Ruth Nicol

Ruth Nicol

About the Artist

Scottish     b.1967

Known as one of the foremost Scottish landscape artists working in Europe today. Ruth Nicol graduated with a BA (Hons) in Drawing & Painting from Edinburgh College of Art in 2010.    Ruth is from Glasgow and now lives and works in Edinburgh.  All of the works in her popular solo exhibition ‘East Neuk’ were created especially for my gallery – a great honour. Ruth previously exhibited in the Junor Gallery alongside Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach in ‘Landmarks: Poets, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland’ (summer 2018).

You can see the artist speaking about her work here.

‘These marks we make on the land, those buildings I’ve drawn into my landscapes, don’t last. They’re only here for a matter of centuries, decades . . . even a few years, increasingly now. Only the land endures.’    – Ruth Nicol

Professional Artist Memberships:  Aberdeen Arts Society; Scottish Society of Artists; Paisley Art Institute

Recipient of numerous Awards: Apache Award; Aberdeen Artists’ Society Annual Open Exhibition 2014; Lyon & Turnbull Award;  Royal Glasgow Institute 2013; Jolomo Bank of Scotland Awards, runner up 2013; Tony & Maureen Toft Prize;  SSA 116th  Open Exhibition 2013;  and six others from 2009

Collections:  Scottish Parliament collection; Royal Scottish Academy, Corporate Art Rental; The Public Catalogue Foundation; Falkirk District Council; Fraser Suites Hotel, Edinburgh; private collections.

Selected exhibitions:

2019                Leith in Spring  Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh; Line Gallery, Linlithgow

2017-19           Landmarks: Landmarks: Poets, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland  with Alexander Moffat OBE RSA and poet Alan Riach, in Lillie Gallery Milngavie, Montrose Museum & Art Gallery, Junor Gallery  St Andrews

2016                Whisperings from the Isle of Skye   Open Eye Gallery, Edinburgh

2016                Workings   Line Gallery, Linlithgow

2014-15           Three Rivers Meet   Landscapes associated with each of the poets depicted in Poets’ Pub (1980, Nat’l Portrait Gallery) by Alexander Moffat OBE RSA. Five galleries across Scotland and from which solo exhibition Holyrood, Robert Garioch  (2014) is on permanent display in the Scottish Parliament Buildings, Edinburgh

. . . and forty others incl. seven solo exhibitions.

Literature:  ‘Ruth Nicol: Three Rivers Meet’; ‘Landmarks’.


During her solo exhibition ‘East Neuk’ Ruth Nicol spoke to the gallery director about her work. An edited version of this conversation appeared in St Andrews in Focus (Issue 98 Jan/Feb 2020).

Beth Junor:  What are your first memories of the East Neuk of Fife, and of St Andrews in particular?

Ruth Nicol:   I’ve no memories of my first visit because my twin sister and I were still in nappies! I was one of six children and our family used to go for holidays from Glasgow to Pittenweem in the summer.

When I was older, I was in the Hyndland Ladies Hockey team. We used to come through to St Andrews to practice. We’d run up and down the West Sands – I thought this was a great training idea. I like to think my exhibition in St Andrews is reparation for all the ecological damage we did!

BJ:  This travelling in to St Andrews and East Neuk villages now features in your paintings. They often show a road, and you’ve given them titles like ‘Approaching St Andrews’ or ‘Approaching Kingsbarns.’

RN:  I’ve always been mesmerised by roads. Roads and motorways have been an important part of my life. The Glasgow motorways and the Clyde tunnel were big things when I was a girl. We get exposed to landscapes from roads. Sometimes we’re travelling to a place where we never actually arrive.

I remember a Rikki Fulton sketch about a couple driving through Scotland. They stop off at Loch Lomond, get out and look at the loch but don’t feel comfortable seeing it like that. So they get back in the car and look at it through the car windscreen and feel a lot better! I thought this was the funniest thing.

I take a lot of photos from our car while I’m researching a show. I took over four thousand photos for this exhibition. These are used as composition tools. I’m always looking for the perfect composition. I’m aware I have the observational eye of an incomer, approaching a landscape as someone new, as opposed to the folk who’ve lived here all their lives. That’s quite scary!

BJ:   It’s true enough, there’s an element of risk, but artists also refresh our vision of familiar surroundings.

RN:  Yes. The whole thing’s reciprocal. What I do is meaningless on its own. It’s only when people bring their intimate knowledge, their own experience, to the painting that it comes alive.

I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf, thinking about how she was determined to write fluidly. It doesn’t matter how noble our aspirations are. It’s all about the two-way communication. My fate is in your gallery visitors’ hands.

BJ:  I’m in a very privileged position because I get to see people’s responses to your work. I love hearing visitors’ stories sparked by the paintings, all the bits of information they add in.

RN:  That’s it. Sitting on a shelf in my studio the paintings are nothing. It’s only when they’re seen they mean something.  And an artist’s only as good as their last exhibition.

BJ:  As an experienced artist does it get easier to hold on to your identity in between exhibitions?

RN:  I have the support of my family. It all starts with observations and I always, always have my family with me when I go on a research trip. I couldn’t do it without [my husband] Bill and [daughter] Charlotte. That way at the start I have a kind of emotional uplift that’s needed.

Then in the studio I’m on my own a lot of the time. Charlotte’s sometimes there but I’m mainly on my own.

BJ:  Gallery visitors have been admiring your use of colour.

RN:  That’s a purely indulgent thing, the sheer pleasure of mixing one colour with another colour. My mum was quite radical in that way. It wasn’t ‘red and green should never be seen’ – they’re seen together in nature. Purples and yellows are together in nature. When we went to Elie, that was where the red tiled roofs really struck me.

Everybody’s got that fresh way of seeing within them, if they take the time. I always say, just stand. Stand and look, and stop thinking. Especially today, with everything that’s going on, take time to just stand and look.

The other day I got off the bus and walked along the Waters of Leith. The water was really low, and amongst all that brown, muddy mess there were four or five different colours.

BJ:  There’s another recurring motif in your paintings, a triangular section, it looks like an architectural detail, in the lower right or left corner. So the perspective is as if we’re seeing the land or sea from a rooftop, or from a building looking outward. These occur in several paintings in this show but they’re also found in some paintings in your famous ‘Three Rivers Meet’ show.

RN:  I’ve always been fascinated by rooftops. These are also compositional techniques, to free up the painting a wee bit more. They guide the eye into the landscape.

In my training [at Edinburgh College of Art], we had Richard Demarco come to speak to us. He said there are two kinds of people who look into the corners of paintings: there are those who’re really interested and want to examine every part of the canvas to make sure it’s good, and those who’ve lost interest and their eye wanders away, down to the corner. So make sure your corners are always perfect. They pull the viewer back in.

BJ:  One of your gallery events is a sketching demonstration. I think that’s incredibly brave! It’ll be just as interesting for non-artists as artists.

RN:  I hope so. It’ll start with film footage of Charlotte as a baby, drawing – to show that’s how we should draw. Be instinctive, let it flow, don’t think too much. This event will be great for me because I’ve never actually shown people how I draw. I stop breathing. Then the painting is a very, very physical process. I breathe when I’m painting but when I’m drawing I don’t breathe!


  • Shown:  ‘Approaching St Andrews’ 2019  Acrylic on card 82 x 106.3cm £1,200.  For more information about this artwork, about other paintings of St Andrews or the East Neuk of Fife, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – e-mail Beth at