Erlend Tait is an artist based in the Highlands of Scotland. He grew up on the Black Isle, spending holidays in Orkney, then studied Drawing & Painting at Grays School of Art. Following this, he focused his attention on stained glass, or ‘painting with light’ and learned the ancient techniques of the glass painter-stainer for over 10 years.
In 2005 he returned to the Black Isle with his wife, the artist Pamela Tait (with whom he also collaborates professionally), and now exhibits his drawings, paintings, and stained glass throughout Scotland and abroad.
What drives your passion – when did you know that art is what you wanted to do?
I could say it’s what makes me happy, but it can also be a most frustrating, disheartening way to live. It’s what I have to do now. It’s all-consuming. I’m nowhere near as good as I want to be so I have a lot of work to do before I get there – I don’t know if I have enough time to get good enough, which keeps me working harder.
I’ve always enjoyed drawing, and then painting and drawing, and then stained glass and painting and drawing. When I was in secondary school I discovered you could be a “professional artist” and that was that. Or guitarist in a heavy metal band.
How did you get where you are now in your career?
By the end of art school I’d lost my way with drawing and painting, so I concentrated more on music and stained glass. I settled into a nice rhythm of just working hard at these and enjoying life in Edinburgh but as I approached 30 I thought “What do I really want to do and where do I really want to do it?”
Thankfully Pamela (Tait, artist and inspiration) felt the same and we decided to move back north and concentrate on our own work. We bought a cheap estate car, filled it with art materials and camping gear, and travelled around Scotland until we decided where to settle.
Since then it’s been about finding balance, focusing, and doing it. The most important thing is to put the hours in and make the work. Opportunities arise and I’ve learned over the years to be more selective. When you’re self-employed it’s tempting to take on anything and everything, but it’s far more important to focus one’s energy on the right projects.
What do you make and what are the ideas behind what you make?
I make images using a variety of mediums. These are primarily oil or acrylic paint on canvas or paper; charcoal, pen, ink, colour pencil, and graphite on paper; kiln-fired paint and lead on mouth-blown glass.
Materials and techniques are very important to me and I’m quite passionate about doing things correctly. I enjoy the fact that the paints and grounds have been developed over centuries, and I apply the traditional techniques I’ve learned over the years to produce contemporary imagery.
I think I try to distill things into an image that somehow clicks with me. I say “think” because I really don’t know. It’s something I consider a lot and I think the question is at the core of what I do: I think about the conscious, the sub-conscious and the unconscious mind, and their relationships to each other and to creativity. On the other hand, I’m aware that this mind-model is only a psychoanalytic tool, so I don’t hold on to it too tightly.
I wonder if reality is illusory and if so, how do we create these illusions? Where do they come from? Initial ideas often come as if viewing something through a veil, and painting is a way of removing this veil.
It’s so easy to get tied up in knots over this, and I find that if I start drawing then images/ideas appear on the surface, which trigger something else I hadn’t realised, and on and on. It’s so deeply helpful when it works and so soul-destroying when it doesn’t.
What inspires you?
Walks and talks with Pamela, cycling in the forests and hills, running on the beach, jumping in the sea and rivers, friends, family, films, music, all spring to mind.
I like the basic input-process-output model which I first learned from electronics. Everything I see, hear, taste, smell and touch filters through in some way, and I’m especially interested in this process stage. There’s no shortage of input information, and when considering my output I think in terms of my whole body of work instead of individual pieces, and this means I’ll never be finished.
Where do you work? What is your average working day?
I work at home. I have a studio where I draw and paint and design, and outside I’ve converted the garage into a stained glass studio – the processes involved in making stained glass can be very messy.
Routine is very important but my working days change with the seasons. In winter I work in the morning, then try to get out for some exercise and sunlight, and then get back to it in the afternoon and evening. I don’t get much stained glass done in mid-winter as there’s so little daylight for choosing glass colours. In summer I can work all day and get my exercise and sunlight in the morning, afternoon or evening. I love summer.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working towards two exhibitions. The first is a joint show with Pamela Tait at An Tobar Arts Centre on the Isle of Mull this summer. The second is a group show in October which I’ve been invited to be part of and am very excited about. I also have a stained glass commission for a private residence which I’ll start after those shows.
I’m really happy right now because I have a fair bit of time to get my head down and draw and paint and make stuff. I have enough time to make mistakes/rubbish as well which is very important and inevitable.
Last year was really hard work – I made new work for my first solo show at FB69 Cologne. I also designed, made and fitted my largest stained glass commission to date at the new Highland Hospice building, and I completed some stained glass restoration projects in the North of Scotland, so this year is quite different but just as busy.
In what way does being Scottish/being in Scotland influence your work?
I am very interested in cultural heritage, identity, diversity, homogeneity, but I don’t know how this affects my work. I do find inspiration in the local landscape, weather, and artistic heritage from pre-history onwards, but I also love to look at people, objects and landscapes from all over the world. So, I don’t know if my work is particularly Scottish or not. I suppose that’s for others to see and it’s not something either I strive for, or try to resist.