IMAGINE YOU'D JUST MOVED TO Glasgow. You'd want to visit Kelvingrove Museum, have a scone in the Willow Tea Rooms and maybe experience a gig at the Barrowlands. But going by yourself to a fiercely Celtic or Rangers pub on the day of an Old Firm match would probably be quite far down your to-do list. Yet that's what artist Jenny Soep did earlier this year, soon after relocating from her family base in Oban.
"I wanted to start drawing stuff that was Glasgow," explains the 29-year-old. "And the Celtic/Rangers thing is a massive part of the city. I don't support football at all, but my flatmate told me about all these pubs I could go to."
She ended up in a notorious Celtic pub for the noon kick-off of an Old Firm clash. "I made sure not to wear any blue, but the only green thing I had was a khaki soldier's top. I ended up near the pool table and these people sort of adopted me. There was a real crush but I just sat drawing in the corner."
Soep's pictures from that Saturday capture the atmosphere: a squiggly sea of heads craning up at TV screens, a watercolour wash of green dominating the composition, and snatches of predictably colourful conversation realised as a Gerald Scarfe-esque scrawl. (Celtic lost 1-0, incidentally.)
Soep thrives on capturing something live within a strict time limit.
"I want people to realise it was done there and then," she explains, in a cosy Glasgow tea shop featuring her art on the walls. "It's not like working with oil, you can't go back and paint mistakes out. It's not copied from a photograph. It has to be spontaneous."
Over the past few years, Soep – pronounced "soup" – has thrown herself into the Scottish music scene, capturing bands both established and emerging at open-air festivals and cramped venues across the country. She's drawn Bjrk, Uncle John and Whitelock, Mogwai, the Peatbog Faeries, the Beastie Boys, the Proclaimers and more. At festivals, she most often gets sketching among a moshing crowd. "There's a lot of jostling but most people are considerate and try to keep from bumping you."
She shows me her painting kit: a compact lunchbox packed with art paraphernalia. There's a careworn palette of watercolours in a pencil tin; various small bottles of water; a clutch of black pencils; a roll mat containing Chinese brushes and a Mighty Bright clip-on lamp (music venues can be pretty dark).
If her materials look a little battered, it's because live gigs are unpredictable. At the Connect festival a year ago, Soep was almost trampled when M.I.A. demanded an impromptu stage invasion. Sketching Bjrk later the same day, she was splashed by an airborne glass of red wine (well, Connect is a boutique festival). The claret stains on the canvas were quickly incorporated into the picture.
Coping with such "happy accidents" is something Soep learned at Duncan of Jordanstone art school in Dundee. "I was trying to painstakingly draw a sculpture and then I spilled some water that flooded the whole picture. I was distraught but it ended up looking so much better after the accident. It became the inspiration for what I'm doing now."
She started painting live gigs at Dundee Jazz Festival in 2000, but a week after graduating she impulsively moved to Taiwan. She stayed for three years, absorbing eastern culture and artistic techniques, before relocating to Cornwall to complete her Masters in illustration. After moving back home, near Oban, Soep embarked on her project to document the Scottish musical landscape. "I'm trying to make a collection of musicians whom I believe are original, creative and important to the music scene."
She's become more adept than the NME at sniffing out promising new Scottish bands. "I try not to listen to their music before I go to a gig … I'm trying to translate that first-time exposure into the pictures."
And if she doesn't like the group she's painting? "There was one band I did at T in the Park this year who, about halfway through their set, I realised I didn't like their music. But the picture just got bolder and turned out really well."
In September, Soep will be artist-in-residence for the second year at the Arches Live! theatre festival. After that, she'll begin a teaching tour of schools in Argyll as part of The Big Draw initiative. But first up, she's covering the latest in The Scotsman's series of national debates.
The debate – on the future of the arts in Scotland – is at the Traverse Theatre and chaired by Scotsman theatre critic Joyce McMillan. The panel will include arts overlord Richard Holloway, jazzman Tommy Smith and National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone.
"I've got an hour and a half to draw them in action," says Soep, "and because the pictures are for the paper, I'm on a deadline. I might have to bring a hairdryer to get them dry in time." Moshing is unlikely, but with such a charged topic, no-one's ruling out some red wine getting spilled.
• Jenny Soep will be drawing the Scotsman Debate: The Future of the Arts in Scotland at the Traverse Theatre, 28 August, 7pm. For free tickets send a contact number to email@example.com
For more about Soep's work, visit www.jennysoep.blogspot.com