Stepping into Gallery 5 is like entering a joyous still-life - a vivid lime-green chaise longue, sunshine on a pine floor, the smell of oil paint. Artwork lines the long, smooth sides of this unique light-filled studio.
Converted from the remains of a blackhouse, Gallery 5 is just a short hop off the West Lewis visitor route, in the crofting township of Tolsta Chaolais. Home spun yarns spiral down a wall, art books jostle on a high shelf, daubs of paint shine like sweets, waiting to be tried.
Featured in the gallery are Margaret Stevenson’s stunning oil and watercolour paintings. Working entirely from sketches and studies, she looks for shape, line and pattern to give an impression of her subject and then paints from these studies to capture the mood of the islands, its forms and life, its ever-changing light.
“When I need a break I head out with my sketchbook and draw,” she says, waving towards the heathery hills rolling down to Loch Roag, dotted with working crofts and drystane walls - a source of endless inspiration.
“I aim to put life into my drawings - something not easy to get if you use photographs. There's a lot of life here on the islands and that's what I'm hoping comes out in my work – these islands that are a living, vibrant place.”
Margaret is a graduate of Glasgow School of Art where she studied graphic design. After taking a teaching certificate she taught art in schools for a few years, worked as a medical artist for a few more years and then as a graphic designer.
Originally from Lanarkshire, Margaret and her husband came to Lewis by chance in 1998. An unexpected change of plans gave them a chance to explore the Outer Hebrides. They loved the island, the people and the way of life. Just weeks later they had bought a house on the island and two years after they moved here - a change of lifestyle which saw Margaret return to embrace her love of painting.
“The desire to draw and paint is fundamental to us – cavemen did it, small children do it, everyone has done it,” she said.
“I really love the joy of painting again; the richness of the paint and seeing what the colours will do with themselves. It's a great joy to let yourself go in a drawing or painting and see what emerges, to start to put down what you see and then find something coming out of it which evokes a feeling of the subject.”
Margaret has a distinctive style and as a Gaelic speaker, signs her work ‘Mairead’. Since starting to exhibit in 2013, her work with her unique view of the islands has been added to collections throughout the world - Europe; the Americas from Canada to South America; India and Australia. Her work has been sought out by galleries in England and Ireland and she has been asked back to the Morven gallery on Lewis for another solo exhibition in July, her fourth time there.
Tolsta Chaolais is off the A858 road between the Callanish Stones and the Doune Carloway Broch. Gallery 5 is open Monday to Saturday 11am to 5pm. The gallery has a range of prints and greetings cards and you can see more of Margaret’s work at www.gallery5hebrides.com.