When the boats come in

The hustle and bustle of Aberdeen harbour isn’t the first place you’d expect to find an artist. However, that’s exactly where you would have found Aberdeen artist Kate Steenhauer this summer as she created an artwork series titled The Shipyards of Aberdeen.

Kate is the principal engineer of Aberdeen-based energy consultancy Tymor Marine, which specialises in naval architecture and marine engineering, and spent the past three-and-a-half months capturing the activity at Aberdeen harbour for a series of 10 artworks.

Shipyards of Aberdeen

Brought up in Holland, the last thing a teenage Kate expected to be doing later in life was standing by a quayside drawing the hubbub of harbour life. A semi-professional tennis player in her youth, competing in national and international ranking tournaments, Kate explored various career options before deciding on engineering.

After graduating from Delft University with an MSc in civil engineering, Kate moved to Britain in 2004 to work in Peterborough. Following two years developing coastal and river models for flood risk and wave climate assessments, she relocated north to undertake a PhD in coastal engineering at the University of Aberdeen.

In 2009, after three years’ work she completed her PhD. She remained at the university’s School of Engineering working as a research fellow until March 2012, when she embarked on a career in the energy industry. It was while working at the university she decided to develop her art skills.

“Art had always been a passion of mine and something I knew I would return to,” explained Kate.  

“Part of me always wanted to explore my artistic abilities, but the sensible part of me knew I should establish a career. I knew that for my art skills to evolve I would need some formal tuition. I needed to know how drawing worked, so for me it was a case of going back to basics and being schooled in all the traditional components of the subject.”

Kate approached Aberdeen artist George Collier for help and in March 2010 began private tuition with him. His traditional and rational approach suited Kate and gave her the good foundation she needed. She spent two years under his guidance, gaining great experience in a wide array of drawing techniques.

Keen to expand her skillset, apprenticeships with other local artists followed. Lyndsey Gibb provided instruction in printmaking, while fine artist Nicole Porter coached her in oil painting. Kate didn’t have to wait long for success, winning various awards – including the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy Award 2013. Her work has also been exhibited locally and nationally.

As she continued to refine her skills Kate could be found sketching scenes in Aberdeen and the surrounding countryside. It was while drawing in Aberdeen city centre this summer that The Shipyards of Aberdeen was born.

“Aberdeen has many beautiful buildings, but I was looking for something different to draw and wandered down to the harbour,” says Kate.  

“I became transfixed with everything that was happening and must have spent about two hours just watching, drawing and letting the composition change over time.

“Unlike a photograph which captures a specific moment, a sketch evolves as birds duck and dive, lorries arrive and offload items, people chat and go about their work, and the weather changes. I was hooked and kept returning. Soon I was attracting the interest of skippers and boatmen asking for copies of my work.

“There is an element of design in my job at Tymor Marine as I work on models for structural analysis, offshore surveys, anode designs and inshore wave analysis. Maybe the idea for the artworks came from this. Tymor has been really supportive and provided me with a studio space in our building.”

Each pencil drawing takes anything from 20 minutes to two hours to complete. The drawing is then transformed into an etching by scratching it in mirrored form into a copper plate. To ensure the design bites into the copper the plate is periodically bathed in acid.  

The length of time the plate stays in acid depends on the depth of incision needed. Etching each design takes about two-and-a-half days – with fine tuning another two to three weeks. From each plate a limited run of ink prints is finally created.

Kate’s etching skills were honed by Michael Waight of Peacock Visual Arts who helped her to master the technique’s finer elements. The support she received from the Aberdeen art community and her colleagues has been invaluable to the project.  After three-and-a-half months Kate has completed 10 pieces, but feels this is just the beginning.

“I’ve established a set of prints that document a small portion of what happens at Aberdeen harbour. I’m now working to recreate the designs as oil paintings. Ten artworks was my aim, however with so much happening at the harbour this will naturally increase.  I am particularly interested in speaking to companies about specific projects.”

For more information on The Shipyards of Aberdeen artworks, visit www.katesteenhauer.com.

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