Leading mural artist Chris Rutterford shares with us his creative process and how he went about transforming the concrete steps at Loch Leven into this magnificent artwork.

My name is Chris Rutterford, I am one of Scotland’s top mural artists. For the last ten years I’ve made a career out of transforming walls and rooms for bars, restaurants, museums in a sequence of increasingly large scale and ambitious murals in the public domain. My recent work has started to spread murals outwith the confines of the city however and has taken my work a little further afield and into some of Scotland’s beautiful countryside. In the last two years I am best known for being the lead artist on the Colinton Tunnel in Edinburgh. A mural project that transformed a 140m grim dilapidated train tunnel on the outskirts of Edinburgh into a glorious life affirming destination venue. It has helped breathe fresh life into the 14mile Water Of Leith Walkway. The mural is being touted as the latest tourist attraction in Edinburgh, and all that was required was a millimetre of paint to change everything.

The RSPB habitat in Loch Leven is a cathedral of natural beauty and an oasis of contemplation for it’s visitors. That is not to say concrete and grey doesn’t intervene however, the reserve exists in the real world. The site in Loch leven is undergoing a transformation. With backing from Sustrans they recently improved access from their visitor centre with a tunnel under the main road and down to the glorious fringes of Loch leven in all its splendour. As part of the build the centre built a bland set of grey concrete stairs, incredibly important for access but totally contrary to the spirit of the beautiful Loch Leven setting. RSPB Scotland have managed to attract funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery Innovation Fund to transform the stairs in time for the next phase of their story. I was asked to design a mural that spread over the three flights of stairs and reflected the key habitats they are famous for. Forestry, grassland and their prime habitat, the wetland. The team at the reserve came up with a list of the birds, animals and insects they wanted depicted in the mural l and I drew an outline illustration for feedback and to focus the project, after a little more consultation we agreed on the design.

       

The date for the artist residency on site was set for a fortnight in mid September 2021 and i was a little nervous, in a situation like this I am at the mercy of the weather , so I was really hoping for an Indian summer. The first week I was lucky and this year’s dry weather continued, however in the second week the mural was a little damaged by overnight rain on a couple of occasions, nevertheless I persisted. Over the fortnight I shuffled up and down the stairs on my knees and my bum, painting flora and fauna from the region. Throughout the process I have been approached by visitors utterly bamboozled by the mural asking how I painted it on the up-risers of the staircase. The truth is that this was a little challenging and required a fair amount of standing back to redraw. The essential composition was already planned however, and I liked my drawing, I knew the spirit was correct. As long as I captured the essence of the plan I knew it would look good. My creative partner Lubi Lykan was on site on and off helping with the painting over the fortnight with our dog Rona there in a managerial capacity. I had a team. The real thing that has surprised me at the end is just how well the painting has bedded the stairs into the landscape. As though the flanking hills and the forest behind grow out of my painting, when actually it is the other way around. It is spectacular and quiet at the same time. Otters, red squirrels, badgers, peacock butterflies … amongst the last to be painted the pink footed geese. My painted version acting as a herald of good things to come, the annual migration of roughy 22000 geese started arriving the day after I painted my goose. Eventually on the last day of the fortnight I found a final weather window, completed the painting and got it varnished and protected from the elements ready for the winter.

   Images © Chris Rutterford

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