Updated: Jan 10, 2022
I met Douglas Roulston by chance at the side of Rob Roy MacGregor's grave. Or more accurately, my family did. And in those first few moments they grasped what Douglas was about and what an interesting journey he is on. I was beckoned back to meet "this mountain biking painter" and was immediately swept up in what he is trying to do and how unique it actually is. I am so pleased to be able to collaborate with Douglas on this blog post and bring his work to the Scottish Adventure audience.
What led you to become an Artist?
I have loved painting for as long as I can remember and was heavily influenced by my Dad and a late family friend who would always take their paints on holiday with them. I always enjoyed spending time by their sides admiring the surrounding views or twisting around their easels to see how they were capturing them on canvas.
Holidays normally meant trips to the South of France or the Isle of Islay on Scotland’s West Coast. Both places, on the surface at least, seemed quite different to me as a child but in reflection they were each by spectacular skies and unique light. I think that helped me hugely as I began to blend different colours and learned how to apply them to my paintings to portray different moods which is a significant feature of much of my art today.
As I grew up, my love of outdoor sports also began taking me to many beautiful places that I felt enthused to capture in my paintings. These places, and the memory of many others, are still what make me want to keep painting, that sense of a place and a time along with a feeling that I will always want to return to. This was also enhanced following a very bad skiing injury in Austria at the age of 17 that gave me a sudden sense of my own mortality and even more of a drive to try and hold on to the beauty that comes from the remote and inaccessible places that only the privileged few will ever see in life.
What was the concept behind the Mountain and the Beach and how did it differ from the original plan?
Originally, we just thought it would be great to do a film that showed where I get my inspiration from.
So many artists work from photographs in the studio, but for me I have to experience something firsthand for it to be real. I want my art to be as close as someone can get to actually being somewhere they can never be. I want a viewer to feel that they were standing beside me when I chose the view and took up my brushes.
The “mountain” element of the film was inspired by my many mountain biking and hill climbing adventures, including climbing Ben Nevis with a 5” high Oor Wullie statue! The “beach“ on the other hand took its cue from my love of painting Scotland’s beautiful beaches and coasts.
We felt that any film intended to reflect my inspiration and my art would have to incorporate these two elements, with the real challenge finding a location that could showcase both in a single day – through the magic of the film camera at least! The initial hill choice couldn’t do this and it was the film’s producer who suggested Suilven given its beauty, remoteness and spectacular vistas but also its relative proximity to Achmelvich Beach – a real gem in the North West Highlands.
I was also intrigued and inspired in equal measure as I had never spent any real time in the area before and saw fresh inspiration as a great place to start a new project. I must confess that I was also a little apprehensive when I saw the steep mountains. Climbing Suilven would be challenging I thought – especially with a mountain bike on my back – but I have always seen a direct correlation between the energy required to create an artwork and its true value to me. I hope the film reflects that.
What are your plans for the coming year? How do I plan to follow up from the film?
I always try to set goals every year as I think it is definitely helping me to expand my art and become even more creative.
My work on the film has inspired me to develop a new Youtube channel that focusses on Art and Mountain Biking. Combining both of these loves is awesome and after meeting several Youtuber’s for advice, I am now ready to expand the channel further. I’m also looking at doing some more short films to promote specific solo shows.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that I will also be doing a lot of painting! Demand for my work is increasing significantly – which is of course fantastic – but it does mean that my projects all still need to combine with my love of art.
When did Scottish landscape painting and mountain biking become a combination in your life? When did I first take my paints with you?
My landscape painting actually developed from my love of snow sports when I was younger. I used to instruct and ski competitively, however, an accident stopped me from pursuing a promising skiing career further. I suppose that was a blessing in disguise as it also steered me towards the new loves of my creative life, art and mountain biking.
My art helped me focus and gave me something positive to do through my recovery whilst cycling helped build up my strength and didn’t put too much pressure on my damaged knee. Cycling also took me to some spectacular places, whilst painting allowed me to capture special moments in a very unique and personal way.
I still get a real buzz from seeing one of my paintings on a gallery wall – so far away from the place and time that inspired it – especially when it gets a positive reaction from the public.
I usually now always take a sketch book and some water colour paints with me everywhere I go, a bit like most people take a camera or a phone. It’s just what I do.
Scottish Adventure: What has been your favourite and most productive place to go? Has client interest taken you to places you hadn’t considered?
I am fortunate to be able to go to lots of fantastic places so its really difficult to say what would be my favourite.
I love going to the Isle of Harris and Lewis. Its rocky landscape and vast white sandy beaches make a fantastic panoramic experience.
Possibly the place I visited where I have been most productive was Sutherland when we made ‘The Mountain and the Beach’. Painting beaches can be a stark contrast to painting mountains and you quite often have to travel long distances to get both. Achmelvich beach has it all. As you paint its white sandy shores, you can see the tall, intimidating rock faces of the majestic Suilven. It stands like a sentinel guarding over the surrounding barren landscape. It is a special place indeed! At only 731 metres high with its distinct shape positioned at the heart of Assynts Cnoc and loch it is a prominent feature of the area. I managed to take a great selection of photographs and at the same time be part of an adventure that has opened new paths in my career and given me amazing lasting memories to grow old with.
What do you hope to see in the future of outdoor adventure in Scotland? Are there events in the area that I would like to do? What type of events would you like to see up here?
We are blessed with a beautiful and breath-taking landscape in Scotland which I passionately believe should be accessible to all. The pandemic has pushed many areas to the brink however, especially as many of our newer visitors only seem interested in those parts of Scotland you can see through your window with your four wheels sitting on tar.
I suppose I’d really like to see a little more responsibility being taken by the small number of people who have the potential to spoil outdoor adventure for everyone then. You see, I’ve always felt that it’s a little ironic that outdoor adventure, which on the face of it seems pretty altruistic, is actually really selfish in so far as its really only at its best when we can do it in a place where no one else is, or at the very least we can’t see or hear them! Hahaha
So, I want to see more people enjoying the wild beauty that Scotland has to offer but I don’t want to see more car parks, more traffic, more rubbish and more pollution. If we can make that happen, we’re on a winner.
In my day job as an Art and Design teacher and MTB leader for the school, I am fortunate to have a great group of pupils to take cycling. This is promoting younger riders and is even directing them to enter competitions. I think outdoor education should be promoted in schools due to increased popularity of outdoor sports. I also believe that, despite popular opinion, when we teach kids how to behave in specific situations and why they tend to listen and learn and that this is key to how they then treat our great wilderness.
As a teacher, I have also been inspired by some of the pupil’s successes in adventure sports. So much so that I am now entering more Enduro races. I’m also really keen to do more ‘Doon the Brae’ events such as the Scolty and Drumtochty Enduros and believe there is the scope and appetite to host more of these kind of events despite the challenge associated with organising them and keeping everyone safe in the current climate.
Scottish Adventure: Thanks Douglas, Looking forward to seeing you at our Summit and hearing speak more about previous, current and future projects / rides.
See more of Douglas' work here:
The Mountain and The Beach on YouTube