Back to All Events


  • Scalloway, Shetland Islands Scotland (map)


When our friend, Shelley Unger returned from Shetland Islands, we were inspired by her pictures and enthusiasm for the Islands. Visiting these islands are on Artist Gillian Lee Smith’s bucket list so what else could we do but plan a trip there next May?

Shetland, also called the Shetland Islands and formerly Zetland, is a subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies northeast of the mainland of Scotland. The islands lie some 80 km to the northeast of Orkney, 168 km from the Scottish mainland and 280 km southeast of the Faroe Islands.

Shetland, like neighbouring Orkney, was once a Viking stronghold and the imprint they left on the islands still exists to this day. The names of places, geographical features, birds and parts of boats have Scandinavian roots, as do many personal names. The Shetland dialect is infused with words that have their origins in Old Norse, a language with strong similarities to Faroese and Icelandic,

To get there, we will take a 12-hour ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. From there we will travel 10 minutes to Scalloway, a village once the ancient capital of Shetland. Today the village is a modern progressive community centered around the sheltered commercial harbour.


When we approach Scalloway, we will be at “The Scord” giving us a breathtaking view of the harbour, Scalloway Castle once ruled by the Stewart Clan, bridge and the scattering of smaller isles in the distance.

Scalloway Castle seen from “The Scord”

Scalloway Castle seen from “The Scord”

History runs deep and long in this area, with the ridge that runs through the centre of the valley in which Scalloway is situated was found to be the location of human occupation of the area reaching right back into the Bronze age. That’s more than 600 years ago!

Our sketches this week will respond to ancient history, the landscape and mythology. We will create a large sketchbook to take with us into the field and with this information, we will design an imaginative, beautiful, refined art book.

The Workshop

It is this unique landscape of Shetland that will inspire us in the exploration of sculptural artist books.

Using mixed media and paper and card to create forms that lie flat in closed book form but can be shaped to reflect the landscape in ways that reflect the shapes of the landscape and our inspiration.

We will be working from a starting point of a basic book project but experimenting with different ways of taking this so much further into 3-dimensional form.

Creating inspiration in the form of sketches we will be exploring the landscape in mixed media – gestural studies that are a response to the time and place, environment and atmosphere in inks and watercolour.

Using these studies, we will be creating experiments to begin to explore ways of interpreting the landscape in book and page form. Techniques will include monoprint, collage, ink explorations, experimenting with paper textures, text and form. The artist book is a fascinating way of creating objects that fold flat (brilliant for an away from home workshop) but that can be made three dimensional for display.

Gillian will have examples of the possibilities, and will share the process, and students will be encouraged to take this development further and make their own discoveries along the way.

We will finish the week with a sketchbook and pages of studies and sketches and practice book samples as well as completed several unique artist books.



Day 1. May 23 We will meet in Aberdeen for the 5:00 p.m. ferry to Lerwick. We will settle in for the 12 hour ferry ride.

Day 2, May 24 Once we arrive in Lerwick at 7:30 a.m., we will pick up our transportation and travel the three miles to Scalloway to our hotel.

There will be time to unpack, take a shower and rest before we meet for lunch at the hotel. We will go out sketching after picking up the key to the Scalloway Castle. Gillian will demonstrate some expressive sketches to inspire us in gathering imagery for our classroom days. Dinner this evening will be at the hotel at 7:30 p.m.

Day 3. May 25 Breakfast at the hotel, then we will leave for our studio at the nearby NAFC Marine Center in Port Author. Lunch will be at De Haaf.

Gillian will be sharing samples of the possibilities for taking sketches into the creation of unique artist books. We will spend the day exploring many ways of creating simple book forms – practice pieces to utilize techniques that we can use for inspiration for our finished pieces. You will finish the day with a selection of sample pieces to work from with our gathered landscape inspiration.

Class is over at 4:30. You will have free time until dinner this evening at 7:30 p.m. at the hotel.

Day 4. May 26 Today is a travel day. Our guide will meet us at the hotel after we have had breakfast. Then off we go traveling to Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse settlement with sketchbooks, paper and inks/watercolours in hand. Gillian will demonstrate ways of responding to the landscape through image and writing.

Here there are vestiges of more than 4,000 years of human settlement on a single site, including the Iron Age broch and wheelhouses. Here, too, there is physical proof of the Norse communities having lived in the Northern Isles in early medieval times.

We will stop by to visit other local sites along the way. Pics below provided by Shelley Unger.

We may stop in Lerwick for dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Day 5. May 27 Breakfast at the hotel then off to our classroom. We will continue to explore the landscape on paper using techniques to inspire possible book forms. We will be creating pages and papers for our finished books as well.

We will again have lunch at De Haaf, then work until 4:30. We will return to the hotel to wander along the harbor or rest until dinner this evening at the hotel at 7:30 p.m.

Day 6. May 28 Breakfast at the hotel then we will drive to Lerwick to visit Shetland Textile Museum and perhaps the Jamieson’s Spinning and Weaving Factory in Sandness, or just let you wander. There will be a stop at Mirrie Dancer’s chocolate shop. There may be an option for kayaking or taking a boat cruise for birding instead of visiting museums. We will go with the flow. Depending on everyone’s energy level, we will either return to the classroom or call it a day.

My favorite, the puffin. Pic courtesy of  Shetland

My favorite, the puffin. Pic courtesy of Shetland

Day 7. May 29 Breakfast and then a full day in the studio. For our final workshop days we will be completing our book forms. Lunch at De Haaf. Dinner at the hotel at 7:30 p.m.

You will finish the workshop with a sketchbook full of inspiration and various unique artist book forms that represent each individual response to the landscape and the beauty of Shetland

Day 8. May 30 Breakfast then check out. We will load our luggage into the van and head over to the classroom. We will be here for a half day, then finish up, share our work and head off to Lerwick for a late lunch and time to wander until our ferry leaves at 5:30 p.m.

Day 9. May 31. The ferry arrives in Aberdeen at 7 a.m. The trip is over and you can leave for the airport or train station.

Jimmy’s house

Jimmy’s house

This Escape Includes

  • Six days of instruction with Gillian

  • Train ride from Newcastle to Aberdeen (if on previous workshop)

  • Ferry to/from Aberdeen

  • 8 nights accommodation (two on the ferry) 6 nights at Scalloway Hotel

  • Sketching in surrounding area

  • Visit to local sites including the Scalloway Castle and museums in Lerwick

  • Farewell dinner

  • All meals

  • Some art supplies

  • New art tribe

The price for this workshop is $3,500

A $1,000 non-refundable deposit is due at registration. The final deposit is due November 15, 2019.   

Price does not include airfare to/from Aberdeen. Price is based on shared accommodations. Single rooms are available for an additional price of $300. 

Airport: Aberdeen International Airport is an international airport, located at Dyce, a suburb of Aberdeen, Scotland, approximately 5 nautical miles northwest of Aberdeen city centre. The code: ABZ

Accommodations: The Scalloway Hotel

This itinerary may change due to weather, new opportunities or the whim of the group.

For at least 4000 years, in comparative isolation, these fascinating small ponies have roamed the exposed hills and moors of Shetland.

For at least 4000 years, in comparative isolation, these fascinating small ponies have roamed the exposed hills and moors of Shetland.

Shetlands courtesy of  Shetland

Shetlands courtesy of Shetland

Student Supply List

(specific suggestions will be available via the FB group)

  • Embossing tools

  • Craft knife (with snap off blades) and a small X-acto knife with extra blades

  • Small spray bottle

  • Tapestry needles

  • Awl and bone folder

  • Brayer

  • Small cutting mat

  • Choice of handmade paper (we will be working in a limited palette of earth colours such as green, umber and ochre/gold and paynes grey/black so your papers can co-ordinate with these colours)

  • Stabilo pencils and Art Graf tailors charcoal

  • A brush for applying glue

  • Small selection of watercolours – green, umber, gold, black, red oxide, paynes grey for example

  • Small mixing palette for watercolours

  • Watercolour brushes

  • White uniball Signo pens

  • Nib pens for ink


We Will Provide

  • Paper and Board

  • Newsprint and carbon paper

  • Glue

  • Printing acetate and printing ink

  • Wire and thread

  • India and Quink ink


This itinerary may change due to weather, new opportunities of the whim of the group.


Gillian Lee Smith is a Scottish artist living in the beautiful, historic North-East coast of England that daily influences her work. As a teacher, Gillian is inspired to bring her love of people and place to each workshop using a wealth of techniques to make new discoveries along with her students. She has several very successful online courses and a mentoring program. This will be her seventh Bellissima Art Escape.