Sarah Urwin Jones

After years of sharing both their books (as artist illustrators of many award-winning non-fiction books for children) and their top-floor home studio, Brita Granstrom and Mick Manning are now sharing an exhibition. “It's quite unique with this one,” says Granstrom from their home overlooking the sea in Berwickshire. “We do loads of things together in illustration, usually, but we do our art separately.” The exhibition, Desire Paths, opens later this month in Peebles, a large scale collection of works that chart the landscapes and wildlife of the Tweed valley and beyond.

The title comes from the eponymous large scale painting by Granstrom, an image of criss-crossing paths through dunes on an east coast beach, “somewhere between Berwick and Eyemouth,” says Granstrom. The dunes are writ large, but in the background, a tiny figure, who has taken one particular desire path and found the beach. “It's such a smart word for it,” says Granstrom, referring to the phrase which describes any path that cuts through from one place to another, usually defeating the blinkered objectives of planners and designers. It's the worn track across a patch of land to the shops, or a quick exit out of the park, or – here - a short cut through dunes to the beach beyond.

From this beginning the pair expanded the concept, loosely collecting the work around the Tweed and also bringing in work from their lakeside summer house in Sweden. Granstrom walked the paths along the Tweed, particularly concentrating on the woods, from beach to beech, taking her paints and sketchbook with her, her canvases too, although the larger ones for this exhibition often stayed at home - “I'd be sailing away with them” she jokes, nodding to the wind that is currently gusting over the country. And yet she paints outdoors in all weathers, her canvases capturing a moment in nature, frequently a small human form dragging seaweed or swinging on a tree swing, cracking ice in a lane.

Granstrom and Manning met in Glasgow in 1993, when Manning was Head of Illustration at Glasgow School of Art, and Granstrom was on a six month exchange from the Konstfack (University of the Arts) in Stockholm. Returning the following year, Granstrom got her “first big illustrating job” for this very newspaper, illustrating the Herald's cookery and travel pages every Saturday for three years. With Manning, she compiled the “Nature Spotters” back page, the pair eventually leaving Glasgow for the wide beaches and skies of the Borders near Berwick – their desire path, Granstrom tells me, was through Peebles where this new exhibition will take place.

Their first book was “The World is Full of Babies,” written long before they had their own, Granstrom laughs. Over time they have covered everything from the Romans to human anatomy, Darwin to the Brontes – Manning himself grew up in Haworth. “When we are working on books, we have a very tight, very close working relationship,” says Granstrom, who tells me that regardless of whether they are illustrating together or each doing their own art, they get up to the attic studio first thing in the morning and “get on with it”. “Time is precious when you have kids,” she says.

The Tweed woodland pictures, with their massive beech trees, are from a favourite walk, trod countless times over the years with their four boys and now their lurchers, too. “They all tend to come in to my pictures,” Granstrom smiles. “They inhabit the gives it all scale, and also a narrative. I don't spell it out, but people can relate to these things. It becomes part of the story, these huge trees, nature, young life, dead trees on the ground. I like moments that become something else, that tell their own story.”

Manning, who trained in Natural History illustration at the Royal College of Art with tutors that included Quentin Blake, also does his sketching outdoors and from life. He applies paint to found papers, such as a set of yellowed 1920s farm magazines that he found in an old log shed in the woods in Sweden one summer, “probably left for kindling and forgotten about”. These, he tells me, were the perfect backdrop to his startling life-size painting of a wild boar, shot by a hunter relative in Sweden, which Manning made a study of in-situ before it became dinner. “A beautiful wild creature,” he says. “It smelled of the forest.” Elsewhere, woven between Granstrom's landscapes, his salmon chart their own “desire path” up the Tweed, and illustrations from his stunning recent “ABC” book “Near the Bear North,” made in meticulously hand-stencilled pochoir print, filled with animals that inhabit the Scottish and Scandinavian wilderness.

With two weeks to go, there is no easy “desire path” to the exhibition. Manning is “out in the sleet and snow” at the framers, and the pair are finalising what will be in the gallery, from paintings to prints to books. “But that's one of the good things about working so closely together,” says Granstrom. “There are still sometimes surprises.”

Desire Paths: Paintings by Brita Granstrom and Mick Manning. Tweeddale Museum and Art Gallery, Chambers Institution, High Street, Peebles, 01721 724820 29 Feb - 27 Jun, Mon - Fri, 10.30am - 4pm; Sat 9.30am - 12.30pm