Deborah Cruden, Angels

John Kinross Scholar in 1999


How did the experience affect you as an individual?  
I was absolutely thrilled when I found out I had been awarded one of the RSA Kinross Scholarships in 1999. In the second half of 4th year I was pregnant and unfortunately experienced a sudden complication and brief hospital stay, which resulted in being unable to travel. The RSA were amazing and very supportive and allowed me to travel the following year. Which I did, with my then 10 month old baby boy (Finn). The whole experience affected me positively for life; every part of it was educational and enriching: from the obvious ‘in awe’ moments on entering galleries I had only seen in books, losing hours drinking coffee in Piazzas while going over my photos and sketchbook, interacting with locals and people watching in the Piazza Grande and Piazza della Signoria both in Florence and the Piazza del Campo in Sienna – to the less grand but equally rich moments of brief encounters with people while travelling around Italy, and the sheer beauty of the places I saw (especially off the beaten track and in lesser known areas).

Deborah Cruden, Old Genoa, RSA Collection

I’d read about the old buildings of Genoa so arrived in Italy there for the first leg, we stayed in the depths of the old town, which didn’t disappoint for inspiration, and that first taste of coffee at a small espresso bar on a corner?! The rundown buildings were nothing like in Scotland! Outwith the old town I remember walking along the Via XX Settembre and stopping to sketch a section of the building where the shops were set back, between columns. I still remember the glowing pavement made yellow by the glare of the lights from the shops.

After soaking up the old town culture, discovering espressos and buildings perfect for sketching, we headed on the train to Florence. I remember one day getting so lost in Florence, I couldn’t even find where we were on my map. It was absolutely lashing down. Luckily someone pointed us in the right direction and it took over an hour to get back to somewhere I recognised! The buildings off the beaten track were amazing. We had a quick visit to Sienna and wow that didn’t disappoint, I think that was my favourite place, the little lanes and narrow corridors were like nothing I’d ever seen.

Sharing this experience with my son was priceless and as much as he doesn’t remember it, he did come back a different baby.

I’ll never forget a small gallery I came across when lost in Florence that displayed local artists’ work, as a recent graduate I felt blown away with the quality of work hidden away in a small gallery. There was just so much to soak up and take in. I just found myself being inspired by everything! Even stopping to sketch doorways and found the most interesting and rundown buildings away from the touristy places. I remember finding a small restaurant in Florence tucked away in a small lane, where no-one spoke English, I did my best with the Italian lessons I took before going but only seemed to be able to order food.  I remember the chef taking Finn away to the kitchen, I sat watching him being thrown in the air and being fed a mix of tastes by the chef. It was amazing and I couldn’t imagine that happening at home!

We met some amazing people on train journeys and people were always
so keen to take him out of my arms for a cuddle, he loved the attention!

All the main galleries and places I wanted to visit were up a lot of steps,
and getting on a train with a baby, buggy, large rucksack and all the
accessories was challenging but there was always someone offering help.


What was the impact on your practice?
In my 4th year of studying Fine Art (Painting) at Gray’s School of Art I had been focusing on architecture, ruins and the human connection/residue left behind by people in abandoned buildings. The impact on my practice was significant, at the time I was living in Aberdeen-shire and had only been able to source a particular type of building and building remains. Everything seemed to be the same type of building/stonework. Seeing the buildings in Italy was so inspiring and like nothing I had seen before.  It helped me to enhance my textures, layers, tones and colours. The experience had a positive impact on confidence in my practice at the time.

I still paint rundown/disused buildings, and I also paint figures.  I use a similar layered and textured approach with figurative painting that I do with painting building structures.


What would you say the long term impact has been on yourself and you work?
The long term impact on my work has been on my confidence in, at the time, I was unsure of my paintings of interiors and exteriors of rundown buildings. The textures, and images lacking in colour that were not necessarily ‘attractive’, but the Scholarship really helped me not to accept my work and my approach to painting, being awarded the Scholarship was such a fundamental confident boost in my work. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been as inspired by any other place I’ve visited. I’d love to return to Italy and visit Rome and other places I didn’t see while on the Scholarship trip all those years ago.  Reflecting now, it’s amazing how much of a lasting experience it all had.  Finn (now 20) still likes to hear stories about our Italian adventure. Overall it was an amazing experience and enhanced my perspective, practice, work and life as a whole on so many different levels.