EXPERIENCING the world at a snail’s pace kick-started Lesley Banks’s career.
The artist became a gongoozler – that’s a person who enjoys canal life without being on the water – and it’s a pastime she would recommend to anyone looking for something different in their lives.
When she began walking her new dog, Bella, by the Forth & Clyde Canal near her home in Bishopbriggs, Lesley was at a crossroads in her profession.
“I’ve been painting for more than 30 years, mostly interiors and figures, but getting Bella forced me out of the house,” explained Lesley, who has exhibited in the UK, America and Singapore, and was once artist-in-residence at Edinburgh Zoo.
“At first I thought ‘Walks with my dog’ could be my next art project, but I felt it might be a bit boring.
“Then I realised the canal itself would be an ideal subject.”
Originally from Denny, near Falkirk, Lesley planned to paint landscapes on the towpath between the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel. But after Andy Scott, creator of the Kelpies, put her in touch with Scottish Canals, she was appointed the organisation’s first artist-in-residence.
“It was only when I started I realised what a big project it was,” Lesley, 54, continued.
“I walked every single one of the 137 miles of canal – some more than once.
“People would say ‘Are canals not boring’, but I found the peace and solitude inspiring and creative.
“I spent months walking the towpaths, deciding what to paint. I kept a sketchbook, notepad and camera to hand.
“The result is a love letter to the canals.”
Lesley, mum to three boys, has captured scenes from the Caledonian, Forth & Clyde, Crinan, Union and Monkland canals.
“I wasn’t even aware there was a Monkland Canal until Richard Millar from Scottish Canals said I should do all five,” she smiled.
“Half of the Monkland Canal is under the M8, but what I found interesting is that it’s the main water supply for the Forth & Clyde, with the pipes running under the motorway.
“My favourite is the Crinan in Argyll & Bute. It’s only nine miles long but, no matter which end you start, there’s somewhere to go for breakfast and a nice place halfway to stop for lunch!
“I’ll never forget one very misty morning. I watched as the mist lifted from the sea to Crinan Ferry and a clear blue sky appeared.
“I felt very lucky to be there.”
Her exhibition, Gongoozler, opened yesterday at Park Gallery in Callendar Park, Falkirk, where it remains until June 25. It then transfers to the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie in July, before hopefully moving on to Edinburgh.
Lesley added: “The word gongoozler grabs people’s attention.
“It’s bargee slang for the people who would be on the locks watching people work on the canals. It wasn’t a compliment, back in the day!”
Maybe not, but it’s worked out well for Lesley.