The Living Mountain

Volunteer Spotlight

Kath Pender is a busy woman; artist, wild swimmer, hill walker… not to mention a Venture Scotland volunteer and fundraiser! Kath has been with Venture Scotland since 2017 and has canoed, climbed and abseiled with the best of them. In 2020, she planned to fundraise for Venture Scotland by walking from Fort William to Cape Wrath but, like so many of our fundraising events, she was forced to postpone her walk during lockdown.

Kath has been drawing and painting her whole life and her latest art exhibition, “Mountain Portraits”, will be held in late autumn – venue and dates to be confirmed after a last-minute cancellation (stay tuned!)

We caught up with Kath for an outdoorsy, artsy chat!

Kath. You have been with Venture Scotland since 2017 – what got you involved with VS and what’s your favourite part of volunteering?

I had just moved back from New Zealand, and I was trying to find my feet, find a job and it was all quite difficult. Rather than sitting around, I thought I could use my spare time to volunteer – I wanted it to be something outdoorsy because moving back from New Zealand to Glasgow was a bit of a shock! I also wanted it to be something which would help people get into the outdoors too, so I did lots of googling which brought up Venture Scotland, and it looked like everything I wanted to do.

My favourite part of volunteering with VS is meeting all the young people, volunteers and staff and challenging myself. I was absolutely terrified coming along the first time but I like challenging myself and learning loads – that’s why I’m still here four years later!

Apart from having a natural talent – what got you into art in the first place? Were you always drawn to nature as a subject or did you dabble in others?

I think just doing something that I love and thinking “surely I can just keep doing it” (I’m not sure what my folks thought about that though!). Having a passion for art and music fills me with joy and I wanted to try to keep doing that, so I went to art school.

I’ve always drawn and painted the environment around me. In Glasgow and Aberdeen I was painting more urban stuff – more people, marks on the ground… It’s definitely moved towards nature since. Moving to New Zealand had a huge influence on me, I was immersed in the mountains all the time. My art started getting more mountain-based during that time.

Your current exhibition, and much of your artwork, focuses on mountains – what is it about them that makes such good subjects?

Everything – if you’re obsessed with mountains! There’s so much to them; they’re a place for adventure and to challenge yourself, they’re beautiful but they’re also something you can view from afar or you can throw yourself into them. They’re for everyone, they define the landscape and they’re absolutely solid. When everything is changing around you, they give us a link to deep time.

I first started painting hills when my mum was in a hospice in Springburn and, right across Glasgow, you could see the Campsie Hills; when my entire world was collapsing and changing, the Campsie Hills were steady and solid. That feels relevant to the last couple of years as the world has just fallen apart and the mountains are always there and permanent.

Some of your paintings take months and months to create – do you find that what you were trying to capture/what motivated you at the start of a project evolves over time?

Yeah, it definitely can. I always paint the mountain first and that’s quite detailed and takes quite a long time. Even the paintings I’ve got now for the next exhibition, I’ve painted the mountains, but I don’t actually know yet what the rest of the painting will be, what the colours will be, but that evolves as you spend time with a painting. I’ve very rarely got a finished picture in my head when I start, I’ve got an outline in mind and the more time I spend with it, the more its personality comes through.

Speaking of things evolving over time! You’ve found creative ways to keep your Cape Wrath Trail fundraiser on the go during lockdown – first doing a virtual walk and now an art walk. Can you tell us how that came about/what’s involved?

So, the initial idea was pretty straightforward. The idea was to raise money for Venture Scotland by walking from Fort William to Cape Wrath, with not really any experience of long-distance walking, so it was going to be a really big challenge for myself. It was going absolutely brilliantly – I felt like I’d got loads of momentum, loads of donations and support – and then lockdown happened. I asked other Venture Scotland volunteers how to keep the fundraiser alive and one of them said “why don’t you do a virtual walk”, which involves people walking a part of the trail in their own area. I put a shout out on my Cape Wrath Facebook page and people from all over the UK signed up – folk I’d never met and who never knew what Venture Scotland was! I split it into 21 days of walking and asked people to be sponsored for their section of the walk. I asked people to send some photos and I would send an art postcard and a Venture Scotland sticker to them. The spaces filled up straight away, it was great and pretty much doubled the sponsor money. People were really amazing and really generous. The John Muri Trust also gave me a grant from the Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant which was amazing.

For the art walk, I put a shout out to people who have walked the trail, lived there or passed through the area and asked whether they had any photos or stories they were willing to share. My plan was to do wee drawings of people’s stories for  the upcoming exhibition and send them a print of their drawing too. It’s a lot more involved than getting people to walk for a day, so it’s been quite a lot of work! I hope it keeps the project alive, I’ve had a really good response to it so far and I’m aiming to walk it – for real – in April 2022.

Venture Scotland uses the outdoors as a vehicle for improved mental health – what do the outdoors mean to you?

Everything. For me the outdoors is a place to learn, to challenge, to get a sense of adventure, to push myself, to be at peace. If everything is getting too much, the most peaceful and at rest I ever feel is just humphing myself up some big hill and sitting, exhausted, looking at the view and feeling really proud of myself. Being outdoors, rather than in the city, I’m proud of myself, of my body, I think it’s amazing because it got me up this hill. When you’re outdoors you learn that you can do amazing stuff and you can feel really small in the big scale of the world which, you know, can make problems seem really small as well. There’s a lot of that in Venture Scotland and what they do with Young People.

Thanks Kath!

Follows the links below to keep up with the progress of Kath’s art and her exhibition. Good luck Kath!