I am a scientist and also an artist. In 2002 I began
attending life classes with Damian Callan, at his studios in
Edinburgh, which he refers to as ‘The University of Dalry’.
I concentrated at first on the figure drawn from life. The
human figure, in particular the moving figure, is Damian’s
area of excellence and he was an inspiring teacher. I had
a toddler and baby back then, and I could spend my days
watching their chubby limbs, animated expressions and
acres of perfect skin.
The depth concentration I achieved in those classes, was
in stark contrast to the chaos of being a hands-on mum
to two little ones. I loved it. Later, after attending courses
on landscape and cityscapes in 2006, I concentrated on
those areas and left figurative art behind for three years.
I started to work as a professional artist and Damian
became my mentor.
In 2009, I came back to working with the human figure,
but I found I wanted the complexity of the figure in
motion and with the environment. I started painting
fishermen at Port Seton, then ice-skaters at Murrayfield
ice-rink, and finally board divers.
I’ve had a fascination with the beauty of board diving for
some time. The shapes the divers hit at the apex of their
dive are a delight to behold. They last just a fraction of a
second, but they feel, like art itself, an ephemeral
moment of perfection.
Edinburgh Diving Club is a top diving club with young
athletes competing at international level. Whilst the
Edinburgh Commonwealth Pool was being refurbished,
they trained in a small pool close to where I live. I went
to watch them one day in 2010, and found myself signing
up my kids (then aged 11 and 8) and myself, for classes.
We dived with the club for a year.
The old pool in Newbattle had very limited diving
facilities: only two boards for the whole club and a dark-
stained, low ceiling. Sometimes the best young divers
bounced so high before a dive, that they could touch the
ceiling. The divers never complained about the limited
facilities. They just got on with it. They were a great
bunch of athletes, always kind and encouraging with our
The main club trainers Vicki Tomlinson and Mary Sless,
ran a tight ship. They watched every dive performed in
training, giving individual feedback on each dive. They
didn’t allow misbehaviour poolside, but stayed tolerant
of the good-natured playing that takes place: the
youngest boys sometimes played in and out of the water
with ease of seals by the shore.
I watched my children as they overcame various hurdles
under Mary’s guidance: prior to diving lessons, my 8-
year-old could not swim confidently, add to that her fear
of heights, and you will appreciate that when she finally
executed a lovely dive from the 1 meter board, I felt like I
was watching a miracle.
Divers were encouraged regardless of their age, level or
potential. Some dived for the joy of it, or for the
friendships they had made: one pair of girls met up every
Friday night to dive together, and then putting on their
pyjamas in the changing room, would head off for a sleep
over. All the divers encouraged each other, falling silent in
sympathetic concentration when someone was about to
try something new and difficult. Blasting out wolf-
whistles when they managed it.
Some of the divers at this Scottish club were heading
towards big things: Grace Reid (who was the youngest
Scottish competitor at the 2010 Commonwealth games),
James Heatly and Amber Foster, to name but three. Will
any of them make into the 2012 Olympics? We will have
to see. They will surely be at the 2014 Commonwealth
games (the diving will be held in Edinburgh
The club, it seemed, could teach anyone to dive. Even
myself at 39, older adults too, with no previous
experience. If you have never dived as a child, you will
never make a perfect fluid dive, but still we all tried.
Everyone was accepted and inspired to push themselves.
Surely this is the essence of what makes sport great?
I was fascinated by how one minute the divers would be
laughing and playing with each other in the queue, and
the next minute they would be poised at the end of the
board, in the rapt concentration that is required just
before a dive. I watched enthralled as my own children
developed the discipline of intense concentration just
prior to a dive.
The moment just before a dive became a real focus for me. When I stood on the end of the board, I thought only
of the dive: everything else fell away. I would imagine all the movements and positions of the dive. If I
concentrated perfectly, I could do as a good dive as I had imagined. If I let my concentration slip, even slightly, I
would fall apart mid-air, the sore slap-sound I hit the water alerting the other divers to my terrible dive. I felt that
everything needed to create the perfect dive was contained in that moment before; it held a tension and a purity
of concentration that I found exhilarating. I wanted to paint it.
The club embraced the idea of me painting the divers. They understood about how beautiful diving was and how
it can’t always be captured by a photograph. The parents of young divers also liked the idea, giving myself and
Damian permission to work with their children whilst they were in training. We set to work.
My paintings were influenced by the local pool and its dark-stained wooden ceiling. The diver’s bright, golden
flight, framed by this dark background, got me researching the paintings of Rembrandt and his use of
transparent glazes. Whilst completing preparatory sketches, the illustrator Dave McKean became a big influence:
I wanted in my paintings to have some of the immediacy of the gothic, glowing illustrations he painted for Neil
Gaiman’s book ‘The day I swopped my dad for two goldfish’.
I hope I have captured what it is like to focus and train for a great sport. All the concentration, precision and
devotion that is necessary to create a single moment of perfection.
Sarah Keer-Keer June 2012
Find out more about Daminan Callan http://damiancallan.weebly.com/
http://www.edinburghdivingclub.org.uk The Edinburgh Diving club returned to the Edinburgh commonwealth
Pool in March 2012. Why not join them?This club will remind you about everything that is good in sport, and
push you to discover confidence and abilities you didn’t know you had.