We boarded the bus at the terminal in Ir-Rabat only to be ejected as the driver pointed across the road to another bus stop.  “40 minutes,” he barked.  We obediently crossed over to the bus stop and sat patiently for 40 minutes gazing longingly at the bus from which we had been ejected, parked in its stance.   40 long, hot minutes passed by and a new driver climbed into the bus and swung away from the stance.   He swung the bus around the island and we waved eagerly at him only to be left behind as he drove at speed past us.   He had passengers, all of whom had boarded the bus at the stance!

“Do you fancy Dingli?” I asked the beloved.

“Where?” he replied.

“Dingli,” said I, pointing to a bus on the other side of the road.

“What’s at Dingli?”

“No idea, let’s find out!”

So, we jumped on the bus to Dingli which, our guide book informed us, was famous for its cliffs.  I had to laugh – the beloved hates cliffs, this 6’2” bit of prime manhood is reduced to a quivering wreck if he comes within two metres of a cliff edge, but we were committed to Dingli and to Dingli we were bound.  We got off the bus at Dingli village whereupon a Maltese guy appeared from nowhere. “Cliffs?” he enquired, whilst gesticulating in one direction.   All of the other passengers, many of whom looked very touristy, were striding confidently off in the other direction so we had a decision to make.  We wisely followed the tourists who proved to be correct.    Are all Maltese folk primed to sabotage visitors with false directions?

Not surprisingly the beloved wasn’t that interested in meandering along cliff paths so we settled instead for a restaurant and lunch.  I plumped for a “Kilometre Platter” with the intriguing promise that everything appearing on the plate was sourced within a kilometre of the restaurant.  On one side of the restaurant were the cliffs and on the other side was a dust bowl landscape.  I took the risk that my dinner wasn’t going to be road kill and the dubious products of an aged nanny goat tied to a stake in the back yard.   My kilometre platter was delicious with various meats, olives and pickled vegetables – it’s amazing what you can source in a dust bowl.

Jumping aboard the bus, I once again adopted the role of sheep and let the beloved lead.  To arrive at Ghar Lapsi we had to disembark half a kilometre or so north of the beach and walk the rest of the way down a tarmacked road.  The bus sailed by our designated stop.

“Isn’t that our stop?” I enquired to the beloved who was still seated.

“I pressed the button,” he said.

We sailed past another bus stop.

“I didn’t hear a buzzer!” I said.

“Nor did I but a light flashed.”

We passed a further bus stop.

The driver was clearly not taking notice of any flashing light so I got up.

The driver stopped and let us off and we turned round to start on the long walk back to the first bus stop.  The beloved once again dug out his map and pointed to a broken red line – a rough path to Ghar Lapsi which would shave off a few kilometres, whereupon he launched himself down the side of a cliff.  This was the man who hated cliffs yet was confidently striding down a cliff face via a vertical crumbling path which was punctuated by very dodgy looking steps.Malta 041   Can I say at this point that I had bought a floaty light shawl-type garment in Sliema to protect my limbs from the sun and was staggering down the cliff face looking for all the world like a rather hot crumpled butterfly with wings withering in the heat.  That’ll be a butterfly loaded down with snorkels, flippers and various swimming paraphernalia.

We crossed a large pipeline and found ourselves in Ghar Lapsi.   Ghar Lapsi wasn’t great.  The Maltese love Ghar Lapsi but it wasn’t our scene.   A couple of restaurants, a concrete causeway and a couple of ice cream vans.  The water didn’t look very clear and where were the fish, the coral, the reefs and all of the other things that make snorkelling our favourite hobby?   We aborted our snorkelling ambitions and had a beer.

A long trek back up the road, carrying our very dry and unused snorkelling gear, found us at a bus stop.  This was a Sunday and the buses don’t run very often and as I have said previously, there is no guarantee that the driver will stop even if a bus did arrive so we were perilously close to having to walk back to Ir-Rabat.  A bus appeared out of nowhere and I flung myself in front of it, waving my ‘wings’ dementedly.   The bus stopped and we got on which was indeed amazing as the driver stopped for no one else on the entire trip to Ir-Rabat despite some very elderly and desperate- looking tourists en route.

The day’s events found us quite peckish so we ended up in Mdina again for a beer and ‘nibbles’ where we ended up demolishing a trough of lasagne and a pizza the size of a dustbin lid.


Day Six

It was time to explore Gozo and we chose the windiest day to catch the ferry.    The journey from Ir-Rabat to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa was without incident and we walked into the ferry terminal to find the ticket office.  There is a strange payment system which means that the ferry to Gozo is free but you have to buy tickets to come back.  The beloved suggested that we stay forever in Gozo to take advantage of this free passage – er, no!

Luckily neither of us suffers from seasickness as the ferry was a bit pitchy but the journey is no longer than 30 minutes so all but the most weak-stomached would manage fine.

We arrived in Gozo and weren’t due to book into our next AirBnB until late afternoon so decided to go and see what was at Malsalforn in the north of the island.   Malsalforn Malsalforn was a tad touristy but we quite liked the place and bought a couple of souvenirs.    I needed to spend a penny and in my haste trotted past the women’s toilets and entered the men’s.  The beloved captured this violation on film.   It was easy enough getting into Malsalforn on the bus but we couldn’t for the life of us find the bus stop that we needed to take us out of Malsalforn so set off walking in the general direction, hoping to spot a bus stop on the way.

An hour or so later we came to the bus stop by which time we had walked well out of Malsalforn and on to Qbajjar.  We dumped our heavy bags on the pavement and sat on the wall to wait.   In a reasonably short time a bus arrived and to our chagrin it was a bus full of passengers who had obviously boarded at Malsalfon – where?  How had we missed the bus stop?

Never mind, it was time to go and check out our AirBnB accommodation in Victoria.    We never did get the hang of Victoria as there didn’t seem to be much of a centre or much of a café culture and were glad we were only there for one night. The ‘proper’ map was once again produced and the beloved decided we didn’t need to trouble our AirBnB host Nicole to pick us up as we could probably find the accommodation ourselves.

He opened the compass app in his iphone and cussed at it as the needle swung violently back and forth.

“There’s something upsetting this compass,” he announced with a puzzling frown.

Can I say at this point he was leaning against a flatbed truck on which was roped a 10 ft bronze statue of the Pope.

“I think the problem is likely to be His Holiness,” said I, pointing at the statue.

We set off in what appeared to be the right direction to our accommodation and were puzzled to find we were in a place called Fontana.    We knew that our AirBnB was in Victoria so time to phone for some help.   Nicole was called, only to find out that her name was Nathalie.

“Where are you?”  she enquired.

“Er, in Fontana outside St Augustine’s Church.  We’ll wait here for you.”

I looked at the church and, being a good little Catholic girl in my former existence, I know my saints.

“I don’t think this is St. Augustine’s,” I said.

“Yes it is, look here at the map, the church in Fontana is St. Augustine’s, so this has to be right.”

“St. Augustine had a hat!” I said petulantly.  I was ignored.

We waited for 45 minutes during which time a funeral cortege showed up.    The beloved was dressed in sawn-off shorts and I in a brilliant patterned yellow floor-length frock.   The mourners arrived, all was solemn and respectful.  The coffin arrived and was carried with dignity into ‘St.Augustine’s’ Church.   We were in the thick of someone’s important day and felt conspicuously out of place.

A further phone call and Nathalie’s mum Carmen arrived in her white Toyota van, very flustered.   Not surprising really, as she had spent 45 minutes driving around the vicinity of St Augustine’s Church trying to find two idiot travellers who had plonked themselves outside the Church of The Sacred Heart and declared it to be ‘St Augustine’s’.   I always knew it wasn’t!

So Nicole was Nathalie but we never did meet Nathalie as the AirBnB was a family business and we were shown around the brand new converted farmhouse by her brother. Carmen was given the task of cooking us breakfast.  “The full Eengleesh,” she announced proudly.    We were the first guests at the farmhouse so they were very anxious to please.

Our room was lovely and after showing us how everything worked, Nathalie’s brother left us to get settled in as he returned to grapple with the lock to the patio doors downstairs.  He had explained the locking system when we arrived only to find that the key kept jamming.

The only thing missing from our room was loo paper and the only thing we both desperately needed at that time was loo paper.  I ferreted around in my handbag and found three tissues and the beloved triumphantly produced from his pocket the crumpled up red paper napkin from last night’s meal.

“Did she say a full English breakfast?” I asked.  “I don’t want a full English breakfast especially if we are in Malta.  I want a continental, Maltese breakfast.”  The beloved agreed.

“Adrian, Adrian!” called a voice from downstairs.  “Come quickly!”  The beloved ran off and appeared a few minutes later looking rather baffled.

“What did he want?” I asked.

“He wanted to introduce me to the handyman, who was upset because he hadn’t had his tea,” he replied.


“That’s it, he just wanted to introduce me to the handyman!”

I hope the handyman got his tea eventually.

We ended the day with a meal out in Victoria at El Dorado, where the waiter asked us if we knew the ‘Barlows’ because they live in Scotland and as we were from Scotland we must be acquaintances.  We were most apologetic – we don’t know the Barlows, sorry.


Day Seven

At 7.45 am we could hear Carmen rattling around downstairs.   We had explained to her the evening before that we didn’t want the full English breakfast and then felt guilty when we discovered a pack of sausage, bacon, eggs and a white sliced loaf in the fridge.

Carmen had gone to town – literally – and the dining room table was groaning under the weight of cheese, ham, bread, butter, jam, tea and coffee.

“Eet’s wery nice,” announced Carmen and we were instructed to sit.

She proudly showed us all the produce that she had bought for our breakfast and then pulled up a chair and sat with her arms crossed to make sure that we ate it all.

“You have more ham, eet’s wery nice.”  “You have more cheese, I buy especially for you.” “You have more bread, eet’s wery nice.” We didn’t dare refuse.

We left as soon as our full stomachs allowed us to and bade Carmen a fond farewell.

“Wait!” she said and started rummaging around in a kitchen drawer to release a tea towel from its plastic wrapper.

Both myself and the beloved were rather charmed and intrigued about why we were going to be presented with a tea towel.  Was it because we had told Carmen that we had only married a year ago and this was a wedding gift?    Perhaps there is a Maltese custom whereby you present departing guests with a tea-towel to wish them well in their journey of life?  Whatever the reason we were charmed.

Carmen wiped her hands on the tea-towel and shook ours warmly.  I think we were both a little disappointed not to come away with a memento of our encounter with Carmen.

We were due to leave Gozo to return to Malta but wanted to spend the day exploring further this fascinating island.  The beloved was keen to see the inland sea at Dwerja which was well worth the trip.  The day was extremely windyMalta 052 and the sea far too wild to snorkel but it was staggeringly beautiful especially as there were few people around.   I think it is likely to be a different picture in the summer with the beach swarming with holidaymakers.

On the bus to Xlendi we got chatting to a very friendly English chap who lived on Gozo with his husband, who suggested we visit Sannat.  He recommended a hotel, the Ta Cenc, where we would get a lovely lunch and we made a mental note.

The guide book warned us that Xlendi was busy and suffered from unsympathetic development but we liked Xlendi and didn’t think the modern building work detracted too much from the town’s charm.  We soon exhausted the delights of Xlendi and consulted the map to find that Sannat was only a few kilometres away.  Although windy, the weather was gorgeous and perfect for a hike so we sent off on a path to Sannat.  This proved to be the highlight of the holiday as the track led us far away from civilisation and across the most spectacular, rugged and beautiful landscape punctuated by terraces and wild flowers.

Xlendi to Sannat 2

We arrived at Sannat whereupon the Ta Cenc hotel proved a little tricky to find.  We stumbled upon two Maltese workmen gazing into a hole at another workman pounding away with his pneumatic drill (this must happen the whole world over) and they couldn’t have been more helpful.   The hotel located, we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a sumptuous Mediterranean platter of delights and wine.

We were a little concerned that the ferry wouldn’t be running because of the stormy conditions but needn’t have worried as the ferry was sailing as usual, albeit a longer crossing as the captain used the island of Comino as shelter.  The ferry crossing was only a few euros which we paid when we landed once more in Malta.

Our final AirBnB was with Mattia, an Italian guy who lived in a converted farmhouse at Mgarr.   This time we were happy to wait in Mgarr to be collected and a very smiley, bright-eyed Italian screeched to a halt in his red pickup.  His house was lovely, very bohemian and intriguingly furnished from an eclectic mix of objects.

Mattia invited us to eat what we could find and help ourselves to wine.   We were advised to either replace what we had used or put money into the honesty box.    A great idea as we were able to eat without having to walk back into the town.   We were tired and happy to avail ourselves of Mattia’s hospitality.

Another couple of guests arrived.  A lovely French couple exploring the temples of Malta and Gozo.  They spoke a bit of English and some Italian, Mattia spoke a little English and we spoke Franglais with, in my beloved’s case, a strong Scottish accent.    Somehow, over two bottles of wine and a lot of gesticulating, we all managed to make ourselves understood and many tongues were spoken that night!


Day Eight

Our final day and a fond farewell to Mattia.  We walked back into Mgarr and got the bus to Valletta.  Our penultimate bus trip and already we were feeling nostalgic.

We walked round Valletta, hunting down a few souvenirs and ate a final meal sitting in the sun overlooking the harbour.  We reflected on the craziness of the past few days and declared Malta a brilliant island to explore but it was time to go home.

We were old pros now at the bus scene in Valletta and tracked down the information board at the terminal to find out from which stance the airport bus departed.  A16.  We found A1 and walked confidently past A2, A3 and onwards to A16 only to find out that it stopped at A15.  We never did find A16 but found a bus which appeared to be heading in the direction of the airport so we jumped aboard.


How to sum up our holiday in Malta?  It was hot, it was surprising, it was busy, it was full of incident but above all it was fun.   It’s a great island!

Malta 007





30 years in Scotland

2016 is a bit of a landmark year for me because it is 30 years since I moved to South West Scotland which means that I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else.   This has made me  rather reflective and I find myself looking  back with nostalgia to those first few months of living in a foreign land.  I had to get used to a different language – turnip was swede, lum was chimney and a rather brilliant word “foutering” which seemed to mean dithering .   The word I loved best though was “dreich” which coincidentally is the subject of my latest watercolour painting –“ Brollies in the Rain”, a scene from the Glasgow Central Hotel on a very “dreich” day.

Rainy Day, Glasgow webmark

So used was I to learning new words that I wasn’t at all surprised to see that a tasty uncut loaf which I had always called a “bloomer” was labelled “boog” bread.   It sounded very Scottish – “boog” and I was puzzled when my exhaustive enquiries in local shops for “boog” bread was met with puzzled looks.    At last I tracked down the very item and presented it with a triumphant flourish at the till, only for my bubble to be burst when I had time to examine the label more closely – “800g Bread” Ah, okay, the penny dropped and I  slipped out of the shop with a rather unflattering crimson face.

Scottish expressions were also new to me and it is the practice here in South West Scotland to be asked “Is that you?” when you present your groceries to the checkout assistant.   “Er, yes I am me” I would reply rather puzzled by the question.   It was repeated “That’s you then?”   “Er, yes I am definitely me” I would reply again, my face creased up in bewilderment.   The assistant wouldn’t be satisfied until I had said “Yes, that’s me”.

This year I  married the local farmer next door – all very Mills and Boon.  This meant I was, technically speaking, a farmer’s wife which for a girl who resolutely refuses to wear anything else but evening dresses accessorized with either wellies or Doc Marts is chuffin’ hilarious.

This is the year that I had to learn a whole new language again and was rebuked for describing cattle as “Mummy cow, daddy cow, baby boy cow and baby girl cow” when I was in fact describing a cow, bull, heifer and bull calf.   I had to learn that cows don’t lie down on the grass because it is going to rain – my husband hooted with laughter over that one – a “townie” misconception of the highest order.   I also learned that when a cow lies down and puffs up it is, in fact, dead and not just doing a lying down, puffing up cow thing because it is bored with chewing the cud.     It was also news to me that the term “drying off the cows” doesn’t involve lovely warm soft fluffy white towels.  Oh dear, so much to learn and so many opportunities to look a right numpty (another Scottish word).

I am resigned to the fact that my husband gets excited when a fellow farmer invites him up a large open tower, accessed by a ladder to examine a million gallons of poo – or slurry as it is called.   For a girl who doesn’t know the difference between silage and slurry I just accept that it is interesting to some and not to others.    Whilst these two farmers were discussing the finer properties of cow poo I came all over “farmer’s wifey” and approached a cute calf in the byre to stroke its soft nose.   The poor creature backed into the corner, bellowing frantically, terrified of this stranger who was so clearly out of her depth.

In the last 30 years much water has passed under the bridge but what underpins all of my life is my passion for art and my desire to paint.   I have always coloured in as a child and I am fortunate to still be colouring in as an adult.   I am fortunate indeed that I have been able to found a successful business with my daubs and be in contact with interesting folk around the world.   Those interesting folk are my customers or potential customers and I value each and every communication.   So if, in my reply to you, I use words like “craig, wean, mingin, drookit or scunner” you will know that I am now bilingual in a confused sort of way.    Keep chatting to me and here’s to the next thirty years.


Swiss cheese,the creative brain and the elastoplast scenario

A short while ago I was watching a tv documentary about the creative brain.    The fancy graphics showed a brain with zillions of super-highways of connecting tissues, tightly packed together.    Ah-ha thought I, smugly,  leaning back into my sofa with a beatific expression on my face, an example of the extraordinary thinking power of us creatives.    I sat bolt upright when the know-it-all 12 year old  scientist announced that this was the structure of a NON-creative brain.   “What, surely not?”………. we creatives are possessed with extraordinary amount of brain power and call upon this vast resource to produce extraordinary and wonderful things to enhance our surroundings and the world in general.

I hardly dared look as the graphics changed to show the creative brain but there it was and it looked extraordinarily like Emmenthal cheese with whopping great gaps in its structure…..huge black holes of nothingness.    I stared at the tv screen, trying hard to grasp what this meant and how that affected the thinking of someone, like myself, who has built a career out of creativity.   How much thinking plunged headlong into those holes?  How many bright ideas  have fallen into the crevasses never to be seen again, what fate befell them?  There didn’t seem to be much of a brain left and I wondered how us creatives managed to do anything other than breathe, sleep and eat.

The scientist (now 11 years old and getting younger by the minute) explained that ideas form around the edges of the black holes, poised to leap.    Random thoughts, ideas, nonsense, words of a song,  thoughts of what you last had to eat,  the colour of the coat you’d quite like to buy, the rain falling, your favourite crisps, anything at all that is cluttering up your head all gather around the rim and gaze into the abyss.   Eventually something extraordinary happens –  for some unknown reason all these thoughts/ideas/impressions  make a spectacular leap into the void, presumably shouting weeeeeeeeeee as they propel themselves forward without a parachute.   They don’t, however, fall to oblivion, but grasp each other across the void , a Golden Gate bridge of strange and rather random connections , creating entirely new ideas and thoughts.   The  “thinking out of the box” that creatives are known for  is, in fact  the offspring of random couplings thrown together in space and landing as fully formed ideas freshly born and ready to be channelled into some creative enterprise.    A lot of these thoughts are immediately rejected…..the red coat singing “Oh I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside”, smelling of cheese and onion crisps getting a soaking in a downpour of raspberry jus is not going to win the next Booker or Turner prize (okay well it actually might be a contender for the Turner prize) but those ideas that remain form a many layered strata from which “diamonds” can be mined.

All this begs the question…..what happens when you need to make a connection which uses the M1 motorway of connecting tissue which just doesn’t exist because of the ruddy great hole in this gorgonzola of a brain?   What happens if you need a bridge but there isn’t one?    I now realise that I experience this daily and my non existing dual-carriageway is the one that I need for  packet opening.   I can’t for the life of me open packets.    I resort to extraordinarily levels of violence involving knives, scissors , teeth  and lots of “f” words to try and extricate ham from its plastic wrapping.      I can feel my thoughts scrabbling around in my head trying to find the connections that instruct my mind and fingers on what to do next when all I can call upon is a  vast “black hole of nothingness” which is not going to help me one little bit.      This all came to a head recently when I needed an Elastoplast for a blister on my heel……could I get into the damn thing?  could I hell!   I examined it, my brow wrinkled in puzzlement, I turned it left and right…..nothing…… I turned it upside down …..nothing….I turned myself upside down….nothing…..I used scissors to trim around the edges of the wrapping…..nothing…… I used my whopping, very sharp, very pointy cooks knife  to stab the elastoplast  at its core and try to extricate it like a winkle out of its shell…..nothing……I slipped…. I stabbed myself….the blood flowed…….the Elastoplast, now blood soaked was released….Eureka….released just in the nick of time to apply to my cut and stem the flow……. success but tarnished with the need for another plaster for my heel blister……I resorted to an extra pair of socks instead.

So, all you creatives out there, you will now know that your failure to do a simple task is owing to a whopping great gap in your bonce.    My advice….employ a non-creative person on such occasions, a person who possesses  a spaghetti junction of roads, pot hole free and tarmacked to within an inch of its life.   Okay, so you may not know how to fold paper to fit into an envelope but by jingo you can write crackin’ verse or paint a vibrant picture…..that’ll do me!


The mathetical formula for social media versus work

Does anyone know the mathematical formula for time spend on social media and time spend on actual work to maximise the income earned on that day?    Lets say x is equivalent to one hour of  time spent on promotion and y is an hour spent on the product itself with z being the best possible use of an 8 hour working day.    Does 4y +4x = z , or is it 5y + 3x = z ,  arbitrary  figures I’m afraid as I don’t possess this precious formula and without it I am beginning to  suspect my  8 hour day is 2y + 6x = z as I am once again lured into  watching cute kittens climb staircases or embarking on yet another quiz on facebook to find out what I was in a past life.

Ignore social media at your peril if, like me, your business is internet based.   I supply over 30 stockists with my prints, bag and children’s books and very lovely they are too – the stockists that is,but without the internet I would be hanging out the red light.    Some days my business fairly romps along and I am greeted with a flood of orders and spend a happy hour packing stuff into jiffy bags and sending them off to far flung places around the globe, whistling a happy tune.    Some days though the tumbleweed whistles through the desert of my order book and I wonder if I have been dilatory in the daily tweeting department.

If I could directly link one  hours social media activity with a sale of a book, bag or art print I would be reassured that I am not wasting the time which could be otherwise used in painting.   After all that is what I do – paint groovy, colourful paintings that my local printer chappie converts to fabbydabby art prints.   When I am tweeting or uploading images onto facebook I am not painting.   Perhaps the equation is more complicated with f being facebook, t being twitter and (having recently opened an instagram account ) I being instagram.   Surely it is not 2t + 4f+ 2i  = z.   Where is “y” – where is that stuff that I actually do and not talk about the stuff that I actually do.     Some days I am totally y-less – today being one of them because I am writing a blog.   “You need to write a blog” says everyone which is pushing “y” ever further away.     Perhaps b is for blog and that is factored into the equation also .   We are now 2t + 2f + 2i + 2b = z which is an 8 hour day totally used up without a single “y” moment.    I think I washed a paint brush today and glanced at the outline of my next children’s book – that amounts to a quarter of a “y” and I spend longer each day cleaning my teeth.

I am wanting to start on my third children’s book but am too busy putting out deafening tweets which fall, a lot of the time, on deaf ears.   Of course I  can’t just tweet “buy my stuff”, although I am tempted and , lets face it, that is the most honest approach.  I read once that the meat marketing board in Australia launched an advertising campaign with the tag line “buy more meat you bastards!”.  I am oh so tempted but haven’t got the bottle to adopt such a strategy.   I employ the more subtle approach as suggested by “Yet Another Book On Social Media That You Must Read Otherwise Your Business Will Fail.”   However I suspect that sometime my approach is so soft that its floaty lightness doesn’t make any impact whatsoever.

So until someone comes up with the correct mathematical formula I am reduced to juggling hours spend tweeting, facebooking and instagramming  with the odd hastily grabbed hour of  “real work” whilst all the time pretending that I am not trying to sell you anything.   I don’t think for a minute anyone is fooled.

Self employed artist …..graft with peanut butter & banana sandwiches

studio mess 002  Many folk dream of giving up the daily commute and office grind for the utopian dream of self-employment, but don’t really give it much thought beyond that.     I am self-employed and have been so for over 25 years.    Its for me, undoubtedly, but there are sacrifices e.g no holiday pay, no sick pay and an income which fluctuates hugely.     There have been many peanut butter and banana sandwich moments but those have been few and far between thankfully.    Someone once asked me what motivated me to paint  – “Food” I replied.   Its as simple as that, if I don’t sell my work (in whatever form) I don’t eat.    Food is a great motivational force!

I earn my living as a professional artist which  is in the same category as air hostess  – perceived as glamorous when the reality is just plain hard graft.     At a party or any other gathering once folk know what I do they think I waft around in kaftans applying the occasional daub to canvas.    (anyway, I only ever wear evening dresses – a personal preference and as cheap as chips from ebay).    The reality is a 6 am start answering emails and keeping my social media presence active.   A quick shower, bowl of muesli and coffee sustains me for the morning –  dispatching orders,  picking up prints,  liaising with stockists of my books and bags and updating my website.     I also sell on ebay, etsy and amazon which all require some form of daily attention. I continually have to think of new schemes to bolser my income without straying too far from what I love to do – painting and illustration.      I have set up an indie publishing company, Second Sands Publications to publish my work and others.   That alone is a huge amount of work but I enjoy the banter with stockists and being in charge of my own products.    At present I am contacting local social clubs and organisations to offer myself as speaker – an opportunity to raise my profile and sell my books, but it is eating hugely into this week with emails and letters.

Lunchtime is a quick bowl of soup and I try whenever possible to do a 4 mile walk which clears my mind and energises me for the afternoon.

Afternoons are for creative work, having got all of the admin out of the way in the morning.   I am really fortunate to have a studio overlooking the sea, the best possible light but, to be honest, I don’t get a lot of time for wave gazing.    My present project is a “How to Draw” book for children which uses my skills as a trained art teacher and I am trying not to get too excited about it.    Excitement means lack of sleep and being a bit gaga in the head – it can become an obsession and has to be controlled otherwise it affects the rest of my modest enterprise and to neglect that ends up with peanut and butter sandwiches.    So I have to curtail the excitement and restrict the creative stuff to the afternoons which can be frustrating as hell.

Throw into the mix the commission work which can be anything from designing a logo, a book jacket or a community arts project creating massive works of art with people from all walks of life.   It is at these times that I can be working an 18 hour day .    Usually I try and finish around 5.30 and flop on my sofa.     The evenings are for relaxing but I use the breaks in the adverts to keep my twitter presence active and promote my website.

I wouldn’t change it of course and get a huge amount of satisfaction.    The priceless moments for me are when a mum stops me in the street because her son/daughter loves one of my books or I get a lovely email from someone whohas received one of my printed canvases and has placed it as the focal point in their room.

I have spoken to many self employed folk (there are nearly 5 million now in the UK) and some admit to loneliness.    I suppose I am lucky in that regard as I live in a village and can pop out at any time if I want some human contact.   A daily trip to the post office gives me the excuse to trot along the street and there is always someone to chat to on the way.     I collaborate with a friend who is running a small indie publishing company  Curly Tale Ltd and we meet regularly for chats on the publishing industry and how to deliver a good service in the highly competitive environment of children’s books.

Hard graft it may be but the compensation is that when I awake in the morning I get a sense of excitement and I can’t wait for the day begin……that alone is worth any amount of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Thistle canvas


The big cauliflower let down…

cauli 001    I love spice, love it, love it, love it so was uber excited to find a recipe on facebook which involved mixing greek yogurt with oodles of ground spice.  Something in the back of my mind was nagging though –  Don’t you always gently fry spices first to release the flavour and avoid that “raw” spice taste which is metallic and unpleasant.   Casting these doubts firmly aside I spend a very messy few minutes trying to plaster a cauliflower in spicy yogurt – the phone rang of course!   Doesn’t it always when your  hands are covered in goo, or you suddenly need to scratch your nose.     Into a hot oven went this rather alien brain looking object and 40 minutes later out came a baked, brown and alarming looking  vegetable.   It tasted…..raw spicey metallic……should have listened to myself in the first place.    We ate half last night and I am going to try to fry the remainder , spice side down this evening (I hate waste).     The point of all this rambling is that when that little naggy voice starts up in the back of my head I am going to listen to it.

Back to work though and I have been spending a lot of time on my website and uploading new prints.   I am very happy with my fish/seatrout print and couldn’t resist ordering a canvas for myself – here it is in my bathroom and I love it.   fish canvas bathroom 001




Hannibal Lecter meets Kermit the Frog

P1000885    T’was only last week that I was snorkelling in the azure waters of Balos beach in Crete, diving down amongst the fishes and trying to ignore the fact that the snorkelling gear makes me look like a cross between Kermit the Frog and Hannibal Lecter…… hence my decision to post an image of the stunning beach rather than my very un-Ursula Andress appearance.

Being used to snorkelling in the cold waters of the UK amongst the empty crisp packets and abandoned drinks can, the sight of  fish of every colour, shape and size quite took my breath away .   For those that have ventured to Balos it is only reached via a 9 km drive over rough (and I mean rough) track where the road hugs the side of a mountain on one side and ends with a thousand metre drop at the other (I shut my eyes – relax, I wasn’t driving).   The drive ends at a car park and requires a 2 km trek down roughly hewn steps clutching food, water, towels and all of the paraphernalia needed for a day at the beach and some water activity.      Phew! got there at last and tried not to think of the 2 km trek back up the roughly hewn steps at the end of the day.

This and more snorkelling at Loutros where we saw a rather evil looking moray eel and hundreds of those poison ridden black sea urchins, made it a brilliant holiday.    There was quite a lot of sitting around the pool at the villa drinking ouzo and a lot of sampling of  greek food – swordfish being my favourite.


So back home and trying to reboot my brain.   A busy busy spell ahead with needing to do the BIG run out to stockists to make sure they have enough Bonnie Beltie Bags, The Trail Of The Pointy Toed Pyjama Thief and Boo Where Are You? to see them through the xmas spell.   All this and trying to navigate around the back room of my website is a lot to load onto a brain that is only half cranked up.   Oh well…… ever onward!

My first blog

blog imageWell, my very first blog and I haven’t a scooby as to what to write. It’s very tempting indeed to plug my new children’s book “Boo Where Are You?” but I wouldn’t be so obvious as to use this space to advertise my wares. Of course, if I was going to promote this book in such a brazen manner I would point out that it is a fun filled “look and find” book for tots, featuring Boo the Beltie but I am really not going to mention it or the fact that it is in over 25 stockists around Dumfries and Galloway and available here on this website.

So if I am not going to plug my book (that’ll be Boo Where Are You?) what can I write about? A lot of blogs are about food but I don’t want to resort to writing about what I had for my dinner, although today I have left over lobster, chorizo and Belgian chocolate cheesecake from last night’s dinner party, which can be classed as rather exotic fare for a weekday lunch and perhaps worth a mention here.

Food blogs are very popular so perhaps I can consider a few paragraphs on the joys of pan frying scallops.   I know my scallops and class myself as a bit of a cook……which rhymes with book…..but I’m not going back there…..although if I did I would mentioned that the book (Boo Where Are You?) is a mere £7 which is small change for a labour of love which took me 6 months hard graft. My advice in this food blog is not to overcook your scallops unless you like to chew.

When I am not cooking and writing blogs about cooking I am writing and illustrating children’s books.   “Boo Where Are You” followed hot on the heels of my last book “The Trail Of The Pointy Toed Pyjama Thief” which I will be careful not to mention in my next blog on fashion.