From the serene surroundings of her Caithness coast studio, Lisa McDonald creates wave paintings inspired by the wild Scottish seas that pound the shoreline

WORDS Caroline Wheater PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa McDonald

‘A decade ago, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this 200-year-old cottage, looking out to sea and far away from the rat race, would be my home,’ says artist Lisa McDonald, watching white horses race across the North Sea from the comfort of her conservatory studio in Caithness. On the easel and stacked around the walls are oil canvases in various states of completion – a collection of roiling waves inspired by the rugged Caithness coast. ‘When a “wave day” comes I’m so delighted,’ she says, adding that the day after a storm is a great time to watch waves.

Eight years ago, Lisa was living in the warmer climes of West Sussex, but was far less happy. She was immersed in a corporate career and unable to focus on her real passion, painting. Bravely, she decided to throw it all in and have an adventure. ‘A trip to Lapland triggered something huge in my life,’ she recalls. It led to a job in the hospitality business near John O’Groats, with her then boyfriend, a chef. While she and the chef fell out of love, Lisa fell head-over-heels for the Scottish landscape, and put down roots. Soon after, she met her husband-to-be, Gordon, and life has just got better and better.

Now, with Gordon’s support, Lisa, a self-taught artist, runs her own creative business, selling small acrylic artworks of Caithness castles and beaches to tourists during the summer months. The original wave paintings are a new departure for her. ‘I was yearning to paint massive waves – it’s the power I’m interested in. Really meaty waves can be seen on sunny or stormy days, but are best in autumn and winter. I’ve changed to using oils to get the fluidity and the gloss needed. Now they are my joy, my inspiration and my love.’

She walks her dog Tommy on the coast every day and takes photographs when the pickings are rich. ‘It’s the combination of light and movement in a wave which is so sublime that I want to put it onto canvas,’ she says. Every wave painting is unique and forms part of a small series. So far, there have been two series, ‘Orkney Blue’ (the McDonalds can see Orkney from their home), which is vibrant in colour, and ‘Freedom’ which is more subdued. After catching up with admin in the mornings, Lisa spends afternoons painting with no interruptions, with each wave taking around 30 hours to complete. ‘People look at my waves and say they can hear the sea. When I look at them I can smell the sea! Being here, so exposed to the extremes of weather, all my senses are tuned in to the ocean.’

• Take a look at Lisa’s paintings at Prices for original wave oil paintings, 75cm x 75cm, from £950. The paintings are mounted on professional grade canvas and don’t need a frame, and each one comes complete with a little poem by Lisa.

• Lisa exhibits at various galleries all around the UK – check her website for up-to-date information – and you can also find some of her waves on sale at Littlehampton’s Pier Road Gallery (

For more coastal-themed decor, head to our Design & Interiors section or pick up a copy of Coast magazine.