You know what makes me grumpy? All the Grumpy Old Men who appeared on the BBC TV series were younger than me, that's what makes me grumpy. Mutter, mutter....

The Grumpy Old Artist

The Grumpy Old Artist
Would YOU pose for this man???

Exhibition Poster

Exhibition Poster
Catterline Event, 2011

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

Oil Painting by Jim Tait
Helford River, Cornwall

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

Oil Painting by Jim Tait
Full-riggers "Georg Stage" and "Danmark"

Other Recent Works

Other Recent Works
Fordyce Castle and Village

Hay's Dock, Lerwick

Shetland-model Boats at Burravoe, Yell

Tall Ships Seascape

The Tour Boat "Dunter III", with Gannets, off Noss

The "Karen Ann II" entering Fraserburgh harbour

Summer Evening, Boyndie Bay

1930s Lerwick Harbour

Johnshaven Harbour

"Seabourn Legend"

Greeting Cards!

Greeting Cards!
Now Available in Packs of Five or in Assorted Sets of Four

Monday, 31 August 2009


I've continued on the commissioned historical painting of Lerwick harbour, on which I have at least another month's work to do, and on the "stock" landscape of Fordyce village, near Banff. I'm making use of some of the digital images I captured in late June. The slow progress on the commission is due to the amount of detail I'm choosing to put in - it's a good job my client is not in any hurry for it.

Talking of detail, what I use for the application of paint on masts, rigging and other "tiddly" stuff is a 3-4mm round-section fine-point acrylic brush, preferably long-handled. The fine point only lasts for one painting before it goes spade-ended, after which it can still be used for fine-lining for some time. My main supplier has been letting me down lately over the provision of these, so I have been googling new sources of supply, the first consignments of which arrived last week. I'm fairly satisfied with these so far.

My website designer has been busy at this week, giving it a zippy facelift and some technical improvements. I've been busy, when I'm not engaged in artwork, trying to get more visitors to it (see separate post on Marketing) but visitors who buy anything seem to be a dying breed.

I took a break from work late on Tuesday afternoon to have a few beers at my favourite Lerwick pubs, Da Noost and the Lounge. At the latter, I ended up in conversation with a Norwegian foursome (I speak a little of their language) and the crack was good in there for a while. The Norwegians promised to come up and see my etchings the next day, but they never showed up. They probably couldn't find the place - this happens quite often.

I had an interesting letter from the Lerwick Doctors Practice last week. It appears they are going to stop supplying Beclomethasone inhalers because of the CFCs they contain. So we asthmatics are going to be sacrificed on the altar of saving the ozone layer. It reminds me of the 1960s TW3 sketch, with Peter Cook and Lance Percival, in which a hapless soldier is being commanded to surrender his life, as they required a futile gesture. They (the Lerwick Doctors Practice) are suggesting alternatives, so I guess I'll try these out. Too bad if they don't work - there'll be weeping and wailing and gasping for breath.

On the family front, I've become a grand-uncle for the umpteenth time, and my sister Mary is now into her second stint as new grandmother, as her daughter Caroline brought forth William Fraser Thomson. Both are well, and Mary is now even busier than usual. My nephew Kenneth, at age 30, has finished his university entrance course and has passed with flying colours, the good lad. He starts his studies for an accountancy degree in late September. My mother, now 93 years of age, is still in good health, apart from her mobility problems. She goes to Wastview Centre for another fortnight's respite care next Monday. My other sisters, my brother and their families are well too, a fact for which I am very grateful.

And yes, it's an occasional niggling regret that I never had any family of my own. I did have a brief and fairly stormy marriage during the 1970s, but it finished childless soon after that, and I never remarried. I suppose it's due to a cowardly streak in me, coupled with a crippling lack of self-esteem during the vital years when I might have struck up other permanent relationships. "Who'd want an unemployed, alcoholic impoverished artist?" (I did drink a fair amount in those days).

Now that I'm 61 and feeling a lot better about myself, it's a bit late to be thinking about romance! "Da sun is ower far wast!" as they say up here. I comfort myself on lonely nights by thoughts such as not needing insurance because I don't have any beneficiaries! And life's pretty good really. I'm close to all my sisters, brother and their families, as well as my mother, and if feelings of loneliness overtake me on dark winter nights, I pick up a good book and read away the blues. My little world is a rabbit warren of escape routes!

Sunday, 30 August 2009


One of my main headaches as a self-employed artist is the nebulous and esoteric subject of marketing. Basically, I don't understand it, and every part of my very being rails against the thought of gaining any further knowledge on the subject. However, I know it is an essential element of running a small business, so every so often I take a deep breath and plunge into its murky depths, normally emerging as clueless as when I went in.

Art is even more difficult to market than most goods and services, for all kinds of reasons. Even the gurus have very little to say on the subject and, whenever I have approached any of them for advice, they become uncharacteristically unforthcoming with ideas and "useful products" to help me in my endeavours. Most of these able and intelligent entrepreneurs are into things like joint ventures, affiliate schemes, private label and resale rights and Clickbank campaigns, which are no doubt wonderful money-making tools for the marketing professional or hobbyist, but are of no value whatsoever to an artist seeking outlets for his paintings and prints. And there are tens of thousands of other artists trying to do exactly the same thing. Every week I receive several emails from Chinese studios offering me their "beautiful" products to display and sell. I now have a stock reply, saved on my hard drive, thanking them for their offer and wishing them well in their search for markets for their artwork, but explaining that the Tait Gallery is for the marketing and sale of my own artwork only. Maybe I'm missing out on something here - but no, I don't have the time to take on other people's problems.

Not that there aren't self-appointed art-marketing gurus out there. These people, fluent in Blindingly Obvious, advertise their services in tempting terms such as "revolutionary", "exciting" or "new". I once accepted the offer of a video course (with a money-back guarantee), from an American artist, who claimed to have found the secret of eternal successful art sales. I paid my $99, downloaded the course on to my computer, and set aside an evening to ingest the course. I managed to get through the first four of twenty-seven modules, before I got fed-up listening to the fellow's dreary east-coast voice telling me nothing I didn't know already. My eyes glazed over, my cigarette dropped out of my mouth and started to burn my genitals. In a fit of blind foul temper, I deleted the whole course from my hard drive. I didn't even bother to ask for my money back - it certainly was an astute piece of marketing from the point of view of the maker of the video!

The marketing whizz for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Ian Muir, was sceptical about online marketing, when I attended a pre-arranged interview with him, about five years ago, at the beginning of my self-employment. He was convinced that the best way to market art was through exhibitions and art fairs - to have a physical presence in front of potential buyers. In this he wasn't wrong. Certainly my best event was the Catterline exhibition last year, and I hope to have another there soon. But I have found that the website has helped a bit too, along with strategic newspaper and magazine advertising campaigns. I applied a few tricks to bring the site to the attention of the public. I submitted to directories, joined online galleries and did a lot of work on getting backlinks (although my Links page, it turns out, is of limited value for this). So what the marketing gurus have to say about SEO, traffic building and keywords should be of interest to me. But, in the end, if I rank no. 1 in the search engines and receive thousands of visitors a day, this will all count for nothing if no-one wants to buy my artwork.

It appears that we are in a recession (some would say a depression) at the moment, and there is a shortage of filthy lucre about. That being the case, people are buying tea-bags, toilet roll and other essentials, and the people who manufacture and market those are presumably doing fine. Anything left after paying the mortgage and buying food , lighting and heating will go on clothing and white goods. Only after this is taken care of can a householder think of getting something nice to hang on his or her wall, so we struggling artists are always at the bottom of the food chain. And there are an awful lot of us chasing a very limited number of buyers. Times are tough for artists.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Last Saturday, during my trip to the mainland, after having had a bar lunch at a pub in Huntly, my brother was driving us back to Aberdeen, with the boxes containing the remnants of my Duff House exhibition in the back of the trusty Fiesta. I had been taking some photographs of the picturesque village of Forgue and nearby Conzie Castle, and we had decided on having the meal before we set off for the Granite City.

Near the village of Blackburn, we were passing a farm retail outlet, when two dogs suddenly bolted out of the farm road onto the carriageway. One was a smooth grey thing, a bit like a Labrador but taller, thinner and more heavy-jowled; the other was one of these floor-mophead jobs, possibly a Yorkshire terrier (I'm not genned up on my dog breeds - as someone who has stood in their produce too often, I detest them all equally!).

The car in front, which contained a young couple, screeched to a halt, managing to avoid hitting one of the stupid brutes. My brother swerved to avoid a collision, and pulled up, ahead of the other car, in the farm access road. He and the other driver got out and succeeded in stopping the traffic while they coaxed the animals off the carriageway and into the farm complex, which consisted of a portakabin, barns and private homes.

They set about trying to find the dog owners without success. However, they did find a woman who was willing to look after the beasts until ownership could be established. Leaving the situation in this state of limbo, my brother came back to the car, and we carried on our merry way to Aberdeen, slightly mystified by the event that had just taken place.

And thus a potentially very nasty incident was avoided.


On Saturday 8th August, I decided to hold my final stall of the summer at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre in Lerwick. That day, the cruise ship "Tahitian Princess" was tied up at the nearby Morrison Dock, and her payload of passengers, mostly elderly Americans, were having a wander round town, enjoying the mild and dry, if not particularly sunny, weather. One of these, an octogenarian from Florida, stopped to have a look at my prints, and took a fancy to the one of the SS "St. Clair" off Buchan Ness.
"Tell you what," he said, "How about we do a swap?"
I can't remember exactly what my reply was, probably something like "What?"
He produced, from a carrier bag, a tan-coloured suede leather jacket.
"Wanna try it on?" he asked. I did. It fitted perfectly, even the sleeves.
"There. That jacket for the print. What do you think of that?"
I asked him why he didn't want the jacket.
"Too warm for where I come from." he replied.
I had a choice - either accept or refuse. I accepted.
I am now, officially, part of the barter system!


The view from my studio window is at once an inspiration and a distraction. Today the sky is low, grey and threatening, the rising wind is beginning to whip the wavetops into white foam, and the gannets are putting on a magnificent display of synchronised high-diving on the shoals of coalfish fry and sand-eels (which seem to be plentiful this year) in Breiwick Bay.

But, as long as I am gazing at this spectacle, I am ignoring my full inbox and pending tray, and putting little completed work into my outbox. The trouble is, I am too easily distracted. On the way north from the mainland, on the Northlink ferry "Hrossey", on Sunday night, I bought a book, from the onboard shop, entitled "At Close Quarters" by Gerald Seymour. Yesterday, I just had to finish reading it. I couldn't put it down, and all work-related activity was suspended while it had me in its vice-like grip. Now that it has released me to go about the vexing business of earning a living as a self-employed artist, here am I watching these gannets.

Not that I haven't been busy these last few weeks. I've sold five paintings locally, a further three at Duff House, and one on my way back to Aberdeen! And there have been a few prints going too. So it's clear that my bills are going to be paid for the next couple of months. But I seem to have created little in the way of new artwork this summer. Just two new oil paintings (shown above) and a couple of alterations/improvements have come off the "easel" over the last two months, since finishing the work for the Duff House tea-room exhibition. I have just one more commissioned work in progress, and lots of ideas which have yet to be realised on board or canvas. So distraction is a counter-productive force right now.

What could be described as another distraction was my trip south last weekend, to dot the necessary "i"s and cross the essential "t"s after the Duff House showing, and remove the unsold works from their store-room. These, which formed the overwhelming majority of those which I had hung so optimistically six weeks earlier, have been taken, in my brother's Fiesta, back to Aberdeen. There they will remain in storage at my brother's house until someone with available transport arrives to take them back to Shetland. Six of them, however, will be going on display again, this time at the Musa Art Cafe's Coast exhibition, which begins on September 7th at their premises at Exchange Street, Aberdeen. I have been given a whole lot of invitation cards, for the opening night, which I've got to dish out to people. I'm having trouble identifying recipients - would you care for one, or two, or six? Drop me an email ( with your postal address, and I'll send you however many you need (within reason!). You'll have to be quick, though!

So, life is full of attractive and compelling diversions, which entice an artist away from the straight and narrow path of creative endeavours, and drive him down non-productive alleyways. Family events, the administrative duties of self-employment and commercial activities, along with the frailty of human nature itself, all conspire to distract him from the serious business of painting pictures. Who'd be an artist, eh?