By Elly Welch
It’s a beautiful March morning when I cross the moor to Upper Carloway where a patchwork of working crofts is bustling with spring activity. It’s easy to
spot Blue Pig’s fairytale door, and light filled studio, where artist-owner Jane Harlington is waiting to meet me.
It may be the smell of freshly-baked rock buns, or the cheerful wall-to-wall art and local crafts…or maybe it’s just Jane’s naturally beaming smile, but arriving here feels instantly uplifting.
“Perfect timing!” says Jane, laying out five beautiful teacups on a patterned oilcloth. “You’ll be able to meet the Blue Piglets – they come once a week, to ‘play’.”
A tinkling of bells and happy hellos confirms that I have not inadvertently tumbled into Wonderland and that these are the ‘Wednesday ladies’ – one of several informal groups that regularly congregate here.
Art materials pour out over the communal table and the teapot is refilled. There is a lot of talking, and a lot of laughing – this is, in a nutshell, the Blue Pig.
Jane, a former National Trust ranger naturalist and life-long artist, set up the Blue Pig Studio just over a decade ago with the help of her husband Peter, a head gardener turned crofter (and daily baker of rock buns). It was their dream to create a smallholding where her art could operate in tandem with a low impact, self-sufficient lifestyle where the doors were open to passersby.
Jane’s love of nature and the islands permeates her mixed media work that incorporates elements of printmaking and collage. There’s a deeply playful, narrative quality to her pieces and it’s not surprising she has established relationships with many galleries, including the Royal Scottish Academy, about which she is quietly proud, and her work is to be found in collections throughout the world.
But to Jane, the Blue Pig is a place where everyone can enjoy being creative. If you just want to come and sit, and draw, you are always welcome, or, highly recommended, you could book a few hours or a day with her, either one to one, in a group, or for a special occasion. Children are always welcome as well as the elderly.
“I love the fact that never know who’ll walk through the door,” she says, mixing milk for an orphaned Shetland calf. “Sometimes they are just popping in to buy a card or gift. Other times they sit down and talk or draw. One man arrived recently and started singing us beautiful opera!”
But how do you get any of your own artwork done, I ask, glancing towards ‘Jane’s Corner’ where a picture is half-finished. “Oh, I just do!” she laughs. “And people inspire me, anyway.”
Heading out to the barn beside Blue Pig we pass through a pretty courtyard area, all nooks and crannies and coloured benches. “I escape here sometimes, actually,” she confides. “Our Quiet Garden. In summer its full of flowers and you can sit and draw or watch the world go by.”
With the calf guzzling away we head back to the Piglets, who are deeply involved with a laminator machine, turning colourful prints into placemats. Jane offers me some visitor books to look through and goes to join the creativity.
“Everyone feels included in the magic here,” I read.
“It’s that part of the holiday everybody looks for but is so hard to find – but I found it …” writes another. Page after page of compliments.
But how would she describe it? Because I'm not sure how to transpose Blue Pig’s unique spirit into words. “Oh that’s difficult!” Jane says, gazing south
for a moment towards Loch Carloway, glinting under the fast moving clouds. “I’d like to think that it’s a place of pause. A place to just ‘be’.”