Border lands – ‘in the present tense”

This blog shows work that “draws in the field”, new environmental artwork about changing landscapes in the Scottish Borders by myself, Kate Foster. This blog acts as a visual diary with developing chapters. Starting in April 2010, this blog is updated with drawings extracted from sketchbooks. I look for entwined patterns of co-existence as animals, people, climate and land adjust to each other.  This investigation uses drawing as a tool for investigation and brings me into contact with people whose livelihood depends on the land. This highlights the resources of knowledge, skill and design underlying what may be seen as pastoral Borders’ scenery.  I think of my task as being to look carefully, scrutinise my own preconceptions and draw out new connections. Borders’ farmland has been described as “sheep and trees, cows and ploughs”.  I began with sheep, moving onto tree-lines.


A malleable idea for further investigation … land-use … climatic transition … life-lines  and shelter … diagrammatic rendering (productivity, biomass, carbon sequestration) … pattern and repetition … supply lines … cultural entanglements …

Ongoing work, developing from a focus on deadwood and its generative possibilities – trying to ‘think like a tree’, prolong my anthropocentric time-line, and deepen my investigation to take in more about what is under my feet, and above my head.

This work contributes to “Way project” – undertaken as artists’ exchanges with Liz Douglas, Allan Harkness, Andrew McKenzie, Claudia Massie,  Mary Morrison.

Border sheepscapes

I traced a broad picture of how sheep are present in the Scottish Borders –   on farmland as well as at places such as sheep marts, butchers, textile producers. Four categories developed through the visual diary which can be read as different chapters (with a set of postcards acting as frontispieces for these). The following sentences outline the themes.

‘Sheepwalks’: hill country shaped by human and animal appetite over the centuries, where livestock, people, plants and wildlife co-exist in all weathers, through life and death.  Uplands have been wrought by reivers, balladeers, shepherds, and are newly cast as sites of ‘biodiversity’ and ‘carbon sequestration’.  Hefted ewes tread their own paths, but in due course are gathered and shed from their lambs.  No longer walking to southern markets, the lambs are now driven, standing in reconstituted flocks of twenty.  These are spaces with massed volume and contrast that yield views of where we humans place ourselves, within shifting tones of darkness and light.

Singularity: Our use of the word suggests one ‘sheep’ is just like another, singular or plural.  It takes an experienced eye to see how they differ.  Each domesticated breed has its specific standard, and individuals can be judged on how well they conform.  All sheep in the European Union have unique identifiers – electronic tags – to make them traceable.  But sheep also supply their selves to the situations they find themselves in.

Lamb: Spring brings great liveliness to the sheepwalks, shaping animal and human work alike with themes of nurture, love, pain, differential loss and gain. Transformations of shape and texture are acute as life and death absorb themselves to each other.

Wool: Much skilled activity surrounds shearing, spinning, dyeing, knitting, weaving – patterns that reflect seasons on the sheepwalks as well as globalised markets.  Laid flat, the sheep and their wool map out sharp shifts in taste, and subtle repeating colours.

Click on the link below for further information about making sheepscapes



New work in 2011 will be directed towards trees, absent and present; their liveliness and the uses diferent species make of dead wood.

Further info:

For more of Kate Foster’s artwork visit:

For a personal digest related to environmental contexts and creative responses visit:


Comments are welcome and will help the project develop. They will not be posted immediately as they are moderated.

This work aims to make minimal environmental impact with awareness of carbon landscapes.

Border sheepscapes has been supported by Scottish Borders Council and the Scottish Arts Council through the Visual Artists Awards programme.

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