Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Shetland Notebook - Norman Ackroyd

I blame my mother for this - she keeps leaving copies lying around - but I'm developing something of a 'Country Life' habit, I like to think I could stop at any time but the appraising glances I keep sending towards 'The Field' suggest that it's simply a gateway to a tweedier kind of reading. That and fantasies about owning lavish country estates. If it hadn't been for Country Life and its book reviews though I wouldn't have known about Norman Ackroyd's 'A Shetland Notebook' and that would have been a shame.

I read about Ackroyd in connection with some collaboration with Robert Macfarlane some time last year, he's been on the edge of my mind ever since. Ackroyd has been travelling the edges of the British isles snatching images as he goes - it's not much of an explanation for what he does - google his work to get a better idea, but as most the images I've been looking at are based on sketches taken quickly from the deck of a boat snatched is the best word I can think of. I'm desperate to see some of these images off the screen and on a wall somewhere. The Shetland series is being exhibited in London at the moment so I'm hoping to organise myself down there in time to catch them. I'm also quietly coveting a print but that represents a lot of un-bought books.

'A Shetland Notebook' is a Royal Academy publication, a slightly annoying format for fitting on a shelf, and an absolute delight. I'm guessing the format is tied to the shape of sketch books that Ackroyd uses, I hope it is because there's a romance about that which attracts me. I wanted this book for my Shetland library (which is in reality a small collection) and because it's always interesting to see a place you know through the eyes of another person. What I'm actually looking at is far more than I hoped for.

The thing that I find really exciting about this notebook is that it's just that; a notebook. These aren't highly finished sketches but images taken in haste that sometimes only hint at the ostensible subject but they have a magic about them, some combination of mood and moment, light and mass. Something. How is it that the roughest of sketches can capture a place more uniquely and completely than a photograph? There is another thing I really like about this book, a silly thing really, but many if the pages that don't have sketches on them have smudges and watercolour marks - facsimiles of the original sketchbooks presumably, it's unexpectedly pleasing.


  1. Just beautiful, yes visit - worth the effort though I advise early before the queues build up. Enjoy. And buy some postcards! Maybe I'll do it too.

  2. So many plans to make, so little time. Where does the year go?

  3. I happened upon this book in our local bookshop the other day: it was one of those books which I just Had To Have as soon as I saw it. Not that I've been to Shetland yet - in fact I bought the book with the excuse that I would give it to a friend who works there, but now that I've had the chance to look through it at leisure I can't bear to part with it! Like you, I love the facsimile style, as if one is leafing through a real sketchbook. Ah, if only I could make painting look so effortless...

  4. Me too, I look at this book and just wonder how the hell he does it. I grew up in Shetland and still have family there so can't resist a local themed book. You should definitely visit your friend!

  5. What a beautiful thing to own. I know it will bring you joy!