A man walks into a gallery…

Man in a Gallery by Giles Penny

Man in a Gallery by Giles Penny

Giles Penny attended his first ever art class as a somewhat unwilling eight year old. “My mum saw a notice in a window and signed me up, but I was happy doing my own thing – I didn’t see the point of drawing vases of flowers.”

Despite this, the class equipped Giles to investigate his burgeoning ideas about art and how he could use it to express his thoughts about the world. “It provided a springboard to investigating ideas in a more personal way.’

After leaving school early, Giles moved from Dorset to London at the age of 16. “I did a foundation course at Heatherley School of Fine Arts in Chelsea,” he says. “It was the best experience ever, I loved having the chance to pursue so many different media – printmaking and drawing, lots of drawing, and a bit of sculpture.”

Custard by Giles Penny

Custard by Giles Penny

The course confirmed to Giles that he was on the right path. He went on to take a second foundation course in Bournemouth before heading to Newport, where he spent three years gaining a BA. “I had the misconception that I would be doing painting and drawing, but I was thrown into the deep end. We made art films and installations. It was very interesting.”

Man and Shadow by Giles Penny

Man and Shadow by Giles Penny

Today, Giles works mainly in painting and sculpture. “I translate my ideas into 2D or 3D, or both,” he says. “I like not being limited to just one medium. I use them equally – when I’m painting I prefer painting, and vice versa.”

Young King by Giles Penny

Young King by Giles Penny

Printmaking, too, continues to interest him. “It inspires me because it’s such a different technique, but you still need to be able to draw.”

I ask him if he spends a lot of time drawing and he hesitates. “Ye-es, but more time thinking. I think about how something could look, and how an idea can translate into something visual.”

Man in a Pond by Giles Penny

Man in a Pond by Giles Penny

His work explores ideas around the nature of human beings, as well as humans’ relationship with nature and “how we fit into the environment.”

These preoccupations can take any number of directions. For instance, at the moment, he explains, he’s growing increasing intrigued by the washing line in his garden. “It’s one of those rotary lines, like an inverted umbrella,” he says. “I think about how it looks with washing on it, and without, and how it stands out at different times of day. It’s a lovely thing – a fundamental part of the interaction between humans and their physical surroundings.”

He adds: ‘A lot of people wouldn’t notice it at all, or would see it and think, oh, yes, I must put more washing on that. But I’m interested in how it is a thing of beauty in its own right. My next adventure will be to examine those thoughts and see what they can lead to.”

Mr and Mrs by Giles Penny

Mr and Mrs by Giles Penny

I discovered Giles’ work at the RWA in Bristol, where his sculpture Mr and Mrs caught my attention. It’s accompanied by his painting Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment, and the bronze Man in a Gallery (shown at the top of this post). “I think I might be the only person to ever sculpt a painting,’ he comments.

Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment by Giles Penny

Sell Your Cleverness and Buy Bewilderment by Giles Penny

I tell Giles how much I enjoy his friendly-looking characters. “The posture of the person is as important as their expression,” he says. “You can look at someone from the back and know how they’re feeling. I endeavour to give my sculptures life.”

It’s a particularly apt ambition given that Giles draws inspiration “from being alive and observing things. I might be driving down a road and thinking about the white lines beneath the car and the person who painted them. Whatever you’re immersed in can influence your art.”

Man and Reflection by Giles Penny

Man and Reflection by Giles Penny

However, he warns, it’s vital not to think about it for too long. “It’s important to get it started and crack on with it.”

His workshop, he admits, is full of incomplete ideas. “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” he says. “The next thing always feels like it will be the best thing. You have this idea, and you make it, and it has a life of its own, but sometimes you look back at something you finished a while ago and can see how it could have been better.”

Surely perfectionism is an impossible ideal, though. “Maybe,” he agrees. “I’m always striving to tell the truth in the best and simplest way possible.”

I don’t think you can ask for more than that.

Find more of Giles’ work at www.gilespenny.co.uk.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – journey

Basque country coastal walk by Judy DarleyThe journey has long been a staple of storytelling. You give a character a mission, send them off on their way, stick a few obstacles in their path and see what happens.

In a recent story, The Daughters, I sent two sisters off on a journey I’d taken myself, into the rural reaches of Spain’s Basque Country. The setting gave me a backdrop for two very different women to come to terms with their relationship, while tasking them with solving the riddle of how to reach a particular beach from the clifftops they were walking along.

That area is on the fringe of the Camino de Santiago, making it ideal for a fictional pilgrimage. You can read the story at www.litro.co.uk/2016/12/the-daughters/

Think of a journey you could send your own characters on and how it might change them, however subtly.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Free up your creativity

Paledrips painting by Sara Easby

Paledrips by Sara Easby – www.sara-easby.com

I’m a great believer in the energy we can derive from creative mediums other than our own. My comfort zone is writing – spooling words together to create stories, narratives, or images in the mind. It fires me up and helps me make sense of the world.

Listening to music can influence this, while baking or any kind of physical activity, from running to dances, makes ideas pop in my mind like mustard seeds in a pan of hot oil. And art has been the starting point of many of my creative written works.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been moved to dabble in making my own art – splashing a bit of paint around or doodling scenes as they form in my head. I’ve begun attempting to draw the views in front of me, or focus on small still lives, in an attempt to get my body to wake up the muscle memory laid down when I drew and painted copiously as a teenager.

But it’s been so many years since I last took an art class. Or at least, it had been.

Last Tuesday I strolled over to the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster to see Sara Easby‘s BRÆTT (MELT) exhibition, inspired by Iceland. The work was raw, elemental, and enthralling. I wanted to know how to capture emotions the page as she does.

Then I discovered that the very next morning she was due to teach an art class at the gallery. I sent her an email and she promised to squeeze me in.

What a wonderful experience. Two hours of freedom to ink, paint, glue, scrape and create.

Artwork by Judy Darley

It connected me to my emotions in a way that reached beyond words – such a liberating change! Creative writing cannot exist in a vacuum – we need to experience life and part of that is to experience art. As enjoyable and moving as it can be to view it, to make it is far more vigorously inspiring.

Blue and gold by Judy Darley

It doesn’t have to be visual art, of course. You could learn to play the drums, or take up ballet, join a stitch and bitch group or even enrol in a Spanish language class. All these things exercise parts of the creative mind that writing along cannot reach.

To get you started, Sara is co-hosting an Art and Writing Workshop on 10th December from 10am till 4pm with Nigel Gibbons. “This will be a chance to enjoy both creative forms, exploring these two ways of working, and allowing them to interact,” says Sara. “The aim will be to enjoy a space to be creative. No previous skills or experience necessary.”

There is a charge of £20, which includes some art materials. For more details, or to book a place, contact Sara on sara@sara-easby.com or Nigel on 077 40 200 991. The venue is Cotham Parish Church Hall, Cotham Road, Bristol, BS6 6DR.

Who knows what riches it will help you to unearth in your future literary works?

Gemini Magazine Poetry Open competition

Arnos Vale kissing trees cr Judy DarleyGemini Magazine is now accepting entries for its seventh annual Poetry Open competition.

The deadline for submissions is 3rd January 2017. Entry costs just $5.

The grand prize is $1,000. Second place wins $100 and four honorable mentions will each receive $25. All six finalists will be published online in the March 2017 issue of Gemini. The entry fee is $5 for each batch of three poems.

Editor David Bright says: “We are open to any type of poetry, any subject matter, any length: prose, rhyming, free verse, ballads, sonnets, haiku . . . Scroll down the Poetry Open page to see the broad range of work from previous winners and finalists.”

A different way of looking

Up the wall by Annie Coxey

Up The Wall by Annie Coxey

Annie Coxey’s abstract artworks ripple with unstated emotions. Colours and textures nestle together to become aerial landscapes, underwater explorations or extreme close up of natural phenomena.

Becoming an artist, she says, “was a slow burner. At school I enjoyed art, but never really shone. I trained as a staff nurse and had three children, looking after them while working part time at the local hospital.”

All three of Annie’s offspring have special educational needs, which required a lot of Annie’s energy when they were small.

Eye of the Storm by Annie Coxey

Eye of the Storm by Annie Coxey

“When my youngest child was two years old and I was 35, I became ill with an overactive thyroid,” she says. “It took the doctors a long time to diagnose me and by then I’d lost a lot of weight and I had to go on medication to regulate my heart. So I took time out and resigned from my job and signed up for an art course on a whim.”

Annie was fortunate to have a very inspirational teacher “who opened my eyes.”

Soon afterwards, Annie signed up to do a degree at Cheltenham School of Art. “I had an amazing experience over the next three years and learnt so much about art, painting and also the philosophy of Art,” she says. “I also discovered I was dyslexic, which I had long suspected and this too made me discover so much about myself. A whole new world opened up to me and there was no going back – I couldn’t get enough of all the things I was learning about.”

Holding Back by Annie Coxey

Holding Back by Annie Coxey

Ever since, Annie has developed her practise as a painter and continues to learn. “I teach and also work in a college as an Art Technician, which I love, and I have a studio I manage to get to two days a week.”

Her preoccupations include “the balance between ‘the happy accident’ – control is something I do to push boundaries with in my work. It involves risk taking and exciting moments with the materials I use. I like to use materials in an unconventional way.”

She is adept at using collage, “particularly dress making patterns which remind me of the symbols on maps.”

Other favourite techniques include mark making, “and materials such as resin, inks and paints. I believe strongly that risks have to be taken and as an artist you need to be working outside your comfort zone. It needs to be scary and a rollercoaster of pleasure and pain!”

From Above by Annie Coxey

From Above by Annie Coxey

She adds that it’s also important “to be acutely aware what is happening with the work and to actually ‘see’ the magic moments as they happen.” This is where the control element comes in, to identify what needs to be kept and what needs to change in order to prevent Annie’s works becoming “a messy mix of materials on the canvas. Some paintings are resolved in weeks, others take months and months of work.”

Annie recognises that her ideas of shape and colour have evolved over the last 15 years. “I have an intuitive feeling for what looks ‘right’ and is an exciting combination.” She attributes this skill at least in part to her dyslexia. “ One of the perks of being dyslexic is the ability to think outside the box, problem solve and also to know visually what works,” she explains. “Due to the fact I’m using layers with paint, collage and resin, I’m able to experiment – knocking it back and adding new layers as I go.”

Flood Debris 2 by Annie Coxley

Flood Debris 2 by Annie Coxley

The real and imagined worlds collaborate in Annie’s creations. “I gather a great deal of inspiration from the Cumbria landscape around me,” she says. “However, I never work directly from photos or sketches. I don’t know what the work will look like when I start – it develops and becomes a conversation between myself and the painting.”

A fascination with maps, textures and layers all add interest and curiosities that draw the viewer in. “At the moment many of my paintings have developed from my sketches and photos taken around the time of the floods in Cumbria,” she says. “I have been interested by the changes in the landscape by the floods and the flood debris that is still evident.”

Flood Debris by Annie Coxley

Flood Debris by Annie Coxley

Annie relishes the mix “between working as an artist and working with young people at college.”

The ups, and even the downs, of making the work in the studio can be equally enjoyable. “I love the feeling I get when exciting things happen in studio.”

And all the other aspects of being an artist feed into Annie’s pleasures derived from looking, learning and developing her abilities. “I love lots of the things I do that make me an artist – visiting exhibitions, doing workshops with artists I admire, sketching in the landscape and reading articles and books.”

Pelagia by Annie Coxey

Pelagia by Annie Coxey

Annie is beginning to look beyond Cumbria and the North West of England too. “This summer I went to Italy on a residency which was an amazing experience,’ she says. “I was inspired by the landscape in Italy and enjoyed working alongside other international artists. The studio I worked in had the most fantastic view and it was wonderful to only have to think about working as an artist every day and nothing else.”

More recently she visited Art Fair Cologne “with all my paintings in my car boot – this is very new for me and is both scary and exciting! I feel I am at the stage now where I’m more confident about my work, what I do and why I do it.”

You can see more of Annie’s work at anniecoxeyartist.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – almost seen

Doorways by Judy DarleySome of my eeriest and most surreal works of fiction have been prompted by the almost but not quite seen, when the over-imaginative mind fills in the information your eyes failed to provide.

Peer through the corridors into the room at the end. What’s down there? What casts those shadows? Is there a figure in there? Are they looking back at you?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Oothangbart by Rebecca Lloyd

Oothangbart By Rebecca LloydDonal Poseidon is an ordinary citizen, living an ordinary life. Each day he gets up and goes to work and each day he does the things expected of him, without grumbling or questioning the way things stand in the town of Oothangbart. But he’s also a fellow with a secret yearning, a quiet curiosity about the world beyond the town’s gates, and a tendency to daydream without meaning too.

And in a place like Oothangbart, all these things spell trouble.

In Oothangbart: A Subversive Fable For Adults and Bears, Rebecca Lloyd has created a world that seems both fairytale perfect and disturbingly controlled. Rules include ‘No slumping or giving the appearance of dejection.’ The greatest insult is to be referred to as “an irregular fellow”. The jobs carried out by the majority of citizens are stultifying dull and even pointless. Indeed, pointless seems to be the key word here, as notable citizens – the top fellows – are allowed privileged access to The Escalator that goes nowhere but up to a flight of steps they then need to climb back down. The exercise seems full of pomposity, yet utterly pointless.

Continue reading

Write to evoke memories

Severn River shadows cr Judy DarleyNational Memory Day is an annual celebration of poetry and creative writing for people affected by memory loss. In Memory Cafes around the UK, conversations and emotional connections are forged with the help of well-loved poems and the generation of new creative works. What a wonderful idea.

As part of this, The National Memory Day Creative Writing Competition invites you to submit poems and short stories which evoke the theme of MEMORIES.

The closing date for entries is 5pm BMT on Friday 20th January 2017. Entries will be judged by leading writers, poets, professionals and a panel of young people. The winners from each category will be announced at the National Memory Day celebrations on 18 May 2017.

The categories for entry are

  • Best Poem Award – Prize £4000
  • Best Short Story Award – Prize £4000
  • Plymouth University Best Young Writer aged 15 -18 Award – Prize £2000
  • Best Primary Carer Voice Award – Prize £2000

Stories must be no more than 1,500 words in length, and poems a maximum of 100 lines long. Entries should include a completed cover sheet and must not have been published in print or online previously.

The entry fee is £3 for your first entry and £2 for all subsequent entries entered at the same time. The funds raised from this competition will go towards placing Poets-in-Residence in Memory Cafes to work with people living with memory loss. The project is delivered in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, Plymouth University and the Poetry Archive.

Find full details of how to enter.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at Judy(at)socket creative(dot)com.

Anthropomorphic metaphors

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

Mermaid by Simon Tozer

The first time I laid eyes on the screen prints of Simon Tozer, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud. There’s a quiet joy in his artwork that I find irresistible, as his characters appear to ramble through lives far more colourful than our own.

“I was encouraged to draw by my parents early on,” he remembers. “I think art became an important thing for me as a teenager. At the time I wanted to design album covers and the covers for science fiction novels. When I started an Arts Foundation course, I felt more comfortable with the confused artists rather than the technically skilled and apparently very organised graphic designers.”

Two Lightships by Simon Tozer

Two Lightships by Simon Tozer

Simon focused on painting while studying for a Bachelor of Arts. “After college l moved to Oxford and spent a very unhappy and lonely year working as a gardener and trying to be a painter,” he says.

He soon gave up and got “a normal job”, but the desire to make art remained within him and years later he signed up for evening classes at the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “Partly I liked it because of the friendly other printmakers, but I also realised that I liked drawing more than painting, and print is all about drawing,” he says. “Also, I liked the constraints of print. Painting always felt like an amorphous activity where you can keep changing what you are painting constantly, and there is never a clear point where the picture is finished.”

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

Love Calls by Simon Tozer

I love the way Simon’s prints resemble scenes in stories, or, stills in quirkily appealing animations. However, he says, his main inspirations are works of art.

“There is a quality of artlessness in some artists’ work which l find inspiring, and energy – energy seems very inspiring,” he comments. “Sometimes it’s subtle like Morandi’s paintings, and sometimes not like Lucien Freud’s. There is a contemporary artist and illustrator called Johnny Hannah who is very inspiring for this quality.”

Quotes can be inspiring as well. “On my studio wall l have a quote from Grayson Perry which goes something like ‘Ideas are like furry creatures, you’ve got to be nice to the first one that comes along, or the others may not come out of the undergrowth.’”

Banger Tryptich by Simon Tozer

Banger Tryptich by Simon Tozer

Simon mentions on his website that he tries “to illustrate human dreams, fears and frailties.” I ask him how his subjects, such as vehicles and bears, help him to achieves this.

“There is a lot of visual metaphor in my pictures, and also a lot of anthropomorphism, so animals and cars are usually really people in another guise,” he says, “For instance in the car pictures, each car is an emotion or an anxiety, and the idea is that they are all in one persons head, in an emotional demolition derby, bashing into each other and causing chaos.”

He adds: “With image of animals there is an extra element, which is that animals don’t speak, and usually pictures don’t speak either, but both have their ways of communicating.”

Unwanted Hair by Simon Tozer

Unwanted Hair by Simon Tozer

Perhaps that’s why many of his works seem to me to reveal a kind of wry, faintly melancholy humour, which is often most visible in the eyes of viewers drawn into the scene. For example, the small owl watching a sorrowful bear contemplate his furry face in Unwanted Hair, or the child staring, apparently aghast, from beneath his umbrella as a woman strides by in her cozzie, in Swimming Club.

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

Swimming Club by Simon Tozer

There’s something about Simon’s prints that opens up conversations – they make you want to smile and share your discovery with other people, not to mention discuss what the rest of the story might be. For Simon, however, the delight is far more visceral.

“I am grateful be able to have the creative freedom to explore my imagination,” he says, “and make something tangible from it, and to be able to work with my hands.”

You can see more of Simon’s work at simontozer.co.uk. His print Mermaid, which originally caught my attention, is on show as part of the 164th RWA Annual Open Exhibition, which is on until 27th November 2016.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – fisher

Pendine Beach fisher cr Judy DarleyI spied this fisherman on the beach at Pendine near Laugharne. At least, I assume he’s a fisherman, although I never saw him make any visible attempt to catch a fish.

Pendine Beach fisher cr Judy Darley

As the tide swept in, he backed away from the waves. In fact, it was almost as though he was only pretending to fish, while surreptitiously awaiting the start of some momentous sea-borne event.

What do you think might be happening here?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.