A fairytale-themed arts trail

Totterdown Front Room Art Trail 2017Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail erupts on 18th and 19th 2017 November with a Fairytales, Myths and Legends theme – perfect for stirring imaginations.

“This doesn’t mean to say the art needs to reflect the theme, but expect to see some folklore related ‘goings-on,’” says Trail organiser Gail Orr. “This year we hope to attract 200 local artists across 90 different venues, with thousands of visitors coming from across the city and beyond. It’s a fantastic opportunity for local artists to display their work to the public, and it’s also a great opportunity for the public to visit, view, discuss and buy original works of arts and crafts directly from the artist.”

Never been to an art trail? This is a great one to dip your toe (or jump head first) into. The first to appear in Bristol 17 years ago, it offers a chance for artists to showcase their work within their own homes, and for us public to a) enjoy said art, and b) get away with being nosy about other people’s décor to our heart’s content.

There’s also potential for lots of inspiration gleaning, not to mention a golden opportunity to start the Christmas shopping with some one-off originals.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail is on from 18-19th November 2017. Find full details at frontroom.org.uk.

Totterdown Front Room Arts Trail_cr Judy Darley

Writing prompt – positivity

#Happytoes

A couple of years a friend and I wrote up a mass of cheery statements and attached them to my nephew’s discarded baby socks, then scattered them through the neighbourhood. It became part of the Totterdown’s Front Room Arts Trail 2015.

Our only goal was to spread a few smiles.

Why not attempt something similar with your writing?  Word or poetry bomb a public place to make someone stop in their tracks and think for a moment.

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 might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Shades of thought

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

Feature of Landscape1 by Clare Thatcher

The concept of painted landscape representing human emotions is intensely appealing to me. Stormy skies, wind-lashed fields and scenes verging on abstraction can all evoke a state of mind.

It’s a school of thought artist Clare Thatcher is fully enrolled in with her dark, contemplative layers of oil paint applied to linen or plywood.

Formation by Clare Thatcher

Formation by Clare Thatcher

“I’m a Contemporary British artist based in Bristol with a passion for painting,” Clare says. “I attended University of West of England from 2011 till 2014 graduating with a First Class BA Honours Degree in Drawing & Applied Arts, and then gained a MA Fine Art at Bath Spa University. Since graduating I’ve exhibited in London, Belgium, Nottingham, Bristol & Bath.”

It’s the psychological impression of a setting that she aims to capture in her paintings. “My work is deeply connected with a sense of place, taking influence from the idea of liminal space in landscape,” she says. “The locations I choose and the focus of my attention is highly selective, personal and resonant of individual landscape features and associated thoughts, emotions and reflections. The emphasis is upon the sense of contemplation within place.”

Natural Form 4 by Clare Thatcher

Natural Form 4 by Clare Thatcher

Clare explains that her work aims to “reference transition and consequences of perpetual flux within my oil paintings.”

This means that an exact representation of a scene is far less important that the moods it evokes in the viewer. “My search for the exact colour and sensation of place remains central to the development of my practice,” she says. “I see myself as an organic painter, enjoying the stuff of paint made from –pigment – where surface and colour has become so important to my practice.”

Grey Rock by Clare Thatcher

Grey Rock by Clare Thatcher

Clare begins a new work of art through drawing, although she see paint as her main medium. “I am a painter who uses drawing as a primary means of expression,” she says. “Drawing underpins my practice. It’s the way I approach a subject, and acts as a direct response, a key element for unlocking ideas. It’s a way and means to translate thought into a visual – spilling my thoughts out onto the page.”

Formation 3 by Clare Thatcher

Formation 3 by Clare Thatcher

Working in series helps Clare to explore ideas fully, and “to expand the conversation. When translated or transposed from my drawings onto the painted surface, my works take on a personality of their own.”

She describes this process as “a non-verbal approach” to examining the responses of all her senses when in a particular landscape.

Feature of Landscape 3 by Clare Thatcher

Feature of Landscape 3 by Clare Thatcher

Working as an artist is a constantly evolving experience for Clare.

“Being an artist has opened my eyes seeing the world differently changing me as a person,” she says. “It’s rewarding, exciting, exhilarating, interesting and challenging. I meet lots of really interesting people, and I enjoy the freedom to express myself.”

Clare is exhibiting at RWA’s 165th Annual Open Exhibition on until 3rd December 2017. See more of her work at www.clarethatcher.org.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – Story Week

Cheetham Library, ManchesterThe UK’s National Short Story Week takes place from 13th-19th November 2017, with events including workshops, readings, exhibitions and more.

The aim of the week is to make the British public more aware of the pleasure of reading and writing short stories. There are numerous short story writing workshops, short story readings, ‘meet the author’ events and short story competitions to get involved with, all in the guise of “celebrating the short story and the short story writer.”

Why not use this as a prompt to write a short story inspired by the setting of your local library, or a favourite cafe, and then find out if then find out if you can exhibit the completed work of fiction there to inspire others?

Find out what’s happening for National Short Story Week in your area.

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 might publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Poetry review – A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul DeatonIn his first full-length collection from Seren, Paul Deaton eases us into the depths of his life, awakening us to the complex constellations of families. Carried through months and years, we take in moments of sorrow, wonderment and self-depreciating humour that seems to sum up both the experience of one individual in a moment, and of the scope of human existence on Earth.

The key relationship here is Deaton’s uncertain navigation around his late father, but his sister, mother, friends and rivals populate his journey, along with the moon, weather systems and unexpected flurries of flora and fauna. These latter, from Starlings’ “tall-tree trumpeters” to Sea Bream Dinner’s “wholesome, silver sea thing” reveal a quiet observance of the natural world that borders on reverence.

Despite casting his net occasionally into the sky above, to me Deaton’s poems resonate so powerfully because they are rooted in the earth, drawing our attention to the cumulative marvels of minutiae that could seem mundane in other hands. It’s here that Deaton’s fluid metaphors gleam. A reference to the central heating’s “dull milk shed moan” in Late Hour sketches parallels to other lives we could have lived, while Voices draws back the curtain on what comes after as well. The loss of his father ripples throughout, most poignantly for me in DIY: “He turned up at my house too, when I hadn’t asked.” The recognition and faint irritation of unuttered love is spine-tinglingly palpable.

Throughout the collection, momentum builds as Deaton urges us to contemplate the unstoppable force of time and mortality. Our planet rotates, seasons change and we age, seemingly without mercy. Yet in the midst of this, plants and wildlife flourish, offering echoes of beauty and wonder that lift Deaton’s poetry and illuminate the gloaming.

At his launch in Bristol, Deaton described his poems as “an attempt to make the darkness visible.” He certainly achieves that, but at the same time this poem reveals the light shining amongst shadows, and what could be more human than that?

Read my review of Paul Deaton’s Black Night.

A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton is published by Seren and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Buy your copy from Amazon.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Submit your poetry or prose pamphlet to The Emma Press

MerryGoRound cr Judy Darley

If you haven’t yet discovered The Emma Press, you’re in for a rare treat. This fabulous little publishing house has a keen eye for talent, especially when it comes to poetry.

They’re currently inviting submissions of prose and poetry pamphlets, and this time around you’re encouraged to send your work to the editor you would most like to read it. To help you choose, they’ve published profiles of all four editors, offering a valuable insight into the writing that makes their blood sing and their hair stand on end.

The editors are Rachel Piercy, Yen-Yen Lu, Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright.

“This doesn’t mean that you have to have this editor if your book is chosen, and nor does it guarantee that your chosen editor will be the one who reads your manuscript in the first round, but we will try our best,” says founder and publisher Emma Wright.

She adds: “We do recommend that you read all four profiles and give them some thought, but don’t agonise over your decision – if the editor reading your manuscript thinks it’s good but might appeal to another editor more, they will pass it on to them.”

Please note that you need to have purchased a book or e-book from the Emma Press to take up this chance.

It’s a tantalising opportunity. For guidelines, visit the Emma Press website for guidelines, and submit your words before 10th December 2017. 

Helena Park’s Shadowlands

Hinterland etching by Helena Park

Hinterland etching by Helena Park

Helena Park learnt at art college that self-motivation is key. “You must become your own agenda-setter,” she says. “Stay true to what you want to make and follow whichever direction it takes you in.”

It’s a lesson that has served her well as she’s pursued her aim of being a working artist.

We met at The Other Art Fair, where Helena was showing her beautiful yet unsettling etchings and monoprints depicting scenes of monstrous hinterlands.

Gossip etching by Helena Park

Gossip etching by Helena Park

“Books have always been my biggest resource,” she says of her inspiration. “When drawing a new series of initial sketches I usually spread out a selection of books around me and pick and choose imagery which catches my interest.”

Much of her work is figurative, so existing images of people with expressive gestures “like an Egon Schiele painting or photographs of dynamic movement” are key to her process. “Ancient art is another inspiration, in particular Mayan, Anglo-Saxon Christian and Ancient Greek artworks,” she says. “I find that there’s a visceral and expressive quality to such works which transcends time and remains relevant to contemporary life.”

Helena enjoys examining her ideas, while protecting their ambiguity. “My concepts for new work are always vague and I like them to remain so,” she says. “This leaves room for me to keep exploring ways of creating a tangible conception of those ideas. I’m drawn to other artists who create a world within their art that’ both highly stylised and immediately recognisable as the artist’s own. This is something which I try to channel and in my own practise.”

This instinctual yet informed approach offers a dark dreaminess to Helena’s work, which often seems to be capturing images from the shadowy subconscious. “Particular figures often reoccur in many of my etchings,” she says. “I like to repeat certain characters in order to test whether they have staying power. In effect, I’m developing a core cast of players in the work. I like the idea that viewers will be able to recognise reoccurring characters throughout the etchings and that through this repetition the characters gain a significance.”

The Conversation etching by Helena Park

The Conversation etching by Helena Park

She builds up images drawing from her own rich imagination as well as through close observational study of the human body.

“A good example of these different attitudes would be the etchings; ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Morning Light’,” she says. “‘The Conversation’ exemplifies my imaginative or stylised approach whilst ‘Morning Light’ comes from my desire to move away from just distorting the human body but rather to make a study of it in it’s true form.”

Morning Light etching by Helena Park

Morning Light etching by Helena Park

Helena created her etching Morning Light by tracing a photograph she’d taken onto a soft-grounded zinc plate. “A soft-ground picks up any impressions you make onto the plate,” she says. “I placed my photograph on top of the grounded plate and with a pen drew the lines of her body. This process is unlike using a hard-ground which requires you to scratch through the waxy layers in order to create a line which can later be etched.”

Other surface marks and textures were added using sugar-lift and spit-bite – painting with acid onto an aquatint. “Through these textures I could convey a damaged or corroded appearance to the girl’s skin which was suggestive of some organism growing on her or perhaps acts of violence,” Helena says. “This particular print led to my making a whole series of further etchings and mono-prints all of which used the same female subject.”

Helena’s core aim is to create a sense of another world, “within which exists a cast of characters I am constantly building on and adding to. The series of etchings entitled ‘Hinterland’ are my largest explorations to date of such an imagined world. I hope to keep exploring this concept in my future work.”

Life Study monoprint by Helena Park

Life Study monoprint by Helena Park

The palpable darkness in Helena’s work seems to be directly at odds with her sunny personality. When I comment on this, Helena is surprised.

“It’s gratifying to hear that you think that I seem cheery, but I admit to occasionally suffering from spells of hanger and that at the times when I have missed lunch my sunny disposition has immediately clouded over,” she exclaims. “In such moments anyone unlucky enough to have be in my vicinity has certainly caught a glimpse of my stormier side.”

As it happens, Helena doesn’t regard her work “as just being unremittingly dark or grotesque. I think that there is a healthy dose of black humour in the work. This comic aspect is very important as it is this sense of humour which I utilise as a vehicle to convey sensitive topics or my personal emotions in an accessible way.”

See more of Helena’s work and purchase art at www.helenapark.co.uk or on her Instagram account: helenapark_ where she regularly post updates on new projects.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – goat

Goat by Judy DarleyImagine this goat is the wisest creature you will ever meet. Imagine it has the answers to any question you could ever want or hope to ask.

How would you communicate? How might people treat this wise old goat? Might they honour it, or fear it? How did it become so very wise in the first place?

Only you have the answer to that.

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.

On your marks… NaNoWriMo!

Glastonbury Tor cr Judy DarleyJust two days until the start of NaNoWriMo 2017. Are you taking part? I love the concept of this word-packed month, of wannabe writers across the world hunched over laptops desperately scrabbling for inspiration.

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about thinking ahead, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do some speedy planning even as you begin to write. After all, what else are you going to do when waiting for buses, in post office queues and doing the washing up?

Here are my top four preparation tips to ensure you make the most of this exceptional month.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who and why they are, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

If you’re taking part, I’ll raise a glass (or rather, a mug of coffee) to you. Good luck!

In the footprints of Dylan

Seimon Pugh-Jones at the Tin Shed, Laugharne. Photo cr Graham Harris of GPhotography

Seimon Pugh-Jones at the Tin Shed, Laugharne. Photo cr Graham Harris of GPhotography

Dylan Thomas was born on this day in 1914, making it entirely appropriate to celebrate with an artist I met in the town where he wrote much of his poetry, and the play Under Milk Wood.

I encounter Seimon Pugh-Jones in Laugharne while exploring the Tin Shed museum – a marvel of a place dedicated to wartime memorabilia. There’s even an Anderson shelter in the back garden, and countless ephemera such as old letters and guides for American GIs posted in Britain with glorious cultural titbits such as ‘Reserved, not unfriendly…”

Seimon is one of the museum’s founders, with a background in film photography. He’s currently absorbed in painting all the characters from Dylan Thomas ‘play for voices’, Under Milk Wood.

Cherry Owen by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Cherry Owen by Seimon Pugh-Jones

I’d done stills photography for the History Channel. It was for a series called ‘Battle Stations’, which gave me a lot of experience in historical reconstruction pictures,” says Seimon. “That basically means, recreating images in the style of original WW2 pictures. Costume, props and vehicles had to be accurate to the period and then I would create a little story within the image to add some pseudo-reality, if that makes sense.”

Through “being at the right place at the right time”, Seimon was invited to work on Band of Brothers, supplying ‘newsreel’ style footage shot on a vintage camera. “I even got a bit part. That was an amazing experience,” he comments.

Gossamer Beynon by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Gossamer Beynon by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Seimon then became a stills photographer for an American history magazine called Armchair General. “I did ‘reconstruction style photography’ full time for four years, and loved it, but then my contract came to end and I was out of work,” he says. “Because I had a large collection of costume and props, I ended up opening the Tin Shed museum with a friend of mine, Andrew Isaacs, in Laugharne.”

After focusing on working on the museum for several years, Seimon was interviewed for a web-based photo-site. “One of the questions asked me was ‘What’s your next project?’ I’d committed myself to an exhibition of photography at a local gallery, and when I listened back to the interview, I realised I’d lost the enthusiasm for taking pictures.”

PC Attila Rees by Seimon Pugh-Jones

PC Attila Rees by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He adds: “I’m a bit old school, I love shooting on film and working in the dark room. There are some great photographers out there, but Photoshop and computer-manipulated images have taken the magic away from photography for me… But I’d made a promise to fill the gallery, so what could I do? I’d dabbled a bit with painting, nothing serious..so I though, Give it a go!”

Captain Cat by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Captain Cat by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He says producing portraits of Under Milk Wood’s characters was almost inevitable. “I live in Laugharne, virtually opposite to where Dylan Thomas is buried,” he says. “It’s a magical place and I quite understand how he got his inspiration for Under Milk Wood. This led me to take a photograph of a friend of mine, John Bradshaw, dressed as Captain Cat, with a fish on his head, (as you do) as a little photo project. It worked well as a picture, so I thought I’d paint him. It turned out ok. And as Captain Cat needs a Rosie Probert, she was next.”

Rosie Probert by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Rosie Probert by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Using the people of Laugharne as models for this was equally inevitable.

“Rosie Probert was another friend of mine, Lorrain King, who sings in the band I play for, Trenchfoot. That’s another story. As the paintings progressed, I realised I needed models…then I realised it would be so much fun getting my friends involved. So it went on from there.”

Mrs Ogmore Pritchard by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Mrs Ogmore Pritchard by Seimon Pugh-Jones

All kinds of details are to hand to bring the caricatures to life.

“Dylan Thomas has given the caricature such depth and richness, and a back story. I try and make the expressions realistic to those ‘moments’. I also try and incorporate subtle bits of humour.”

Running the Tin Shed museum offers endless opportunities for staging and painting the portraits. “I love vintage fashion, and having props and costume to hand makes it interesting too,” he comments. “The museum is not for profit, we can’t take a wage from it, so being able to paint around the museum, so to speak, is very handy.”

Evans The Death by Seimon Pugh-Jones

Evans The Death by Seimon Pugh-Jones

The lack of technology involved in his painting style is also appealing. “I suppose going back to ‘Old school’ works for me. I think art has replaced what I was missing in photography. It’s a new challenge.”

You can see more of Seimon’s paintings dotted around Laugharne, as well as encountering his models going about their everyday lives in a variety of settings around the village!

No Good Boyo by Seimon Pugh-Jones

No Good Boyo by Seimon Pugh-Jones

He admits that showing his models the finished works is always a tense moment.

“This is the nerve wrenching bit, because Under Milk wood is full of colourful caricatures. I have to make sure my models are comfortable with the casting. But so far, I’ve had a great response… Fingers crossed for the next series!”

Find Seimon at www.pughjones.co.uk.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judy(at)socketcreative.com.