James Pader tree art

Branch-deck-railing by James PaderArtisan James Pader has found a unique way of celebrating the wilderness that surround his home in Western North Carolina. By engaging in traditional woodworking crafts using locally sourced materials (mainly western red cedar), he creates railings create a link between the decks of houses and the views they overlook.

“When I first moved to the mountains, I saw these interesting branch designs in many different places,” says James. “In 2004, I had the chance to build the railings on a spec house my construction crew was working on.”

deck-railing cr James Pader

That’s the other thing – far from being a struggling artist, James runs his own construction company, utilising his creativity to celebrate his personal love of the trees.

“The branches are the inspiration,” James says. “Mountain laurel grows throughout the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine and is a familiar part of the understory to those who like being outdoors.”

branch-handrails by James Pader

Each design is unique, with the railings coming together “based on what sticks are available when the railing starts. It’s kind of like working on a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the box to look at. Not to sound overly mystical, but the railing is made by the sticks; I just pick them up and nail them in place. However they fit together is how they fit together.”

James has since branched out (pun intended) to turn his hand to building quirky yet functional furniture, including occasional tables that look like they might well amble away if the mood so takes them.

Occasional table cr James Pader

Find them here. I think they resemble the kind of furniture that might become friends with The Luggage in Terry Pratchett Discworld novels!

James comments that he loves the freedom his job affords him, and adds: “It’s also a pretty cool job! I listen to loud music and work with power tools. It’s also really gratifying to hear from so many happy people sending pictures of their projects from all over the country.”

Find more of James’ creations at awoodrailing.com.

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

Writing prompt – gone

Cloud_Perretts Park cr Judy DarleyImagine a place you know well with something fundamental missing – clouds, trees, birds, children… Or whatever comes to mind.

How different would that place be? Why would that thing be gone, and what impact could that have?

Add in two characters, one who remembers when this item was still a regular sight, and one for whom that time is no more real than myth.

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.

Theatre Review – The Rivals

The Rivals at Bristol Old Vic Theatre. Photo by Mark DouetAs part of its 250th anniversary celebrations, Bristol Old Vic is showcasing The Rivals, an 18th century comedy of pretence and frippery all in the name of snaring a spouse.

The play emphasises the vanity of late 1700s, with women sporting bustles and anyone of note wearing towering wigs, where social status is as much about the person your contemporaries believe you to be as who you actually are.


Julie Legrand, Desmond Barrit, Lee Mengo and Keith Dunphy in The Rivals

Enter Captain Jack Absolute (Rhys Rusbatch, a posh boy passing himself off as a penniless soldier in order to win the affections of the splendidly named (and splendidly performed by Lucy Briggs-Owen) Lydia Languish. One of the running themes of the play is the idea that reading can damage women’s minds, a fancy perpetrated by Lydia’s apparent brainwashing by romance novels into craving a life of poverty.

In addition to her affair with ensign Beverley, Lydia has unknowingly inflamed the desires of Captain Jack’s pal Bob Acres (Lee Mengo), while her maid Lucy (Lily Donovan) is passing love notes between her aunt Mrs Malaprop and Sir Lucius O’Trigger, the latter of whom she has duped into believing he’s receiving them from seventeen-year-old Lydia.


Nicholas Bishop as Faukland and Jessica Hardwick as Julia

Then there’s Faukland (Nicholas Bishop) who is in love with Julia (Jessica Hardwick), a straightforward match complicated by Faukland’s paranoia, which results in him testing his sweetheart’s affections until she is at her wits, and patience, end.

In short, all the ingredients of a delightful farce, set against the charmingly over-the-top opulence and theatricality of the era.

The set, designed by Tom Rogers, aptly conjures up the sense of a doll’s house, with oversized wallpaper prints and vast paintings of 18th century Bath. The impression of art, and artifice, is enhanced by a clever use of frames, from doorways to hollow mirrors – even the chair backs are left empty to provide additional glimpses.

Towards the rear of the stage, pianist Henry Everett provides suitably tinkly musical accompaniment to the scenes.

It all weaves together the atmosphere of a place and time full of passion, much of it woefully misguided.

The Rivals_Jessica Hardwick as Julia and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia. Photo by Mark Douet

Jessica Hardwick as Julia and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia in The Rivals

Lucy Briggs-Owen as Lydia is comically adept, bringing modern-day teen melodrama to her character’s lines. At times in her fervour it looked as though her wig might take flight, while her ability to slouch and swoon her way around the set belied the constrictions of her 18th century garments.

Julie Legrand as Mrs Malaprop masterfully delivers lines packed full of misattributed words: at one point she urges her niece to “illiterate’ ensign Beverley from her memory, while at another praising Captain Jack as the “very pineapple of politeness.” In some sentences there are so many false words that the only way to get the gist is through Legrand’s effusive performance: the sentiment is always clear, even if the actual meaning has slipped awry.


Rhys Rusbatch as Jack Absolute and Julie Legrand as Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals

And yet, occasionally her word choices are particularly telling, as when she describes her niece as  “a deliberate simpleton.”

In Dominic Hill’s interpretation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s script, the gender divide becomes a shrewd part of the comedy. While the men thrust and parry their way through the show, the women get on with living, using the men’s underestimation of them as an advantage. Maidservant Lucy is making a fine extra income through sharing carefully selected eavesdropped morsels, while the ever-resilient Julia quietly prepares for every eventuality. Even Mrs Malaprop shows some astuteness when she recognises that Captain Jack’s “good-breeding” has not prevented him insulting her through letters written as ensign Beverley.

This is a play in which the men rampage as rambunctious fools, while regarding their women as air-headed children, while in truth the females steer every twist and turn of the plot. Quite simply, a really entertaining, understatedly forward-thinking historical show.

The Rivals is a Bristol Old Vic, Citizens Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Playhouse co-production. It will be at Bristol Old Vic until 1 Oct
 2016. Tickets from £9.50. Find details and book tickets.

All photos are by Mark Douet.

Writer Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Director Dominic Hill
Designer Tom Rogers
Lighting Designer Howard Hudson
Composer Dan Jones
Assistant Director Ed Madden

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.

Blenheim Festival of Literature, Film and Music

Blenheim PalaceI’m always on the look out for quirky festivals to tell you about and this one caught my eye for two reasons – a) the extraordinary opulent surroundings and b) a grand mash-up of the arts, food and politics.

Taking place mainly in the grand surroundings of Blenheim Palace and nearby Woodstock, Oxfordshire, from Thursday 13th to Sunday 16th October 2016, Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature, Film and Music will feature a curious mix of notable talents.

Events to look forward to include an audience with Darcey Bussell, comedy with Maureen Lipman, garden designers Isabel and Julian Bannerman in discussion with Richard E Grant, leading prose and poetry performer Ruth Rosen reading  Keats’s love letters – and that’s just a selection from the first two days!

There are also an abundance of special literary dinners, including one celebrating the 90th birthday of Her Majesty hosted by the editor of fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, novelist and biographer Justine Picardie, with a menu designed and overseen by  Royal Chef to The Queen, Mark Flanagan, MVO.

And those are just a few of the options on offer. It may only be four days, but they’re set to be jam-packed with inspiration, opinions, intrigue and entertainment.

Visit blenheimpalaceliteraryfestival.com for full details.

Find out more about Oxfordshire, including places to stay, at www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com.

Swirling seas and skies

Reeds All About It by Rachel

Reeds All About It by Rachel

Textile artist Rachel Wright recreates the world with a rich palette of threads, building up scenes that shine with beauty. She grew up surrounded by her father’s paintings, etchings and engravings, so felt that entering that world was a natural step, even if she did choose an entirely different medium as her paintbox.

“By the time I was in sixth form I was already looking for a university course in textile design,” she says.

Rachel was determined to bring her drawing skills together with her textile work, despite the fact that the college she attended really didn’t regard being able to draw an asset – “in fact, I’d go as far as to say they almost tried to beat it out of you!”

Happily, since leaving college, she’s had the chance to explore the possibilities offered by melding her talent for portraying the natural world with her fabric prowess. “They lend themselves to the fluid restless motion that I try to portray in my skies and seas.”

Any Port in a Storm by Rachel Wright

Any Port in a Storm by Rachel Wright

The vivid swirling shapes captured in her work conjure up a sense of energy and movement reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. In Any Port in a Storm, above, there’s a palpable sense of peril and the drama of being at the mercy of a wild sea. To create a piece like this, Rachel selects the fabrics with care, and then machine sews them into the shapes that reflect the image in her mind.

Floating City Detail 02 by Rachel Wright

Floating City Detail 02 by Rachel Wright

“My first love was hand stitching but it was taking me far too long to complete each piece and once out in the real world I needed to start earning some money from my work,” she says. “My grandma had bought me my first sewing machine – it’s 30 years old now and still the one I still use everyday!”

Selling her work offers an emotional benefit too. “It’s such an enormous pleasure to know that people are prepared to part with their hard earned cash, to own something that I have made,” she says. “I love walking into and exhibition and seeing those little red dots on my work. It’s the best feeling!”

Hooray and Up She Rises by Rachel Wright

Hooray and Up She Rises by Rachel Wright

Her earliest pieces were beautifully abstract embroidery works, which provided her with the training to create the vivid landscapes and seascapes she’s now known for.

“I learnt a lot about using colour and composition, all of which stood me in good stead for the landscape pieces – using using fabrics, with all their wonderful colours, textures and patterns as my palette and threads as my paintbrush, adding in the details.”

Starting a brand new picture is the hardest thing, she admits. “I call it ‘Blank canvas syndrome’. Sometimes even the housework can suddenly seem like an attractive proposition when I should be starting a new piece. I really don’t like the beginning but inevitably, once I dive in and get going it’s usually only a matter of an hour or so before I’m hooked again.”

Almost Home by Rachel Wright

Almost Home by Rachel Wright

Rachel likes to work from photographs taken on walks or family holidays. “When I start to plan a piece, I will often sketch directly onto the calico before starting to work in the fabrics, “ she says. “I always like to have an image or several images to work from. I may not translate them literally but I think it’s important to know how something actually looks before you can start to play around with it.”

She adds: “My kids often get asked to draw things at school but are not given any reference to look at. It makes me mad because my dad always taught me to spend twice as long looking at the thing I was trying to draw, as I did actually making marks on the paper. Seeing what is really there is at least half the battle. It’s in noticing the small things that something becomes lifelike and realistic.”

That said, she has a passion for letting her creativity have free reign at times too. “I certainly like to allow my imagination in on the act. This is probably most evident in my foaming, swirling seas or my dynamic, dramatic skies.”

Find more of Rachel’s embroidered artwork at www.rachelwright.com.

Writing prompt – I-spy

View from St Peter's Church tower, Frampton CotterellI love getting a new perspective on a view, especially by going up high. In this instance I took a tour up the tour of St Peter’s Church in Frampton Cotterell, a really pretty part of the English southwest.

Below to the left are allotments and a pub garden, to the right a field of horses, then a field of geese and beyond that trees hiding the River Frome. So bucolic and pastural!

But here, underneath the tower where I stand, are graves laid out in such orderly rows that they resemble dominos or hospital beds. In fact, they don’t look all that dissimilar to the allotment plots just up and left – here’s a peek for you.

Allotments, Frampton Cotterell cr Judy Darley

What do you think? Can you think of something seen and misunderstood from this vantage point that could start a tale?

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.

Poetry review – Wordstrokes

Wordstrokes coverActually, I have a confession – this is partly a review, partly just me tooting my own trumpet, because I have four poems in this anthology. Tooo-ti-tooo!

Published by Avalanche Books and edited by the keen-eyed and astute Deborah Gaye, Wordstrokes: The Poetry of Art reveals how different creative mediums can energise one another. In this case, every piece of writing featured has been prompted by paintings, sculptures and art museums, with the result that the crisply printed black text on white seethes with colour.

As a passionate advocate of bringing different expressive forms together, I found this assortment of poems (and a single work of prose) to be a page-based equivalent of visiting a gallery, only the images appear inside your head, generated by the words as you read them.

Among the most moving examples are Bird of the Sea by Susan Taylor, after a carving by Bridget McCrum, which opens with the elegant stanza: “remember/ her like /the font /that was leaking/ the water/ that held/ first flight”.

There isn’t a single dull note in the anthology. Other highlights include In Response To The Sea by Sarah Miller (prompted by Emil Nolde), which is a sultry poem that zings with flavour: “We talked sweetness/ until the wind took it/ sucked what was left/ of the fading orange sun”.

Likewise, Stitching Twilight by Kay Lee (inspired by Paul Klee) is richly layered with colour and texture: “This could be a new embroidery,/ one you made from a grandson’s drawing –/ see the bird, its beak open/ to drink in the last of the daylight.”

Deborah has arranged the assortment of works to build up impressions of thoughtfully curated rooms, where each piece subtly elevates its neighbours. Moods spill into one another, while narratives gain momentum, and more abstract creations present the impression of an endlessly shifting, shimmering ocean.

Inspirations are wonderfully varied, but include Edward Hopper, Millais, Paula Rego, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo, Kandinsky, even Yoko Ono, as well as a raft of lesser known but equally emotive painters, sculptors and makers.

My four pieces are Tea (inspired by Ai Weiwei), More Water Than Land (inspired by an untitled abstract painting by Katy Webster), Last Night I Dreamt (prompted by the sculptures of Paul Smith) and This Gallery, inspired by a host of visual artists.

To get your hands on a copy of Wordstrokes: The Poetry of Art, head down to your local bookshop (Waterstones will do, or any other with friendly, intelligent inhabitants), and ask nicely for them to order it in. The ISBN number is 978 1 874392 26 2. They should be happy to oblige. Alternatively, click here to buy it 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.

London Literature Festival 2016

Margaret Awood credit Liam Sharp

Margaret Awood © Liam Sharp

This year’s London Literature Festival hosted by the South Bank Centre asks, “In uncertain times, how can the imagination give us access to other worlds which cast light back on our own? And what role can writers play in showing us better worlds to come?.”

The festival takes place from Wednesday 5th October till Sunday 16th October 2016 and is crammed with enticing options.

A stellar line-up includes Margaret Atwood, Bernardine Evaristo, Alan Garner, Nikesh Shula, Etgar Keret, Naomi Alderman and Lauren Elkin.

To have your imagination thoroughly stirred, seek out some of the more unusual offers, such as Roll Over Atlantic, a creative and comedic one-person show with serious undertones by Caribbean-British poet John Agard.

Other highlights include We Are All Human, an exhibition showcasing painting, music, writing, ceramics and matchstick modelling produced by inmates of UK’s prisons, secure hospitals and immigration removal centres, as well as by ex-offenders in the community.

For the full programme, visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

Reasons to visit AAF Bristol

Fishing by Daniel Ablitt

Fishing by Daniel Ablitt

Today the Affordable Art Fair returns to Bristol. *squealswithjoy. Brunel’s Old Station at Temple Meads is already filling up with gorgeous artwork, and I can’t wait to get down there!

In Sepia Woods by Daniel Ablitt

In Sepia Woods by Daniel Ablitt

The fair launches with a Private Charity View tonight from 5.30pm – 9.30pm, and is then open on Friday 9th Sept 11.00am – 5.00pm and 5.00pm – 8.00pm, on Saturday 10th Sept from 11.00am – 6.00pm and on Sunday 11 Sept from 11.00am – 5.00pm.

If you are after something special and original, it’s a great place to go with a wad of cash or a healthy credit card in your pocket. Galleries from across the UK will be representing some extraordinary artists. I’ll be looking out for more gems by Daniel Ablitt, who painted the beauties on this page.

For me the best part is simply to meander the vast space of the Old Station, traversing corridors of exceptional art and letting it set my imagination alight.

Find full details here.

Writing prompt – hive mind

Bee cr Judy DarleyI recently lent The Bees by Laline Paull to my mum, and it reminded me what an extraordinary book that is, exploring societal values through a bee’s eyes.

This week, think yourself into a mind utterly unlike your own – an ant’s, a bee’s, or even a tree’s, and try to see our world through its perceptions, to write a truly original tale.

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.