Budding sketchers take to Lauriston Castle

Mark Kirkham in the grounds of his beloved Lauriston Castle. Picture: Greg Macvean
Mark Kirkham in the grounds of his beloved Lauriston Castle. Picture: Greg Macvean
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WITH its turrets, crenellations, chimneys, ancient moss-covered stonework, beautiful gardens and monkey puzzle trees – and then the view to Fife and the Forth bridges – Lauriston Castle should be an artist’s dream subject.

And it is for Mark Kirkham. In fact it’s more than that for the 39-year-old illustrator, better known as The Edinburgh Sketcher. It’s the place where he and his wife Jo had their wedding photographs taken and the place where he’s spent hours sketching while his children roam the gardens. For him, it’s a magical place of inspiration.

The castle has so much to offer, so many elements

Now he’s hoping it will find a place in aspiring artists’ hearts – and sketchpads – when he unlocks the secrets to drawing the 16th-century castle this summer with a series of masterclasses.

“I’ve sketched at Lauriston Castle hundreds of times,” he says. “It has so much to offer, has so many different elements. There’s the architecture of the Castle and the glass house, there’s the amazing views, lots of nature and the Japanese Garden there is very beautiful as well. And that’s all before you even go into the building.

“I’m lucky that I live reasonably close to Lauriston so it’s a constant source of inspiration for me. It’s a great place to let the kids run around and my wife and I love it so much we had our wedding pictures done in the Japanese Garden. It’s a special place.”

Mark, whose images of the city regularly appear in the Evening News and Scotsman, will be offering sketching classes for adults and children at Lauriston and they will get the chance to learn his trademark “speed sketching” skills.

Visitors will sketch in and around the Castle grounds, including the tranquil gardens, and inside the old castle kitchen, using pens and watercolour before working on a final sketch to take home.

It’s hardly surprising Mark finds much inspiration there. Lauriston Castle was built by Sir Archibald Napier of Merchiston (father of John Napier) in 1590 for his youngest son and down the centuries it has been expanded and changed. The result is a mix of Jacobean architecture externally and Edwardian elegance inside.

Indeed, the interior is thanks to William Robert Reid, a cabinetmaker who bought the Castle in 1902 and filled it with fine furniture and art. Dying childless, he left it to the nation on condition it should be preserved unchanged, and the city council has administered the building since 1926.

Then there’s the Japanese Garden, which was built by Takashi Sawano in 2002 as part of Edinburgh twinning with the city of Kyoto, while the views at the back to the Forth are mostly enjoyed by members of the Edinburgh Croquet Club as there are three croquet lawns.

A native of Lancashire and the son of a painter father and photographer mother, Mark has called Edinburgh home for the last 15 years and there’s barely a place he hasn’t visited, sketchbook in hand. But sketching the beauty of Lauriston must also have served as an antidote to the months he spent in the Sick Kids when his son James – twin to daughter Zoe – was diagnosed with the blood clotting condition Haemophilia A. Now a healthy three-year-old, James is back to roaming the grounds while his dad works.

Mark gives his top three pieces of advice to budding sketchers: “First is to get sketching. You can plan and plan but in the end you just need to get out there and do it. Hopefully these workshops at Lauriston Castle will tempt people to do just that.

“Tip two is, don’t be shy. You can feel very self aware pulling out a pen and pad in a busy street, but don’t let that put you off. Once I begin I get into the zone and usually forget people are passing by, or even watching.

“My third piece of advice is to be prepared. I always carry the bare essentials, but sometimes I have resorted to sketching on napkins and receipts. I promise these classes at Lauriston Castle will be well stocked – all visitors need to do is book their ticket and turn up on the day.”

Mark’s classes are part of the Castle’s packed summer programme of arts and crafts, lectures, theatre and events.

• The family sketching classes run on Friday July 24 from 10am-noon and 1-3pm, £5 per person (children must be accompanied by an adult) while adult-only classes will be held on Saturday August 15, 10-12 and 1-3pm, £20 per person. All classes can be booked via the Usher Hall website or call 0131 228 1155.