The half-sisters were always known as a pair. Their father was from the West of Scotland and studied painting and architecture at Glasgow College of Art, where he met Charles Rennie Mackintosh, with whom he planned to go into partnership. However, he had to leave for India to run his father’s sawmill business in Bombay, where his daughters were born. In 1909 the children and their mother/ stepmother moved back to Bridge of Weir. In 1911 the girls received their first paint boxes. When their father died in 1914 the family moved to Kilmacolm. Alison and Winifred attended Glasgow School of Art from 1923 to 1930; Alison studied design and textiles, gaining the top award in her year, and Winifred studied drawing and painting before undergoing teacher training which she did not find useful. In 1930 they went to London where they learned wood-engraving at the Grosvenor School of Art. An exhibition in a Bond Street gallery led to Alison’s receiving a commission from LNER for its well-known railway posters in 1936 – 1937, and to further commissions.
In 1940 they moved to Playfair Terrace in St Andrews where they cared for their invalid mother and gave classes in wood-engraving, both in Dundee and St Andrews, to Polish servicemen. An exhibition of the men’s work was shown in the National Gallery of Scotland in 1943; the mosaic on St Andrews town hall dates from the same year.

In 1944 Winifred began teaching at Dundee College of Art in Bell Street. She taught composition, life-drawing and (a new department) wood engraving and printmaking. The building was very overcrowded; students were taken out – to the docks, for example, or to the Howff, where a farmer with pasturage rights turned them off the grass. Alison joined the College staff in 1946, job-sharing with her sister. They were known as good teachers, and taught, among others, the painters William Littlejohn, Irene Halliday and William Cadenhead; Morris Grassie, later Director of Art at Moray House, Stewart Bannerman, who carved the wood panels in St Mary’s Church, David Walker, Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings; Angus Gallon, Chief Inspector of Art in Scottish schools. Both exhibited every year at the RSA; Alison in 1953 became a member of the Royal Society of Watercolour Artists.

In 1957 they retired to continue nursing their mother, but continued to produce still-lifes and flower paintings. The Duke of Edinburgh bought Winifred’s The Blue Table at the RSA show in 1963. Mrs Mackenzie died in 1966; her daughters turned to landscape painting, and took holidays in Switzerland, the Mediterranean and Greece.

Their rule in art was “Don’t copy nature. She gives in excess. Select.”
It was said of Winifred, “It was always light itself… which inspired her. She started, heart beating fast, from the seen world.”
Of Alison: “It started in her head. In (her) work light illumines the sculptural properties of the subject..”

A year after Alison died there was a memorial exhibition at the English Speaking Union in Edinburgh. Winifred exhibited there the following year. Edward Gage, art critic of The Scotsman, wrote of their work:
..”very personal but recognisably post-Cubist emphasis on formalised structure without ever losing a sensitive response to mood or atmosphere”. …”their individual ways of simplifying their subjects are never empty of content; rather they intensify meaning and matter and thus intensify our view of things.” He wrote of Alison’s achievements “..spare but sensuous, quiet but vibrant …. always fresh, various, impeccably resolved and immaculately designed, (her) work will remain a special joy.”

In 1985 Winifred gave up painting due to failing eyesight. She died on 4th February 2001. Her obituary was published in the Herald on the 10th.