If there was ever a mission statement for a festival devoted to the business of ageing creatively, then it is Mahatma Ghandi's declaration:

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. But learn as if you were going to live forever."

It is a notion Joyce Gunn Cairns can't help but cling to as she goes about her daily business.

Tomorrow a new exhibition of the 65-year-old artist's work, titled Creative Ageing, opens at the Lochgelly Centre in the Fife town.

The show is part of the visual arts strand in the second Luminate Festival, a Scotland-wide celebration of creative ageing in Scotland taking place throughout October.

A lover of literature, as well as an artist whose robust yet strangely delicate figurative paintings and portraits of prominent cultural figures are much sought after, Gunn Cairns is a walking, talking buzzball of nervous energy.

There is no such thing as a single email sent from the red-hot laptop of this Edinburgh-based artist, who is a single mother to two grown up sons and now a new grandmother.

I first met her a few years ago when she was showing work at the Union Gallery, Edinburgh, and since then she has been an intermittent correspondent. She will see artists I write about on a Saturday in The Herald Arts section and send an email.

Or she will read something about one of her writer or artist friends that she thinks I should see. Her son, the playwright Michael Shand, is the apple of her maternal eye and she never misses the chance to spread the word about his productions.

She also asks about my own family and what I am up to outside of work. It is this empathic lust for life - and learning - that gives Gunn Cairns' work such depth.

Her new exhibition is split into two sections; portraits of people whom she has drawn and her figurative paintings. There is also the added bonus of a day of events at the Lochgelly Centre, on October 26, featuring writers Jackie Kay and Janice Galloway.

"All the portraits are of people who are ageing creatively," says the artist. "Although I have Jackie Kay in there and, really, she is a bit too young! I have also included the broadcaster Sally Magnusson too and, well, she is too young too!"

Other key cultural figures on the wall, all drawn in Gunn Cairns' distinctive light-touched, almost fluttering mark-making style, include writer Richard Holloway, hairdresser Charlie Miller, football commentator Archie Macpherson, arts impresario Richard Demarco, writer and artist Alasdair Gray, musician Aly Bain, actor John Bett and Gaelic polymath Dolina MacLellan.

"I am very interested in the way people age," says Gunn Cairns. "Who could age more creatively, for example, than Alasdair Gray?

The paintings on show in Fife exude keenly felt emotion. Gunn Cairns manages to paint out her titles through a subtle alchemy of colour, composition, subject-matter and metaphor.

Works with titles such as Absence, Mists Of Time, How Did This Happen? and The Visitation are accompanied by text written by Gunn Cairns.

Absence depicts two seated women, one with grey hair, the other younger. The younger one is coorying into the older woman's shoulder. The older woman is staring into the middle-distance. Perched behind them is a little robin.

Gunn Cairns says of this work in the accompanying text: "The sense of absence in my life intensifies as I grow older. Loss through death or separation seems ever more prevalent."

It is this ability to deal head-on with the bigger themes in life that marks out her work. "My themes paintings are about what people have to deal with. Lack of self worth and self-esteem are the twin hazards of getting older.

"I think it is worse for men. It can be a real shock to the system for them. Many can't adapt to the lack of status that comes with retirement.

"Women are very aware of being bypassed or ignored as they get older. It is something they talk about a lot. I find friendship helps to bridge the gap."

Undoubtedly, one of the other 'bridges' in Gunn Cairns' life is her art. It defines her, in the same way it defines so many older artists, most of whom would sooner measure themselves up for a coffin than give up on their art.

Thoughout October, Luminate is hosting an array of exhibitions.

In Shetland, a commissioned work called Recount incorporates three site-specific installations. During the Cold War, the islands played a key role in Nato's Early Warning System, hosting the most northerly Royal Observer Corps bunkers designed to operate as monitoring stations in the event of nuclear attack.

Shetland-based Roxane Permar and Susan Timmins have been exploring islanders' recollections of Shetland's role in the conflict to create site-specific artworks incorporating text, sound and luminescent textiles.

Another Luminate art highlight is Super Vivere, an exhibition by photographer Susie Rea that uses portraits, audiovisual narrative and text to explore the lives of siblings who are all over the age of 90. The project is a collaboration with her mother, geriatrician, Dr Maeve Rea, of Queen's University, Belfast. and arose out of a study that Dr Rae carried out looking at successful ageing in nonagenarians.

The work, which has been on show at the Macrobert, Stirling, is about to transfer to Platform in Easterhouse, Glasgow, opening on October 22.

Creative Ageing: Drawings and Paintings by Joyce Gunn Cairns, FifeSpace, Lochgelly Centre, Lochgelly, Fife, Oct 12-Dec 20.

Super Vivere, Platform, 1000 Westerhouse Road, Easterhouse, Glasgow, October 22-November 10.

Recount, Various locations throughout Shetland, Until October 31.